Since the first papers I wrote on this subject, the small microbiota has become an adult and conquered many audiences, including that of beauty. And it is a good thing.

The industry need to systematically study the impact of ingredients and finished products on the skin microbiome, along with standards to compare the results obtained. Photo: © vrx /

LVMH was the first prestige/luxury brand to jump ahead when they launched LIFE in June 2017 with a campaign focused on “prebiotics”.

Earlier this year, Unilever invested 600,000 euros in very young start-up Gallinée: as a reminder, they were the first to associate the terms “good bacterium” and “skin” in a marketing mix in such a deliberate, freed way.

Pushing boundaries even farther, Beiersdorf has just invested in another start-up, S-Biomedic, also focused on the Microbiome – only this time, they have been trying to develop living bacteria for treating acne.
When they are launched, S-Biomedic will be the third brand to have placed living organisms for dermatological purposes on the market.

The scope of possibilities is broadening, concepts are getting more mature, and the industry is adapting. Among our suppliers, after BASF, Givaudan, and Greentech, Silab has implemented a study platform dedicated to the microbiome. Givaudan offers a catalogue entirely focused on the claims related to it. And Vytrus has just launched an ingredient to target the sensors of the quorum, the communication (and often virulence) device of bacteria.

Unreasonable claims

However, growth spurts rarely come without pain. Obviously, if they remain sensible among major brands and dermocosmetology brands, claims are going pear-shaped in many marketing campaigns. All sorts of contradictory statements are made. Once again, many players promise the moon. The least well-informed are often the boldest.

All this has caught the attention of the authorities. In September, FDA will organize their very first consultative meeting on the microbiome in cosmetics. Two months before the date announced, the meeting was already sold out. In Europe, EMEA set up working groups and discussions have been launched.

Also, our lobbies are sceptical. Their presentations in the different seminars I attended, or which were reported to me, just show how doubtful they are – beyond what seems essential to keep in mind. I heard conservatism, more than anything. As a matter of fact, the microbiome is not a science that allows us to hope we can keep doing the same thing over and over again. We are going to need to bring about a deep change.

Listen to Larry Weiss, a former AOBiome executive and one of the most visionary scientific entrepreneurs I have had the pleasure to meet: “The microbiome is to Biology what Quantum Physics used to be to Newton’s Physics when it emerged. It is just a scientific revolution with the usual implications.

A scientific revolution is an earthquake with repercussions on the whole societal structure. Our industry is no exception.

We do not know anything about anything,” reminds Larry. “Our top priority is to explore and understand these extraordinarily complex systems.

Only few studies

So, indeed, in a field - the skin microbiome - where the vast majority of scientific publications only deal with damaged skin, there are hardly any studies published on healthy skins and the industry players, although they do get equipped, have difficulties carrying out very costly research, because it addresses complex systems. Apart from Givaudan, BASF, Greentech, and more recently Silab, hardly any suppliers made the effort of getting the means to launch studies. Among cosmetics brands, all heavyweights have been working a lot, but shared little.

And yet, global research has been making progress, because people share things and researcher networks are connected, buzz, and exchange on a constant basis.

Our industry should reach a consensus to provide for protocols that systematically study the impact of ingredients and finished products on the skin microbiome, along with standards to compare the results obtained and not to demonstrate anything brands want: it is an emergency.

If we do not do that, the authorities will do it for us. And they will be right to.