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Written by Freddie Metherell, producer – Kisaco Research


It wasn’t too long ago that our TV screens were flooded with images of the evil bacteria with jagged teeth and sharp claws, wiped away by the cape wearing antibacterial spray. This dichotomy between the good of the antibacterial spray and the evil bacteria has been ingrained into society for so long now that the suggestion of applying bacteria to your skin would seem utterly bizarre a decade ago.  

But times are changing.  From deodorant sticks to foundations, bacteria are getting into cosmetic products across the board and the market is starting to boom. Demand for bacterial ingredients is set to break 10,000 tonnes per year by 2021

The case for bacterial products is now so strong that even Clorox Co., the company behind the famous bacterial obliterating bleach, recently acquired Renew Life Formulas, a provider of probiotic and prebiotic supplements. 


The gut microbiome shot to fame with the discovery of the so-called “second genome” with bacteria making up 1012 cells per gram of intestinal content.  

Research, since this boom of interest in the early 2000s, has shown the link between the bacteria in the gut, and a whole range of diseases, from obesity, to depression. It wasn’t long before the influence of bacteria was shown to also play a large role in the health of the skin.  

Now becoming a focus in skin health and cosmetics industries, the skin microbiome is the network of bacteria that makes their home on the surface of our bodies. This community of bacteria communicate and collaborate to keep the skin in a healthy condition.  


For a long time, the science behind a lot of the theories that guide R&D into the skin microbiome has been lacking substance, but in the last year, things have started to pick up. Research [i] published earlier this year showed clearly that the skin microbiome can be effectively altered through the application of live bacteria. 

This may not seem like a big deal, but when this fact is added to a bank of research that links the pathogenic bacteria on the skin to not only a range of cutaneous diseases, but also more recently cosmetic factors such as aging [ii], body odor [iii] and blocked sebaceous glands [iv], the implications for product development are huge. 

The global probiotics market will reach $74.7 Billion by the end of 2025 and the skin is set to be right at the heart of this market’s growth [v]


Commercialization of the skin microbiome is currently taking two directions, with the use of bacterial products, called lysates, proving a practical solution to the challenges that handling live bacteria presents. In utilizing these extractions, the issues surrounding keeping the specific bacteria alive and limiting contaminant bacteria are restricted. With recently released papers [vi] suggesting that these lysates aid in protection against inflammation and improve barrier function, these bacterial based products are an effective tool in improving skin appearance and health.  


93% of customers rely on reviews [vii], so delivering a reproducible probiotic benefit to the consumer is extremely important. Live bacteria does have additional benefits of antimicrobial action against bacteria, unlike lysates, and can prolong this effect by colonizing the skin. Maintaining viable bacteria in live bacterial products is the key hurdle to achieving this. Following acquisition of bacteria from CDMOs or self-owned bioreactors. The next step in ensuring that only desirable bacteria are present is by introducing quality control at each stage of production.

Preserving this single strain and preventing the development of bacterial products is the next challenge. Companies such as Esse Skincare have developed water-free oil based, airtight formulations to achieve this. Yun Probiotherapy have taken a different approach, using microencapsulation methods.

With these logistical and manufacturing issues, there are cost-benefit considerations that level the playing field between live bacteria and bacterial lysates. There is also variation from country to country; there are extremely tight rules in France excluding minimal levels of bacteria, but minimum doses of 109 colony forming units are required in places such as Canada to be known as a probiotic product [viii]. In the U.S., the FDA are in the process of analyzing scientific data to clear up the safety of probiotics and post-biotics. Until that point, regulation is only able to differentiate between cosmetics and therapeutics based on the impact that the product has on skin health.


The skin microbiome is being recognized by publications such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, as one of “2019’s biggest skincare trends”. With scientific understanding of the skin microbiome taking the potential for modulation into new territories, now is the time for developing products that influence the skin’s health through the microbiome. 


[i] Paetzold, B., Willis, J.R., de Lima, J.P., Knödlseder, N., Brüggemann, H., Quist, S.R., Gabaldón, T. and Güell, M., 2019. Skin microbiome modulation induced by probiotic solutions. Microbiome, 7(1), p.95.
[ii] Shibagaki, N., Suda, W., Clavaud, C., Bastien, P., Takayasu, L., Iioka, E., Kurokawa, R., Yamashita, N., Hattori, Y., Shindo, C. and Breton, L., 2017. Aging-related changes in the diversity of women’s skin microbiomes associated with oral bacteria. Scientific reports, 7(1), p.10567.
[iii] Minhas, G.S., Bawdon, D., Herman, R., Rudden, M., Stone, A.P., James, A.G., Thomas, G.H. and Newstead, S., 2018. Structural basis of malodour precursor transport in the human axilla. Elife, 7, p.e34995.
[iv] Grice, E.A., 2014, June. The skin microbiome: potential for novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to cutaneous disease. In Seminars in cutaneous medicine and surgery (Vol. 33, No. 2, p. 98). NIH Public Access.
[v] Fortune Business Insights. 2019. Probiotics Market Size, Share and Global Trend By Microbial Genus. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019].
[vi] Khmaladze, I., Butler, É., Fabre, S. and Gillbro, J.M., 2019. Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938—A comparative study on the effect of probiotics and lysates on human skin. Experimental dermatology.
[vii] 2017. Consumers Get “Buy” With A Little Help From Their Friends. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019].
[viii] Hill, C., Guarner, F., Reid, G., Gibson, G.R., Merenstein, D.J., Pot, B., Morelli, L., Canani, R.B., Flint, H.J., Salminen, S. and Calder, P.C., 2014. Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nature reviews Gastroenterology & hepatology, 11(8), p.506.



About the author

Freddie Metherell is a producer at Kisaco Research, specializing in Life Sciences and Pharmaceutical research. He graduated from the University of Warwick with a BSc in Biomedical Sciences before completing a master’s degree in Biotechnology, Bioprocessing and Business Management.


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