The wellness and beauty industry pretty much go hand in hand in 2022. No longer is a cleanser just a cleanser; it's a self-care tool designed to cast off unwanted energy as well as dead skin cells. And it didn't take long for the obsession around gut health to seep into the skin care industry in the form of pre- and probiotics. Now, it's gone a step further and made its way into our makeup. On paper, it sounds great. But in reality, does it even work?
Probiotics are an ingredient notoriously difficult to work with, so we thought it best to investigate whether it's just another marketing fad or whether probiotic makeup is something to get excited about. Speaking to beauty and formulation experts, we aim to find out exactly what the deal is with probiotics in makeup.
What Is Probiotic Beauty?
Before diving into probiotic makeup, let's take a quick look at probiotic skin care. A probiotic is essentially a substance that stimulates growth of microorganisms.
Much like the probiotics you take in supplements, those in skin care are designed to give the same barrier-repairing, cell-building, and overall anti-inflammatory effects. Some even promise to help conditions like eczema. It's an ingredient that's been used in Korea for years with "many combined extracts having targeted effects on various skin issues, including acne, dehydration, protection from environmental factors, plus helping overall skin condition and sebum regulation," explains cosmetic chemist Grace Ncubuka.
Again, just like those supplements you may take, probiotic and prebiotic beauty can be extremely difficult to formulate because of the bacteria having to remain "live" to be of any benefit to your body or skin. Despite these formulation challenges, the skin-care industry has gone full steam ahead with probiotic-based product offerings.
Although probiotic beauty has been around for some time, it has undoubtedly had a surge in interest in the past two years. Senior creative foresight analyst Olivia Houghton at strategic foresight consultancy The Future Laboratory puts this down to the pandemic. "This was a time when people were highly conscious of bacteria - even the word itself became a trigger," explains Houghton. "In response, we started to see skin-care brands and wellbeing services unite to protect pro-bacteria beauty's reputation."
What Is Probiotic Makeup?
In an ever-evolving industry where many beauty enthusiasts want more than just a pretty blush, it's not surprising that the idea of probiotic makeup is appealing. Probiotic is exactly what it says on the tin (or in this case, beautifully packaged compress powder): an ingredient added to makeup to support the skin's microbiome - all whilst giving you the cosmetic results you're after. Think of it as makeup and skin-care hybrid designed specifically for repairing your barrier.
In a way, probiotics offer a more cemented version of "clean" beauty: a term that is unregulated, subjective, and somewhat scaremongering. This is because unlike "clean" beauty ingredients, an ingredient like probiotic, in theory if it works, can give controlled and measured results (whether this be through skin care or makeup). Probiotics gives basis to focus on adding the "good" versus removing the "bad" in order to improve the skin with the ability to measure the results.
Does Probiotic Makeup Work?
Onto the golden question: does probiotic makeup work? Well, it's complicated. Unfortunately, lots of probiotic skin care is down to clever marketing rather than having solid data. The studies and basis is there but often brands will jump on a key ingredient and sell products that don't necessarily use the groundbreaking formula that can make a substantial difference to the skin. When it comes to makeup, given it's such a new topic, innovation and, more importantly, studies are still limited.
Before my research, I was of the opinion that since the probiotic makeup I had tried was a dry product (often in the form of pressed powder), then there's no chance probiotics could survive and be preserved well enough to reach the skin. And to some extent, I was correct. But there's another way to deliver probiotic benefits without a living microorganism.
Leading probiotic skin-care brand Aurelia London actually doesn't use "live" probiotics but rather uses "extracts from bifida ferment in the form of a lysate, which works as an immune modulatory glycoprotein to enhance cell-to-cell communication and allow for natural repair to occur," says Antonia Knox, Aurelia London head of brand.
When it comes to makeup, using the ingredient lactobacillus ferment solved this problem by delivering probiotics that aren't live or viable for colonies. "This nonexpensive solution does not require any substantial changes in preservatives use or in any other product composition," this study found. Thus, it can be used in pressed cosmetic formulations. Because of this, the 2017 study offers a solution for determining "living cosmetics" and "probiotic cosmetics" to differentiate the two.
There may be one challenge though: "Venturing into pressed powders or pigments would potentially pose a challenge due to the need for water in the formulation currently," says Knox. "There are however baked makeup formulations that start life as liquids and are baked in a powdered pigment for use as foundation, blush, or eyeshadow. This could be an interesting avenue to explore in order to maintain the original water-based formula," she adds.
What Benefits Can Probiotic Makeup Give?
It seems like an awful lot of effort, right? Although the research isn't there right now, it's an area that is showing promise.
"Bifida ferment lysate has been proven through in-vivo testing to protect against UV-induced damage to the skin when used at 5-10 percent," says Ncubuka. "On the beauty market, we've seen products that double as primers and sunscreens, as well as foundations, lip products, powders, and setting sprays with UV protection. Bifida ferment lysate can be added at the recommended usage level to support the UV filters of any of these beauty products," she adds.
"Lactococcus ferment lysate has been proven to increase barrier function and skin renewal when used at just 3 percent in-vivo. Or lactococcus ferment extract, which reduces excess oil and brightens skin, either of these ingredients can be incorporated in makeup products," Ncubuka explains.
Be+Radiance's trials have shown promising improvement in reducing pimples, excess sebum, and giving overall radiance within 14 days of use.
What Does the Future of Probiotic Makeup Hold?
One of the most exciting things about the beauty industry is the constant innovation. This certainly isn't the last time we're going to see probiotic makeup. In fact, this is just the very beginning.
"A simple search on the European Cosmetics database (CoSing) turns up over 8800 results when you search for 'probiotics'. This in itself shows that there's a huge array of unexplored ingredients (probiotics) that can be used in personal care products, including makeup," Ncubuka says. And she's personally all for probiotic makeup. "I'm all about innovation and finding new creative ways to deliver the best possible ingredients that can benefit consumers. More and more people are opting for multifunctional products that can be used in various ways to achieve various skin goals," she adds.
There is also new tech emerging in the space. For example, Skin Trust Club allows consumers to measure their skin's microbiome by sending a sample off to a lab and get given a report of how to better improve it with a personalised routine. Skin Trust Club also gives you the ability to track how your skin progresses through a mobile app. It likely won't be long before tech like this makes its way into our colour cosmetics.
Probiotic makeup might not win everyone over, though. Houghton explains that cosmetics are centred around experimentation and skin care on efficacy, in this sense "cosmetics are unsystematic, while skincare is ritualistic," she says. "However, in today's time-poor society, convenience still overrides most other values, which is why you start to see brands introduce skincare properties in cosmetics products. But this will likely only appeal to the part-time beauty consumer."
Regardless of this, expect to see plenty more experimentation when it comes to probiotic makeup, as well as the continued merging of wellness and makeup.