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Today we are talking about one of the hottest skincare ingredient categories of 2021: microbiome support! What are these ingredients? What might they do for the skin? And, do they have a place in your skincare routine? Let's get into it...
- WHAT ARE PREBIOTICS, PROBIOTICS & POSTBIOTICS? -
I always think of these as like the 'food' for probiotics! They encourage the growth or activity of friendly bacteria on the skin. I'd say they are most common out of these three classes in skincare products. Look for Oligosaccharides and Inulin.
Technically, this is the live beneficial bacteria, however in practice they're usually a dead or inert form. I think of it kind of as like a vaccine often being an inactive form of the virus, but again - I have no idea if that's scientifically correct! The only way you'd really get a live form in skincare is if you're refrigerating the item and getting it in tiny quantities from some super-fancy lab that's probably not available to to general public and you're paying lots and lots of money. Look out for Lactobacillus Ferments.
These are really interesting; they're the fermented byproduct of probiotics. You can get really good antioxidant benefits from them and postbiotics can also be anti-inflammatory. Look for Lactococcus Ferments.
Yeast, yoghurt and fermented extracts can also be sources of these three ingredients.
- WHAT CAN THEY DO FOR MY SKIN? -
Whilst these descriptions might make you think they're about reducing acne-causing bacteria, that's not quite it; it's more of a skin barrier support function. This can link to acne inflammation and also breakouts from a compromised barrier, but there's also some evidence that they can be helpful for sensitivity and even dermatitis and eczema.
- SO, DO THEY WORK? -
Honestly, I'm a little sceptical and I feel like the evidence is borderline for topical application at this point. If you want to focus on evidence-based skincare; this is one to watch but maybe not an area to dive right into. If you're happy to give it a go, I did find the products I tried containing these sorts of ingredients to be calming, soothing and overall great for my skin. They're definitely something I look out for on INCI lists too. I do have to caveat this, though, because almost everything on the market containing pre, pro and postbiotics pair them with other amazing ingredients. I do think that to an extent this might speak to the fact that there isn't the confidence there from formulators that these are amazing for your skin in their own right, at least based on the limited information we have now (which seems quite theoretical to me). On the flipside, that does mean you don't have to commit to this ingredient class to get them into your routine because there are plenty of other reasons to try the products I'm about to cover off...
- MY PICKS FEATURING THEM -
I have two products from Allies of Skin to discuss broadly: their Molecular Saviour Probiotics Treatment Mist | £57. This has been reformulated and repackaged since I did the photography for this post, but I have now tried the new version, so that's what we're talking about! (Sorry, I'm moving soon and have things in boxes so can't easily retake images now...) Anyway, this mist is formulated with fermented plant extracts, yoghurt, Lactobacillus Ferment and Lactobacillus Ferment Lysate Filtrate (your probiotics), niacinamide (to boost the skin barrier and also help with excess oiliness and preventing pigment spread in the skin), Zinc PCA as an anti-inflammatory, soothing bisabolol and aloe, hydrating and plumping peptides and also PHAs, which can have a mild exfoliating action but I think in this context they're really there for hydration and possibly to increase penetration of the other ingredients. This has a bit of weight to it, so is almost like a serum-mist, and it definitely calms, hydrates and moisturises my skin, as well as providing antioxidant benefits.
Another mist pick is the Zelens Microbiota P3 Balancing Mist* | £48. This is a lightweight mist formulated with α-glucooligosaccharides and β-fructooligosaccharides as prebiotics, a blend of three inactive probiotics: Lactobacillus Casei, Lactobacillus Acidohilus and Lactobacillus Bulgaricus and a postbiotic in the form of Bifidobacterium, so you're really getting the full range of microbiome-boosting ingredients. You do also have a yeast extract, some botanicals, humectants and amino acids. It feels calming and hydrating at the same time, giving me softer, more soothed skin all day long.
The other product is the Allies of Skin Prebiotics & Niacinamide Pore-Refining Booster | £65. This is formulated with α-glucan oligosaccharide and Lactobacillus as their prebiotics, but also with plenty of other beneficial ingredients. There are humectants in here like hyaluronic acid, skin-soothers like centella asiatica and bisabolol (the 'active' element of chamomile), green tea, Vitamin E and Q10 as antioxidants, licorice extract (which is great at tackling an uneven skin tone) and, of course, niacinamide. This ingredient is a multi-pronged attack on a variety of skin issues from excess oil production to hyperpigmentation to an impaired skin barrier. With all of this great stuff going on, it's obviously nigh-on impossible to say what effect the prebiotics are bringing to the party, but overall this formula did give me a more even skin tone and improve the overall quality of my skin without any irritation.
Moving on to the Venn Probiotics Cica Complex Biome Booster* | £153. It is luxury, it truly is, but I can't deny how much I enjoyed using this product. It teams up Lactobacillus Ferment Lysate alongside Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate and Saccharomyces Ferment, which both come from fermented yeast and can brighten the skin and provide some antioxidant benefits. That's not all, we have soothing cica extracts, and a number of other traditional Korean botanicals with antioxidant and skin-calming benefits. Then there's niacinamide, panthenol and hyaluronic acid, alongside a bunch of different peptides to plump and smooth the skin. All-in-all the results for me have been soothed, calmed skin with decreased redness and a plumper appearance.
If you can't splurge on Venn, I do see some crossover with the Monday Muse the Juice Daily Serum* | £40. This lightweight, hydrating, soothing serum contains Inulin as a prebiotic, alongside panthenol, niacinamide and cica, which is why I think it works as an alternative to the Venn formula. The hemp seed and black cumin oils add that really moisturising quality to it that softens my skin and locks in hydration. I also love that this has an anti-inflammatory benefit for my skin. It's a really great daily all-rounder.
One of the few products I've tried that really does hone in on this ingredient class is the Typology Unifying & Rebalancing complex with 3 Pre + Probiotics* | £26.50. This is formulated with α-glucan oligosaccharide, Inulin and Lactobacillus Ferment Lysate and not a lot else. There are no other skin barrier boosters in the mix or other more proven ingredients or powerhouse actives to hide behind. But did this formula prove that pre, pro and postbiotics can stand on their own? Well, I found this hydrating, maybe a little calming at a push, but it's not a must-have product for me. It kind of did just cement my opinion that these microbiome support ingredients are supplementary and a 'nice to have' more than they are the star of the show.
Let's round things off with the Nue Co Barrier Culture Moisturiser | £45 | and Barrier Culture Cleanser* | £32. The moisturiser is formulated with Inulin, α-glucooligosaccharides and Lactobacillus Ferment, alongside ceramides, niacinamide, squalane, fatty alcohol, centella asiatica and a peptide. It has a light texture but softens, smooths and moisturises my skin beautifully. If my skin feels angry, irritated or I'm getting a bit of redness; this is perfect and is so breathable on my skin. The cleanser contains the same 3 pre, pro and postbiotics, plus some other fermented ingredients, amino acids, soothing botanicals and glycerin, alongside gentle surfactants. Obviously it's not sitting on your skin, but it's a great option if you want a water-based cleanser that's not going to upset your skin barrier.
Just to touch on other products you might have seen me mention: I will be dedicating an entire post to Cultured Biomecare* very soon. The Inkey List moisturiser* didn’t work for me because it pilled badly and smelled off-putting. Aurelia* is nice (the Concentrate was kindly sent to me by the website Alyaka) but very scented for leave on products, which I’m becoming less fond of, though creamy cleanser they do is lovely. Finally, SVR* do some moisturisers paired with different actives but I just didn’t enjoy the textures or application.
- IN CONCLUSION... -
Do I think with our current understanding of them that pre, pro or postbiotics are going to transform your skin all on their own? No, I think more research is needed into how they should be formulated and in what concentrations to unlock their full potential. But, I certainly don't think they're a bad thing to have in your products and they can support other ingredients within a formulation. My interest is piqued and I'm intrigued to see where the research goes with this class of ingredients!
Have you tried much skincare with these ingredients in them?