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Bacteria and Beauty: Microbiota's Game-changing Potential in Product Development

By: Marie Alice Dibon, PharmD
Posted: October 18, 2012, from the January 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

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“The study of microbiota will also answer other questions on the nature of commensal microorganisms, their evolution and their impact on skin health," Stamatas explains. "It will give us indications on how to preserve the product while preserving the precious microflora. We will now have to find a balance between the safety of the product and its efficacy—how to preserve the good bacteria upon application while keeping the bad bacteria from contaminating the products or the skin.

“The study of microbiota brings to light the fact that everything we do affects the body, and that practices like overcleansing, for instance, the obsession with keeping clean may be detrimental to our health,” Stamatas continues. “It forces us to rethink the development of products that are mild and gentle so as not to disturb the normal skin development and equilibrium.”

Stamatas also studies the impact of the mode of delivery on the baby’s skin’s future. Whether a baby is delivered naturally or via C-section will impact the nature of his microflora. They've learned that C-section babies may be at greater risk of developing some allergies or asthma, and the practice of cleaning up babies right after birth has some negative impact as it affects the lipids that are on the skin and how skin gets colonized. “It also seems that the diversity of the microflora helps develop healthier skin," Stamatas also observes.

At Henkel, the focus is on acne and body odor, and Henkel microbiologist Rainer Simmering studies how to move away from antimicrobials that are unselective and kill all skin bacteria regardless of their function, and how to rebalance the skin microbiota using antimicrobials with selective action.

Simmering's idea is to apply the principles of prebiotics—stimulating the growth of bacteria—to beauty products. The use of prebiotics in cosmetics is not new (Solabia currently commercializes a complex aimed at strengthening the skin’s flora and has had similar products in its catalog since the mid 1990s), but it is evolving with the ability to evaluate their efficacy by monitoring the details of the bacterial populations, going above and beyond simply observing dermatological clinical outcomes.

Simmering’s team also works on body odor, and there the metabolism of bacteria comes into play. First, they very accurately identified the make-up of the bacterial populations present in both men and women and studied the differences. Then they correlated flora and odor and further analyzed the DNA and RNA profiles of these populations. What they found is that the most predominant bacteria might not be the most active ones, leading them to simulate complex microbial mixtures and test different formulas in order to identify the one that fought bacteria most homogeneously so as to maintain a well-balanced bacterial flora.

The innovation in that research is threefold: it facilitates long-term effectiveness against body odor, it allows gender specific claims, and it offers a triple action aimed at bacteria reduction, enzyme inhibition and fragrance performance.

Focusing on Odor

Also at the Paris Microbiota event, Firmenich's Christian Starkenman presented research undertaken to gain a better understanding of the role of bacteria in malodor. His focus is on decrypting the interactions between bacteria and precursors of thiols—an organosulfur compound responsible for some of the more pungent qualities of onion, garlic and human sweat.