Probiotic Skincare

Your skin microbes are as important as your gut microbes.

The discoveries made by the Human Microbiome Project have made it clear that healthy skin is host to trillions of microbes.1These microbes permeate deep into the skin structure and work with your own cells to perform the complex chemistry that keeps your skin radiant.2

Your skin microbes were passed down to you by your mother and have been shaped by millions of years of co-evolution and your current environment. Studies on hunter-gatherer skin have revealed that the modern lifestyle has not been kind to our skin microbes. The best estimate is that we have lost more than 30% of the microbial partners that we once had.3 Some contributing factors include: overuse of antibiotics, high C-section rates and chemicals in cosmetic products.4

It's time to rewild

Skin diseases like eczema and acne are almost non-existent in hunter-gatherer communities but they have now become very common across the world. Maybe it’s time to end the war on germs and rewild our skin?

Seed and feed

Probiotics are live microbes that are good for you.

Probiotics can shift the skin’s ecology to favour a diverse and harmonious ecosystem that is healthy enough to resist attacks from pathogens and to reduce the impacts of ageing on the skin.5

Esse seeds the skin with beneficial microbes that compete with pro-ageing species and feeds with prebiotic nutrients to select for microbes that improve the microbial ecology on the skin.

We use mild preservatives, gentle surfactants, and we keep the pH of our products between 4 and 5. We also pay particular attention to preventing the pollution of the skin’s ecosystem and our products are certified organic by Ecocert.

We believe that mindful products are a step towards an indefinitely sustainable, richly varied, and beautiful future.

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  1. Human Microbiome Project Consortium, 2012. Structure, function and diversity of the healthy human microbiome. Nature486(7402), pp.207-214.
  2. Nakatsuji, T., Chiang, H.I., Jiang, S.B., Nagarajan, H., Zengler, K. and Gallo, R.L., 2013. The microbiome extends to subepidermal compartments of normal skin. Nature communications4, p.1431.
  3. Clemente, J.C., Pehrsson, E.C., Blaser, M.J., Sandhu, K., Gao, Z., Wang, B., Magris, M., Hidalgo, G., Contreras, M., Noya-Alarcón, Ó. and Lander, O., 2015. The microbiome of uncontacted Amerindians. Science advances1(3), p.e1500183.
  4. Bouslimani, A., Porto, C., Rath, C.M., Wang, M., Guo, Y., Gonzalez, A., Berg-Lyon, D., Ackermann, G., Christensen, G.J.M., Nakatsuji, T. and Zhang, L., 2015. Molecular cartography of the human skin surface in 3D. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences112(17), pp.E2120-E2129.
  5. Maguire, M. and Maguire, G., 2017. The role of microbiota, and probiotics and prebiotics in skin health. Archives of dermatological research309(6), pp.411-421.

What is a probiotic in skincare?

In the food industry, it’s easy to define a probiotic – it is a live microbe that has a health benefit. Probiotics in food are measured in colony forming units per millilitre (cfu per ml) and this shows how many microbes per millilitre of product can start to grow and replicate when the product is used.

In skin care defining a probiotic is not as easy.

Incorporating live probiotics into conventional skincare products is not generally feasible. Most products contain water, and preservatives are required to prevent spoilage. These preservatives, by definition, kill microbes – so the probiotic cfu per ml would be zero.

There are, however, plenty of probiotic claims in the skin care world.

These claims are justified in several different ways and there seem to be four “levels” to these claims.

Level 1 – These products use the “broth” from a microbial soup. The microbes are grown on a substrate (think of this as a watery solution of microbial nutrients) and then the probiotic microbes are filtered off. The “broth” is the remaining solution (which has the products of the microbes in it.) This is used as an ingredient in a final cosmetic product. Good skin care results can sometimes be obtained using this technique, but Esse does not refer to this technology as “probiotic”.

Level 2 – These probiotic extracts are called lysates because the probiotic cells are ruptured – obviously killing them in the process. In this technique, the probiotics are again cultured in a nutrient-rich substrate but instead of filtering them off, the cells are broken so that their cell contents leak out before the mixture is filtered. This method results in an “extract” that contains the cytoplasm (cell contents) of probiotic microbes. Esse uses this technology in the majority of its products and (for now) we do refer to this type of ingredient as a probiotic. We have seen brands with probiotic claims using level 1 and level 2 ingredients in their products.

Level 3 – In this technique, the microbes are kept whole but they are killed with heat. This process is called tyndallisation and here the culture of probiotics is heated to 60 °C and cooled again over three days. These probiotics can still dock onto skin cells but obviously can’t grow and divide to significantly alter the skin’s microbiome. Esse uses this technology in the Ageless Serum and the Toner Plus and we do refer to this type of ingredient as probiotic – for the moment.

These three levels of probiotic supplementation are relatively easy to produce. The ingredient is simply added to the formulation at the end of the manufacturing process with no real change in the preservative system or in the rest of the product.

Level 4 – This is the incorporation of live probiotic microbes in the final product. There are a number of difficulties in this process. Firstly, the use of a preservative system would kill the microbes, so the product needs to be preservative free. Secondly, it is exceedingly difficult to ensure that the probiotics are not killed during the production process. Thirdly, there are storage considerations for the final product … if the temperature drops too low, then the water in the probiotic cells will freeze and, because water expands when it freezes, the cell membrane of these cells will break and most of the cells will die. If the temperature rises above 40 °C, the enzymes in the live cells will start to denature and, again, most of the probiotics will die.

Esse has overcome these challenges and the Esse Probiotic Serum uses level 4 probiotics - it contains one billion live probiotics per millilitre. There are three different species of Lactobacillus in the symbiotic mix. We have shown that the product is pathogen-free and that the microbes remain capable of growth for two years from production.