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Fermentation in Beauty: What It Is and How It’s Making the Industry Better

So many of our favorite foods go through fermentation — everything from the sauerkraut or pickles on your veggie dog to your favorite kombucha. Beer, wine and yogurt are all created through it, and that sourdough starter you attempted to make back when everyone was getting into baking? It's also part of the wonderful world of fermentation. Technically, fermentation is a process in which micro organisms like yeast and bacteria convert carbohydrates, such as sugar or starches, and in turn, produce a smaller compound, like alcohols (hence, beer and wine) or acids.

Fermentation is also a big thing in beauty and has gotten a lot of buzz in the past few years, but it’s far from being a novel concept. A lot of the skincare ingredients we know and love are fermented. Hyaluronic acid, which we all know is a big moisture booster, is one, as well as prized exfoliants like lactic acid, AHAs, glycolic acid and probiotics, among others. It’s also a good step to bettering the planet. “A lot of the ingredients that come from plants are actually terribly unsustainable,” says Annie Tsong, chief strategy and product officer at Amyris, Rose Inc.’s parent company. “[Beauty companies] are harvesting all these plants for this tiny, little quantity of essential oil and destroying whole ecosystems in the process. I think that there are a lot of challenges with products that we get from nature right now, and fermentation is this incredible way of being able to make those same molecules, but without destroying those ecosystems.”

“The fermented ingredients also have anti-inflammatory properties. Thanks to the fermentation process, they become rich in enzymes, which are able to soothe and prevent skin inflammation.”

How Fermented Ingredients React With Our Skin

Because fermentation breaks down molecules in size, they’re able to be absorbed into the skin better and be more potent, explains Krupa Koestline, a clean cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants. “The fermentation process maintains the integrity of the ingredients. Most of the unfermented ingredients in cosmetics are made by heating a mixed formula of ingredients to a high temperature, then cooling it, which can potentially reduce the effectiveness of the active ingredients,” she says, adding that a fermented ingredient has a more acidic pH, which has a better affinity with the skin. The fermentation also adds nutrients such as amino acids and peptides to the ingredient and makes the fermented version richer in antioxidants. “The fermented ingredients also have anti-inflammatory properties. Thanks to the fermentation process, they become rich in enzymes, which are able to soothe and prevent skin inflammation,” she says. “Basically, the enzymes eliminate the ‘bad bacteria’ the skin may contain and replace them with ‘good bacteria’, this in turn helps to preserve the skin balance.”

"With the technology that we have, we can provide an ingredient using fermentation for every single benefit area that you could possibly look for in beauty.”

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