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Skin Trust Club's Mission to Bring Microbiome Science to the Consumer

May 15, 2022
May 15, 2022
Skin Trust Club

The microbiome has become the breakout star of 2022 skincare, with the cosmetics category expected to grow by 7.5% CAGR until 2026. But with there being no official regulation around terms such as “microbiome friendly,” not to mention decades of skin-science confusion among consumers, how can validity and authenticity for all be ensured in the genre?

Enter the at-home, AI-driven skin microbiome testing kit courtesy of Skin Trust Club. Born from the successful B2B business Labskin, the idea for the enterprise came when the aforementioned company had to resort to virtual clinical trials during the pandemic, evidencing an intelligent interplay between simultaneous B2B and B2C businesses. In fact, many of the brands that Labskin was working with to validate microbiome-friendly claims also became founding partners of Skin Trust Club.  

“We always talked about the microbiome, it’s part of our DNA,” Niamh O'Kennedy, Group Marketing Officer at Labskin, tells BeautyMatter. “Simultaneously, we were researching skin disease and realized that a big microbiome database didn't seem to exist. It was solving two things: building the biggest microbiome database in the world but also bringing the expertise and microbiome testing that we've been doing at a corporate level to consumers.” Dr. David Caballero-Lima, Head of R&D at Skin Trust Club, adds: “One of the issues in this field that we wanted to solve was the way that people extract samples and do the analysis, which changes from lab to lab resulting in different data sets. There is so much variability. Our aim was to create a database with a very well-controlled data extraction and data analysis.”

Currently available in Ireland, UK, and the US, the premise of Skin Trust Club’s product offering is simple. Consumers either purchase a one-off test or three-month subscription model (beneficial to monitoring the fluctuation of the skin throughout the seasons and also the impacts of new skincare products). They download the company’s app for kit activation and test result purposes. Once purchased, they receive a testing kit, take a cheek swab test, and send it back via post. The sample is then run through extensive testing using Labskin’s skin microbiome database, incorporating the extracted microbiome data with AI-driven modeling technology and proprietary algorithms, as well as metadata like the UV and pollution levels in the tester’s area.

“The idea of one ingredient being good or bad for your microbiome comes from the whole clean beauty trend. But it’s about looking at the bigger picture of what the ingredient is a part of in the formulation, it’s a lot more complex.”
By Tracey Ryan, Scientific Skincare Advisor, Skin Trust Lab

Two to three weeks later, consumers receive results of their skin type, key microbe levels, recommended products, general skincare guidelines, and dietary tips. Recommended products either already contain the Labskin seal of approval—the company offers two: microbiome-friendly (meaning no adverse effects on the skin microbiome) and microbiome rebalancing (offering benefits for the different microbe levels)— or are validated as microbiome friendly by a scientific skincare advisor on the board of Skin Trust Club. “We'll accommodate consumers at different ends of the price spectrum, so our customers can choose how much they want to spend. Speaking to them, one of the things they really like about us is the fact that we are brand agnostic,” O'Kennedy comments.

Brand founders and beauty journalists alike have raised the point that a majority of skin sensitivities and other issues are actually created through the use of unsuitable products. Whether it’s viral miseducation through social media or confusing terminology, the consumer education aspect of microbiome skincare remains “the biggest hurdle” according to O'Kennedy.

In order to help tackle this obstacle, it helps to take a deep dive into the bacterial microcosm that is the skin. In Skin Trust Club’s analysis of the microbiome, the results can show anywhere from 200 to 1,000 different types of microbes on the skin. The most predominant ones are: Staphylococcus, dominant in moist parts of the body, which also produces antimicrobial peptides and alleviates inflammation; Propionibacterium, which favors sebum-rich parts of the face but can also cause acne in some; and Lactobacillus, which can also be found in the gut and vaginal microbiome, and a lack of which on the skin is associated with psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. 

The microbiome is unique from person to person, but everyone needs a balance and correct level of strains to keep the skin barrier healthy. The prevalence of bacteria strains informs our skin type. Propionibacterium might be high in one skin type yet not create acne, but produce comedones and other issues in another. However, employing cosmeceutical weapons of mass destruction on the Propionibacterium strain is also not an option, as our skin needs a certain level of it in order to produce porphyrins, which help protect the skin against UV rays “It's an equilibrium. You might have some species that are pathogenic in my skin, because I have a combination of other species that balance out, and for other people it will be more problematic,” explains Dr. Caballero-Lima.

Hence why getting the full picture is so important in order for consumers to develop the ideal skincare strategy for their microbial needs. “Using that information, ​​you can change how they grow. You can use certain ingredients that will change the amount of bacteria of one type over the other,” Dr. Caballero-Lima states.

And while one might assume that the best TLC for the skin microbiome are the mildest products possible, exfoliating acids or retinols aren’t out of the picture either. “The microbiome is quite resilient. You can have an anti-aging routine with actives like glycolic acids or retinoids and still have microbiome-friendly products, not creating long-term damage,” Tracey Ryan, Scientific Skincare Advisor at Skin Trust Lab, states, emphasizing the importance of additionally choosing a cleanser with the right type of surfactants and mildness additives for the skin type. She stresses that overall composition trumps any one ingredient when it comes to assessing microbiome compatibility. “Any decent formulator, if they're putting a retinoid or AHA or BHA into a nighttime product, will make sure there's plenty of emollients and occlusives in there as well to compensate,” she adds. “The idea of one ingredient being good or bad for your microbiome comes from the whole clean beauty trend. But it’s about looking at the bigger picture of what the ingredient is a part of in the formulation, it’s a lot more complex.” She advises a minimalist routine, not necessarily minimalist formulas, in order to best gauge product efficacy.

Internal factors such as genetics, age, hormones, and diet can also affect the skin microbiome, meaning there is still more research and data to gather—a challenge which Skin Trust Club’s leadership team is embracing with gusto. They are currently working on incorporating gene expression assessments and metabolomics into their data obtainment methods. Future perspectives also include increasing marketing to menopausal audiences and expanding research into the vaginal, oral, and scalp microbiome, alongside expanding from DTC into other retail avenues.

“The feedback has been phenomenal. I’m blown away by the reaction we get speaking to the consumer and industry. There seems to be a huge interest,” O'Kennedy states. It’s also evidence of the underlying shift of science and ingredients-led, rather than hype and marketing-driven modes of consumption. As O'Kennedy proclaims: “We want to empower people with the knowledge to look and feel their best.”

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