For businesses operating in the skincare industry, there is always a delicate balance to strike between communicating the science behind a product and outlining its benefits—without confusing the customer with biology jargon.

If you’re responsible for formulating or marketing skincare products you’re probably well aware of the importance of protecting the skin microbiome, but do your customers?

What is the skin microbiome?

For those of you who don’t work in the skincare industry or that are new to it, let’s start with a quick definition of what the skin microbiome actually is.

Our skin is home to trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses and even fungi. Together, these life forms (also known as microbiota) constitute the skin microbiome, part of the physical layer that protects us from the outside world. Alongside other elements of your skin, it has three key jobs:

  • Fighting infection
  • Supporting the immune system
  • Healing wounds and controlling inflammation

The skin microbiome is different throughout your body, with some organisms thriving in moist areas, while others prefer dry or oily spots. Your microbiome can also be affected by your genes, as well as external factors such as diet, environment, air pollution and exposure to UV light.

Note that there are actually two unique skin microbiomes: the follicular microbiome which lives inside the follicles close to the sebaceous glands, and the interfollicular, epidermal microbiome that lives at the surface of the skin.

Do consumers understand the importance of the skin microbiome?

The concept of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria is well known to consumers, in particular when it comes to gut health, thanks in large part to probiotic drinks brands pushing the concept of ‘good bacteria’ in their marketing.

However, although it was declared the ‘next big thing’ by Byrdie back in 2020, the understanding of the skin microbiome is still emerging. One challenge is that it’s not as simple as ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ bacteria—it’s the composition of the skin microbiome that dictates healthy skin, but this is a complex message for manufacturers and brands to communicate.

Consumers also recognise the term ‘microbiome-friendly’, and this is used extensively by brands looking to reassure consumers that their products won’t upset their skin microbiome and cause spot breakouts or other issues.

What ingredients are considered microbiome-friendly?

There are a number of skincare ingredients that are described as microbiome-friendly.


The term ‘probiotics’ is used a lot in relation to gut health, but they’re being used extensively in skincare too. Probiotics are living organisms intended to support the health of the environment they’re added into, in this case the skin microbiome.

The idea of using probiotics for skincare is to improve or even restore the microbiome.

However, note that most probiotic skincare formulas don’t actually contain living probiotic organisms, but lysates or fermented extracts that are closer to postbiotics—although they are often nutrient-rich and feature antioxidants, amino acids, polysaccharides, antimicrobial peptides and other ingredients that offer benefits for the skin.


Prebiotics act as ‘food’ for probiotics. In the case of skincare, this includes plant-based sugar molecules and oils that contain healthy carbohydrates like oat, rice, flaxseed, soy and ginseng.

Prebiotic skincare can help to balance the skin microbiome and, ultimately, reduce redness, inflammation and the signs of ageing.

However, the term ‘microbiome-friendly’ is somewhat ambiguous: does it mean a product is actively good for the skin microbiome, or simply that it doesn’t harm it?

A healthy skin microbiome needs healthy skin

To understand how we can create products that support a healthy skin microbiome, it’s useful to consider why skin becomes ‘unhealthy’ in the first place. Let’s take a look at a common example: acne.

The bacteria responsible for an outbreak of acne, Cutibacterium acnes, feeds on sebum, a sticky, oily substance produced by the sebaceous glands. During puberty, sebum production increases, allowing the C. acnes bacteria to thrive. Virulent strains of C. acnes then take over, leading to acne. The problem doesn’t start in the microbiome, but the microbiome is thrown out of balance by an issue with the skin itself.

It’s a similar story for skin that suffers from atopic dermatitis, a condition caused by high pH levels in the skin, which is favourable to the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus.

Skin that is functioning ‘normally’, for example not producing too much sebum, fosters a healthier skin microbiome, which in turn is better for our skin.

With this in mind, skincare products that support the skin’s epidermal self-renewal process and maintain optimum functionality will lead to healthy skin microbiomes.

Do you want to find out more about how you can create skincare formulations that support a healthier skin microbiome? Get in touch with the HARKE Chemlink team today by submitting the contact form below, or by giving us a call on 0161 629 2129

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