Let’s be honest … fermentation doesn’t sound like something you want to apply to your face. Whilst there are many synergies between the food industry and the beauty industry – ingredients, packaging, science, fragrances, and flavours to name but a few, fermentation is probably not high on your list of benefits you are looking for when seeking out your next moisturiser.

But perhaps it should be. Fermentation is more often associated with food products, and their benefits for our gut health. Sauerkraut and kimchi are both examples of fermented products, which contain high levels of live bacteria (known as probiotics) that break down in the gut to restore balance and to support digestive health. It is not only gut health that fermented ingredients are good for, but they are also good for the health of our skin.

Fermented beauty products are nothing new, hailing from Korea and Japan, you have probably been using fermented beauty products for some time, without even knowing this. Fermentation is a metabolic process in which compounds are broken down by micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, into smaller compounds. It occurs in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic conditions), and in the presence of beneficial microorganisms (yeasts, moulds, and bacteria) that obtain their energy through the fermentation process. During the fermentation process, these beneficial microbes break down sugars and starches into alcohols and acids.

Fermented skincare is rich in healthy bacteria and probiotics and can support the skin in balancing and strengthening microorganisms that make up our skin’s microbiome. One of the biggest difficulties for a skincare product with a large molecular size is to penetrate deep enough into our skin to be able to deliver optimum benefits. However, with fermentation breaking down larger sized molecules into smaller molecules, the reduction in size aids in absorbing active ingredients to where our skin needs it most. Sometimes, chemical compounds in a specific extract can irritate our skin type (we have all been there) especially if you have sensitive skin. Fermentation assists in breaking down this irritant to reduce its effect on sensitive skin.
There are numerous fermented ingredients from green tea, to mushrooms, sake extract, alpha hydroxy acids to natural extracts created from ingredients such as red ginseng and black tea that can be found in skincare. Glycolic acid, in a natural form, is derived from fruits, plants and sugar cane, and is great for exfoliation and to stimulate cell renewal.

Why Use Them
Some of the most common reasons to seek out beauty products with fermented ingredients include:

To treat acne
Fermented skincare products contain probiotic bacteria that help in maintaining healthy bacteria in the gut and in attacking harmful bacteria in our gut that cause acne.

Keeps us looking younger
One of the best benefits of fermented products, is that they help in slowing down the natural ageing process of our skin. Yeast is a form of fermentation that is found in most anti-ageing skincare products and is effective in fighting against skincare infections, containing enzymes that are used extensively in anti-ageing skincare formulations. If you are looking to achieve a plumper and softer complexion, fermented soy can help boost your skin’s own production of hyaluronic acid. Green tea seed oil has superior moisturising benefits, and the complex fermentation process releases an extra hit of vitamin E, free fatty acids, and polyphenols.

Eating fermented foods also assists in clarifying and rejuvenating our skin from the inside out. When used in topical skincare, this fermentation process increases the bioavailability of ingredients, which means that they penetrate our skin at a deeper level. This is ideal for anyone with particularly dry skin. Kefir is made from fermented milk and has been found to cure eczema. Fermented skincare products help to strengthen and balance the skin, retain moisture, and improve the PH balance of our skin.

Brands to look out for
An increasing number of brands are utilising the wonders of fermented ingredients to create effective, barrier-boosting skincare products that help to support a healthy skin microbiome.

Fresh has a cult product called Black Tea Kombucha Facial Treatment – which can be used post-cleansing in the morning and the evening to ensure a hydrated complexion.

Clinique launched an updated version of their hero product Moisture Surge with fermented aloe vera, which penetrates the skin more easily.
Glossier launched Cleanser Concentrate which contains exfoliating grape ferment, along with lactic and malic acid and niacinamide to brighten, smooth and tighten the skin.

Zelen’s has launched Tea Shot Urban Defence Serum, which includes fermented black tea (or kombucha) along with another four types of tea for antioxidant protection.

Sunday Riley’s has launched Pink Drink Essence, which contains prebiotic fermented honey, green tea, and ceramides to help keep your skin strong and luminous.

In case you are not yet sold on fermented ingredients, let me hasten to add that they are not only good for our gut health, and our skincare regime but they also pay benefits to our hair. In China the Yao women have been using fermented rice water on their hair for centuries. It helps increase blood flow to the scalp and hair follicles and is packed with vitamins and amino acids that help to prevent oxidative stress and to boost keratin levels.

Having a long day? Perhaps it is time to relax with a cup of green tea, a bowl of sauerkraut, a rice hair mask, and an exfoliating grape cleanser.