Fermentation Phenomenon

As Korean beauty continues its skincare reign, one of its hottest subsets—fermented beauty—is making a major impact. A nod to Korea’s history of fermented food products, more and more fermented ingredients, including fruits, plants, herbs, and yeast, are appearing in masks, serums, and lotions.

“Fermentation is a process of complex organic compounds breaking down into simple organic compounds through the chemical reaction of enzymes such as lactobacillus,” says Nathalie Paiva, director of marketing and public relations for Korean skincare company AmorePacific. “Historically, fermentation was widely used to make food products such as alcohol, kimchi, or yogurt.” Now, that process is being adopted in skincare formulations and is providing impressive results. Fermented extracts within skincare products have many benefits, including calming and brightening the skin, as well as providing enhanced antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties—plus, the skin readily absorbs them. Traditional cosmetic processes utilize high temperatures to blend ingredients and actives, whereas fermented skincare is processed slowly in an oxygen-free environment where bad bacteria and toxins are unable to survive.

AmorePacific research and development applied traditional food fermentation processes to green tea to create Bright-T Ferment, which inhibits melanin and activates genes for anti-aging effects, according to Paiva. TonyMoly, another Korean beauty brand, introduced its Timeless Ferment Snail skincare line to much acclaim. “Because the original snail line was an immediate hit, we searched for ways to provide customers with an even more effective way to receive all of the snail mucin’s benefits,” says Michelle Kim, vice president of marketing at Shine 32, which distributes TonyMoly products in the U.S. “The fermentation process yields a smaller molecular structure of the ingredients, allowing for better penetration to the skin and a boost in results.”

A fusion of East and West, Amarte formulations were customized for the U.S. market, as well as broader world markets, by Craig Kraffert, M.D., a practicing dermatologist and president of Amarte U.S., who studied, tested, and perfected the products. Last March, Amarte introduced Silktox, a two-part back-bar treatment featuring silk extract and fermented ginkgo extract, which protects the skin from bacteria and helps maintain its natural pH balance. “Fermented skincare products are uniquely Korean,” says Kraffert. “The harsh climate in Korea has, over the centuries, driven Koreans to be fermenters of various products, including food, beverage, and, as it turns out, skincare. Here in America and abroad, fermented products are trending in both the media and marketplace. Most of our products have naturally fermented ginkgo nut extract within them. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits of ginkgo nut are well known within the Korean culture. We are seeing a rush to market by several upstart brands promoting the fermented qualities of their formulations.” Established Western brands are also jumping on the bandwagon: ESPA recently introduced two products with yeast bioferment, including Optimal Skin ProMoisturiser and Overnight Hydration Therapy; Murad’s Pore & Line Minimizing Hydrator contains kombucha; Fresh’s Black Tea Instant Perfecting Mask is infused with fermented tea; and Dermalogica’s Breakout Control contains lactobacillus ferment. It’s an ancient practice that is making a major modern impact and shows no signs of stopping.

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