Fermentation is well established as a gut-health superpower, but it turns out that what’s good for your insides is good for your outside, too. “Usually, we think of fermentation in connection to medicinal herbs and food, but now that fermented ingredients have entered the beauty mainstream, they’re getting a lot more attention for their skincare benefits,” says Janel Luu, founder and CEO of Le Mieux Cosmetics and PurErb. The metabolic process of converting sugars into acids, gases, or alcohols using yeast or bacteria, fermentation produces an array of bioavailable actives, and they’re increasingly popping up in natural skincare, notes Sue Harmsworth, founder of ESPA, a company that has quietly utilized fermentation for well over a decade.
Among the most common are fermented fruits, plants, herbs, and yeast, which are appearing in masks, serums, lotions, and more. An underrated player in the skincare arena, “fermented ingredients improve skin health, offering soothing, balancing benefits for all skin types while also preserving the integrity of the formula,” says Barbara Close, founder and CEO of Naturopathica. According to Rhonda Allison, founder and CEO of Rhonda Allison Cosmeceuticals, they even increase the functionality of certain ingredients, enhancing the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Considering taking the plunge? Read on for the benefits and drawbacks to pickling your line.
So how does it work? “Fermentation is a natural, anaerobic process that breaks down organic compounds,” says Peach & Lily founder and CEO Alicia Yoon. “These deconstructed compounds help create small molecules that can more easily be absorbed by the skin.” For brands, that means more effective products. “The fermentation process allows us to retain far greater potency of the amino acids, nutrients, minerals, and other ingredients used in our formulas,” says Steven Rosenfeld, president of Columbia Skincare. According to Ashley Stowers, national educator for CelleClé Skincare, fermented ingredients also offer a boost to the skin’s microbial barrier.
America’s fascination with Korean skincare products shows no signs of abating, and with fermentation increasingly linked to such a juggernaut, its popularity can only grow. “Using fermented skincare in spa treatments fits the market trend and helps elevate results—not to mention that products with these ingredients can help increase the bottom line in homecare retail sales,” says Janel Luu of Le Mieux and PurErb. “Clients love the fact that they’re in line with the K-beauty trend.” Fads come and go, though, so if brands want longevity, they have to rely on more than just hype, and fermented ingredients produce results. Plus, as it turns out, estheticians might be more familiar with them than they think. “Because fermented ingredients are naturally a part of many of the professional enzymes and acids, many esthetic professionals may already be incorporating them into their treatments,” says Rhonda Allison.