The Skin Microbiome: The Lens That Will End the Natural vs Synthetic Debate

Science-backed skincare is on the rise but natural-based beauty brands continue to enter the market. Despite the lack of scientific evidence to back the claims of efficacy made by these natural beauty brands, there are still many who believe that “natural” ingredients are better for the skin. This belief is aided by the multitude of skincare brands that market their products as being healthier than conventionally-formulated products. In keeping with this belief, synthetically derived ingredients are viewed as more likely to be harmful to humans. This is not true as there are many naturally-derived ingredients that are harmful, just as there are synthetically-derived ingredients that are beneficial for skin health. Nevertheless, this is a narrative that has been successful, as it uses a persuasive logic that has come from the food industry. Proponents of natural skincare often say, “what’s good to eat should be good for your skin”, overlooking the fact that human skin is not a digestive organ. With no market triggers in sight to end the natural vs. synthetic debate, natural skincare brands and products continue to make their way into the market. But this could now change: the skin microbiome offers a lens that could eventually end the debate for good.

What is the importance of the skin microbiome?

The skin microbiome plays an integral part in keeping the skin healthy. Thus, the skin microbiome can be a significant deciding factor when it comes to choosing skin care ingredients to include in a formulation. Based on evidence from research studies, skin care ingredients can be categorized according to their ability to affect the balance of the skin microbiome: ingredients that are deemed suitable would be ones that provide minimal disruption, whereas ingredients that disrupt or harm the skin microbiome would be deemed unsuitable. The most beneficial ingredients would be those that support a healthy microbiome and cause the least amount of disruption.

As the importance of the skin microbiome becomes more widely known, it will help consumers to understand that foods are not automatically good for skin health, and that plant-derived ingredients are not always beneficial for the skin. An example of this is the strong irritancy potential that plant-derived essential oils can have. As more and more brands start to roll out communication about the skin microbiome and how beauty products can disrupt the balance of the microbiome, the debate around natural vs. synthetic will eventually become irrelevant. Consumers will demand products that are gentle to the skin microbiome, regardless of whether they contain natural or synthetically derived ingredients.

The consumer demand for skin microbiome-gentle products along with the development of such products, may prompt brands to downplay their communication around the “naturalness” of their products. This development will likely also go hand in hand with the adoption of biotechnologically-made ingredients, a testament to how synthetic ingredients can often be superior in terms of sustainability and efficacy compared to the same ingredients derived from natural sources.

In conclusion, the current debate over natural vs. synthetic ingredients will eventually become irrelevant. Instead, brands will focus more on the science of the microbiome, and the essential role it plays in supporting the health of both humans and our surrounding environment. The adoption of skin microbiome science may even help to propel a downstream curiosity for further scientific research into related fields. As the era of microbiome-friendly skincare unfolds, beauty brands will recognise that the source of an ingredient, whether naturally-derived or synthetic, has no relation to its effect on the skin microbiome.  In doing so, beauty brands will adapt and learn how to formulate beauty products that are gentle and respect the microbiome, thus helping to maintain the natural balance of healthy skin.



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