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Fermentation: A Trend in Cosmetics

by Gudrun Ambros (comments: 0)

Korean woman putting cream on her face
Korean woman putting cream on her face. Asia, and Korea in particular, is currently considered a trendsetter in cosmetics. symbol picture © Shutterstock/metamorworks

Since primeval time, people have used fermentation to conserve food products or to create new aromas. Without fermentation we would have no sourdough bread, no yoghurt, neither black tea nor coffee, and would have to live without soy sauce and sauerkraut. While forgotten for a long time, fermentation has turned into a gourmet status in recent years. And it is also being hyped in cosmetics at the moment. Especially when the creams and lotions come from Korea, which is currently considered a trendsetter in cosmetics.

Not a new phenomenon

Whamisa is a young Korean company that uses fermentation to extract valuable ingredients from flowers, fruits and seeds in its natural cosmetic skin care products. At this year’s Vivaness, interest in fermentation at the company’s exhibition booth was high, reports Michaela Dengler from the marketing agency Carlcom. Fermentation in cosmetics as a trend? – “Yes, for sure”, is Dengler’s view. Some European brands have already jumped on the bandwagon and influencers are reporting on the topic.

But fermented ingredients are not a new phenomenon in natural cosmetics: Ocean Basis, the company behind the German natural cosmetics brand Oceanwell, has been working with fermented brown algae for over 15 years. In 2001, scientists developed a recipe that contains active ingredients from the laminaria algae harvested in the Baltic Sea. One of the two extraction methods used by the company is fermentation. Hereby, organic substances are converted with the help of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi or protozoa. According to the cell biologist Thorsten Walter from Ocean Basis, this is a purely biological and gentle method that does not require heat or chemicals.

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New exotic ingredients for natural cosmetics

The Rambutan tree is a relative of the lychee tree, carrying red, prickly-haired fruits with interesting active ingredients for cosmetics. These are now available organically certified and certified for natural cosmetics – by BASF.

In Oceanwell’s production, special yeast fungi are added to the freshly harvested, finely ground brown algae and feed on them for six weeks. They convert large molecules into small ones that can then be better absorbed. The technical term for this is better bioavailability. Yeast fungi convert inorganic substances into organic substances into organic ones that are generally better absorbed by humans. Another advantage of the process is that certain substances are altered by fermentation in such a way that they are very unlikely to cause allergies. In addition, fermentation produces new substances: the Laminaria ferment extract does not only contain active substances from brown algae such as polyphenols as radical scavengers or iodide, which stimulates cell metabolism, but also contains alcohol, more B vitamins and, for example, succinic acid, which supplies cells with energy. Yet another advantage of the use of fermentation is that it prolongs the shelf life. This saves other preservatives, explains Thorsten Walter.

What you should know: Fermentation belongs to the field of biotechnology. People who work with microorganisms could also use genetically modified organisms. However, such microorganisms are not used for Oceanwell as they are not permitted in natural cosmetics.

Few studies to date

Therefore, fermentation is a gentle process that makes ingredients from plants bioavailable, generates new substances in the process and brings further advantages. So far, there are only a few American or Korean studies on how fermentation extracts work when applied to the skin. Scientists have found that lactic acid has a moisture-stimulating effect and fermented rice bran has antioxidant and therefore antiaging properties. According to the study, fermented soy milk can stimulate the skin’s own production of hyaluronic acid, which functions like a water reservoir.

Smoothing effect

Hyaluronic acid itself is found in various natural cosmetic products. Its smoothing effect is scientifically well-established. In the past, it was obtained from cockscombs; today it is produced microbiologically with the aid of fermenters. Various natural cosmetics companies rely on hyaluronic acid, especially for anti-aging products.

Already, some natural cosmetic products contain other fermented ingredients, such as extract of radish root, which is said to have an antimicrobial and anti-dandruff effect, or the fermentatively produced gel-forming agent xanthan. Lactic acid helps to maintain skin moisture and regulates the pH value. The lacto-intensive active complex included in almost all Bioturm products is a fermented organic whey.

Dr. Niedermaier Pharma has been producing a product made from fermented fruits, nuts and vegetables called Rechtsregulat®Bio, which is used as nutritional supplement for an inside out effect. Since 2011, the essence has been part of a natural cosmetics series.

The skin-soothing effect of fermentation products has been widely known for some time, explains Micheal Muehlhaupt, responsible for research and development at Niedermaier Pharma. Studies have shown that the essence stimulates skin cells to produce more enenergy – “certainly an anti-aging effect”. Regulat replaces up to one third of the water content in the products and additionally helps to save on preservatives.

Special features of fermentation:

  • Gentle process
  • Makes plant ingredients bioavailable
  • Generates new active ingredients
  • Extends shelf life
  • Reduces the risk of allergies
  • Generates well tolerated substances

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