Fermented Ingredients in Skin Care
When we picture glowing skin, the word “fermentation” sounds far from a luxury treatment—unless maybe we’re imagining that radiant flush after a wine buzz. If you’ve ever toured a vineyard, you may have learned that your beloved vino comes from…you guessed it: fermented grapes! It’s a chemical process that happens during the breakdown of sugar molecules. And while anti-aging wine facials are a real thing, your results will be way more effective (and less messy) with products that go straight to the source. Let’s explore the benefits of fermented ingredients in skin care and why dermatologists love them.
What are fermented ingredients?
Yogurt, pickles and kimchi are all examples of fermented products. These sour compounds develop when microbes (either bacteria or yeast) chow down on sugar molecules for energy, converting them into smaller compounds called postbiotics such as lactic or acetic acid.
Boosting our immunity, these new nutrients are like organic gold—they strengthen our bodies by warding off harmful bacteria, explains NY-based dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner. Similar to your daily dose of kombucha juice for gut health, the dermis also benefits from fermented ingredients in skin products.
Fermented ingredients in skin care
Originating as a K-beauty trend, fermented ingredients have become a leading breakthrough in natural skin care. From kelp to miso extracts, these incredible micronutrients are highly bio-compatible with our skin, making them super absorbable for maximum healing properties and nourishing benefits.
How fermented ingredients work
To better understand how this works, it’s helpful to imagine our skin surface as a 24/7 host for a wild colony of organisms: yeast, flora, pathogens, allergens—all of which want to overpopulate and take over the party. If the “party crashers” (germs, toxins and viruses) dominate the good guys (friendly bacteria), they’ll hijack the whole community, an environment known as your skin’s microbiome.
By disrupting the natural balance of the microbiome, your skin’s defensive barrier weakens, allowing unfriendly microbes and impurities to thrive. And depending on the degree of dysbiosis (bacterial disharmony), all types of skin problems can arise such as dryness, acne, rosacea, eczema, and wrinkles.
Fermented skincare products help protect the dermis against pathogens to regulate inflammation and infection, explains Mary-Margaret Kober, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Florida. They create the ideal environment for healthy bacteria to thrive by maintaining a pH of around 5.5 (slightly acidic). At this pH level, the skin can maintain its defenses, in combination with healthy sebum levels, to work effectively as an organ.
Skin benefits of fermented ingredients
Fermented ingredients are holistically beneficial for your skin health. By bolstering the microbiome with nutrient-rich postbiotics, the dermis learns to self-regulate better, creating a chain effect of positive natural reactions, ranging from firmer pores to a brighter complexion.
Here are just a few of the incredible benefits of fermented ingredients on skin health.
Want to blast away blemishes? Fermented ingredients treat the underlying cause of acne—not just the symptoms. By maintaining a healthy pH and keeping your pores clear, your skin will be an inhospitable place for pimple-festering bacteria. The idea here is to treat the problem before it starts.
Many of us, however, just focus on treating the symptoms, often resorting to aggressive antibacterial ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. While this may improve your acne, it can also dry out your skin and disrupt the microbiome, unleashing a new string of issues like inflammation, irritation and fine lines. So, comparison-wise, think of these chemicals as warriors that burn away every acne-causing impurity in its path, while fermented ingredients would be more like kind soldiers that support the dermis.
In a perfect skin-case scenario, we all want to look air-brushed (without foundation). To meet this growing demand for natural ways to achieve a flawless glow, the K-beauty industry has been exploding with groundbreaking research on the pore-tightening powers of fermented ingredients.
With a keen interest in fermented coconut extract, a team of Korean dermatologists confirmed amazing clinical findings on its ability to reduce inflammation of UV-exposed skin, while increasing collagen and hyaluronic acid that are naturally found in skin. That’s why more dermatologists are recommending natural recovery treatments made with fermented coconut like the Hydrate Replenishing Biocellulose Mask, enriched with Rosebay and Willowherb to tighten pores and add radiance.
Fermented ingredients are like skin fertilizer—they release nutrients to feed healthy bacteria. Critical to our anti-aging efforts, keeping our friendly microbes well-fed helps maintain higher oxygen levels in the skin. This way, it can defend itself against free radicals, which are unstable oxygen molecules bred from airborne chemicals, pollution, cigarette smoke, and smog.
And even more impressively, fermented ingredients can raise the oxygen levels of neighboring ingredients, as confirmed in clinical studies. Rice water does an especially incredible job at producing these effects. As the main ingredient in the Rescue Rebalancing Cleanser, rice water works to replenish hyaluronic acid, collagen, and elastin. This anti-aging postbiotic tightens pores while the antioxidants from Seaweed, Loquat, and Rosehip Oil work to tone, soften and illuminate your skin.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) are a premium class of fermented skincare ingredients that dissolve dead dermal cells for a smoother complexion. Lactic acid is a popular kind of AHA due to its double-duty benefits: it works as both an exfoliant and a humectant, “meaning it can hydrate skin by pulling in water to the outer skin layer”, explains Dr. Zeichner.
Natural formulas with lactic acid are loved in the conscious beauty community. The Defend Gentle Exfoliator is a unique version that adds Ginkgo—a rejuvenating extract from a healing tree native to China.
Thanks to the help of fermented ingredients, the skin gets a jumpstart on maintaining its moisture layer. Known as the lipid barrier, this fatty helping of sebum is largely what creates that stunning, light-reflective glow.
“People with eczema have lower levels of ceramides [lipids], so replacing it can be very important,” says Dr. Kober. Moisture-friendly extracts like fermented algae and aloe create an unwelcoming environment for harmful bacteria to thrive, out-crowding them to keep your sebaceous glands (oil producers) working optimally.
There’s a reason why fermented ingredients are the soul of ancient Chinese skin care. Honoring the philosophy that pure formulas are best, this organic science supports your skin’s amazing ability to renew—rather than overwhelm it with harsh chemicals. Yes, please!
About the author, Naomi Furgiuele
Naomi is the founder of Nuria and a self-professed nerd with a love for all things science and skin care. She’s had a hand in product development for some of the biggest global beauty brands in the business, gets some of her best ideas while out on a run, and loves her exfoliator almost as much as her awesome family.