You’re probably familiar with the benefits of fermented food (yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, etc.) for your health — but did you know that fermentation can possibly benefit your complexion, too? More and more products are using probiotics and other fermented oils and ingredients in their formulations, with promises of strengthening your skin barrier and boosting your skin’s overall health.
With all the different skin trends out there, from moisture sandwiches to skin cycling, it can be hard to keep up on what’s legit and what’s not. To get a complete breakdown of what fermented skin care is and how to use it in your routine, Bustle tapped experts to learn more.
What Is Fermented Skin Care?
Fermentation is the chemical breakdown of a substance into a simpler, smaller substance via microorganisms, such as bacteria and yeast. “Fermentation is a process that has been used for thousands of years, across many cultures and industries,” Dr. Shereene Idriss, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at Idriss Dermatology and founder of PillowtalkDerm Skincare, tells Bustle. “It is used in the food industry (i.e. wine, kimchi, and other types of food) and it is now trending in skin care.”
Dr. Hadley King, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Dr. Hadley King Dermatology and clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, says that the same idea of fermentation that everyone is familiar with works the same in skin care. “Skin care ingredients can be fermented to make the molecules smaller for better absorption, increase potency, or generate pre- or post-biotics that can help support the skin barrier,” says King.
Common ingredients in fermented skin care include lactic acid, which Idriss says comes from fermented milk. But other well-known ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid and topical collagen, can also be fermented and decreased in size for better absorption.
The Benefits Of Fermented Skin Care
The biggest benefit is that it allows actives to work better. Idriss explains that when certain ingredients — like yeast or fruit — are broken down, they can be mixed in with skin care products to amplify those benefits and results. The fermentation helps actives in skin care products penetrate the skin better, thus making them more effective. Another practical benefit, she says, is that fermentation increases preservation, helping your products last longer.
As far as specific benefits, some preliminary studies have shown that fermentation can improve signs of aging due to sun damage, while another study done on animals has shown that ingredients such as fermented ginseng also have anti-aging properties. In another, a fermented barely and soybean formula were shown to have hydration boosting qualities, but these studies are still far from conclusive.
Is It Suitable For All Skin Types?
In general, fermented skin care is safe for everyone. King says that pre-, pro-, and post-biotics help support the skin barrier to reduce the risk of inflammation and irritation, making these formulations particularly helpful for those with any skin sensitivity.
Idriss adds that she sees fermented skin care being beneficial for those with dry skin, as certain products help with deeper moisture penetration. However, it really depends on what other ingredients are being used in the formula.
How Do You Use It In A Routine?
Both experts agree that fermented skin care plays well with other ingredients and can easily be incorporated into your routine. Idriss says the best practice, however, is to do a patch test just to be safe. She also recommends only introducing one new product at a time into your routine to acclimate your skin to change.
Are There Any Negative Effects?
Though Idriss says there are already well-researched ingredients with proven effects, such as lactic acid and SK-II’s patented pitera, studies have shown that there needs to be more research done to prove its efficacy since it is a relatively new skin care trend.
Unless you’re already prone to sensitivity to certain fermented ingredients, fermented skin care is generally safe to use and like mentioned above, easy to incorporate.
We at Bustle only include products that have been independently selected by our editors. We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
Dr. Hadley King, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Dr. Hadley King Dermatology and clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
Shin, D., Lee, Y., Huang, Y., Lim, H., Jang, K., Kim, D., & Lim, C. (2018). Probiotic fermentation augments the skin anti-photoaging properties of Agastache rugosa through up-regulating antioxidant components in UV-B-irradiated HaCaT keratinocytes. 2018 June 26; 18: 196. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6019510/
Lee, S., Kim, J., Suk, S., Kwon, O., Park, G., Lim, T., Seo, S., Kim, J., Kim, D., Lee, M., Chung, D., Jeon, J., Cho, D., Hurh, B., Kim, S., & Lee, K. A fermented barley and soybean formula enhances skin hydration. 2015 Jul 30; 57(2): 156–163. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4566027/