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First Kimchi… Now Cleanser: Why It’s Time To Get On Board With Fermented Skincare


Photo: Féliz Valiente

From kimchi to kombucha, many of us swear by fermented foods to keep our gut health in check, so why not our skin, too? A growing number of brands are harnessing the wonders of fermented ingredients to create effective, barrier-boosting skincare that also fosters a healthy skin microbiome.

Hailing from Korea, where fermented ingredients have been used for thousand of years, it’s hardly a new concept. But as our obsession with health and wellbeing grows, so too does our interest in skincare to support our efforts in the area. “In recent years, skincare trends have tended to follow wellness trends,” confirms consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto. “Fermentation in skincare is a good example of this.”

First, a quick science lesson: fermentation is a metabolic process in which compounds are broken down by micro-organisms, such as bacteria and yeast, into simpler and smaller compounds. You likely already enjoy some of the fruits of fermentation in your current skincare regime. Ingredients span from alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic, mandelic and lactic acids come from fermented sugar, almonds and milk respectively), to a number of natural extracts, created from ingredients including red ginseng and black tea.

Tiffany Masterson, founder of Drunk Elephant, a brand that frequently uses fermented extracts in its formulas, also points out that the process “cultivates the synthesis of antioxidant compounds – specifically phenolics and flavonoids”, which not only ward off oxidative stress from external aggressors, but also have strong anti-inflammatory benefits for the skin.

Another reason she’s such a fan? “Fermented ingredients like sake extract are probiotics, too, which when applied topically, can help support the health of the micro-organisms that make up the skin’s microbiome,” she says. Which helps keep the all-important skin barrier robust, and skin concerns such as irritation, dehydration, acne, eczema and rosacea at bay. Overall, fermented ingredients are said to be more concentrated, better able to penetrate the skin, and therefore more effective.

So, where to start? Glossier’s recently launched Cleanser Concentrate enlists the help of exfoliating grape ferment, along with lactic and malic acids and niacinamide to help brighten, smooth and tighten the skin. Sunday Riley’s Pink Drink Essence is packed with the good stuff, including prebiotic fermented honey, green tea and ceramides, to keep skin strong, healthy and luminous. Zelens’s Tea Shot Urban Defence Serum is the ultimate skincare defender, and employs fermented black tea (or kombucha) alongside four other types of tea for unparalleled antioxidant protection. And lest we forget the OG of fermented skincare products: Fresh’s cult Black Tea Kombucha Facial Treatment, which can be used post-cleanse morning and evening for hydrated, happy skin.

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