Formulating, marketing, and innovating skin care in the age of good bacteria

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

Formulating, marketing, and innovating skin care in the age of good bacteria

Related tags Cosmetics Gut flora

Public appreciation of the skin’s microbiome is on the rise, and while the personal care and cosmetics industry has been working in this area for years, there’s much more to learn and a responsibility to educate the consumer, says Marie Alice Dibon.

Marie Alice Dibon, holds a doctorate in pharmacy from the Institute of Pharmaceutical and Biological Sciences of Lyon, and is the founder of Alice Communications, a firm specializing in business development, communications, strategy, and innovation.

At in-cosmetics North America next month, Dibon will give two presentations, one (Thursday 8 September at 12:15pm) on the most relevant issues and trends pertaining to the skin’s microbiome. 

Cosmetics Design spoke with Dibon recently to find out how savvy brands can stay ahead of the curve and make smart choices when it comes to the next-generation of skin care.

Mass appeal

Probiotics are now common in the food industry; academic and dermatological communities are steadily, albeit slowly, coming out in favor of topical probiotics​; and there are even popular books on the subject, like The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Young, which is written up in this week’s New York Times book review.  

“It is a sea change for this industry,” ​Dibon tells Cosmetics Design. And it has indeed been a longtime coming: “It is important to first remember that we, [the personal care and cosmetics industry, have] used and claimed prebiotics in our products for a very long time,” ​notes Dibon.

“In the mid 90’s, Solabia already had BioEcolia on the market, and we were using it, in particular, in anti-acne products to boost the natural flora and give it a competitive advantage over pathogens,” ​she points out.

Pro-bacteria branding

Out of context, the bacteria that comprises the skin’s microbiome can seem a bit funky, filthy, and unappealing.

When asked about the best language and branding strategies that skin care makers can employ, Dibon emphasized that “it is so important to understand the Microbiome from a symbolic standpoint, from an epistemological standpoint, and understand what the positive subconscious triggers are that we can extract…in order to craft [a benefits and branding] message.”

Dibons continues, “when you look at it closely, the way it functions, what it does for us, you will find a lot of meaning, a lot of things that are in sync with current macro trends. In other words, by effectively understanding the science and analyzing it properly, we can use semantics and iconography that will positively resonate with consumers because they will evoke other areas of their lives that are perceived as undergoing positive change.”

That said, there’s a time and place for everything: “I don’t want to see microbiome claims on all products,” ​admits Dibons. “That would be terribly boring.”

“But the Microbiome should become as important [in the industry] as the skin barrier is. It should be something that we at the very least, mind when formulating, or chose to target for different types of skin care.”

Science and momentum

Consumer trends progress from sector to sector. And it’s fair to say probiotics got started in food. “In foods, nothing is hotter than kombucha drinks, fermentation based products, etc.,” ​recognizes Dibon.

“In skin care, many brands have already introduced what they call probiotics in their products - although most are deactivated probiotics, it is a first step and this move is usually accompanied by a messaging that unequivocally refers to the presence of live bacteria on the skin. Some are even extremely explicit, picturing live bacteria on the skin in their advertising (e.g. Sanex).”

When working with ingredients, Dibon believes that manufacturers and chemists should “first do no harm….We should apply this to this newly found ‘thing’ we call microbiota, whether you think of it as a partner, an actor, or an inherent part of who we are. We need to make sure we don’t negatively alter the Microbiome,” ​she tells Cosmetic Design.

“We need to question what our ingredients do to the microbiome, as well as our formulas,” ​says Dibon.


Marie Alice Dibon is a fount of knowledge on this subject, and Cosmetics Design simply didn’t have the space to accommodate all of the insights she shared with us. To discover more, consider attending her upcoming presentations at the in-cosmetics North America event in New York City this September: details here​.

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