Kombucha: What's In It For Your Skin?
The Kombucha Craze
Fight bacteria with bacteria? If you’re one of the countless health buffs caught up in the “kombucha-cures-all” craze, then this mantra probably rings a bell. And if their testaments are any proof, then the health benefits attributed to this drink are certainly too good to pass up, which run the gamut from improving digestion and liver function to lowering cholesterol levels, from strengthening the immune system to preventing cancer. Even celebrities like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Reese Witherspoon have already joined the “booch” bandwagon!
But did you know that kombucha—also known as “saccharomyces/xylinum,” “hydroxyethylcellulose” or “black tea ferment”—has also sneaked its way into some of your beauty products? Apparently, some skin experts believe that this symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (or SCOBY) contains valuable therapeutic and anti-aging benefits.
What Is It and What’s In It for You?
The kombucha culture contains multiple species of yeast and bacteria, as well as organic acids, active enzymes, amino acids and polyphenols produced by these microbes. These microorganisms form a flat, pancake-like structure that resembles a mushroom, hence its nickname “mushroom tea.” The drink is produced by adding the culture to a sweetened black tea, and then fermented for seven to ten days.
Proponents of this age-old “wonder” drink assert that like yogurt and kefir, kombucha tea contains probiotics or good bacteria, which aid in digestion and in eliminating harmful bacteria. Recent studies made by the Swiss Society of Food Science and Technology and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center support this, asserting that kombucha has prophylactic and therapeutic properties, including antimicrobial, antibacterial and antifungal effects. However, clinical studies in humans are scarce and often inconclusive.
As for the skin, the International Dermal Institute website defines kombucha as an ingredient that can “boost skin immune function and assist in restoring volume to deficient zones in the skin.” No wonder, a handful of skin care companies like Juara Skincare, EmerginC and Murad have started releasing product lines that market kombucha as a key active ingredient.
According to Yoshiko Roth-Hidalgo, one of the founders of vegan skin care company Juara, kombucha holds a wealth of therapeutic and anti-aging properties for the skin. In fact, the brand’s Sweet Black Tea Line, which includes an eye cream, a lip treatment and the much-loved Sweet Black Tea & Rice Facial Moisturizer, capitalizes on its fabled beauty benefits.
“Our Kombucha is a patented ingredient that has been shown in both laboratory and clinical tests to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, increase the radiance and luminosity of the skin, and even out skin tone,” Yoshiko says. “More specifically—and now we are getting into the scientific details of it—kombucha has been shown to reduce the effects of ‘glycation,’ which is a big factor in destruction of collagen (thus aging) as well as oxidative stress.”
This anti-glycation activity also appeared in the result of the study provided by EmerginC, whose Scientific Organics line, including the Kombucha Cleanser, features this healing concoction as one of the active ingredients. Aside from decreasing glycation, the study also suggests that kombucha increases adipocyte (fat cells) population in the skin, restoring plumpness on deficient zones, and thus making it a viable solution for mature skin. In consumer test, about 80% of the volunteers experienced improvement in skin smoothness, color and radiance in 29 days.
Board-certified and nationally acclaimed dermatologist Dr. Howard Murad is also a firm believer of this ingredient. In fact, some of his products, including the recently launched Pore and Line Minimizing Hydrator, feature the Kombucha Collagen Defense®, an exclusive formula designed to address adult acne, fine lines and wrinkles, uneven skin texture and dryness.
“As an anti-glycation agent, kombucha helps inhibit metabolic destruction of collagen, while its lipid-filling action helps stimulate collagen production, reduce the appearance of fine lines and improve skin strength,” Dr. Murad said.
Fountain of Youth or Kiss of Death?
With so much information one can find online—from false claims to faulty homebrew recipes to shady SCOBY breeders—it’s easy to see why some people are still apprehensive about including kombucha in their beauty routine. It didn’t help that some health professionals, including the FDA and Center for Disease Control and Prevention, expressed concerns over this, linking some cases of serious side effects—even death—to the tea.
Mayo Clinic Internist Brent A. Bauer, M.D. says, “There isn't good evidence that kombucha tea delivers on its health claims…and several cases of harm have been reported. Therefore, the prudent approach is to avoid kombucha tea until more definitive information is available.”
In defense of kombucha, EmerginC CEO and Founder Ian Lirenman says, “The evidence of serious threats is scant and it seems only associated with contamination, which of course can occur with almost any food source.”
Yoshiko agrees, saying that the threats or risks of home brewing kombucha don’t apply to its use as a skincare active. She says, “Kombucha as a skincare active has been standardized and tested to be safe for topical application and free from infectious microorganisms.”
Of course, even if skin care companies exercise extreme care in formulating their products, Yoshiko doesn’t discount the fact that some people may be allergic to kombucha, and therefore advises everyone to exercise prudence when trying on a new product.
“Test it on the crease between the upper and lower arm, where the skin is particularly sensitive. If a reaction occurs within an hour it’s possible that you are allergic to something in the product, which may or may not be the kombucha ingredient. If your skin is fine, then go ahead and try it on your freshly cleansed face,” she said.
Article posted 9/17/2012.