People have been singing the praises of fermented food for healing the body inside out, but what about fermentation for the face? What started as a trend in South Korea has made its way west, as natural beauty enthusiasts search for ingredients that are both effective and free of synthetics. Just as grapes turn to wine and cabbage to kimchi—the fermentation process supposedly renders skin care products more absorbable and potent. Learn more about this new frontier in skin care before swapping out your routine.
To understand the science behind fermented skin care, think of digestive enzymes. Just as fermented foods and enzyme supplements aid in the digestion and absorption of nutrients you consume, fermentation of the nutrients in topical skin care makes them more concentrated and easily absorbed. These beauty products often contain fruit, herbs and yeast, all of which can be fermented. The fermentation process transforms the natural substances in a moisturizer, serum or mask, enabling the skin to more readily accept and absorb these ingredients.
In addition to easier and quicker absorption, fermentation also works to increase the nutrient density, making the product’s natural ingredients more powerful. Wine, for instance, has greater overall antioxidant capacity (AOX) than grape juice, according to a 2002 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Often, fermented yeast extract is included in these formulations, since the fermentation process produces amino acids and peptides that help skin’s cellular renewal. In 2007, a study in Dermatologic Therapy found that fermented yeast extract could help diminish the signs of skin aging by improving collagen synthesis.
A range of products feature fermented ingredients, including gel cleansers, exfoliating peels, serums, topical creams and brightening masks. A few of the fermented ingredients found in these cutting-edge products include sea kelp, black soy, fermented olive leaf extract and ginseng. Some product lines feature different mineral extracts that are fermented in yeast (saccharomyces) such as zinc, magnesium and copper. After being converted into peptides by the yeast, the yeast is then removed and the mineral peptides can penetrate the skin, for increased product efficacy.
Research and Safety
Research regarding fermentation in skin care is not overly abundant, but what does exist appears to hold promise. A Journal of Medicinal Food study published in 2012 revealed that fermented red ginseng—as compared to traditional red ginseng—increased both whitening and anti-wrinkle efficacy. Because fermented products mimic cell functions, working with skin in a symbiotic fashion, adverse reactions are rare and they’re suitable for sensitive skin. Furthermore, because the fermentation process helps to preserve the product’s shelf life with antimicrobial properties, they usually don’t contain parabens.
This article has been reviewed by oculoplastic surgeon Dr. Matheson Harris.