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fermented skincare products

Why Fermented Skin-Care Products Are a Must for Nourished, Glowy Skin

This is a beauty trend we can get behind.

By: Sara Spruch-Feiner

Fermentation typically calls to mind products like kimchi or wine, but it turns out it’s just as good for your skin (if not as tasty). At its core, fermentation is a transformation process, and in fact, it’s one you might already be familiar with without even knowing it. Take, for example, lactic acid, a longtime skin-care favorite. Lactic acid is derived from fermented milk. A longtime favorite of the skin-care industry, it’s now being joined by a new wave of products that are developed by fermenting all sorts of superfoods—mushrooms, green tea, wasabi—and more, to reap the benefits of this process.

Curious to try out this latest beauty trend for yourself? First things first, the basics:

 

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What Is Fermentation?

The process of fermentation is one in which microorganisms like yeast are used to break down or alter the ingredients of natural compounds. Simply put: “With fermentation, substances are broken down when in the presence of bacteria,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman.

Fermentation yields universally skin-friendly ingredients like probiotics and lactic acid. Lactic acid is known to be one of the gentler AHAs and is safe for sensitive skin, while probiotics, says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Sapna Palep, benefit skin’s overall health by “creating a healthy microbiome—aka the ecosystem of bacteria that lives on the skin.”

“Depending on the type of fermentation and the microorganisms, many different metabolites (postbiotics) are created naturally. Often they are rich in nutrients like vitamins, amino acids, lactic acid, polysaccharides, and beta glucans that nourish the body and the immune system,” says Alison Cutlan, founder of Biophile.

Many whole-food and plant-based ingredients can be fermented to enhance their nutrients and yield probiotics. However, “fermenting ingredients that have antimicrobial activity is a challenge because they kill off the bacteria and kill the fermentation process. Fermenting isolated compounds wouldn’t be effective or desired,” Cutlan explains.

 

How Do Fermented Ingredients Benefit the Skin?

There are a number of benefits that result from fermentation, but the three most important (at least as they relate to your skin) are increased potency, increased penetration, and increased preservation.

According to experts, ingredients are actually more powerful post-fermentation, which can potentially mean more bang for your buck in your skin-care products. Says Palep, “Just like wine, fermentation uses yeast in a natural process to secrete enzymes, which makes the natural ingredients found in fermented skin-care products more potent.”

The argument for increased penetration comes from the fact that fermentation breaks down ingredients into smaller parts. “Because of this chemical reaction, the key ingredients found in fermented skin care tend to be smaller in molecular size, so they may be able to be more readily absorbed by the skin, but the jury is still out,” Palep says. This is often referred to as making the ingredients ‘biocompatible’ or ‘bioavailable,’ a process that also assists with increased potency.

Finally, fermentation can actually increase a product’s shelf life so that you don’t risk your favorite mask or serum spoiling before you use it. “Depending on the type of fermentation, some of the metabolites created are lactic acid, organic acids, and acetic acid (vinegar) that—along with a low pH environment—prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria,” Cutlan explains.

 

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Who Are Fermented Products Good For?

Though products that center around fermented ingredients are often sensitive-skin friendly (if not necessarily made with sensitive skin in mind), as with any new products you introduce to your skin, patch testing is still recommended. “Fermented products are commonly used for their anti-inflammatory and skin-calming benefits,” board-certified dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner says, noting that this makes them useful for those with inflammatory conditions like acne.

Shop 11 of Our Favorite Fermented Skin-Care Products:

Biophile Bio-shroom Rejuvenating Serum

$148

This award-winning serum contains Biophile’s proprietary “Shroom Biotic Broth,” a blend of fermented chaga, reishi, and tremella mushrooms that support the skin’s barrier. They’re not the only superhero ingredients, however. Niacinamide soothes and fights acne, and vitamin C helps support a youthful glow.

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Good (Skin) Days On The Bright Side Moisturizer

$24

Good (Skin Days), a new, in-house brand from Soko Glam, creates affordable, approachable skin-care basics that still deliver impressive results. Case in point: this lightweight gel moisturizer. It combines rice ferment filtrate (aka sake), bifida ferment lysate (a probiotic derived from fermented yeast), and lactobacillus ferment lysate, a soothing probiotic, for hydrated, balanced skin and a thriving microbiome.

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Venn Advanced Multi-perfecting Red Oil Serum

$115

This multi-tasking oil contains 34 root extracts, botanicals, and essential oils—but the two heroes are Lithospermum Erythrorhizon (Gromwell) Root Extract and Angelica Gigas (Korean Angelica) Root Extract, which are fermented for 150 hours. The result is healthier, glowier, smoother skin.

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Elemis Superfood AHA Glow Cleansing Butter

$38

This luxe cleanser (it really is buttery) contains fermented pumpkin enzymes and acerola cherry, which naturally contain alpha-hydroxy acids, meaning that not only will it melt makeup, but it can also work as a deep-cleansing mask if your skin is looking particularly dull.

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Vintner’s Daughter Active Treatment Essence

$225

The Active Treatment Essence takes five weeks to make(!!). It’s powered by Phyto Radiance Infusion and made with an array of super nutrient-rich whole plants including alfalfa, dandelion, nettle, helichrysum, moringa, acerola, astragalus, gotu kola, mullein, and marshmallow.

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AmorePacific Vintage Single Extract Essence

$175

The process to create this essence takes a full 100 days. It starts with antioxidant-rich green tea leaves from Jeju Island (a K-beauty paradise of precious ingredients) which naturally ferment outside for 50 days before moving to traditional Korean onggis (earthenware), which are placed underground for another 50 days.

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Neogen Real Ferment Micro

$38

This K-beauty serum is like a multivitamin for the skin. It’s made of a 61 percent blend of bifida ferment lysate, yeast ferment lysate, and rice ferment filtrate. Vitamins C, E, and both B3 and B5 (aka niacinamide and panthenol) work together to hydrate and boost skin’s health.

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Arêmês Fermentis Super Bioactive Face Serum

$115

Created by a food scientist, this luxe face oil contains a blend of fermented mushrooms including reishi, shiitake, chaga, and snow mushrooms, which work to protect, nourish, and brighten your complexion.

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For The Biome Invigorate Powder Mask

$65

A blend of prebiotic-rich fermented mushrooms (lion’s mane, chaga, maitake, and king trumpet) in this powder mask help skin glow even when it's stressed from the environment or your inbox.

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DermaDoctor Lucky Bamboo Probiotic Fermented Wasabi Pressed Serum

$65

Fermented wasabi is the hero ingredient in this “pressed serum” (it feels more like a light lotion). It’s a probiotic and antioxidant-rich, which helps keep the microbiome balanced and protected from free-radical damage.

Buy

Kristina Holey x Marie Veronique Barrier Restore Serum

$110

This serum is a superstar for anyone with compromised skin barrier function. It utilizes fermented algae, which is a hygroscopic ingredient, meaning it increases the water content of the epidermis, which, in turn, supports the skin barrier. Plump, hydrated skin is in your future.

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