The French pharmacist explains what the skin microbiome is, and how probiotics are the answer to healthy skin

Probiotic skincare has been a buzz word amongst beauty enthusiasts of late, with beauty brands from La Roche-Posay to Elizabeth Arden pushing out their version of probiotic- or prebiotic-infused skincare.

But while we know that probiotics are good for our gut health, what exactly do probiotics do for our skin when applied topically?

“The concept of probiotics for the skin is the same, except that we adapt it to the skin eco-system,” Marie Drago, pharmacist and founder of French skincare brand Gallinée, explains.

“You won’t exactly find the same kind of bacteria in the gut and on the skin, because bacteria in the gut, for example, won’t thrive with the light and oxygen on your skin. We use lactobacillus, which is really beneficial as it can be found naturally and it strengthens the skin.”

This concept is also the basis of Marie’s brand, which is a pioneer in the science of supporting the skin microbiome—that’s the name for all the good bacteria and microorganisms that live on and in your body.

“Postbiotics is also so interesting because you can actually influence the environment on your skin for the microbiome to thrive, which is why we use lactic acid to bring the skin to the right pH. The combination of these three (probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics) is really important, so we have a patent for our triple biotic complex,” she shares.

We speak to Drago further about what this concept means for the future of beauty, and whether double-cleansing and exfoliating acids are really the way to go.

Your background is in pharmacy. What sparked your interest in cosmetic science and eventually founding your own brand?
Marie Drago (MD) I was never really into the pharmaceutical industry for ethical reasons, but I have always loved beauty because you can really help people. So even though I’ve got a technical background, I’ve spent over 15 years working for skincare brands, including La Roche-Posay. Starting my own brand was always on the agenda, but I was looking for the perfect idea.

How did the idea for Gallinée come about?
MD The concept for Gallinée came about because I was under very heavy treatment for my autoimmune disease, but it wasn’t really working. I started looking into the science of it and found out about the microbiome and how taking care of my good bacteria actually helps with my condition.

I stopped my treatment and switched to a probiotic and prebiotic-focused diet—which I am still on—and it was such a revolution. That’s when I thought, "If consuming probiotics and prebiotics can do so much for our gut, why is no one taking care of the bacteria on our skin?"

Because the idea was so new, I couldn’t find any science on it, so I called my university and they told me to submit my thesis on the effects of probiotics on the microbiome. I went back to school, 15 years after the end of my studies, and researched for my thesis—which is now the basis for the formulations of Gallinée.

Can you tell us more about its philosophy?
MD Gallinée is the most natural brand you can have, because we don’t add anything to the skin that doesn’t need to be there. We just support your own skin’s ecosystem, because we see the skin as something that’s alive, with living cells and bacteria on it. Our philosophy is bringing your skin to life by balancing the right kind of bacteria on the skin. That is quite different, because it’s the first time that a brand doesn’t try to kill the bacteria on skin but actually encourage the growth of it.

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Above Gallinée La Culture Face Mask & Scrub, Gallinée La Culture Foaming Facial Cleanser, and Gallinée La Culture Hydrating Face Cream

How exactly does the microbiome affect our skin’s health?
MD The microbiome is on top of your skin, so it is literally the first line of defence—anything you put on your skin, always touches the microbiome first.

For example, if your microbiome is damaged, your immune system is going to flare up, and you’re going to experience redness, tightness, and sensitive skin. Just by developing the microbiome, you can strengthen and soothe the skin, which is also important for acne-prone, eczema-prone, and ageing skin.

I think nurturing the microbiome is the future of beauty, and now that we know it exists and what it does, it really makes sense to formulate products that can support it.

What are your thoughts on double-cleansing? 
MD I’ve never done double-cleansing, and I was reading an article yesterday which even recommended triple-cleansing.

I think we tend to clean a bit too much, and I’m the first offender—I wash my hands like 20 times a day and I love a good shower—but it’s really about knowing the difference between cleaning the dirt as opposed to sterilising your skin and damaging it.

I’m all for cleansing if it’s gentle and at pH5 so that it doesn’t strip the skin of your bacteria or destroy the skin barrier, and yes, don’t overdo it.

What about the popularity of exfoliating acids?
MD It’s good, but everything in moderation. If you do it once a week it’s fine, but exfoliating everyday, on the other hand, is probably not very good. I see that exfoliating your scalp is also becoming really popular, and yes, it is clean but I think it is destroying your ecosystem because there isn’t anything left on your skin.

As for acids—everything has to be pH5, so if you go too far in the pH scale, it is also going to be damaging to the microbiome. I know it’s a new concept, but for me it’s all about respecting your bacteria so that they can live happily ever after and protect your skin.

What regime do you recommend for Singaporeans who are constantly exposed to a hot and humid climate and spend long hours in air-conditioning?
MD I think Gallinée is great for Singapore because the products are so light, but moisturising.

I would say our Foaming Facial Cleanser is really good, and it’s very popular in Singapore. Then we’ve got our Face Vinegar which is an oil-free and fragrance-free toner, and for me today, I’m just wearing our hydrating Youthful Serum, without any moisturiser.

I know that in Singapore, people don’t usually like body lotions, but the Body Milk is worth a try because it is so lightweight, non-sticky and non-greasy, and makes your skin super soft.

With a range of face care, body care, and hair care products, you seem to have everything covered. What’s next for Gallinée?
MD Gallinée is a beauty brand for the microbiome, so for everywhere else that has bacteria, we could launch beauty products specific to its care.

For example, the bacteria in your mouth is really important, and toothpaste is probably not the right way to deal with it. I’m also really interested to research more into feminine hygiene, and I think it’s such an intriguing subject that is very underrated.

So yes, there are so many places that we are looking to expand into.

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