Move over yogurt and kimchi, these nourishing staples are coming in hot.
Kimchi and gochujang aren’t the only things that get fermented in South Korea! Have you ever noticed how many K-Beauty skincare ingredients are fermented? We have. A whole skin care product category came out of K-Beauty’s love for fermented skin care ingredients: essences.
In Korea, and increasingly across the globe, many skincare ingredients undergo this slow-going aging process, too, and there’s a very good reason why. Fermented skin care ingredients provide more than the base ingredients can, giving users glowy and healthy skin.
For the full explanation on what fermentation is and how it benefits for your skin, keep reading.
What is Fermentation?
Simply put, fermentation is a natural process where bacteria release enzymes that break down the ingredients and proteins around them. When we’re talking about food, this often creates a pleasing taste that ranges from sour to sweet to bitter. Think kimchi, yogurt, sauerkraut, beer, and wine! (The ingredients being fermented also affect the overall taste.)
The fermentation process is very similar in regard to skincare ingredients. Certain ingredients are combined and placed in “anaerobic conditions”—AKA a space where free oxygen is limited.
“[This process] yields helpful postbiotic end products, such as amino acids, vitamins, lactic acid, organic acids, and more elemental sugars called polysaccharides and beta glucans,” explains Dr. Melanie Palm, a board-certified dermatologist at the Art of Skin MD in San Diego, Calif.
5 Ways Fermented Ingredients Benefit Skin
So, why go through all the hassle and spend all that time fermenting skincare ingredients? There are a few key reasons.
“One of the greatest benefits of fermented ingredients is that they help protect our skin from environmental aggressors by balancing our microbiome,” explains Dr. Diane Madfes, a board-certified dermatologist in Greenwich, Conn. Some are also exceptionally high in antioxidants, such as fermented teas and soy.
As an ingredient undergoes fermentation, it breaks down into smaller molecules and proteins, explains Krupa Koestline, a cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants. It’s believed that this allows the skin to more effectively absorb the ingredients.
It’s also theorized that these smaller ingredients have a higher concentration of actives, says Dr. Madfes. In other words: you get more bang for your buck.
“There’s an improved signaling of keratinocytes (our skin cells) to increase cell turnover,” says Dr. Madfes. This results in glowing skin.”
Longer Shelf Life
“Products of fermentation create a broth that tends to be lower in pH, [which] inhibits bacterial growth and increases shelf-life,” says Dr. Palm. Think about how long kimchi, yogurt, or wine lasts, for example.
Fermented Ingredients to Look for and Try
Be on the lookout for these fermented skincare ingredients found in K-Beauty products:
“These are non-living pieces of bacteria that break down ingredients with enzymes to create lactic acid,” says Dr. Madfes. She adds that lactic acid helps stimulate the body’s production of hyaluronic acids and lipids.
Specific ingredients to look for include lactobacillus ferment lysates, lactococcus, saccharomyces, and bifida. Dr. Madfes says, “It’s important to combine the lysates with other ingredients such as squalene, vitamins, emollients, and humectants for optimal benefits.” Neogen Real Ferment Micro Serum is a deeply hydrating serum that’s made with three fermented ingredients, including bifida ferment lysate, saccharomyces ferment filtrate, and rice ferment filtrate. Then I Met You The Giving Essence is also a great fermented essence composed of over 80% naturally fermented ingredients such as galactomyces ferment filtrate and saccharomyces ferment filtrate that have proven skin care benefits, including reducing the appearance of pores, blackheads and sebum!
Also referred to as Natto, Kroestline says this ingredient is packed with collagen-inducing agents, soybean peptides, amino acids, lactic acids, vitamins, and more. “These actives are easily absorbed by the skin and are shown to help protect skin barrier, increase microcirculation, moisturize, and provide anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits,” she says. “It is not as well-known as some other fermented products, but it deserves a mention with all the great benefits it provides.”
Fermented Seaweed, Rice, and Dairy Sources
“These ingredients are rich in sugars that breakdown into polysaccharide sugars,” says Dr. Palm. “They can be potent hydrators to the skin. Other organic acids, such as lactic acid (from lactose milk sugars), can gently exfoliate skin and promote even skin tone.” Son Reve Tri-Bio Treatment Essence is formulated with 90% fermented ingredients, including rice ferment filtrate and galactomyces ferment filtrate.
Koestline notes that fermented yeast produces amino acids and peptides, which can help cellular renewal. “It’s proven to help diminish the signs of aging and improve collagen synthesis,” she adds. You can try this ingredient in Benton Fermentation Essence, a lightweight serum that contains a fermented yeast called galactomyces ferment filtrate. It also contains bifida ferment lysate.
Black, green, and kombucha teas are all notably high in antioxidants, notes Dr. Madfes. They can help protect your skin from free radical damage, which prevents expedited signs of aging. Try the Juice to Cleanse Vinegar Kombucha Essence, which contains black tea ferment, vinegar, and lactobionic acid to rejuvenate, brighten, and soften skin.