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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
Paul and Barbi Schulick, former cofounders of New Chapter and now cofounders of skincare startup For The Biome, are staking their new venture on what they see as the beauty market of the future: microbiome-friendly formulations using sustainable, vetted, well-researched ingredients.
The journey to lasting skin health may very well start with the skin’s microbiome. It’s a concept that-while still in early stages of awareness-more researchers, skincare product marketers, and, to an extent, consumers are beginning to appreciate. As scientists continue to unveil the foundational role that a healthy and balanced microbiome plays in determining our health overall, including that of the skin, those who buy and make skincare products will continue to reframe their thinking and their R&D around products that respect the skin’s microbial balance.
One of the companies betting on the microbiome market is For The Biome. This skincare startup was founded nearly two years ago by two titans of the dietary supplement industry: Paul and Barbi Schulick, former cofounders of New Chapter vitamins, which the Schulicks sold to Procter & Gamble in 2012. With For The Biome, the Schulicks are staking their new venture on what they see as the beauty market of the future: microbiome-friendly formulations using sustainable, vetted, well-researched ingredients.
Nutritional Outlook talked to Paul Schulick, who explained the DNA behind his new company.
Microbiome: The New Skincare Norm
A lot can impact your skin’s microbiome health, including the food you eat, your environment (pollution and UV radiation), emotional stress, and what you put on your skin.
Take diet, says Schulick. Diet definitely influences the skin’s microbiome makeup. “There’s a very clear relationship between a person’s diet and the microbiome of their skin,” he says. Less-than-healthy diets, along with other factors mentioned earlier, can derail a healthy skin microbiome, resulting in adverse skin effects. For instance, says Schulick, if you eat a diet heavy in refined fats or carbohydrates, this diet influences your skin’s sebum secretions, which are what help keep skin and hair moisturized. Your diet can also exacerbate your cortisol response (its stress response), with research showing that high cortisol levels can lead to a number of adverse skin effects.
Taking a step back to trace specific skincare problems to their source-the health of the skin microbiome as a whole-is a new way to think about solutions to our skincare problems. This shift has begun taking hold of researchers and skincare companies, who are increasingly talking about how products and ingredients can impact or preserve the skin microbiome.
Consumer awareness about the skin microbiome, however, is still in the early stages, Schulick says. “When you live in a fishbowl, it looks like there are a lot of fish, so it looks to me like there are a lot of fish in the microbiome and skin space, but when you really look at it, it hasn’t even really started,” Schulick says. While more consumers today are educated about the microbiome in relation to their digestive health, he says, “fewer people are aware of the microbiome of the skin.”
He predicts this will change significantly one day. “I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of it.” Already, large skincare companies like Unilever’s Dove brand are rolling out microbiome-awareness campaigns. Meanwhile, ingredient giants like Symrise and Givaudan are conducting research to assure formulators that the ingredients they sell are microbiome safe.
“For the most part,” Schulick says, “what I’m seeing right now is that some of the companies are highlighting that their product is microbiome friendly, that it’s not disrupting the microbiome.”
Other companies, like his, are also going a step further. “One of the keys that we’ve been looking at is how are we encouraging the microbiome diversity,” Schulick says. “There is a body of evidence that suggests that the healthiest skin is the skin with the greatest biodiversity.”
Building a Beauty Brand of the Future
Since leaving the New Chapter brand, the Schulicks have devoted themselves to building For The Biome into a beauty brand akin to the original New Chapter brand: a boutique, prestige brand focused on using the best-quality, responsibly sourced, and well-researched ingredients.
The company recently introduced its Sentient Skincare line, whose ingredients are not only natural and whole but are selected with the assurance they will not disrupt the skin’s microbiome. The line’s seven products include waterless, fermented cleansers; prebiotic essence sprays; and CO2-extracted serums. The products are certified organic, non-GMO, vegan, certified cruelty-free, and nontoxic.
Ingredients are sourced from the five kingdoms. For instance: 1) animal (manuka honey and honey from Swiss bees, with honey showing positive effects on the microbiome and skin health), 2) fungal (reishi mushroom, for instance, which Schulick says has a positive prebiotic effect), 3) algae (such as astaxanthin), 4) microbial (e.g., probiotic genus/species such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Lactobacillus plantarum, L. rhamnosus, and L. reuteri). Finally, given Paul’s background as a master herbalist, the company also sources the finest ingredients in the plant kingdom.
These ingredients are not always the cheapest-and that is precisely the point, says Schulick, who says that his company buys only the best. “I have employed the best Aloe vera that I could possibly find in the world, one which has very high levels of specific polysaccharides that are able to advance the health of the microbiome and of the skin,” he says. “I could buy a certified-organic Aloe vera product for $50 or $60, but I spend $225 or $230 because I want to make sure that those polysaccharides are maximally available to the microbiome and to the human cells.” The company also uses fermentation to enhance the biological activity of its ingredients, and uses only supercritical extraction that leaves no residues, requires no heat, and yields a “super pure and super potent extract,” Schulick says. (He employed these same techniques at New Chapter.)
None of what the Schulicks are doing comes cheap. Like New Chapter, For The Biome is a higher-end and higher-priced brand. Customers pay more for the cost of outstanding ingredients. For The Biome justifies the costs transparently on its website. Under the company’s own True Transparency initiative, the company discloses in full to customers the cost that the company pays per kilo for its ingredients, juxtaposing these costs against the cost of industry-standard ingredients, and explains how much of each ingredient is in each product.
This transparency is important, Schulick says, to help customers understand that they are paying for quality. “I can tell you this,” he says, “we spend $7000 per kilo on our supercritical vanilla extract-and it is active in our product. It is not a window-dressing. It is absolutely why our product is as expensive as it is, and I am sure that our costs are as high or higher than anybody else in the business.”
He continues: “When you look at a product like vanilla, like I just mentioned, I think it’s important that a customer understands that you’re not just buying a vanilla extract, non-organic, off the shelf and putting a pixie-dusting of it in your product.” Paying for quality also ensures that ingredients are authentic, such as reishi, where “75% of the reishi on the market is apparently not even reishi,” he says. “So it’s important not only to disclose what you’re actually paying for, but also making sure that your products are the products you’re suggesting.”
Investing in the science is also key. Shulick says that For The Biome has completed two clinical studies to show that its products “advance biodiversity.”
It’s a company’s responsibility to study the potential microbiome impact of products it sells, he adds. “I think you almost have to prove that if you’re adding foreign materials to the skin-so, for example, if you’re adding parabens or preservatives or other types of compounds like that, you’d better be sure that you’re not really creating a further issue for either that person’s skin or for the environment, because everything you put on the skin ends up in the water supply or affects the environment.”
This is the attitude that the Schulicks are bringing to the beauty world: charging a little more to create products that are authentic, studied, and truly effective. Says Paul: “At this state in my career and my life and my service to the biome, I just want to get the best materials that I possibly can from the world.”