The Basics of Fermented Beauty
Fermented foods might seem trendy or even exotic, but many of the foods we commonly consume are products of fermentation. Yogurt, sourdough bread, wine—these are just some of the things we enjoy that have been created using fermentation, the process by which microorganisms break down organic matter to produce various desirable changes to foods or beverages.
While we now understand the science behind these chemical reactions, fermentation was once considered mysterious. After all, taking one set of ingredients and letting them sit for a bit to create something completely new certainly feels like magic, even to those of us with a modern understanding of the concept. In Japan, however, fermentation has been recognized and treasured for centuries as a boon for human wellness. Indeed, its many restorative and nourishing health benefits have provided a foundation for much of Japanese culture and food—and, of course, its world-renowned beauty products and practices. In this article we’ll explain why the Japanese use fermented skincare products and outline which products Shikō Beauty Collective offers that contain fermented ingredients.
The History of Fermentation in Japan
While microorganisms exist everywhere on earth, a veritable treasure trove of useful fermentation bacteria can be found in East and Southeast Asia—especially in Japan. This is because Japan’s generally warm, humid climate is ideal for the growth of fermentation bacteria. In fact, fermentation has been a part of Japanese culture and tradition since ancient times.
Kōji, a fungus/mold used in brewing and fermenting soybeans, thrives in Japan where the weather and an abundance of raw materials (rice, wheat, soybeans, etc.) provide the perfect growing conditions. Sake, shochu, mirin, amazake, soy sauce, miso, rice vinegar—these Japanese staples would not be possible without kōji, and businesses were established to sell kōji “seeds” in Japan as early as the Heian period (794 - 1185 AD). Today, the Japanese Society of Brewing Research even certifies kōji mold as Japan’s national fungus.
The health benefits of kōji were recognized long before they were fully understood. Even in antiquity, it was known that fermented foods could improve digestion and boost immunity, and generally impact overall wellness from the inside-out. However, fermentation had a noticeable outward benefit as well. Master sake brewers were known for having soft, supple, wrinkle-free hands—a direct result of working with kōji every day.
Why Fermentation is Good for You?
The fermentation process uses microorganisms to break down organic materials, creating desirable, beneficial, and nutrient-dense byproducts like amino acids and peptides. By design, this process concentrates nutrients, making them not only more potent but also more easily absorbed—the perfect solution for skincare.
Until around the 1980s, harnessing the power of fermentation for the beauty industry was a rather crude process, consisting of finding and mass-producing skin-beneficial fermented metabolites (by examining combinations of microorganisms and fermentation conditions), and forcing reactions. Today, the technology of fermentation has evolved dramatically. Genetic research on microorganisms and a vast amount of data on fermentation conditions has been accumulated, enabling the J-Beauty skincare industry to innovate to exacting quality and efficacy standards. This knowledge—backed by science and proven data—has led to the recognition of two major ways fermentation impacts skin health both inside and out:
1. Fermented foods help regulate the intestinal environmentThe human body is a complex, comprehensive system, so any internal dysfunction at the most basic level—in the gut where nutrients are absorbed and waste is created—can have a huge impact on skin health, leading to all kinds of conditions like decreased skin turnover and depletion of the lipid layer. However, science has found a direct link between fermented foods and their ability to improve the system at its source. Indeed, research shows that diverse populations of intestinal flora introduced by fermentation assist in breaking down dietary fiber, producing short-chain fatty acids that help reduce inflammation and regulate the homeostasis of all other systems, including skin.
2. Fermented skincare ingredients directly improve skin health
The fermentation process concentrates beneficial nutrients that are ideal for treating many common skin conditions, and makes them more easily absorbed for maximum efficacy. Fermented ingredients made from lactic acid bacteria, yeast bacteria, rice, honey, and other fermented ingredients have gained a reputation for their potent skincare effects, assisting with everything from improved barrier function and collagen synthesis, to powerful anti-aging repair.
Skin Benefits of Fermented Ingredients
While the effects of fermented cosmetics can vary depending on the ingredients, common benefits include:
- Promotion of skin turnover
- Improvement of the barrier function of the skin
- Improvement of skin moisture by increasing ingredient penetration
- Improvement of the skin's texture
- Treatment of age-related skin concerns