How Do You Discover and Develop Your Probiotics?

Phyla acne care system science and discovery

Our discovery starts in our advanced biotech labs, where we have developed a platform to discover and catalog the hundreds and thousands of microorganisms in the skin microbiome. We noticed that one microorganism, a phage, seemed to be a key difference between samples from healthy skin and acne skin. Some of the latest microbiome research also points to these phages being a differentiating factor between healthy and acne skin. This led us to wonder whether the organism plays an active role in keeping skin blemish-free. You see, this phage naturally targets Cutibacterium acnes (C. acnes) with deadly efficiency, and C. acnes is the prime bacterial cause for acne. So what if this phage could help balance the microbiome by keeping this acne-causing bacteria in check, and provide a natural and gentle way to get blemish-free skin?

We collected a large library of C. acnes phages using our platform technology, and through full genome sequencing, we were able to check whether any potentially harmful behaviors were encoded in these phages. Phages have two types of lifecycles, or two ‘flavors’ – lytic and lysogenic. The lytic phages are always in ‘kill mode’, while the lysogenic phages have an additional ‘dormant mode’ that makes them slip into the bacteria’s genome, where it can make the bacteria more nasty and virulent. We only selected the obligatory lytic phages for our use, and we made sure that their genomes didn’t carry genes for antibiotic resistance.

Once we had a small group of phages with all these beneficial properties, we tackled the next challenge – how do we keep phages alive in formulation? All skincare and beauty products contain antimicrobial preservatives. This is necessary so your face cream or lotion doesn’t grow bacteria or mold once you open it, or while it’s sitting in your warm, humid bathroom. Unfortunately, these preservatives would also kill any probiotics that you might want to put in it. At this point, if you’re asking, “Wait, does that mean that my probiotic skincare doesn’t have any live cultures?”, well, that’s a blog post for another day.

Back to our problem: how can we keep these phages alive in a serum, without compromising on the safety of our products? First, we had to select the hardiest, most stable phages from our collection. We performed several assays and tests, and finally landed on our most stable phage – codenamed MEPA-012. Then we looked for other research on formulation with live phages, but there is almost no work that’s been done on this new type of probiotic. Thus, we had to start from scratch. We tested cosmetic ingredients one by one, to determine whether they were compatible with our phage. We first tested preservatives that would keep our phage alive. Luckily for us, since phages are metabolically inactive (kind of like the dormant bacteria in probiotic supplements), certain preservatives that target active metabolic processes were fully compatible with our phage. We built on these results and tested numerous oil phases, emulsion systems, emollients, humectants, and thickening agents. We finally built up a huge database of formulation know-how, which helped us understand not only how to stabilize our phage in a serum, but also how these ingredients affect our skin microbiome. 

You see, we use a lot of products on our skin – it is estimated that women apply an average of 515 separate ingredients on their skin every single day. There is not much research on how these ingredients affect our microbiome, and our internal testing shows that many commonly used cosmetic ingredients kill beneficial members of our skin microbiome. Our focus is on minimizing the burden and effect of skincare ingredients, so that they care for the skin, and don’t suffocate it. To this end, we designed a system that you can use daily to control blemishes and breakouts, without any of the harsh side effects like redness, dryness, and irritation. We’ve designed each product with a minimalist ethos, and we don’t use any ingredient that’s on the banned list of cosmetic ingredients in Europe – a much more stringent list than the US. We recognize that cleansing, treating, and moisturizing are some of the basic functions of a daily skincare regimen. (Sunscreen is also very important, and we’re working hard to solve that need too!) In our testing, most moisturizers would kill the phage, and so if you moisturize right after applying the serum you wouldn’t see any benefits from our probiotic. We built our moisturizer to be light and hydrating – like a cloud – while preserving the phage on your skin. Thus, the system works in tandem to optimally support the integration of the live probiotic on your skin.

How do you test your probiotic?

Once we isolated and fully characterized the phage, we grew it up in order to incorporate it into the serum. This manufacturing process was developed fully in-house, using the advanced expertise of the founders in fermentation R&D and pharmaceutical biologics manufacturing. Starting from all vegetarian components, we developed and scaled a highly efficient manufacturing process to obtain a concentrated and highly purified phage stock. All our manufacturing processes are supervised and validated by a third-party quality inspection team, and we go over and above the requirements of cosmetic ingredients manufacturing by adopting more of a pharmaceutical-grade approach. This is part of our brand DNA, and it reflects the scientific roots of our products. You can find more technical details of our manufacturing and testing process here.

Our probiotic is tested for purity and identity by third-party labs, and all of this documentation is kept on file for every batch we make. The founders are instrumental in every step of this process, and their knowledge and obsessive attention to detail ensures that every batch meets the highest standards of quality and purity. 

A critical part of testing is the safety of our products on human skin. Even though all our ingredients are certified green and cruelty-free, we perform extensive safety testing with volunteers to adhere to, and surpass, the industry standards. We use third-party services to provide unbiased safety testing results on all our products, and they have reported a perfect response (no irritation or sensitization) on 100% of subjects.

Since we have live phages in our serum, we take great care to ensure that the phages are at optimal levels at all times. The phages are extremely stable in refrigeration, but since they are a live culture they do have a more limited shelf life at room temperature. We have extensively tested and evaluated the stability of live phages in our serum at room temperature and elevated temperatures, as well as the effect of shipping on their potency. We are proud to report that the phages are extremely stable in all these scenarios. As such, we recommend that you keep the serum refrigerated until you use it, and then you can keep it at room temperature for your everyday use. We still recommend that you keep it refrigerated if you can, because it delivers a lovely cooling effect on your skin. This is especially welcome on inflamed or acne-prone skin, but in general, it provides your skin with relief and comfort at least once or twice a day.

probiotics for the skin

Are Phages Safe? Addressing the Safety of the Probiotic We Use

Phyla's acne care system is based on science

Phages are an integral part of our microbiome. They are tiny microorganisms – viruses that kill bacteria – and are nature’s best defense against bacteria. They are so numerous that over 1,000,000,000 (yep, that’s a billion!) phages pass through our body every day. Thus we are constantly in contact with multitudes of phages, which are considered completely benign. In fact, they barely interact with human cells at all!

The phages that we have discovered kill only the bacteria associated with acne Cutibacterium acnes, or C. acnes. Research has shown that these phages are naturally present on healthy skin, and they have likely coexisted with healthy skin for a very long time. Thus, these phages are completely natural and completely safe. In our biotech labs, we isolated several of these phages that target C. acnes and selected the ones that are highly stable and do not contain any harmful or problematic features in their genomes. This means that our phage will not cause antibiotic resistance, or create any superbugs. In fact, by hopefully lessening the use of antibiotics, we will be a part of the solution to the antibiotic crisis we are facing.

During the development and testing of our proprietary probiotic ingredient, we have followed, and routinely exceeded, the requirements for probiotic ingredients. This includes extensive safety testing and pharmaceutical-level manufacturing of this key ingredient. We’ve developed our acne care system with the highest levels of quality, and as a brand, we value real science and transparency of our methods and practices. Further, we think that most acne products are incredibly harsh to the skin and can lead to skin damage and premature aging. Our acne care system is far safer to use, as it delivers results without all those unwanted side effects like redness, dryness, and irritation.

phage probiotic acne care

How Is Phyla’s Probiotic Technology Radically Different?

Phyla's Phortify Probiotic Serum

We bring hard scientific results to skincare and are going where no one has gone before because Phyla started off as a biotech company.

Our probiotic is actually a bacteriophage or a phage. Phages are viruses that exclusively target bacteria, and they’re extremely widespread in the environment and in our body. In fact, phages are such a common part of the microbiome that about a billion of them pass through our bodies every day! Phages have never been used for acne before, and we are proud to be the first.

So are phages a probiotic? Here’s the definition again: “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. Viruses are certainly microorganisms, and they DO confer a health benefit in adequate amounts. So they certainly fit the definition! In addition to several scientific studies showing that certain phages are very efficient in specifically killing bacteria associated with acne, we have data showing excellent safety of phages when applied to the skin. We’re also wrapping up a larger study to look at the effect of phages on acne-prone skin, and we’re excited to share this with you very soon!

Now some might say that since phages are viruses, they are not strictly living. That’s true since phages are considered not quite living, and not quite non-living. However, if you consider a probiotic supplement, the bacteria in that pill are about as alive as the phages in our serum. They are not metabolically active or dividing, but when they hit the gut they will become active. In the same way, the phages in serum are dormant and only activate when they hit the skin. Cool, right?

As a microbiome researcher, to me, it’s more accurate to say that they’re in a non-metabolic state. That’s just a fancy way of saying ‘dormant’, since phages come to life once they come in contact with their bacteria of choice – the kind that causes acne, in this instance. And then they wreak havoc on their target, killing every one of them in the vicinity until there are none left. They do this with breathtaking elegance and precision, and they don’t target any other beneficial bacteria in this process. 

Phyla's targeted acne care technology

What Makes Phyla Different from Other Acne Products

What makes Phyla acne care different

What Makes Phyla Different from Other Acne Products

Traditional acne treatments use harsh chemicals like benzoyl peroxide and adapalene to treat your acne. Not only are these ingredients ineffective in the long term, causing endless cycles of relapse; but they are incredibly damaging to the skin. In fact these ingredients have also been shown to trigger inflammatory pathways associated with aging. Thus, prolonged use of these damaging ingredients causes premature aging and comes at a significant cost to healthy skin. Unfortunately, there has been no meaningful innovation in acne since retinoids were introduced in 1982, which makes it nearly 40 years of stagnation in acne care. 

Phyla is the world’s first and only acne care line to incorporate live phages, the first TRUE skin probiotic. Bacterial overgrowth is a central cause of acne, and recent breakthroughs in skin microbiome research have unveiled mechanisms by which Cutibacterium acnes, or C. acnes, inflames the skin and causes acne. Phyla is building on this important work, and we have discovered novel probiotics, called phages, that exclusively kill the acne bacteria, without harming the good bacteria on your skin. These phages are found on healthy skin.  We make and purify them to the highest standards in small batches for stable incorporation into our serum.

With harsh chemicals like benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics, and retinoids, your skin accumulates damage that is irreversible and evident only years later. By using phages to recalibrate your skin microbiome, not only are we setting you up to have truly healthy skin for life, but you can do this without compromising your skin’s health. A third of people who find benzoyl peroxide effective have to stop using it, because it is too irritating and inflaming to their skin. The Phyla system is so gentle that you can use it every single day for years, with none of the redness, dryness and irritation of other products. With regular use, the Phortify Probiotic Serum also evens skin tone, reduces redness, and soothes inflammation.

What Makes Phyla Different from Other Acne ProductsPhyla is the world’s first and only acne care line to incorporate live phages, the first TRUE skin probiotic.

The Phyla™ system was designed to give you the great-looking and healthy skin you deserve. Unveil what nature gave you by being kind to your microbiome.

What is a probiotic?

What is a probiotic?

The World Health Organization defines a probiotic as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. While most of us assume this means bacteria, in fact this definition is broader than that. For example, many probiotics are not just bacteria but yeasts as well, as found in kombucha. Saccharomyces boulardii is a yeast strain that is widely sold as a probiotic.

This makes sense because probiotics affect the microbiome which is made up of predominantly bacteria, but also contains yeasts and viruses. Thus, if yeasts (or viruses) are found to have health benefits, then they would be considered probiotics by definition.

What Probiotics are Used in Skincare?

Probiotic skincare has become a hugely popular segment, with more and more people curious about this new niche and adopting it in their daily routine. We intuitively grasp the concept of probiotics as being good for our gut microbiome. Since we have a skin microbiome too, why not apply probiotics to that?

Unfortunately, most probiotic skincare products do not deliver what they promise. And this is because they predominantly use the terms ‘probiotics’ and ‘microbiome’ as marketing jargon, and not as a serious commitment to their customers. If I gave you a cup of yogurt and said that it contains no live cultures whatsoever, would you call that a probiotic? ‘Oh yeah, the yogurt used to have live cultures but I killed them all before I put them in this cup.’ Would you give me your hard-earned money for this product? And what’s the use of eating that yogurt, if it has no beneficial bacteria? Unfortunately, with the vast majority of probiotic skincare, that is literally exactly what they are selling you. Dead, ground-up bacteria. From yogurt. It’s true.

Most probiotic ingredients in skincare are from lactic acid bacteria like lactobacillus, bifidobacteria or bifida, and lactococcus. These bacteria are first grown, then killed, and some or all of this dead bacterial soup is touted as a ‘probiotic’. It’s easy to spot if you’re looking for it: if your probiotic ingredient says ‘lysate’ or ‘ferment’ then you know it’s dead. Also, since skincare products must contain an antibacterial and anti-mold preservative, it is actually not possible to have live strains of bacteria in your skincare. Unfortunately, even if these bacteria were alive, they probably would have little to no effect on your skin health. And that’s because (say it with me): gut bacteria are not the same as skin bacteria! And gut probiotics cannot just be applied to the skin with the same effects.

There are more shenanigans to unpack in probiotic skincare, with more confusing terms like ‘prebiotic’ and ‘postbiotic’ being added to the mix. (What even is a postbiotic?!?) But that’s for another post 😄

Have more questions about what causes acne? Leave them in the comments for Dr. Yug Varma to answer below!

probiotics for the skin

What is the Microbiome?

The microbiome is the community of microorganisms – bacteria, fungi, and viruses – that live on, and within, our bodies. We used to think of bacteria as gross, or mostly dirty and disgusting things that are to be eliminated and avoided. But research into the microbiome has shown that the vast majority of our microbiota (the members of our microbiome) are not only benign but crucial to our health. In fact, there is evidence that exposure to the right set of bacteria at the right time of development is essential for our immune system to develop properly so that we can avoid allergies, asthma, and a host of other inflammatory disorders.

The raft of research in interest in the microbiome had also led to a renewed interest in the benefit of probiotics and fermented foods, although these are mostly aimed at maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. From kombucha to kefir, and yogurt to sauerkraut, we are rediscovering the powerful benefits of naturally fermented foods.

Before the advent of microbiome research, we used to think that most of the bacteria in our body resided in our gut. While that is true, we now know that other parts of our body, such as our skin. In fact, the skin alone has multiple separate microbiomes – for wet, dry, and oily (sebaceous) regions of the skin within our body. The unique features of our ‘oily’ microbiome are why we only get acne on our face, chest, and back (more on that later).

Naturally, since our skin microbiome is very different from our gut microbiome, what’s good for the gut isn’t automatically good for the skin. So if you’re being sold yogurt to smear on your face, you’re probably better off just eating it. Your stomach will thank you, your face won’t. Even worse, the overwhelming majority of the ‘probiotic’ skincare products contain dead, ground-up yogurt bacteria (look for ‘lysate’ or ‘extract’ in the ingredients section) – this does less than nothing to maintain a healthy skin microbiome.

While different body sites have extremely different microbiomes, they do share some features. One common theme is the concept of diversity – strong, healthy microbiomes tend to be more diverse. The bacteria in the community form an ecological web, and generally the more diverse these bacteria are, the more resilient this web tends to be. Conversely, a lack of diversity in the microbiome makes it easy to disturb and susceptible to attack by a pathogen. You can think of your microbiome like a farm or a garden. If you only have one type of plant, then a pest can wipe out the entire farm. But if you have several crops or plants, then a single pest can’t wipe them out and they will be more resilient to damage.

Have more questions about the skin’s microbiome? Leave them in the comments for Dr. Yug Varma to answer below!