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

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.

The Truth about Fungal Acne, and What to Do If You Have It

The Truth about Fungal Acne, and What to Do If You Have It

What is fungal acne? Like most people you are probably hearing a lot about this and googling “what is fungal acne?” When reading on the internet it is so confusing! So as any responsible scientist would do, I took a look at NCBI to see what has actually been studied or published on this.

Here’s some knowledge that hopefully will help to simply put your mind at ease.

What is fungal acne, how is it different from regular acne, and how to treat it?

Normal acne is caused by p acnes that lives on all of our skin but when it overgrows it causes the inflammation in your pore that leads to acne. When you have fungal acne, which is very rare, it is caused by a fungus, not a bacteria. The fungus is usually Malassezia which is the same fungus that causes dandruff. Normally fungal acne should not occur and is super rare because the microbiome of the skin/face should protect you. But when you take something or do something to your skin that damages your microbiome, then it is no longer able to protect you and then this fungus can grow on your skin.

How do you tell if you have fungal acne? You will get the bumps on your skin like normal acne but they will be very itchy, so that is the first clue that you might be experiencing fungal acne. Additionally, it will burn to the touch if it is really bad. But don’t depend just on this. We recommend going to a doctor to have it checked out. If a doctor does diagnose you with fungal acne they will likely prescribe an anti-fungal pill which you will take orally or they will prescribe a cream that you would apply to the skin. The good news is that fungal acne should respond very quickly to this type of treatment.

Just remember that fungal acne is super uncommon and is caused by a fungus, not a bacteria. It is quite itchy and if you think you have it go to a doctor to be sure as they can easily treat this with anti-fungal medications.

Thanks for taking the time to read and if you have any questions be sure to send us a note!

Phyla Acne Care What Is Fungal Acne

How Our Technology Works

To understand how our technology works, and why our approach is so revolutionary, let’s see how current acne products work. It’s important to note that the active ingredients in all acne products out there have an antibacterial effect – from over-the-counter products to strong prescription medication. Benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics simply kill all the bacteria they touch – they don’t discriminate between good and bad bacteria. This isn’t a good option, because other than being very harsh on your skin, they cause massive disruptions in your microbiome, which can leave you susceptible to skin infections. Also these harsh measures inevitably lead to recurring acne, since the bad strains tend to be more resilient and craftier than the good guys. Does any of this sound familiar to anyone who’s had to deal with le zits?

Retinoids are some of the most effective acne treatments we have, and it works by remodeling skin. It shrinks your pores and drastically cuts down on oil production, so it literally shrinks and starves the P. acnes out of its home. Of course, the heavy helping of side effects of retinoids comes with include extreme dryness and skin irritation, birth defects, liver damage, depression and suicide. For an acne drug. Oh, the things we do for clear skin.

And the fact is, since acne occurs in our youth when our skin is resilient, we are so eager to get rid of it that we don’t think twice before we bombard our fragile skin with all sorts of intense and harmful chemicals. Harsh substances like benzoyl peroxide and retinoids have been shown to activate pro-inflammatory pathways in our skin, which are also involved in aging. So while you’re desperately trying everything under the sun to push the acne off your skin, you don’t realize that in 20 years you’ll be wondering why your skin looks so much worse than it should, and what you could have possibly done differently.

Salicylic acid is a gentler, milder option than these, and kills P. acnes indirectly. Since P. acnes is anaerobic, it needs a clogged pore (aka whiteheads and blackheads) to keep the oxygen out. Salicylic acid is keratolytic, which means it breaks up these clogs and exfoliates the skin, exposing the P. acnes to oxygen and stopping it in its tracks. It also lowers sebum secretions, and robs the P. acnes of some of its food.

So it seems like all these products try to limit the growth of P. acnes indirectly, but they all do this in an indiscriminate way, killing both good and bad bacteria and being incredibly harsh on acne skin that needs to be treated with TLC. In an ideal world, we would simply get rid of the acne-causing bacteria without disturbing the good community of bacteria on our skin. Ideally, we could do so without being harsh on the skin, treating it with the care and consideration it deserves. Ideally, we could use this soothing treatment that gently reshapes your microbiome to health, well, forever. Without side effects. Without redness and irritation. Without irreparably damaging your skin and aging it prematurely.

The thing is, your microbiome is kind of like a beautiful garden that you tend and nurture with care. One day, you see a weed in your lawn. What do you do: douse the whole garden in gasoline and set it on fire, or just scoop up the weed and replace it with a patch of grass? Every time you use benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics on your skin, you’re basically setting your microbiome on fire. And up until now, you’ve had no option.

Here’s where we come in. We’ve discovered a brand new type of skin probiotic, called a bacteriophage (phage, for short). It eats bacteria, and it’s incredibly specific. It’s found in our skin all the time; in fact, it’s found far more frequently on healthy skin, and there’s a hypothesis that its natural occurrence correlated with the absence of acne could mean that it causes some people to never break out. Its specificity means that it will never kill or inhibit the growth of neighboring good bacteria, and because it is naturally found on healthy skin, we know (and have proven) that it is incredibly gentle on your skin and can be used every day without any harsh side effects. More excitingly, since it specifically kills P. acnes only, you can now eat all the spicy food you want, sweat as much as you like, and there will be no overgrowth from the bacteria feasting on your sebum. This means that over time, as the phage continually reshapes and recalibrates your microbiome towards health, you will see the long-term benefits of being acne-free – in the healthiest and gentlest way imaginable.

We’ve figured out a way to keep the phage alive in our formulation, which is no mean feat, and we are the world’s first true skin probiotic – no ground-up dead bacteria, no bacteria from yogurt or dirt. Our probiotic is a microorganism that lives selectively on healthy skin, and is probably the cause of healthy skin. Maybe some people are born with it, but we want to democratize this probiotic and make it accessible to everyone – so that we all can have the great-looking healthy skin we deserve.

phage probiotic acne care

What Causes Acne?

Acne is a multifactorial disease, and there are many factors that contribute to its occurrence and severity. We all know that diet, stress, genetics, and hormones can affect acne – we’ve experienced most of these in our life. But these are all secondary factors that support the primary cause of acne, which is the overgrowth of a key bacteria in the ‘oily’ microbiome – Propionibacterium acnes. Confused? Let me explain.

Propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes, is an anaerobic bacterium that lives deep within the pores of our oily skin. We generally think of our skin as this flat thin layer, but if you zoom in you can see that our skin has pores which are narrow, deep wells. In oily or sebaceous skin, which is your face, upper chest and upper back, each pore has a sebaceous gland that secretes an oily substance into the pore. P. acnes absolutely love this stuff – it is uniquely adapted to feed on this oil. Further, this oil accumulates and tends to block the pore, which seals off the pore from oxygen and gives P. acnes the anaerobic environment it needs to thrive. Due to the unique distribution of sebaceous glands, you can get acne on your face or back, but you’ll never get acne on your leg. (If you think you have acne on your leg, it’s not acne. See a doctor.)

So is P. acnes the enemy? Well, kinda. We’ve known for decades that P. acnes is intimately involved with acne, but for a long time we didn’t know exactly how. You see, every teenager and adult has a considerable amount of P. acnes on their face – it dominates our ‘oily’ microbiome. But obviously, all of us don’t have acne. Also, acne does not correlate with the amount of P. acnes on your skin – healthy skin can have more P. acnes than acne skin. Microbiome research has helped to solve this conundrum, when we discovered that all P. acnes are not made equal – there are many strains of this bacterium, and some strains (classified as ribotypes) are almost perfectly correlated with acne, while others are perfectly correlated with healthy skin. There are also ‘garden variety’ strains, which are present on almost everyone and sort of constitute the background of your microbiome. More importantly, an overgrowth of the bad strains triggers the inflammation that leads to acne, so the key to controlling acne is to keep the population of these bad strains in check.

So… how do those secondary factors figure in acne? Well, it turns out that all those factors – diet, stress, genetics, hormones – are linked to changes in skin chemistry, specifically in ways that affect the food for P. acnes. If you eat too much spicy food, or stress out or exercise in a way that makes you sweat more, you’re just providing more food for this bacteria. Some people are genetically predisposed to have oily skin or large pores, or sweat more – that’s a bacteria buffet. And hormones can change skin chemistry too, which stimulates the sebaceous glands to provide more microbial munchies. You get the idea.

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