THE IN-TRAY

Why healthy bacteria is the secret to happy skin

FROM GUT-HEALING POWDERS TO FERMENTED FOODS, PROBIOTICS ARE A WELLNESS BUZZWORD RIGHT NOW, BUT IS YOUR SKIN REAPING THE BENEFITS? GALLINÉE FOUNDER MARIE DRAGO IS CHANGING THE GAME WITH A NEWFOUND CLEAR-SKIN INGREDIENT: BACTERIA.

They say that every great scientist has their “ah ha!” moment. For Marie Drago, a Paris-born, London-based pharmacist and founder of Gallinée skin care, that flash of genius occurred during a trying time in her own health. While seeking a cure for her severe autoimmune disease and chronic IBS, she stumbled across a study spruiking the benefits of a fermented diet for Crohn’s disease sufferers. “I tried it for myself and it actually changed my life,” she says. “And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s so interesting, taking care of your gut works so well for everything. What happens if you care for your skin bacteria?’” And that was the seed to one of the biggest skin care shakeups in decades.

Gallinée, an exclusive new addition to mecca.com.au, is based on the notion that happy skin needs happy bacteria. The microbiome is the name for all good bacteria and microorganisms that live on and in your body, and Gallinée is designed to support them. “I tried to look into the science of microbiome and probiotics on the skin and couldn’t really find anything,” says Drago, who left her pharmaceutical studies fifteen years ago and has worked in beauty ever since. “So, I went back to school and passed my pharmacy thesis on skin microbiome and topical probiotics.” It was from this research that Drago was able to create her own probiotic-rich formulations aimed at achieving supermodel-levels of crystal-clear skin.

OK, so this might go against everything we’ve been told since birth: bacteria = bad, clean = good. This is particularly true when it comes to skin problems: most anti-acne treatments aim to kill bacteria and if you suffer eczema, you’ve likely been prescribed antifungals or antibiotics since day one. This, says Drago, is where we’ve been wrong. “We’ve got a very clean lifestyle,” she says. “We use a lot of antibiotics and antibacterials. We wash a lot, and yes, pollution plays a role too. But what happens is the damaged microbiome doesn’t do what it’s born to do, and so we get inflammatory reactions. Things like acne and eczema are linked to bacterial imbalance, and flare-ups also seem to be linked to early antibiotic treatments.”

Like your gut, your skin carries its own bacteria. And these bacteria play a protective role, helping to build the skin barrier and fight infections and inflammation that may occur from many sources. “Inflammation is the first cause of ageing,” says Drago. “So if you can regulate inflammation, you can prevent ageing.” For this reason, we’ll likely see probiotics emerging as a powerhouse ingredient in skin care on a mass scale.

“The idea of my skin care is not only to bring probiotics, foreign bacteria and new bacteria to the skin but to put your own microbiome to work,” Drago explains. “We do that by feeding your bacteria with prebiotics, which are nutrients specific for the good bacteria. We use lactic acid, which is helping select the kind of bacteria on the skin and giving them the best environment possible.”

As if making something that didn’t exist wasn’t already a tricky feat in itself, Drago had her work cut out for her by wanting to make a gentle, hardworking probiotic-rich line that also felt luxurious to use. “I never really developed products myself, so I was a bit innocent in the process, which I think has led to products that have never been done before,” she notes. Drago says she learned a lot from working for beauty entrepreneurs like Marcia Kilgore, founder of Bliss Spa and Soap and Glory, but she never had the confidence to go out on her own before this. “For example, I knew that cosmetic products are usually not made to support bacteria—everything you put in skin care is so that bacteria doesn’t grow,” she adds, laughing. “So we had to learn a very different way of doing things.”

Drago’s pursuits have led to innovative products, like the Gallinee Face Cream, which is gentle, highly active and fragrance-free, but is packed with prebiotics made from a kind of sugar, so it naturally smells like gingerbread. “I chose efficacy over anything else, and I chose to not mask the smell,” she says. “We are trying to work with the skin, not against it, so we don't put anything in that doesn’t need to be there, and also we check that every single active we use is not going to irritate or inflame the skin.” Other stellar products include a star serum, a calming and effective cleanser and a body and face cleansing bar that seems simple but was most tedious to formulate, because it needed to be pH 5, active, gentle and preservative-free, and, oh, and be delivered in a soap bar form.

While this may sound all very technical, Drago is passionate about breaking down the mindboggling science of it all. In our conversation, she giddily mentions interviews with scientific leaders, findings from research papers and conferences, as well as everything you ever wanted to know about the microbiome. “I’ve always found science so fascinating, so I'm always so happy to share it and to talk about it,” she says. “Everything we know about skin care is going to change and I just think that is really cool.”

Words by Noelle Faulkner
October 2018

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