Well, we can’t say we didn’t see this coming. With so much evidence that fermented foods — and the enzymes they contain — are essential for a healthier body, we knew it was only a matter of time before beauty companies harnessed those ingredients for healthier skin. And, that time is now: While fermented cosmetics haven’t taken over the U.S. market quite yet, they're currently all the rage in Korea.
“They’re definitely the new It products,” says Charlotte Cho, founder of SokoGlam and all-around Korean-beauty guru. “Koreans eat fermented foods like kimchi in order to improve health and beauty from the inside out, and they love that the same natural ingredients are now in their topical creams. Many celebrities credit fermented skin care with giving them a bright and youthful complexion.”
This category of skin care is so popular that in the past few years, Korean conglomerate LG Household & Health Care has launched not one but two lines — SU:M37 and Sooryehan Hyo — completely dedicated to fermented products. And, if we know one thing about Korean beauty, it’s this: trending there today, trending here tomorrow.
The most common ingredients in skin care that undergo fermentation are fruits, plants, herbs, and yeast. “The process breaks down the molecular structure of the ingredients and actually makes the nutrients more concentrated and more easily and rapidly absorbed. It can also produce additional skin-loving amino acids and antioxidants,” says Laura Filancia, education director at Korean brand Sulwhasoo, which incorporates fermented white and red ginseng into many of its products. She further explains: “While the intestines produce enzymes, the skin does not. So, we use the enzyme process to transform the active ingredient of ginseng to be more easily absorbed and functional. Better skin affinity means better results.”
Karen Ballou, CEO of Immunocologie, a new American skin-care company also tapping into fermentation technology, agrees. “By fermenting key ingredients, we actually enhance the effectiveness of the active ingredients that are loaded in the product. Most [un-fermented] skin care is created by heating up a blended formula to a high temperature and then cooling it down, which can potentially lower the effectiveness of the plant active.”
Not only are fermented skin products more potent than their non-fermented counterparts, but they're also better suited for sensitive and dry skin. “Fermented cosmetics are more symbiotic with the skin,” says Ballou. “It mimics the skin’s cell functions and supports the skin without disrupting its natural process, so it’s less likely to cause sensitivity.” Sugar and fruit acids, which are abundant in naturally fermented ingredients, also help to moisturize. “Fermented active ingredients provide a sort of protection for the skin and strengthen the skin’s metabolism to make it stronger and healthier.”