In my past experience, acne three-step systems and I haven’t always gotten along. (I won’t name names, but let’s just say that benzoyl peroxide and I are still on rocky footing.) And I get it: Skin care, especially acne, can be intimidating and frustrating to figure out, so I understand the appeal of a structured routine that breaks it down into neat steps. But as with any product, cool branding or fancy packaging matters very little if the stuff doesn't plain work — which is why I was excited to put Phyla to the test.
The startup has been gaining traction online — I've even had friends outside the industry ask me about it — and as R29's resident acne whisperer, I was ready to see if Phyla's probiotic-powered system worked for my skin. The brand prefers to call itself a biotech company, not one uniquely in the beauty space, and the founder, Yug Varma, Ph.D., is a San Francisco-based microbiologist and synthetic biologist with a background in organic chemistry. Years of working in the lab led to his passion for microbiome research, and eventually, Varma founded Phyla, his solution to researching "live biologic products to treat chronic microbial diseases."
I will be honest: As someone who 1) tests beauty products for a living and 2) breaks out easily, I was skeptical of shaking up my routine and using exclusively Phyla products. I also try to avoid sticking to one brand for my entire routine, but in the interest of this review, that's what I did for my AM routine. (My nighttime one includes things like exfoliation and retinol, which Phyla doesn't currently offer.)
I would say I know my way very well around gel cleansers, but Phresh threw me for a bit of a loop the first go-round. For starters, the texture is very creamy, and I had to double-check I wasn't using a lotion to wash my face. It isn't like other gel formulas in that it's not a clear, soap-like formula, but rather a mild, unscented gel that, when emulsified with water, gently whisks away dirt and oil from your skin. (I would not expect this to remove a full face of makeup, for example.) It left my skin feeling pretty good, not dry or tight at all, and ready for serum.
Now, onto the Phortify serum. I will be very clear that probiotic beauty products are a bit of a persona non grata in my household after multiple class action lawsuits involving major brands have revealed that most products don't actually have live cultures present in the formula. One really good sign with Phyla, though, is the instructions ask you to refrigerate the serum upon receiving since there are, apparently, millions of live probiotics swimming around the bottle. (Phyla also notes that serums are refrigerated before being shipped due to their limited shelf life.) The texture of the serum was lightweight and readily sank into my skin. There was no hint of a tingling sensation, which can sometimes be the case with other acne products.
Lastly, there was the Phluff moisturizer, a lightweight lotion that rounds up Phyla's trio. Out of the bunch, this is the product I actually liked the most as it gave me a nice veil of hydration without making my skin feel greasy. It also wore nicely under makeup and didn't break me out after a few days, which was a promising sign. (To supplement the gaps in Phyla's system, I addressed any active breakouts using hydrocolloid patches during the day.) During my two-week trial, I happened to be blessed with mostly clear skin — which, yay, but this made it difficult to truly judge the brand on its skin-clearing claims. I will say, Phyla is expensive: $27 for the cleanser, $70 for the serum, and $60 for the moisturizer (or $120 for a one-time purchase of the entire system, $99 if you subscribe). IMO, you could craft a routine that works just as well, depending on your skin, for the same amount of money. But if you're down to spend and want the convenience of a planned-out routine (or if you love to geek out over all things ~science~), Phyla might be your answer. In any case, with acne being notoriously tricky to treat, I'm grateful for any and every tool in my arsenal — and Phyla's gentle, barrier-supporting one surely beats a slash-and-burn-with-benzoyl-peroxide one any day of the week.
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