Defining Probiotics & Microbes

In the food industry, it’s easy to define a probiotic – it is a live microbe that has a health benefit. Probiotics in food are measured in colony forming units per millilitre (cfu per ml) and this shows how many microbes per millilitre of the product can start to grow when the product is used.

In skin care, defining a probiotic is not as easy. There are, however, plenty of probiotic claims in the skincare world.
These claims are justified in different ways but there is a big difference between a probiotic extract and a live probiotic.

There are currently four types of “probiotics” in skincare:

  1. Broth – microbes are grown in a medium. They are then removed and the ferment (medium) is used (Esse does not use this type of extract).
  2. Lysate (probiotic extract) –microbes are grown in a medium, their cell membranes are then broken and the cell contents are filtered and used.
  3. Tyndallisation (probiotic extract) – microbes are grown in a medium. The medium is then heated to kill the microbes. The medium is used with the whole microbes in it.
  4. Live probiotic – microbes are still alive and able to colonise. Measured in cfu/ml.

CLICK HERE for additional info on probiotics in skincare.


There is evidence to support the benefits of using live probiotics as well as probiotic extracts.

Probiotic extracts can signal to human cells and change their behaviour. Some also selectively destroy pathogens (bad microbes).

Live probiotics, on the other hand, actively shift the ecology of skin in a meaningful way, multiplying and becoming an active part of the skin’s ecosystem.

Microbes perform intricate tasks on the skin, for example, Lactobacillus boosts Hyaluronic Acid (HA) levels by producing HA in the skin. HA increases hydration – What could be more amazing than your own HA factories on-site in your skin?


≈ key·stone spe·cies

A species that significantly alters the habitat around it and thus affects large numbers of organisms.  

The concept of keystone species was introduced in 1969. All species in an ecosystem, or habitat, rely on each other but a small number of keystone species can have a huge impact.
A keystone species’ disappearance would initiate a domino effect. Many other species in the habitat would also disappear. In addition, without the keystone species, opportunistic species could more easily invade and derail beneficial ones.

The Redwood trees in the forests of Northern USA clearly depict this; they support birds, beetles, squirrels, moths and a myriad of other species. Take away the Redwood and the ecosystem loses diversity and shifts drastically.

To give another example, the Gray Wolves in Yellowstone National Park kept elk populations in check; when they were removed the elk population increased. The extra elk ate small willow trees and in turn, there were fewer birds and beavers, and the whole ecosystem took a turn for the worse. Once the wolves were reintroduced into the park countless species of birds, pronghorn, and even trout returned the ecosystem to a more diverse, stable state.

When one element of an ecosystem is altered, the effects can be far-reaching – from the smallest organisms to the largest.

This explains why it is that we supplement the skin with only a few key microbial species. These have been earmarked as keystone species … much like the wolves in Yellowstone Park. If we can colonise with them, the changes they initiate make way for a myriad of other species, and desired diversity is achieved.