Fermented hair care products now available in the shampoo section: what you need to know and is it worth the hype?

Fermented hair care products now available in the shampoo section: what you need to know and is it worth the hype?

(NEW YORK) – Since the pandemic, concerns about personal health have been at the forefront of consumers’ minds. One issue that has taken off has been gut health and the microbiome, with sales of products like probiotics, greens powders and digestive sodas (like Poppi and Olipop) seeing a surge.

But conversations about microbiome health aren’t just limited to the gut. The same interest has also extended to beauty, with brands touting the importance of maintaining a healthy skin microbiome to prevent premature aging and acne. The Rootist, a new hair care line launched in April, introduces fermented ingredients as the next wave of innovation to the shampoo shelf with promises of “anchored, active roots, a hydrated, balanced scalp and strong, healthy hair.”

Clare Hennigan, Chief Analyst – Beauty & Personal Care at Mintel, says these brands have already captured consumer interest.

“In hair care, the number of products with microbiome in the product description actually increased by 52.3% between 2022 and 2023,” Hennigan told ABC News. “We are really seeing, especially in hair care, the momentum and growing demand for microbiome hair care solutions.”

But what are these fermented ingredients, how do brands claim they work, and are they worth the hype?

What are fermented ingredients and how can they contribute to the maintenance and balance of the microbiome?

Simply put, fermented ingredients are bacteria, says Dr. Mona Gohara, a board-certified dermatologist and associate professor at Yale School of Medicine.

“If you leave something long enough, things grow out of it. One of the things that grows is bacteria,” Gohara told ABC News.

However, not all bacteria are bad, for example yogurt and kombucha, which are created through fermentation.

The Rootist says it’s this fermentation process that allows their products to be “easily recognized and absorbed by the roots, scalp, and hair.” Just like the skin and gut, the scalp has its own species of bacteria and fungi that make up its microbiome. According to Gohara, the idea here is that the fermented ingredients in products like The Rootist’s help feed the bacteria on our scalp, which in turn supports the health of our already existing scalp microbiome.

And maintaining a balanced scalp microbiome is crucial to keeping hair healthy, says Dr. Jeannette Graf, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Conditions such as dandruff or acne can be influenced by the microbiome.

“If our microbiome is not in balance or if a microbiome is not working correctly, we need to create an environment on the skin of the scalp, on the skin of the face, where they can occur,” Graf told ABC News.

“Think of it as a garden, and the soil is the scalp. If the soil is healthy, the plants and flowers will flourish,” Gohara explains. “If the scalp is damaged, inflamed, or irritated, isn’t that less healthy soil? And that in turn leads to a less healthy, abundant garden.”

Are they worth the hype?

While fermented ingredients in hair care may theoretically benefit the scalp microbiome, much research is still needed.

“There are many new ingredient technologies being developed within the personal care industry,” Graf said. “So there are studies being done by these biotech companies – and by good ones. But that is where most of the research and literature is published.”

“We can safely say that the product will at least support a healthy scalp microbiome,” Gohara added, drawing a line at the claim that these products will lead to increased hair growth. “It means that within me, regardless of my biological potential as a 48-year-old woman at this time, if I use this, my hair will grow as optimally as it would biologically at this time.”

While experts say there is still research to be done, Hennigan says the industry is completely focused on fermented hair.

“This points to broader trends in the industry in general, where we’re going to see how we can really personalize our products, specifically to perhaps our own personal microbiomes, to better target and identify our specific needs,” Hennigan said.

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