Understanding the Microbiome With Dr. Brent Ridge

Beekman 1802 Co-Founder Dr. Brent Ridge fields frequently asked questions about the microbiome. 

Brent Ridge is best-known for the work he’s done in partnership with Josh Kilmer-Purcell: launching the Beekman 1802 brand, starring in The Fabulous Beekman Boys, winning The Amazing Race, etc. But long before he and Josh ever made their first bar of goat milk soap, Brent graduated from medical school at the University of North Carolina, completed a residency in internal medicine at Columbia, and served as the Director of Clinical Strategy for Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. So yeah, he’s that kind of doctor, with a bedside manner that encourages open dialogue. Here, Dr. Brent demystifies the role the microbiome plays in skin health. 

Frequently Asked Question: What is the microbiome?

Dr. Brent’s Answer: The microbiome is an ecosystem of billions of good and bad microbes that play an important role on the immune system and skin’s appearance. These microbes are not dangerous. In fact, they are necessary to control the normal function of the skin. When this ecosystem becomes unbalanced or compromised by our external environment—sunlight, air pollutants, harsh cosmetic ingredients, over-exfoliation, hormones, stress, diet, etc.—the skin can become inflamed, leading to increased sensitivity, as well as acne, rosacea, eczema, aging, and other issues.

Q: How do our skincare routines impact our microbiomes?

A: Any skincare routine that upsets the acidic balance of the skin will ultimately compromise the microbiome and impact skin health. This can be a result of using products with harsh chemicals, surfactants, and abrasive exfoliants. Facial cleansers are some of the most damaging products to the microbiome because over-scrubbing, over-washing, and over-exfoliating can strip away the skin’s good bacteria, leaving it vulnerable to a cascade of potential problems.

Q: How can we support our microbiomes?

A: Without constant interference, the skin’s microbiome would likely be able to take care of itself, as it did for most of humanity’s existence. These days, however, we are exposed to new chemicals in skincare products, stronger UV radiation, and more pollutants than ever before. This could explain why we are seeing more people complain of skin sensitivity.

I know this might sound weird coming from a skincare company, but the very best thing you can do for the health of the microbiome is to do as little as possible. You want to avoid disturbing the skin’s acid mantle.

That said, there are ingredients that nourish and balance the microbiome. Look for humectants, like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, that draw water into the skin. Fats, such as ceramides or squalene, help restore the skin barrier, while pre-, pro-, and postbiotics balance the skin’s pH. And opt for botanical blends rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Q: Is diet a factor?

A: Yes. Ongoing studies are mapping the link between a healthy gut microbiome and a healthy skin microbiome. This is likely because of the connections they share with the systemic immune response. And hydration is key; some studies are showing that creating the appropriate amount of moisture on the skin’s surface makes the ecosystem more resilient and protected.

Q: Why did Beekman 1802 decide to develop products that prioritize the microbiome?

A: We like to think of ourselves as more of a “skin wellness” company than a “beauty’” company, so it was important for us to focus on the science behind goat milk and probiotics, and to develop a skincare range that maintains, balances, and nourishes the diversity of organisms living on the skin. This matters because skin is alive and constantly changing.

Goat milk is one of the most powerful ingredients in skincare, especially for sensitive skin. Not only does it have the same pH as human skin, and therefore won’t disrupt our skin’s acid mantle, but goat milk has a similar oligosaccharide structure to human milk, which provides the prebiotics that promote healthy bacteria growth. Our hypothesis was that this similarity meant the skin was less likely to mount an inflammatory response when goat milk was used as the base delivery vehicle for other active ingredients. We also thought that if the live cultures in yogurt help make the gut microbiome healthy, then perhaps the sugars and lipids in goat milk would have the same effect on the skin’s microbiome.

Q: So how did this thinking inform actual products?

A: Bloom Cream, the hero product in our probiotic line, is based on this idea. It’s like yogurt for your skin. With our Triple Milk Complex (goat milk, colostrum, and probiotic lysate), we created a lightweight moisturizer that not only promotes resiliency but also optimizes the nourishment of the skin’s native microbiome so that it can function to the best of its ability.

Q: Beekman 1802 is one of the few skincare brands to have its products certified Microbiome Friendly? How does that certification process work?

A: The science of the skin microbiome is still an emerging field, and up until recently there has not been a standardized protocol for assessing whether a product was safe for the microbiome. As soon as these testing protocols became available, we commissioned microbiologist Dr. Kristin Neumann from MyMicrobiomeAG to test our formulas, as well as our ethically-sourced goat milk, to measure their impact and efficacy on the skin’s microbiome. Dr. Neumann and her team put our formulas and our goat milk directly in contact with live bacteria that is commonly found on the skin to see how it reacts. As suspected, our goat milk and skincare formulas did not disrupt the balance of the skin’s microbiome and were in fact able to maintain its balance and keep it nourished.

Beekman 1802 is the first brand at both ULTA Beauty and QVC (two of the biggest beauty retailers in the US) to be tested safe and certified as Microbiome Friendly, and our goat milk is the first skincare ingredient to have been tested in isolation using these protocols, also receiving the Microbiome-Friendly certification. We believe this certification, and others like it, help to provide clarity for consumers in a confusing and saturated marketplace, and help to guide them in making the best educated choices for their skincare needs. Most importantly, it ensures that the microbiome doesn’t become another generalized marketing term that’s difficult to regulate, like “natural” or “clean.”

Q: Are people becoming more aware of the role the microbiome plays in health, especially in regards to skin health?

A: Yes and no. Certainly, we are seeing more beauty companies and media talking about the skin microbiome and how it relates to skin health. I think that COVID has brought a new awareness to how micro-organisms, which are invisible to the naked eye, can be damaging to our overall health, but as an industry, we need to continue educating consumers.

The microbiome can be a confusing topic, so it’s important to provide consumers with a basic understanding of how healthy skin is directly linked to a healthy microbiome, as this is where the future of skincare is headed.

At Beekman 1802, we are constantly communicating to our neighbors (as we call our customers) why the microbiome plays such an important role in skin’s health. We work hard to talk about it in terms that are easy to digest. When we liken skin health to gut health—in that our goat milk + probiotics formulas do for the skin what yogurt does for the gut—the microbiome becomes a more relatable concept.