The effects of aging and external factors such as UV exposure on the skin are well documented. As people age or spend more time in the sun, their skin tends to become drier and more wrinkled,
Recent findings have identified an exciting potential new link to signs of skin aging — the skin microbiome, the collection of microorganisms that inhabit our skin. The results come from a collaborative study conducted by researchers at the Center for Microbiome Innovation (CMI) at the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) and L’Oréal Research and Innovation.
Their work was published in Frontiers in Aging on January 11, 2024, in an article titled “A multi-study analysis allows identification of potential microbial traits associated with signs of skin aging.” To the team’s knowledge, the study is the first to isolate microbes specifically associated with signs of skin aging and skin health rather than chronological age.
Combining CMI’s sophisticated data analytics capabilities with L’Oréal’s knowledge and expertise in skin health assessment, the study looked at aggregated data collected during 13 studies previously conducted by L’Oréal, consisting of 16S rRNA amplicon sequence data and corresponding clinical skin data for more than 650 female participants, aged 18 — 70 years. While each of the studies included in the analysis focused on a specific area of interest — for example, crow’s feet wrinkles or moisture loss — this multi-study analysis pooled the data to look for trends related to specific microbes, while taking into account other variables such as age.
“Previous studies have shown that the types of microbes on our skin change quite predictably with age,” said corresponding author Se Jin Song, Director of Research at CMI. “Our skin also changes naturally with age; for example, we get wrinkles and our skin dries out. But there’s variation in how this looks for people — you’ve probably noticed that there are some people who have younger or older-looking skin than many others to their age. Using advanced statistical methods, we were able to separate the microbes associated with these types of signs of skin aging, such as crow’s feet wrinkles, from those simply associated with age as a chronological number.”
Two notable trends emerged from the analysis. First, the team found a positive correlation between skin microbiome diversity and lateral cantonal lines (crow’s feet wrinkles), which are generally considered one of the key signs of skin aging. Second, they observed a negative correlation between microbiome diversity and transepidermal water loss, which is the amount of moisture that evaporates through the skin. In further investigating the trends, the researchers identified several potential biomarkers that warrant investigation as microorganisms of interest. It would be premature to draw conclusions about causation or action, but the study results provided researchers with directions for next steps in better understanding microbial associations with skin aging.
“At L’Oréal, our commitment is to create beauty products that meet the unique needs of each individual. Our recent collaboration with the Microbiome Innovation Center has shed light on the role of the skin microbiome in aging, particularly how it affects wrinkles and overall skin quality,” said co-author Qian Zheng, Head of Advanced Research, North America at L’Oréal. “This research is groundbreaking in identifying new microbial biomarkers associated with visible signs of aging, such as wrinkles on the feet of the goose. It marks an important step towards developing technologies for healthier, younger-looking skin. We look forward to sharing new results as they become available, furthering the scientific community’s understanding and input in advancing new skin care solutions.”
Future avenues of research suggested by the team include metabolomics work to discover chemical biomarkers associated with skin aging, as well as post-transcriptional research into potential targets for genetic engineering. Research on other layers of the skin was also reviewed, as many studies focus on the outer skin due to ease of sample collection.
“While the study’s findings represent an advance in our knowledge of the skin microbiome, we see them as just the beginning of a new phase of research,” said co-author Rob Knight, CMI School Director and Professor of Pediatrics, Engineering, Computing. Science & Engineering and Data Science at UC San Diego. “By confirming the connection between the microbiome and skin health, we have set the stage for further studies that discover specific microbiome biomarkers associated with skin aging and, one day, show how to modify them to create new and highly targeted recommendations for skin health.”
Additional co-authors include Tyler Myers, Shi Huang and Shalisa T. Hansen, all at UC San Diego. and Amina Bouslimani, Cecile Clavaud, Anissa Azouaoui, Alban Ott, Audrey Gueniche, Charbel Bouez, Luc Aguilar and Magali Moreau, all at L’Oréal Research and Innovation.
The study was funded through a funded research agreement between L’Oréal Research and Innovation and the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UC San Diego.
Disclosure: Amina Bouslimani, Cecile Clavaud, Anissa Azouaoui, Alban Ott, Audrey Gueniche, Charbel Bouez, Qian Zheng, Luc Aguilar and Magali Moreau are all employees of L’Oréal Research and Innovation. The other authors declare no potential conflict of interest.