The wellness community is abuzz with the importance of a healthy gut biome; it can affect everything from how well we’re absorbing nutrients to the steadiness of our mood. Equally important is a healthy skin microbiome, but many of the products (even high-end) meant to nourish and protect our precious skin are riddled with chemicals. In response to this, Larry Weiss—who is credited with creating the first probiotic skincare product while at Mother Dirt—and Vicki Levine founded Symbiome in 2017, a line of synergistic, microbiome-friendly products, each made with fewer than ten ingredients. Rather than fabricated in a factory, their ingredients (sustainably sourced from an organic, regenerative farm in Brazil) are made by living plants and then are fermented by living microbes. With a team of microbiome scientists, microbiology PhDs and doctors providing guidance, these clean, simple products are cutting edge. The result of all this science, labor and love is hydrated, resilient, happy skin. Another important part of Symbiome’s mission is its partnership with the Amazon Conservation Team to help restore ancient relationships between humans, plants, the environment and microbes.
Where are Symbiome products manufactured?
Our PostBiomic fermentation process takes place in Brazil where the plants are fermented with microbes that are derived from the plant’s microbiome and native biome. Because the plants and their microbes co-evolved together over millions of years, our PostBiomic fermentation is optimized to unlock the maximum benefit and potency from these ancient biological relationships. The fermentation typically takes weeks but can take longer, depending on the product. The ingredients are then formulated and packaged in California.
Several of your products contain Lactobacillus Ferment. What is that and why is it so potent?
Symbiome’s BioIntact emulsion is made possible by harnessing the power of microbes. Our proprietary Lactobacillus Ferment is a unique postbiotic produced by a community of multiple Lactobacillus species, most of which are derived from the microbiome of the Amazon rainforest. It is rich in the full spectrum of naturally occurring bioemulsifiers, lipids, polysaccharides, actives and bacteriocins, nature’s own preservative system. Bacteria have evolved a seemingly endless range of natural bioemulsifiers including biosurfactants, lipids, glycerides, polysaccharides and many, many others. This shouldn’t be too surprising since emulsifying oil in water is an ancient chemistry problem and bacteria have been working on it for billions of years.
The naturally occurring bioemulsifiers in Symbiome’s Lactobacillus Ferment combine synergistically with our Postbiomic Sanoma oil to coat and stabilize the tiny droplets of oil so that they don’t coalesce into larger droplets. The natural polysaccharides form a three-dimensional matrix that thickens the cream and further stabilizes the emulsion. And bacteriocins are powerful natural preservatives. The One Cream is the first of our self-stabilizing, self-preserving, cold-processed BioIntact emulsions. The combined effect of this process is a rich, hydrating and luxurious cream, formulated with only three intentional ingredients—water, Postbiomic Sanoma oil, and our proprietary Lactobacillus Ferment. Just as important, our BioIntact emulsion is a cold-process formulation. This means that, unlike synthetic cosmetic emulsions, BioIntact emulsions are never heated, assuring the full potency of our unique ingredients and reducing our carbon footprint.
How did you choose which farm to work with in Brazil?
The foundation of our partnership is the shared belief that the biome and the indigenous communities of Amazonia must survive intact. We were drawn to them because we share a deep respect for the wisdom of the biology of the Amazon rainforest. They have dedicated themselves to the understanding and preservation of this diverse, precious and endangered biome. Our shared commitment goes far beyond what we traditionally think of as sustainability. They have cultivated longstanding relationships based on mutual respect with the indigenous communities from which our ingredients are derived. Our supply chain balances traceable, minimal impact locally wildcrafted harvests with sustainable organic agriculture. Together, we have established culturally sensitive profit share and benefit programs with the indigenous communities.
What’s your protocol for integrating science with your environmental and ethical beliefs? Do they ever contradict one another?
The environmental and ethical underpinning of Symbiome’s activities in Amazonia can be summarized in two words—minimal impact. We are deeply committed to minimizing the impact that our activities might directly or indirectly have on the rainforest biome and indigenous people who live there. Since we are the outsiders in their world, we believe that this is the only morally defensible position. We don’t see this as contradicting or limiting Symbiome’s research or commercial activities; rather it serves as a moral compass providing direction and context for our decision-making.
What does Stem Cell Conditioned Media do for the skin?
We are very excited to introduce The Answer Reparative Serum because it contains 50% Stem Cell Conditioned Media in a unique formulation of only 6 ingredients including water. Let’s start with stem cells. If you look at your skin today, everything that you see, every cell, will be completely renewed in a few weeks in a process known as skin turnover. Behind this renewal, buried deep in the basal (innermost) layer of your skin are the pluripotent (capable of becoming any type of cell in the body) stem cells driving this regeneration. Stem cells have the potential to grow and mature into all of the specialized cells that will become your skin tomorrow. This ongoing process of skin turnover repairs damage due to UV, injury, infection, and the general wear and tear of modern life. As we get older, skin turnover gradually slows down which can contribute to the appearance of aging. Stem Cell Conditioned Media reverses this decline, supporting normal, healthy skin turnover.
Stem cells are our natural source of healthy, youthful skin. They are also amazingly versatile biological factories — producing a rich broth (i.e. the ‘conditioned media’) of peptides, growth factors, exosomes, lipids and nutrients — which support your skin’s natural resilience in response to stress and enhances its capacity to repair damage and renew itself. Our Stem Cell Conditioned Media (SCCM) is a balanced and complete preparation of this broth derived from healthy adult human stem cells grown in the lab, without the cells. The “media” that results from the once harvested stem cell has been conditioned to include all of the products the cell makes, delivering all of the benefits but without actually having any living cells in it.
What are postbiomics and why are they important to your work?
We derive our oils from fermented, sustainably sourced native plants in a process much like the art of winemaking. Our microbiology team architects the fermentation process for each ingredient by selecting a specific microbe blend directly from the plants’ microbiome and native biome—preserving the evolutionary union between plants and their native microbes. This approach optimizes the beneficial molecules released during fermentation. When the fermentation is complete, we separate the oils from the raw plant extracts and the live microbes. The resulting products—our Postbiomic oils—contain a complex and dense variety of bioactive molecules with optimal bioavailability, each intentionally crafted to nurture your skin the way nature intended.
You donate 1% of your profits to The Amazon Conservation Team. Can you tell us more about their work and why it’s important to you?
ACT is an amazing organization that was founded in 1996 by legendary ethnobotanists Dr. Mark Plotkin and Liliana Madrigal in response to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the corresponding loss of biological and cultural diversity. Over the past 25 years, ACT’s efforts and success stories have been focused, effective and inspiring. What makes ACT unique is its inclusion of the cultural diversity of indigenous tribes as essential to preserving the overall biodiversity of the rainforest. The fate of the rainforest is interwoven with the fate of people who have lived there for millennia. Our lack of a sense of connection to the biome in which we live enables and contributes to many of our unsustainable behaviors and environmental practices. ACT’s commitment to the preservation of biodiversity at all levels in the Amazon rainforest resonates with Symbiome’s commitment to preserving the incomprehensibly complex continuum of biodiversity that supports all life on earth. It is our privilege to support and collaborate with ACT. We encourage everyone to consider doing the same.
Do you have a favorite Symbiome product?
Since I am also the formulation chemist who developed these products, that is a bit like asking “Which is your favorite child?” In their own way, each product has a unique story to tell and a contribution to make. They speak to different aspects of our connectivity and relationship to the microbial world. I enjoy them all. That said, recently I have been spending a lot of time with The Answer Reparative Serum and the guy in the mirror looks younger.