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Scalp Microbiome: From Wolves in Yellowstone to the Latest Anti-Dandruff Treatments

Updated: Oct 21

The scalp microbiome emerged as a major theme at the recent ‘TRI/ITC Multi-Ethnic Hair and Scalp Care Symposium’, held on-line on 4th, 5th and 6th October. The key insights and latest discoveries shared at the Symposium are covered in this short blog.



An introduction to the skin microbiome was given by Dr Apostolos Pappas in a presentation called “Skin and scalp microbiome: An emerging era for innovation” https://library.triprinceton.org/1ftseag/ . Many valuable insights were shared, but, perhaps, the most thought-provoking was idea that the diverse populations of microorganisms present on the skin, along with the skin itself, should be considered as an integrated ecosystem. Change one part of any ecosystem and the consequences can be wide-ranging. This is where the wolves came into the story. Apostolos shared a short film about the effects of the reintroduction of the wolves into Yellowstone National Park in the US. Adding the wolves back changed the whole ecosystem of the park. The same could happen, argued Apostolos, when, for example, a live probiotic or an anti-microbial active is applied to the skin.


In his presentation Apostolos reviewed recent publications on skin and scalp microbiome and how the microbiome changes in various skin conditions such as eczema and acne. New insights into the differences in the microbiome in normal vs oily scalp skin were also shared in a poster presentation from Sabrina Leoty-Okombi (BASF), titled “Comparison of oily versus normal scalp microbiota” https://library.triprinceton.org/1ftrs42/ . This work showed that oily scalp skin had a high abundance of lipophilic and anaerobic bacteria, which were hypothesized to be thriving off the sebum rich scalp. Oily scalps also had a deficiency in some commensal bacteria, which support good scalp health.


In another poster presentation titled “Exploring microbial associations on alopecia-affected scalps” https://library.triprinceton.org/1fts56c/ , Jarrad Hampton-Marcell (Argonne National Laboratory) shared the work his team had done in trying to untangle the effects of alopecia on the scalp microbiome from other effects, such as panellist age. The surprising finding from this paper was that alopecia was associated with an increase in bacterial diversity. Those of us in the cosmetics industry claiming that increasing bacterial diversity on the skin (i.e. a higher Shannon Index value) is a good thing should take note. Life isn’t always that simple!


Finally, Christin Koch (Symrise) presented a poster titled “Innovative dandruff control based on mycobiome & microbiome understanding” https://library.triprinceton.org/1fts900/ . In this very innovative piece of work, Christin showed how a new anti-dandruff ingredient, propanediol caprylate, is cleaved by lipases excreted by Malassezia into caprylic acid and propanediol. The caprylic acid is anti-microbial and controlled the levels Malassezia. In this way the Malassezia became self-regulating. The active showed promising anti-dandruff efficacy.


In conclusion, many of the presentations at the Symposium (https://library.triprinceton.org/1fsv31r/) have shown that scalp itch and inflammation is a common problem for consumers with very curly hair. Clearly, the scalp microbiome plays a huge role in this, and we are just at the beginning of a new era of innovation in this area.


For more information about hair and skin science, and information about future events, visit us at www.triprinceton.org

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