Bacteria and beauty have been closely intertwined. From acne treatment to the recent rise in microbiome facial care (a market set to be worth $2.97bn by 2030), the dynamic between the two has been either one of rapid destruction or growth promotion. Mother Dirt’s AO+ Mist landed somewhere between the two, using an ammonia-oxidizing bacteria, which converts ammonia and urea into nitrite and nitric oxide, to battle acne-causing germs.
COVID-19 heightened the dynamic to unprecedented levels. The fragrance industry produced hand sanitizer from their own ethanol reserves amidst global hand sanitizer shortages and took their efforts one step further with the launch of LÀ MOIT, a new range of antibacterial fragrances, harnessing the power of benzalkonium chloride, extracted from organic salt. However, fragrance use is limited to the neck, wrists, and elbows at most. The real challenge starts on our faces.
The average person touches their face 23 times per hour, presenting a significantly high risk of infection; and while we can wash our hands or bathe them in hand sanitizer, viral pathogens which land on the face—accessing and ultimately infecting the body via touching the eyes, nose, and mouth—are less easily eradicated without damaging the skin through over-washing or irritatingly alcohol-heavy formulations. Now a middle ground between the cosmeceutical and pharmaceutical realms has emerged.
The immense success of dermatology-backed brands such as Dr. Dennis Gross and Paula’s Choice has proven that consumers are more interested in an effective product rather than an overhyped item. Charles Rosier, co-founder of Augustinus Bader, has commented on the rise of “clean science,” marrying efficacy with streamlined formulations. Consumers have wisened up to endocrine disruptors and potentially toxic ingredients, but this trend is evolving further, into a realm where immediate health and beauty co-exist. Skincare sales have increased during the pandemic as customers became hyper-focused on hygiene rituals as a means of self-care amidst increased stress and uncertainty. Less makeup application means more focus on skin health, and attainable at-home indulgences such as facial treatments offer a small respite from pandemic-induced pressures. Retailers such as UK department store chain John Lewis witnessed a 234% increase in purchase of skincare, body, and hair products. Newly launched skincare line Fortify+ proves that fighting bacteria needn’t come at the cost of a gentle skincare formulation or enjoyable product experience.
Fortify+’s range of antibacterial skincare harnesses the power of Zeolite, a mineral which also acts as a natural preservative and water purifier to fight viral bodies. Studies show that the ingredient eradicates germs on direct contact, as well as displays prolonged virus-fighting properties after initial application. David Klar, CEO of Trendsformers, which has launched other spearheading brands such as Yes To (a pioneer of mass-market natural skincare), is at the head of the venture. The brand was born as a reaction to the pandemic, inspired by discussions with the company’s Korean outposts, which were already producing Zeolite-containing facial sprays. “There was as much of a lightbulb moment as I have ever experienced in my life,” Klar recalls. While positioned as a cosmetic brand and not a medical one due to the potential year-long delays of direct FDA approval, Klar and his team worked alongside the administration, spending months studying the efficacy claims of Zeolite, which bears both the FDA’s GRAS and INCI’s safety approval.
“We never noticed Zeolite because we never needed to. There is nothing sexy about something that kills bacteria when you’re using a face care product, it sounds abrasive. Bacteria is a dirty word, you don’t want that associated with a luxurious process like skincare,” Klar admits, simultaneously acknowledging the need for innovation to accommodate our new reality. With 78% of consumers stating they lead a health-aware lifestyle and 60% using a sanitizing product at least twice a day, this consciousness shift around bacteria will continue over the coming years. “We now have a hyperawareness and understanding that the face is the ground zero, our last line of defense. There was a lot of fear around putting anything sanitizing on your face and for good reason. That has changed now, this is the skincare line of the future,” he proclaims.
Fortify+’s product offering is comprised of a protective facial mist, cleanser, moisturizer, serum, sheet mask, under-eye pads, and facial wipes, with future plans to extend into hair care, body care, and makeup. Each product is infused with nourishing ingredients such as collagen, aloe vera, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C, meaning that the products are hard on viral pathogens but easy on the skin. Each item is priced between $10-$30 and stockists thus far include 20 major retailers such as Walmart, Walgreens, and Amazon, with a further 50 retailers currently under review. Amidst severe delivery disruptions, stock was air-freighted to Target to ensure a timely launch back in April, and sales figures have been doubling week-on-week. “Fortify+ hits a major white space—one which addresses a very important need in the market. The products are premium, packaging is beautiful, and the pricing offers great value to our customers,” comments a national retail chain representative.
For Klar, the broad distribution strategy is indicative of Fortify+’s ethos that health and consumer safety needn’t be a luxury, as well as the impact of the pandemic on the wider beauty industry. “Our focus was to get it out to the people as fast as possible. How do we do that? Get to the biggest retailers that serve the masses. We do not want this to be an elitist product for the 1%, we want this for everybody,” he adds. “From a retailer perspective, my skincare assortment has to reflect the times. If it is the same as it was before COVID, that is lacking or failing on my part. Am I current, am I forward-thinking, am I giving my customer the products of the present and the future instead of just the past? If the answer is no, that’s a problem,” he states.
While COVID-19 has been the clear catalyst, bacteria-fighting skincare will continue to have relevancy post-pandemic, not only because other contagious viruses will continue to exist, but also because consumers now don’t have to compromise between protecting their health and taking care of their skin. According to Klar and his research team, barrier care is becoming the new frontier of innovation, a progression of increasing awareness of our skin as a whole, be that cosmetic (facial care) or environmental (those with whom we have physical contact). “If I care about clean beauty so much,” Klar asks, “then how can this not be the next frontier of skincare?”