When Marie Drago was a child, she wanted to be a witch. She grew up to be the next closest thing: A pharmacist.
The founder of French skincare brand Gallinée pioneered the microbiome skincare movement, armed with her science background and 15 years in the beauty industry. Five years ago, I met Marie at a Sephora press day when prebiotics (whether for skin or the gut) were the newest rage. We caught up with her over a call to find out what has changed from then until now and she deems is the future of beauty.
How did you get started on your brand?
I have always worked in beauty and I loved beauty when I was a pharmacist. I never wanted to work in the pharmaceutical industry, because ethically, it was not something I was really happy with. But I loved the science and I liked to make products. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a witch and I was so disappointed when my parents told me there was no witch university. I thought it was the coolest job. For me being a pharmacist was the closest I could get to being one.
Having always worked in beauty and wanting to create my own brand, I wanted to do something that would revolutionise the beauty industry. When I got to learn about the microbiome because of my autoimmune disease, I thought, ‘Oh my god. That’s such a big opportunity’. No one was doing anything; there wasn’t even research. I did my thesis on it and at the end of it, I patented it and that’s how we developed a formula. I was lucky that my friends and families thought it was a good idea and wanted to support me. We started very, very small and now, it’s a bit bigger.
Why is good bacteria so important for your skin?
They’re part of your body and they are your first layer of physical protection in the gut and also on the skin. They are there to protect you against bad bacteria and train your immune system to lower inflammation and react to aggression. Taking care of your good bacteria is actually the most logical thing for your skin because they’re already doing the job that you’re always trying to do with skincare, like preventing aging and hydrating.
Before, we didn’t really understand the microbiome, and we didn’t see these bacteria. We didn’t have the capacities to look at what was there. Now understand what they do and how it works. That’s why microbiome skincare for me makes so much and that’s why it’s a revolution.
How do you keep your microbiome balanced?
It’s an everyday effort for me through nutrition and how I feed my body. Taking care of your gut can help your skin. It’s all about eating fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, Yakult, and eating a lot of fibre. Typically, in modern societies, we don’t eat near enough fibre. We need 30 grams a day. In Europe, we average around 17 so it’s really bad. For skin, the first step is to stop destroying the good bacteria. A few years ago, everyone was talking about antibacterial products to help with eczema. Now we understand that taking care of your good bacteria is the first step. Microbiome skincare for me is the second step. The first step is more gentle cleansing or maybe even less cleansing.
Is it enough to use one prebiotic skincare in your routine?
That’s an interesting question because in microbiome skincare we are very minimalist. The less you do, the better it is for your skin. What I usually see happen is when people introduce one product of Gallinée, which might be the Foaming Cleanser or the Face Vinegar Toner, they realise that they need less makeup as their complexion becomes better. They start to cleanse a little less and their routine downsizes. You can start with one prebiotic, and then your whole routine might turn prebiotic after. You will gradually start to see your routine becoming more minimalist.
You were a pioneer for microbiome skincare. How do you stay ahead of the competition?
I’m quite lucky that I’m a scientist. I attend and speak at science congresses on the microbiome. I’ve got direct access to the best of new science. Usually in the cosmetic industry, between science and the launch of of the product, you’ve got approximately five years. For me, I can launch a product based on the new science in one year. That’s why we were earlier to launch than anyone else and why we are super innovative. It’s not only about putting prebiotics in your formula. It’s about adding formula to one formula to care for your microbiome. I’m obsessed with functional ingredients. We use inulin for example, which makes the formula creamy but it’s also a prebiotic. I love that you can reduce the number of products in your formula while making it more efficient. Sorry, I’m getting really excited!
How are consumers responding compared to when you first launched?
We launched five years ago, and back then I had to explain to people a lot that they had bacteria on their skin. I never had people being disgusted by bacteria, or by the idea of microbiome. We do a lot of education at Gallinée and what changed is that then people knew only prebiotics. Now, I get to talk about prebiotics, postbiotics, and the microbiome. People understand and they read about it thanks to journalists who give such an amazing education on what’s good for you and how to take care of your microbiome. It has made my job so much easier.
What has been the biggest milestone for you so far?
When you asked me this question, I was thinking it’s every day! For me, I have lots of little personal milestones but I remember waking up one day and Gallinée was tagged on this image of Jennifer Lawrence because she used our hand cream. We also got the Marie Claire award in France, which is the biggest beauty award, and we were the youngest brand to win it. This month of June is also our biggest month of sales in our history.
Wow! That’s amazing. Congratulations. So I’m assuming that the pandemic didn’t really affect business?
We’re friends with plenty of microbiome brands and we were all like, “Oh, my God. Covid-19 is a virus and everyone is going to be scared of bacteria”. That’s not what happened at all. People got really interested in their skin immunity. We saw that searches for sensitive skin increased by a lot. Microbiome skincare and Gallinée in particular are developed for people with sensitive skin that is prone to eczema.
Name your skincare essentials.
I’ve got quite a minimalist routine. I use my Cleansing Bar on the face, body and intimate care. At the moment, I’m using the Oxygen Serum, the Hydrating Face Cream and then I spread the Face Vinegar Toner on my face before a Zoom call because it wakes up my skin.
Wow that’s great. Your skin is obviously amazing.
It wasn’t always like that because I had reactive skin. Gallinée is the only brand I can use. My skin is super random. I think it’s linked to the autoimmune disease. My skin is super annoying.
What do you think is the future of beauty?
For the next three or four years, microbiome skincare for sure. Now that we know that bacteria is on our skin, we have to live with them and use them to make our skin good. I also see minimalism as going to be a massive trend. Less is more. Even from the sustainability perspective, paying for loads and loads of products is not the right thing to do and it’s not good for your skin. I see us stripping down to utilitarian skincare.
We are focused on innovation at Gallinée and we are looking at things that are not even skincare such as supplements that makes your skin good. I think in the future we might not even have creams anymore. You might have things that replenish your microbiome in different ways. It might be nutrition, it might be your environment, such as what plants can make your skin better. For someone who’s been in the industry for 20 years now, it’s really exciting to be in skincare at the moment.