There's no shortage of skin doctors launching slick products of their own but it's not every day you hear of a skincare range conjured up by a gastroenterologist. In fact, US brand Tula – the brainchild of gut health expert Dr Roshini Raj – broke new ground when it launched in 2014 as one of the world's very first probiotic skincare ranges.
Having trained in medicine at the prestigious Harvard and New York Universities, practising gastroenterologist Dr Raj's 'lightbulb moment' came when she noticed her clients experiencing much calmer and clearer skin following probiotic treatments to balance their gut microbiome.
Using innovative research that looked at the benefits of applying probiotics topically, Dr Raj developed Tula – a range of superfood-powered creams, serums and treatments – alongside a founding team comprising a tech entrepreneur and a Bobbi Brown co-founder.
Since then, the brand has rocketed its way into the bathroom cabinets of beauty insiders and celebrities, including Mandy Moore, Christina Milian and Jenna Dewan, and cemented itself as the maker of America's number one best-selling prestige cleanser, according to data by The NPD Group.
Now Tula Cult Classic Purifying Face Cleanser, £29 – and more than 25 other products from the line – have hit UK soil, making their debut at Space NK.
Loaded with clinically-proven probiotic extracts, alongside the likes of turmeric, yuzu fruit and white tea, the formulas promise to tackle everything from acne to fine lines. But how exactly do they work? And do they really deliver? In a bid to find out, Get The Gloss editorial director Victoria Woodhall spoke to Dr Raj herself before road-testing the range...
How did you notice your patients' skin change as their gut health improved?
"Many of my clients with gut issues would suffer from skin inflammation manifesting as acne, redness, irritation, discoloration and dry patches. All of those things seemed to be improving once their internal gut microbiome became more balanced after taking probiotic supplements or eating more probiotic-rich foods.
"That's what inspired me to develop my range. I'd been fascinated by the gut-skin axis for many years and knew that inflammation of the skin also led to premature wrinkling. As a busy working woman in my 40s, I wanted to create products with real science behind them, delivering results without costing the consumer a fortune."
How did you begin researching your own microbiome-friendly skincare products?
"The starting point was clinical research – not just thinking 'probiotic' was a cool word or concept. I'd seen studies on how probiotic extracts could affect the skin and we sought out the specific strains used.
"These were strains shown to increase the skin's defence barrier which allows it to retain more hydration, and also proven to reduce inflammation. We pair these with other proven skincare ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid, Vitamin C and superfoods. The actives we formulate with are never too harsh or irritating. Tula Secret Solution Pro-Glycolic 10% Resurfacing Toner, £30, can be used every day and Wrinkle Treatment Drops Retinol Alternative Serum, £58, uses bakuchiol – a gentler retinol alternative.
"They're all great ingredients but I think the probiotic extracts are the 'special sauce' that really make a visible difference."
In what other ways can gut health affect our body?
"It can impact everything from our immune system and how we metabolise food to the development of chronic diseases and even mood and personality. There have been studies where one rat's microbiome has been transplanted into another via stool samples.
"They've found that the personality of the animal has actually changed as a result so an 'outgoing' rat has become a more 'shy and reserved' rat and vice versa. Overweight rats have also been shown to change their eating habits when they receive a microbiome transplant from a thinner rat. It seems that so many of our behaviours are dictated by our gut."
Your products really boomed during the pandemic – why do you think this was?
"Stress affected many people's skin during the Covid-19 pandemic – something that probiotic extracts can help with since they calm the inflammation created by the cortisol hormone.
"But, in general, consumers were just very much focused on their skincare during this time. Our line is so much about healthy skin and resilience. We also try to use positive messaging and don't retouch any of our photography which I think people have really gravitated towards."
What easy changes can we make to improve our gut health?
These are some of my own do's and don'ts when it comes to my gut health:
• Never eat processed meats
"They contain nitrites which are really toxic for your gut. Now I say 'never'... I do have a hot dog once a year on July 4th in the US but other than that I really try and avoid them."
• Avoid taking antibiotics
"These can be life-saving and necessary at times but I never over-use them for myself or my patients because they can really destroy your microbiome. It can take months or even years to restore that balance."
• Take anti-inflammatories on an empty stomach
"Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Ibuprofen, can really damage the lining of your gut, causing inflammation, and disrupting the balance of your microbiome."
• Do incorporate prebiotic, fibre and probiotics into your diet every day
"An easy way to do this is with a breakfast that has yogurt, berries (which are full of prebiotic fibre) and a bran cereal – another great source of fibre."
• Get a good night's sleep as often as you can
"Sleep can really affect the balance of your microbiome. Also, interestingly, if you have a disrupted microbiome it can affect your sleep so it works both ways."
• Have a regular exercise routine
"This is very important for the multitude of health benefits but also because of how it affects gut health and leads to a well-balanced microbiome."
Tula Cult Classic Purifying Face Cleanser, £29 our verdict
"This is a simple milky gel cleanser that's incredibly efficient at removing all traces of makeup," says Victoria. "It has the Tula USP of superfoods (in this case blueberry, white tea, and turmeric) to help improve skin texture and prebiotic extracts as well as a gentle citrusy smell. It's almost a little too efficient for my dry skin, but my husband, who is a strict soap and water person, was delighted and I know my teens will be on to this too. I can see why it's so popular, as it suits pretty much everyone; it's mineral oil-free and without sulphates or silicone (although that's rarely something you'd find in a cleanser) or parabens. But America's best-selling cleanser? It actually scooped the crown for retail sales, so other cleansers may trump its popularity online. Nevertheless, it's an impressive achievement. But interestingly, it's not my personal hero from range - nor is it Dr Raj's.
"Meeting Dr Raj, I absolutely was mesmerised by her skin. She looked about 30, but then when she started referring to major career milestones '20 years ago' I had to Google her. It turns out she is 50. Her secret ? The Beauty Sleep Overnight Repair, £59 a combination of exfoliating acids such as glycolic, and vitamin C as well as humectants and oils that make it an all-round age-proofing brightener'. She gave me the pot from her bathroom and I quickly snaffled it. Like all Tula products, it can be used every day. Now, after my retinoid, it's s my one-and-done night cream. This an easy-to-love mid-priced brand in which all generations will find something to love and share."
Shop Tula at Space NK.