The ocean is wild and calm, dangerous and beautiful. It holds miraculous treasures; powerful, healing treasures. Life flourishes here. Algae are one of those life forces with abundant potential for our skin.
Algae are nonflowering, mainly aquatic plants. They can be classified as macro (large enough to see with the naked eye) or micro (small enough to need a microscope to see it). Some algae live in the salty sea and others live in fresh water. They both hold promise, but for now, I want to focus on the macroalgae of the sea.
Macroalgae are better known as seaweed. There are three groups of seaweed, green (Chlorophyta), brown (Phaeophyta) and red (Rhodophyta). These seaweeds are a culinary delicacy in some parts of Asia. They are rich in healthful nutrients like dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, essential amino acids, and vitamins A, B, C and E. They have also been used in alternative medicine for internal and external applications for centuries. Phlorotannins, sulfated polysaccharides and tyrosinase inhibitors are a few stars in seaweed that have been shown to be beneficial for skin health.
The largest cause of skin wrinkling is from oxidative damage, primarily from over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. There is a whole chemical cascade of events that occurs starting from the UV damage to the up-regulation of matrix metalloproteinase (MMP’s). MMP’s are a group of enzymes that are activated by UV exposure or inflammation. They breakdown collagen and inhibit new collagen from forming. When this happens we see skin wrinkling and sagging. There are two specific kinds of MMP’s (MMP-2 and MMP-9) that are elevated in sun-damaged or inflamed skin. Studies using extracts from the marine alga Corallina pilulifera (a red seaweed) prevented expressions of MMP-2 and MMP-9 in human dermal fibroblast cells. This suggests that this seaweed may be able to prevent skin-aging caused by UV damage and inflammation. Another bonus, and maybe even a more important one, is that it protected DNA. This means it could protect against skin cancer.
A large population of us experience hyperpigmentation (a harmless condition where patches of skin are darker than surrounding normal areas). Examples are age spots and melasma. It’s not necessarily all that attractive and we have been searching for ways to safely and effectively eradicate it. Hydroquinone has been the gold standard but carries with it some potential negative side effects (if you’re interested you can see my post about melasma here). Seaweed to the rescue! Derivatives from Laminaria japonica (a brown algae) have shown to suppress tyrosinase activity. Tyrosinase is an enzyme that controls the production of melanin. Melanin is the natural pigment found in all human skin that gives it color. If tyrosinase is activated by say UV exposure, then a signal is sent to increase production of melanin. Increase in production of melanin equals darker skin (a tan) and sometimes, in uneven patches.
In addition to their skin and health benefits algae are natural, abundant, and reproduce rapidly. Although more studies need to be done, algae in skincare products shows some exciting promise.
If you want to give algae a try there are a lot of products out there:
La Mer Crème de La Mer is a cult favorite. It was created by aerospace physicist, Max Huber, to treat burns to his face after a laboratory accident. It combines fermented sea kelp, vitamins & minerals. You can now find La Mer products at Sephora.
Ahava Age Perfecting Hand Cream. Ahava products contain brown algae, a patented combination of Dead Sea minerals called Osmoter as well as other botanical ingredients. As an added bonus, this hand cream contains SPF for UV protection. You can find Ahava products at Ulta.
OSEA Undaria Algae Oil. OSEA is an organic, family-run company. They incorporate USDA certified organic algae into their products & are completely vegan. I am currently pregnant and want to nourish my stretching skin the best way I can, so I have been using the Undaria Algae Oil every day. OSEA’s products can be obtained directly through their website or are available in several spas.
Ren Atlantic Kelp and Magnesium Anti-Fatigue Body Cream. This line contains kelp, Magnesium, and Algae as well as other beneficial botanical ingredients. This is a newer line from Ren. It is not available through Sephora right now but I am willing to bet it will be in the future as they carry other Ren products. It can be obtained directly from Ren’s website or from one of my favorite online skincare stores, Dermstore.