When you read that a product contains “botanical ingredients,” you probably think of flowers and herbs, like soothing chamomile and antioxidant-packed green tea. And while these classic, plant-based ingredients can be great for your skin, researchers have been turning their attention to a different kind of flora lately: the kind that you find in the ocean. As it turns out, plants that come from the sea can actually be richer in bioactive compounds than their terrestrial counterparts. But before diving into their many benefits, it’s worth clarifying the most commonly used buzzwords in ocean-based skincare.
Seaweed is an overarching, informal term used to describe several species of algae, the most nutrient-rich group of sea plants.
Algae includes a very diverse group of organisms, from single-cell microscopic ones to those that grow hundreds of feet tall in lush, underwater forests. The algae most frequently used in skincare is the kind you can see without a microscope, and this algae is further divided by color: brown, green, and red. All three share the same skin-protecting and healing properties, and are some of the most nutrient-dense sea plants on earth. The main difference among them, their color, is also responsible for a few of their unique skin-aiding processes—but more on that later.
Kelp is the biggest marine plant in the world and is yet another type of nutrient-dense algae. It’s incredibly fast-growing, which is why it’s also one of the most sustainable plants to use for your skin.
What Makes Algae Skincare So Potent?
Algae is chock full of vitamins, including A, C, B1, B12, E, K and D. It’s also rich in fatty acids and amino acids that help skin stay hydrated. It’s safe to use for most types of skin, whether you’re prone to dryness, oiliness, or have especially sensitive skin. Here are some of the ways algae can show your skin some love:
The fatty acids and amino acids in algae protect skin’s barrier and lock in moisture, leaving you with a dewy complexion, no matter the season. Research has shown algae to be an even better humectant than hyaluronic acid, one of the best moisturizers available.
The loss of collagen and elastin causes the sagging and wrinkling that we notice as we get older. Though it’s an inevitable part of life, you can slow down the process, naturally. Algae inhibits the enzymes that attack collagen and elastin and eventually cause the skin’s breakdown. In addition, brown algae, like Laminaria Digitata, actually supports the formation of collagen, thanks to a pigment called fucoxanthin.
Rich in antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E, algae works as a gentle brightener, repairing skin damage from pollutants and the sun—without causing irritation. While working to fade dark spots, a pigment in red algae in particular can also protect skin from the UV radiation that causes hyperpigmentation to begin with.
Algae has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, soothing redness and preventing breakouts by stopping acne-causing bacteria in its tracks. The pigment chlorophyll, found in green algae, such as Chlorella Vulgaris, is especially good for inflammation.
Is Sea Kelp Good For Your Skin?
Sea kelp is a type of algae, and so shares all of the same skin health benefits. Macrocystis Pyrifera, the giant sea kelp most often used in skincare, is a brown algae, and is especially potent for collagen production, as well as hyperpigmentation. It’s also used in skincare because of its gelatinous quality, which has great slip and gives skin a little glow.
The Benefits Of Sea Water
When talking about ocean-based skincare ingredients, it’s worth mentioning the ocean itself. Seawater is full of minerals that give it some notable skin-healing properties. Have you ever noticed how quickly scrapes heal after a day at the beach? Rich in calcium, magnesium, zinc, and sodium, seawater helps with skin inflammation and even treats the cracked skin and dryness of an eczema flare-up. And unlike many acne creams that dry out skin, the magnesium in ocean water can help clear up breakouts, while helping skin stay hydrated.
Algae is pretty remarkable in its multitasking prowess and its recent popularity is well-deserved, though maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising. The oceans of the world are teeming with plants full of the minerals and nutrients that can rebuild, hydrate and heal our skin. Given that our skin is mostly made up of water, it makes sense that what it craves lies beneath the sea. Adding these ingredients to your skincare routine could make a lasting impact on your complexion gently, and naturally.