Seaweed (alga) is a hit in the anti-ageing skin care market. Many cosmetics are using seaweed as their star ingredient, attributing it with beneficial properties for enhancing our appearance. Creams and lotions of all kinds are prepared from “seaweed extract”. How genuine is its anti-ageing properties? Or is this a question of misleading advertising?
Many companies, especially from France, Canada, the USA and Australia, sell harvested seaweed extract as an ingredient for personal care products. Their advertising usually emphasizes that the extract is a very useful anti-skin-ageing alternative. Algae are organisms that are simpler than land plants. There are thousands of species worldwide, some used since time immemorial for various purposes (in China they have been used since 5,000 years ago).
From the sea to the face
Seaweed extract is basically used in cosmetics for the following reasons:
It acts as a thickening agent.
It fixes water in mixtures and controls viscosity.
It may have moisturizing, anti-oxidant, photoprotector, anti-bacterial and other properties.
Consequently, using seaweed extract as an ingredient in formulas can be very effective and is practical. Also, as a “natural” product, it is favourably viewed by consumers. It is frequently listed as “seaweed extract” on the label of the products that we buy.
Algae typically found in cosmetics are sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca), brown algae or kelp (Laminaria) and several species of red algae, such as the famous Irish moss (Chondrus crispus).
All kinds of products containing algae are available in the market: oils and lotions, moisturizers, shampoos and soaps, scrubs, makeup and foundations, cleansers, lip balms, hair conditioners, etc. In other words, seaweed is used for almost any kind of cosmetic.
Seaweed’s real effects
All manufacturers logically carry out research looking for alga properties that may have an application in their formulas. And not just for cosmetic products for the skin, but also for nutricosmetic supplements that seek “beauty from within”.
Irish moss has long been used for its emollient and anti-oxidant properties. It contains proteins, vitamin A, sugar, starch, vitamin B1, iron, sodium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper and calcium with beneficial effects on the skin.
Brown algae, of which about 1,500 species are known, are rich in polyphenols and fucoidans (polysaccharides), which equip them with strong anti-oxidant and anti-ageing properties. A producer of extract of Alaria esculenta, an alga harvested on the north coast of France, insists that this seaweed promotes the formation of collagen and elastin due to its high concentration of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
Other claims are that certain algae are useful as free-radical scavengers, helping protect the skin from both intrinsic and environmental damage. Some even highlight seaweed’s ability to stimulate the activity of sirtuins (proteins that regulate the many genes responsible for metabolism and cell repair).
There are many beneficial effects attributed to seaweed extract, described in detail in prestigious scientific journals, for example, its moisturizing action and antiseptic effect against the bacteria that cause acne. Even the photoprotective capacity of certain algae is being used to develop hypoallergenic sunscreens.
Careful with adverts
For all the advantages of seaweed, the claims that it may stop or remove wrinkles, heal skin or provide other amazing benefits need to be interpreted with care. Some adverts claim that seaweed can heal psoriasis, eczema and dermatitis, yet there is little scientific evidence to support these claims.
In conclusion, trust your local supplier and the prestige brands that have conducted thorough research to support claims that a particular seaweed used in their products has any particular effect. Read the labels and, if in doubt, ask before buying.
By Josep Orellana, science journalist
Source: The Healthy Skin