With earth’s natural resources dwindling, the renewed interest in algae is, perhaps, no surprise. Algae are both the single cells (microalgae) floating on fresh or sea water, or stuck to the ocean bed and rocks, as well as the whole gamut of floating plants we call seaweeds (macroalgae). Which means they’re rather abundant – as you’ll have discovered if you’ve ever tried wild swimming! They grow and regenerate faster than land crops, without needing too much TLC, and are a cinch to farm. No wonder eco-scientists eye them as the future of food, fuel and cosmetics. Known to be packed with minerals and trace elements, many types of algae are praised as a food source and can provide you with your five-a-day. In skincare, there are declarations of moisturising, anti-ageing and protective properties – claims that, in most cases, bear scrutiny, if (and that’s an if) you’re applying algae extracts in the right way. Getting all this aquatic goodness deep enough into our skin often requires a little more sophistication than just slapping on some seaweed. Read on to find out what these humble botanicals can do for your dermis, and how you can make sure you’ll benefit from their powers.
You know how the beauty world has been banging on about hyaluronic acid, the substance that attracts 1,000 times its weight in water to the skin and holds it there? Lauded for its ability to plump and hydrate without any oiliness, hyaluronic acid is a great example of what’s called a humectant (a molecule that attracts and holds on to water) – but it’s far from the only one. As well as glycerin and sorbitol, there’s – you guessed it – algae. Extraordinarily good at binding water (just look at how dried seaweed plumps up when wet), ‘the presence of certain algae components in your serum offers sustained hydration with the most water-like of textures,’ says Prudvi Kaka, chief scientific officer at Deciem and The Ordinary. He points to blue-green microalgae and red seaweed for their excellent humectant potential.
Healthy skin has a robust veneer of oils and friendly bacteria that we call the lipid barrier or acid mantle; its function is to keep moisture in and pollutants and any other damaging molecules out. Making sure it stays intact requires feeding it with essential fatty acid-rich lipids and ingredients that help promote a well-balanced microbial population (called the skin microbiome). Thankfully, certain types of algae are rich in fatty acids, known as DHA and EPA, which reinforce the lipid barrier while nourishing and soothing dry and eczema-prone skin. Meanwhile, ‘thanks to their abundant mix of natural sugars, proteins and minerals, algae can be used as prebiotics – or “food” that make good bacteria thrive,’ says chemist and microbiome specialist Dr Marie Drago. With probiotic skincare science on the rise as much as algae-based skincare, expect the two to become the Batman and Robin of your face-saving armoury.
‘Wild’ seaweeds are harvested on a relatively small scale in the UK, usually by local communities with in-depth knowledge of the ecosystem. Meanwhile, algae grow fast and without competing with other plants, so are easy to farm without affecting the environment. So you can generally be confident your seaweed is sustainable, whether it’s wild or farmed. To check wild-harvesting practices, you could contact thecrownestate.co.uk, which manages the licences for sustainable commercial harvesting in the UK. Or ask your brand whether its seaweed was subject to the EU wild-harvesting standards, which have so far governed standards in the UK and Ireland. Unfortunately, neither organisation supplies certification on product packaging.
• The Ordinary Marine Hyaluronics will plump up skin with a wealth of marine humectants.
• Florence by Mills Zero Chill Face Mist contains calming, anti-ageing bladderwrack extract to help lift dull skin.
• Honest Beauty Deep Hydration Eye Cream has nourishing, barrier-boosting sea-fern extract.
• Garnier Vitamin C Shot Fresh-Mix Tissue Mask – made from dried algae, it moulds to your face shape and helps re-plump skin.
• Estée Lauder Nutritious Micro-Algae Pore Minimizing Hydra Lotion features microalgae that hydrate and balance sebum production.
Shot on location at Sandals South Coast, Whitehouse, Jamaica.