When you think of algae, images of bright green, slippery goo stuck to a rock may come to mind. It’s not something you’d want to rub on your face, but as it turns out, it can be incredibly beneficial for your skin. But don’t go running down to your local pond and grabbing some just yet — it’s a little more complicated than that.
Different Types of Algae
The term “algae” covers many different organisms capable of producing oxygen through photosynthesis, which includes more than 20,000 different known species. Here are some of the most popular ones used in skincare and beauty products:
Brown Algae: Most of the research studies done on algae have used brown algae. It is typically used as an emollient to soften skin and has added anti-bacterial benefits. Other benefits include added hydration, detoxification, and increased elasticity. A study conducted by Science Daily News found that “substances extracted from a marine seaweed may protect against skin cancer caused by too much sun.”
Red Algae: Red algae extract contains peptides, antioxidants, and fatty acids. These components make it capable of neutralizing free-radicals.
Blue-Green Algae: Blue-green algae has a lot of different names (cyanobacteria, spirulina) and contains B vitamins, amino acids, protein, and calcium. Much like the previous forms mentioned, it also is a great source of antioxidants! It helps to prevent water loss in the skin as well.
How Algae Benefits Your Skin
Algae is quickly becoming a popular ingredient in part because it contains carotenoids like astaxanthin. Astaxanthin also has been found to protect against UV damage and skin inflammation from burns, bacteria, etc. Astaxanthin and other carotenoids found in algae are antioxidants that are stronger than the more common Vitamins C and E.
Additionally, there is some evidence that red algae, and carotenoids in general, will help to prevent skin cancer; though much more evidence is still needed. A study found that in a group of 30 female test subjects, many reported significantly reduced wrinkles, faded age spots, and smoother skin, though there was a minimal improvement for skin moisture. It’s also showing potential for being helpful with UV-induced stress! A study in the Journal of Dermatological Science found that it can protect against UVA light-induced oxidative stress. A study with 36 men found that applying a cream with astaxanthin for six-weeks improved elasticity and signs of crow’s feet (Acta Biochimica Polonica).
Brown algae also has been shown to boost UV protection (International Journal of Cancer, 2009). Considering the fact that 80-90% of the visible signs of aging are attributable to UV damage, that’s no small feat. In an in vitro study, researchers found that one kind of extract of brown algae was able to increase the basal cellular and mitochondrial respiration of skin cells (Personal Care Magazine). This increased metabolism and ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate, the energy-carrying molecule that is found in the cells of all living things) production, as well as protein synthesis. Basically, brown algae can increase cell energy, which is the reason many beauty companies are beginning to use it in anti-aging products. In a different in vitro study on brown algae extract, it was found that application to cells can protect collagen cells. It does this by increasing the rate at which matrix metalloproteinases, which degrade collagen, interact with their inhibitors, meaning that it works by preserving collagen (Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics).
Algae has a low irritant potential for the skin, according to some studies, such as this 2004 study from the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. Still, other studies suggest that it can be a significant irritant (Journal of Allergy, 1966). If you find that your skin is sensitive to algae, you can still get some of its benefits by taking it orally. In a study with 49 women around age 47, researchers gave women 4 milligrams of astaxanthan or a placebo twice a day for six weeks in a single-blind study. They found that the women who took astaxanthan had noticeable improvement in wrinkles, fine lines, and elasticity (Japanese Society for Carotenoid Research). Another eight-week study with 30 women found similar results (Acta Biochimica Polonica).
Algae is an excellent ingredient that is full of amino acids, proteins, and antioxidants. Its primary benefits are boosting hydration in the skin and boosting UV protection, making it fantastic for those looking to add some anti-aging benefits to their routine. One of the most famous products that utilize algae is Crème de la Mer! La Mer utilizes ultrasound waves that are directed into the cream to ferment the algae, accelerating the rate by which it produces lactic acid. I’m not saying that you should run out and drop a pretty penny on a tub, though — check out some of my favorite alternatives!