Are Skincare Products With Algae the Fountain of Youth?

Seaweeds and algae-based ingredients have moved way beyond just being on the menu at your favorite restaurant. From hydration to sun protection, some compounds even have the potential to transform your skincare routines and may actually be better for you.

By Eunice Lee, Pharm.D
Apr 09, 2021

New ingredients stimulate interest and raise eyebrows of curiosity, but you have to wonder if they are just new fads or if they are really good for your skin. It’s fair to say that the average consumer shouldn’t have to be a scientist to successfully curate their own effective and safe skincare routine, but quite honestly, if you have sensitive skin, it’s crucial to assess the information at hand and question if you really “need” that ingredient.  Sometimes ingredients are added to products just to draw interest but don’t forget that potential allergens and irritants can be hiding behind those new names too.

If you are a skincare enthusiast, there is a high chance that you may have heard of some new skincare products with algae as a key or new ingredient. Yes, ingredients made from the same green, brown, and red leafy plants that wash up on the shores of beaches, and yes, some of the same types that you consume when enjoying your favorite sushi rolls - you know nori! In reality, there are over 30,000 different species of algae and they all have different names, classifications, and reported uniqueness; however, when used in cosmetics, algae provide numerous skin or hair benefits.

Looking back, it seems that La Mer was one of the first companies to take algae mainstream with its use of algae (seaweed) extract as the main ingredient in its pricey flagship product Creme de La Mar.  Since then, the number of skincare products with algae has flourished and the Personal Care Products Council - the agency which maintains the list of approved ingredient names (e.g., INCI) - has adapted, modified, and dramatically increased the number of recognized algal-based ingredients to focus not only on unique benefits but more importantly the origin, extraction/fermentation process, and whether the ingredient classifies as an extract, collagen, complex, or cocktail of several different algae. What used to be generically referred to as “algae (seaweed) extract” may now appear as Gelidiella Acerosa Extract, Hypnea Musciformis Extract, Sargassum Filipendula Extract, or Kousou Ekisu, just to name a few.

There are a total of 7 major types of different algae, but the three most common classes of traditional seaweed (called macroalgae) include phaeophyceae (brown), rhodophyceae (red), and chlorophyceae (green). Some are so small they’re only visible with a microscope. Gim (Korean) or Nori (Japanese) are hugely popular for their nutritional benefits and consumed by people worldwide. In fact, this type of seaweed is commonly consumed by mothers post-birth to restore key nutrients in Korea while citizens of Japan enjoy one of the longest life expectancies per capita in the world. Longevity into old age? Now THAT signals this is something worth looking into.

What are Some of the Different Benefits of Skincare Products with Algae?

Algae is extremely high in nutrition and is a huge source of bio-active (something that can have an effect on a living thing) compounds that include carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, amino acids, minerals, and flavonoids. Further research shows that these bio-active compounds are rich in antioxidants and even have photoprotective properties, aiding with sun protection. It’s also anti-inflammatory, which can help to strengthen the skin’s barrier and bring the skin to a calmer state. Algae can also act as both a  humectant (attraction of water) and emollient (holding onto water) and can retain a great amount of water compared to hyaluronic acid, which means it’s extremely useful for retaining moisture in the skin. Another great benefit of algae is that some forms can decrease the production of melanocytes and can help with hyperpigmentation and overall clearer skin.

What Skincare Products with Algae are Available?

Currently, in SkinSAFE, there are over 3,000 skincare products with algae listed as an ingredient and many of them are rated 100% free of the most common allergens and irritants. For example, products like ClarityRx Get Fit Multi-Peptide Healthy Skin Serum and Some algaes and [re]fresh Peptide+ Intense eye Recovery Serum list Chondrus crispus extract, which is noted to be a great film former in cosmetics with moisturizing, anti-aging, and smoothing properties. Ascophyllum nodosum is a type of brown algae that may help protect against UVB rays and is included in Bobbi Brown’s Skin Relief No. 80 - Calming Algae Complex, a SkinSAFE 100%. Ahnfeltia concinna extract, found in products like The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, is reported to have added skin protectant properties, improved barrier function, enhanced penetration of hyaluronic acid, and even protective effects against external pollutants. Other types of green algae with protectant effects include Chlorella vulgaris extract and Dunalielella salina extract. These can be found in products like Vichy Mineral 89 Eyes Hyaluronic Acid Eye Gel Cream and Skinmedica Total Defense + Repair Sunscreen, SPF 50 respectively. 

Okay, I’m convinced I need to start using some skincare products with algae. For all of these reasons listed above, algae from the sea is proving to be an infinitely rich source of cosmetic-quality ingredients and have great potential to be beneficial in a variety of applications. If you have sensitive skin, it’s still recommended that you check and make sure the formulation meets your unique needs! 

Keywords: algae extract, microalgae, cosmetic formulation, Chlorella vulgaris, Dunalielella salina, Ascophyllum nodosum, Chondrus crispus, Gelidiella Acerosa Extract, Hypnea Musciformis Extract, Sargassum Filipendula Extract, or Kousou Ekisu, 

1. Kim, J. H., Lee, J. E., Kim, K. H., & Kang, N. J. (2018). Beneficial Effects of Marine Algae-Derived Carbohydrates for Skin Health. Marine Drugs, 16(11), 459.
2. Couteau, C., & Coiffard, L. (2020). Phycocosmetics and Other Marine Cosmetics, Specific Cosmetics Formulated Using Marine Resources. Marine Drugs, 18(6), 322.
3. Park, J., Lee, H., Choi, S. et al. Extracts of red seaweed, Pyropia yezoensis, inhibit melanogenesis but stimulate collagen synthesis. J Appl Phycol 33, 653–662 (2021).
4. Pangestuti, R., Siahaan, E. A., & Kim, S. K. (2018). Photoprotective Substances Derived from Marine Algae. Marine drugs, 16(11), 399.

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