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Seaweeds – Cosmetic Applications

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The ocean bioflora is rich in plants producing molecules essential for their survival that can be useful to protect our skin.

Seaweeds are an amazing source of natural molecules for both nutrition and topical use. They are rich sources of minerals (including the essential micronutrient iodine), bioactive polysaccharides, carotenoids and even proteins, along with a small content of healthy lipids. They have been described as ‘an ideal food’.

Seaweeds are rich in phenols derivatives and polysaccharides with protecting activity (Ref 1, 2) For example, marine polyphloroglucinols, found in brown seaweed, are phenols derivatives with powerful antioxidant properties and significant activity against the damaging free radicals (Ref 3). Brown seaweeds also contain a slippery compound called fucoidan that assists with protection from marine pathogens. Fucoidan is a fucose-rich polysaccharide with anti -viral, immune modulating and matrix metalloprotease inhibiting properties (Ref 4).

Sea-harvested brown algae are known to have skin benefits and previously have been associated with an increase in skin elasticity (Ref 5). However, it is still difficult to formulate seaweed extracts due to color, scent, incompatibility. Research has moved into isolating the main components from seaweeds, allowing the formulator to use smaller concentrations of the extract. These lower levels reduce the risk of incompatibilities and material setting, color issues and scent, improving overall stability (Ref 6).

Seaweed components such as polysaccharides and phenols derivatives have proven to bring skin soothing and anti-aging properties when tested topically in clinical trials (Ref 7) and are promising ingredients to develop effective skin care products.

  1. Fernando IP, Kim M, Son KT, Jeong Y, Jeon YJ. Antioxidant Activity of Marine Algal Polyphenolic Compounds: A Mechanistic Approach. J Med Food 19(7):615-28, 2016
  2. de Jesus Raposo MF, de Morais AM, de Morais RM. Marine polysaccharides from algae with potential biomedical applications. Mar Drugs 13(5):2967-3028, 2015
  3. Singh IP, Bharate SB. Phloroglucinol compounds of natural origin. Nat Prod Rep 2006, 23, 558–591
  4. Fitton JH, Stringer DN, Karpiniec SS.Therapies from Fucoidan: An Update. Mar Drugs. 2015 Sep 16;13(9):5920-46.
  5. Fujimura, K Tsukahara, S Moriwaki, T Kitahara, T Sano and Y Takema, Treatment of human skin with an extract of Fucus vesiculosus changes its thickness and mechanical properties, J Cosmet Sci 53 1–9 (2002)
  6. Dell’Acqua G. Sustainable Ingredient Science: Brown Algae. Cosmet Toil 128(4): 226-229, 2013
  7. Fitton JH, Dell’Acqua G, Gardiner VA, Karpiniec SK, Stringer DN, Davis E. Topical Benefits of Two Fucoidan-Rich Extracts from Marine Macroalgae. Cosmetics 2(2): 66-81, 2015

The author wishes to thank Dr Helen Fitton, marine scientist, for contributing to this blog. The cover is courtesy of Ian Wallace.

Guest Author: Giorgio Dell’Acqua, PhD

Giorgio Dell’Acqua, PhD, has been an investigator in applied biomedical research for 15 years and he has spent the last 16 years as an executive and cosmetic scientist in the personal care industry. He is specialized in skin and hair care ingredients, finished product development and technical marketing. He has covered multiple roles as a manager and director in different companies specialized in active ingredients and product development. He has helped bring more than 100 successful active ingredients and finished products to market and has authored more than 50 publications in medicine and cosmetic science. In the last 10 years he has been writing and lecturing on sustainability and cosmetic ingredients and helped sourcing, developing and bringing to market many sustainable ingredients. He is a recent award winning speaker on sustainability and natural ingredients and a regular columnist on sustainable cosmetic science.