Types of Marine Algae and Their Skincare Benefits


Over 70 percent of our planet’s surface is covered by water and oceans account for the greatest proportion of its biodiversity. Among the treasure trove of sea botanicals, algae lie at the heart of marine ecosystems. Given their healing and regenerative powers, no wonder algae have become key players in the skincare scene. In this post, let’s stay tuned for more deets on types of sea algae and how they are beneficial for your skin.

underwater sea algae

They can grow in deep ocean environments but also float in the water. Among more than 30,000 identified species of algae, only a few have been studied for their uses in skincare. There are two major groups of algae, macro and micro. Macroalgae, or seaweeds, are multicellular with large plant-like forms, whereas microalgae are invisible to the naked eye. Both types are considered to be nutrient-dense and help improve various kinds of skin concerns.

Marine algae have much more peculiar chemical structures than terrestrial plants. They are, in general, loaded with lipids, proteins, amino acids, minerals, flavonoids, and carbohydrates. These multifunctional metabolites exhibit a broad spectrum of biological activities that makes marine algae an all-around resource for the nutrition, pharmaceutical and beauty industries.

Macroalgae fall into three main classes based on their pigments, brown algae (Phaeophyceae), green algae (Chlorophyceae) and red algae (Rhodophyceae). Speaking of microalgae, blue-green microalgae (spirulina) and green microalgae (chlorella) are the most popular species utilized in skincare products.

1. Moisturizing

First of all, algae extract is an excellent humectant as an alternative to hyaluronic acid. Macroalgae are characterized by the presence of nontoxic polysaccharides, such as alginic acid or fucoidans in brown algae, agars or carrageenans in red algae and Ulvans in green algae. Polysaccharides are an integral part of primary metabolites that play an important role in physiological functions necessary for normal growth and reproduction conditions. Many clinical trials have investigated the topical application of seaweed-derived polysaccharides for treating dry, distressed skin.

“When you use algae in skincare products, it’s always going to be the driving force for hydration,” says Dr. Dennis Gross, MD.

aquatic ecosystems including algae

According to a 2018 study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), Beneficial Effects of Marine Algae-Derived Carbohydrates for Skin Health, fucoidans extracted from some species of brown algae, especially Saccharina Japonica held up a greater amount of water within skin layers than hyaluronic acid, followed by that red macroalgae extracts and green algae polysaccharides had lower water-binding capacity.

Taken together, adding algae to your skincare routine helps improve the transdermal water loss for a healthy, radiant-looking complexion.

As a family of primary metabolites, amino acids are also concentrated in seaweeds, such as alanine, proline, arginine, serine, histidine, and tyrosine. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins that are responsible for the skin’s elasticity and suppleness and support the natural moisturizing factor. Research by Pereira (Seaweeds as Source of Bioactive Substances and Skin Care Therapy—Cosmeceuticals, Algotheraphy, and Thalassotherapy, 2018) demonstrated that serine, alanine and glutamic acid, extracted from red alga Palmaria palmata (red dulse) and brown alga Himanthalia elongata, acted as emollients to plump up skin texture and increase the moisture reservoir.

2. Photoprotective

Marine algae work wonders when it comes to fighting against the after-effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Skin aging stems from both intrinsic and extrinsic aging. With intrinsic aging, there is nothing we can do about it. However, the latter is greatly caused by environmental assaults.

Unprotected exposure to sunlight is one of the main culprits of premature aging. UV rays trigger the secretion of matrix metalloproteinases, which, in turn, break down collagen and other extracellular matrix proteins as well as accelerate the formation of wrinkles and skin laxity.

Lucky for us, nature is brilliant! Algae are susceptible to environmental stress, high temperatures, dehydration, and excessive exposure to UV rays, so they tend to possess high biological activity. Secondary metabolites produced in seaweeds perform as their defense systems to help themselves survive in extreme conditions by neutralizing reactive oxygen species (ROS) in cells. FYI, ROS is a subset of free radicals that contain oxygen. These highly bioactive compounds include pigments, phenols, and mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs), all of which have been harnessed as skin protectants in cosmetics.

underwater kelp forests

Among their varied pigments, carotenoids deliver strong anti-oxidative properties. Microalgae-derived astaxanthin is considered a retinol alternative having more powerful skin-promoting effects than a range of carotenoids. Its ability to counteract free radicals is up to 6,000 times greater than vitamin C and 550 times greater than vitamin E. When applied topically, astaxanthin helps soothe inflammation, strengthen the skin barrier, block UV rays, and increase firmness.

Besides, Jeong et al. 2015 (Antiaging Effects of Algae-Derived Mycosporine-Like Amino Acids on Skin) revealed the UV absorbing ability and high molar extinction coefficient of MAAs as well as their dissipating absorbed UV radiation without generating ROS in the skin. As such, algae extract has been touted as a natural sunscreen.

3. Toning and Brightening

Thanks to their photoprotective abilities, the cutaneous application of algae extracts also contributes to preventing hyperpigmentation.

Chronic exposure to sunlight is linked with the expression of tyrosinase which induces melanin production in order to protect the skin from the harmful effects of UV rays and ROS. Several studies have suggested that biochemical compounds naturally occurring in marine algae can exhibit anti-melanogenesis properties by inhibiting tyrosinase activity.

Seaweeds are superabundant in vitamins and minerals. Green macroalgae and chlorella have been shown to possess high levels of vitamin C, an antioxidant that reverses sun damage, but also improves skin tone. More importantly, the green microalgae are brimming with chlorella growth factor (CGF), a unique complex found in the cell nucleus of chlorella including nucleic acids, RNA and DNA. CGF functions to accelerate cell reproduction and tissue repair. The topical use of chlorella helps encourage skin renewal and hence, neutralizes hyperpigmented areas.

4. Balancing

Last but not least, marine algae can be beneficial for those who suffer from unsightly, irritating skin concerns like eczema or acne.

spirulina algae

Compared to different types of algae, spirulina has long been renowned as a skin superfood for its purifying and regenerative agents. The cyanobacteria’s high concentration of chlorophyll and phycocyanin, responsible for its intense blue-green pigment, provides antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties. Then, its topical use aids in the elimination of skin impurities, clearing clogged pores and diminishing inflammation.

There are lots of other ways breakouts can manifest. Typically, it’s because the build-up of oils, pollutants and dead skin cells are trapped in and around your pores, leading to congestion and attracting bacteria. According to a 2021 clinical trial published in Cosmetics Journal from MDPI (Spirulina for Skin Care: A Bright Blue Future), applying a spirulina-infused face mask would regulate sebum production, suppress the proliferation of acne-inducing bacteria (Cutibacterium acnes or C.acnes) and relieve swelling bumps.

In addition, spirulina has been tested to alleviate chronic skin conditions that come along with damaged skin barrier, redness and itchiness. There is no denying that spirulina and marine algae as a whole provide a soothing boost of hydration, which helps reinforce the skin’s protective barrier, dampen irritation, and stimulate the skin to repair itself. The same source found that an ointment enriched with spirulina extract contributed to speeding up fibroblast regeneration and increasing the skin’s moisture content, so the skin could heal faster.

I hope the post gives you good Information about the skincare benefits of marine algae. I know it’s still lacking, but I will try my best to update it as soon as possible. I’m really looking forward to your opinions, please feel free to share. Thank you so much for your time and support! Stay beautiful!


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