Marine algae have been used for skin and hair care for thousands of years. Their inherent moisturizing, healing and strengthening properties have been recognized since ancient times as providing many benefits for human health and beauty. Every culture that has bordered the ocean has traditionally used marine algae for beauty care and, in fact, new discoveries of their qualities and benefits are still being made. The variety of available marine algae is so large that their benefits can only be described in general; specific types and species each have their own unique balance of constituents
Marine algae represent a very large and diverse group of organisms, encompassing at least 28,000 species. Algae are among the most ancient of living organism in the world, dating their origins back at least 1.5 billion years. Although not actually plants, algae (the singular is alga) do perform photosynthesis like plants. Within the larger class of algae, the group known as marine algae live in or on the shore of oceans; they grow in tidal pools, shallow water or as deep as 1,000 feet. Some are single-cell organisms, while others appear plant-like, commonly called “seaweed.” The species of seaweed vary in size as well: Some are only a few inches long, while others can grow up to 200 feet in length. As a group, marine algae have been prized by humans since prehistoric times, used as food, in medicine and in a variety of skin and hair care preparations. Because they are marine organisms, seaweeds and other types of marine algae are high in trace elements, including copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Marine algae are also well-known for being rich in vitamins, particularly A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B12, C, D, E and K. Other constituents – they vary from species to species – moisturize, promote the strengthening of skin tissue, particularly elastin and collagen, and balancing the moisture barrier in skin cells so that the tissues remain hydrated. In particular, marine algae are renowned for containing natural ingredients which provide antioxidant protection.
The diversity of marine algae makes them difficult to classify, but they are generally divided into four groups, arranged by color. The main groups usually acknowledged are: brown, red, green and blue-green algae. There are other ways to classify marine (by cell structure and type, physical form and even by the temperature zones in which various species live), but most biologists use the general color divisions for broad classification. In the final analysis, however, it is the specific nature, constituents and benefits of individual species which determine their uses in skin and hair care products. Beauty care experts not only rely on traditionally used species, but are constantly exploring other species for new uses in skin and hair care products. The following is a list – but only partial – of some of the most effective and commonly used species of marine algae in skin and hair care products:
Asparagopsis armata: A red algae that grows in the Atlantic Ocean. It improves elastin skin tissues, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, and also acts as a powerful antioxidant.
Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus): An edible seaweed. Its benefits include the strengthening of elastin skin tissues, helping to provide firm, smooth skin.
Chlorella vulgaris: Single-cell green algae. Promotes collagen growth, providing smoother skin.
Corallina officinalis: A red seaweed which grows along the shore. Strengthens elastin and provides strong antioxidant benefits.
Dulse (Palmaria palmate): Red seaweed. High in lipids, minerals and vitamins, which can be absorbed through the skin.
Horsetail kelp (Laminaria digitata): Brown seaweed. Source of alginic acid, brightens skin and provides protection against ultraviolet radiation.
Lithothamnium calcareum: Red seaweed. Rich in minerals, it restores skin tone, cleanses and detoxifies.
Rockweed (Ascophyllum nodosum): brown marine algae, also known as Norwegian kelp or knotted wrack. Source of alginic acid.
Ulva lactuca: A edible seaweed found at the low tide line of beaches in the northern Atlantic Ocean. Moisturizes and improves elastin health.
These species of marine algae, and many others, can be found in moisturizing creams, facial masks, shampoos, conditioners and soaps. Ingredients lists for many skin care and hair care products may include the names of specific species of marine algae, either under their scientific or common names. Some ingredients lists may just use a term such as “marine algae extract.”