Algae, sea kelp, seaweed: Just as we’ve gotten used to eating this stuff—wrapped around rice, or nicely spiced in a salad—now we’re being told to rub it on our skin and bathe in it. Have we gone off the deep end?
With over 20 edible varieties to choose from, this green, slippery stuff has been a staple in Asian diets for thousands of years. “Seaweed is far richer in trace minerals than land plants,” explains Jenefer Palmer, founder and self-proclaimed Chief Seaweed Officer of Osea, an organic, vegan line of seaweed-based skincare. Those include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, trace elements, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese and zinc.
Indeed scientists call seaweed a “functional food” due to a compound it contains called fucoxanthin, a carotenoid found in edible brown seaweeds that may posses an anti-obesity effect.
But how does all this green (brown and red) goodness translate to skincare, which isn’t ingested, but applied topically?
Turns out this nutritionally-dense item has anti-inflammatory properties. “For that reason alone, seaweed extracts are used for a variety of skin conditions, including acne and rosacea,” explains Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at New York City’s Mount Sinai Medical Center’s department of dermatology.
“The use of seaweed as a source for healing dates back to 12,000 BC,” explains Palmer. “Ancient Greeks used it for wound recovery and Pliny the Elder describes using seaweed to treat joint disease.”
Yet not all seaweeds are created equal. Kombu, for instance, is a great source of nutritional iodine. Nori (the wrapping on your spicy tuna roll), is high in protein. And for skincare, says Palmer, “it’s hard to beat Undaria algae (commonly known as Wakame) to stimulate the production of collagen and dermal fibroblasts.”
Whether these aquatic anti-agers can take on more studied, wrinkle-busters like retinol is unlikely, but there’s more than adequate proof that seaweeds are great hydrators—especially when it comes to reactive, blemish-prone skin. And it’s natural and fully sustainable. Time for a sea change.
For: Those needing a home-based, spa-like experience.
Contains: Marine extracts and Dead Sea salts
Purpose: To soften, revitalize skin and soothe muscles and spirits.
For: A quick, seamless way to moisturize.
Contains: Irish Moss, cocoa butter, vitamin E and pro-vitamin B5, spirulina, nori and himanthalia seaweed extract.
Purpose: An alternative to thick body creams, this goes on light as water.
For: Face. Wear underneath moisturizer.
Contains: Eleven marine actives that include a mix of red and brown algae, Irish Moss and Antarctic seaweed.
Purpose: Improved moisture, elasticity and cell turnover.
For: Whole body
Contains: Organic, hand-harvested brown bladderwrack seaweed from the North Atlantic.
Purpose: Developed by the company’s owner to treat his own psoriasis, it helps improve red, scaly, flaky skin conditions.
For: This clay mask is especially well suited for oily and acneic skin types.
Contains: Alpha lipoic acid, vitamin C and organic kelp, agar agar, and bladderwrack seaweeds.
Purpose: Made to order. The brand recommends combining the clay powder with water, tea, fruit juice or plain yogurt for a fresh approach to skin rejuvenation.
For: Some gentle, facial skin-sloughing
Contains: Bamboo powder to loosen dead skin cells without damaging skin, along with seaweed extract to soothe
Purpose: When skin needs to breath, this lends a non-aggressive exfoliation for a healthy, lit-from-within glow.
For: Normal to oily skin
Contains: Wild-harvested seaweed from The Body Shop’s community trade partner in Ireland
Purpose: Rinses away excess oil, grime and impurities in a mild, soap-free formula.
For: The body
Contains: Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, sea minerals and antioxidants including acai, babassu, passion fruit, sesame and Undaria algae
Purpose: Protects skin’s hyaluronic acid levels, necessary to keep skip smooth and firm.
For: Anti-aging for dry skin types
Contains: A proprietary blend of brown Oarweed and Norwegian kelp algae, lactic acid, and sodium PCA to draw moisture into skin
Purpose: This “super humectant and emollient formula” addresses the hydration needs of older, drier skin.
For: Head-to-toe rejuvenation
Contains: Multiple treatments incorporating seaweed, including a body buffing, wrap, scalp treatment and full body massage
Purpose: This age old therapy known for the use of marine products like algae, seaweed and mud comes from the Greek word thalassa (the sea) and therap (treat).
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