Cosmeceutical Critique

Seaweed and other marine-derived products in skin care, part 1: Current indications


Marine algae are relatively common raw sources for cosmeceutical products.1 The photoprotective compounds identified among marine algae range from mycosporinelike amino acids, sulfated polysaccharides, and carotenoids to polyphenols, all of which are noted for absorbing UV and conferring antioxidant, matrix metalloproteinase–suppressing, anti-aging, and immunomodulatory effects.2 Such biologic activities understandably account for the interest in harnessing their potential in the skin care realm. Indeed, marine ingredients have been steadily flowing into the market for skin care, and research has proliferated – so much so, in fact, that I’ll take two columns to cover some of the most recent research on various marine species and some of the indications or potential uses for these products in skin care.

Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), a type of seaweed, is shown. ph2212/Getty Images

Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), a type of seaweed, is shown.

Key activities and potential uses

Kim and associates note that carbohydrates are the primary components of marine algae, with copious amounts delivering a moisturizing and thickening effect when incorporated into cosmetic products. They add that marine carbohydrates are also known to impart antioxidant, antimelanogenic, and anti-aging activities.3

Dr. Leslie S. Baumann, a dermatologist, researcher, author, and entrepreneur who practices in Miami.

Dr. Leslie S. Baumann

In 2017, Colantonio and Rivers reviewed the evidence supporting the use of seaweed, among other plants, for dermatologic purposes. The researchers considered four plants and algae (seaweed, witch hazel, bearberry, and mayapple) used in traditional First Nations approaches to skin disease. They found that seaweed shows promise for clinical use in treating acne and wrinkles and could deliver healthy benefits when included in biofunctional textiles.4

Atopic dermatitis

Found in the seaweed Fucus vesiculosus, fucoidan is known to impart anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antitumor activity.5 In a 2019 BALB/c mouse study, Tian and associates showed that fucoidan, which is rich in polysaccharides, significantly improved ear swelling and skin lesions and reduced inflammatory cell infiltration. Given the resolution of the 2,4-dinitrofluorobenzene–induced atopic dermatitis symptoms, the investigators suggested that fucoidan may have potential as an anti-AD agent.5

Also that year, Gil and associates studied the effects of Seaweed fulvescens, a chlorophyll-rich green alga (also called Maesaengi) known to have antioxidant properties, in a mouse model of Dermatophagoides farinae body-induced AD and in tumor necrosis factor–alpha and interferon-gamma–stimulated HaCaT keratinocytes. They observed that 200-mg/mouse treatment hindered AD symptom development, compared with controls, with enhanced dorsal skin lesions, diminished thickness and infiltration of inflammation, and decreased proinflammatory cytokines. In addition, the investigators reported the dose-dependent inhibition of proinflammatory cytokine synthesis in HaCaT keratinocytes. They concluded that Seaweed fulvescens shows promise as a therapeutic option for AD treatment.6


In 2017, Kang and associates studied the impact and mechanism of Undariopsis peterseniana, an edible brown alga, and determined that the extract promotes hair growth by activating the Wnt/beta-catenin and ERK pathways. Specifically, they found that U. peterseniana significantly enhanced hair-fiber length ex vivo and in vivo. They also concluded that the brown alga has potential to treat alopecia as it accelerated anagen initiation.7


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