Algae is not new to the skin care industry, but it's definitely buzzing lately as we are continually discovering new species, sustainable harvesting practices, and the many, many ways it benefits the body.
A few ways it helps the skin, specifically? It purifies pores, brightens, hydrates, and even protects against the sun. Here, we outline all the glow-inducing benefits you can expect.
What is algae exactly?
Before we dive into the benefits specifically, let us brief you on exactly what algae is and where it comes from.
There is a variety of types of algae, including the most commonly known kelp, spirulina, and seaweed, but experts believe there are more than 800,000 species of algae, and not all species carry the same benefits.
However, all types of algae do fall into two main categories: macro and micro. The macro algae can be seen by the human eye, but micro can only be seen with a microscope, but both pack major benefits when it comes to our complexions.
Algae is also rich in carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, amino acids, and minerals (more on that later). And it can be applied topically when infused in a serum, cream, or mask or taken as a supplement orally. You can also get some benefits of algae by eating seafood such as salmon and shrimp. But the best news is algae works on pretty much any skin type, though it's always best to try on a small area of skin first to avoid major reactions.
Ahead, learn about the top benefits of using algae in your skin care routine:
Benefits of algae
Hydrates dry skin
Dehydrated skin can not only cause skin to be dry and cracked, but it also makes your overall complexion look dull. According to board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D., when used topically, algae has been found to be a better humectant than one of the most popular hydrators of all, hyaluronic acid.
If you don't know, a humectant helps to reduce the amount of moisture lost so all the moisture stays in the skin instead of seeping out. This is a major must when you're dealing with dry skin.
Naissan O. Wesley, M.D., board-certified dermatologist agrees that algae is a potent ingredient when it comes to hydration. "In topical formulations, marine algae have been used as a moisturizing and thickening agent to help the skin feel more moisturized and smooth," she says. "And more recently, it has been formulated into a stable oil formulation to further aid in moisturizing capabilities."
Diminishes the appearance of hyperpigmentation
If you suffer from hyperpigmentation, you know the challenge it can be to get rid of the discolored spots. And if you're looking for a non-acid option—because you have hypersensitive skin, for example—the challenge is even greater.
So, when we learned that algae work as a natural brightener, we immediately perked up. According to Barr red, green, blue, and brown algae have skin-brightening properties that can help to diminish the appearance of dark spots. And even if you don't suffer from hyperpigmentation, having an allover even complexion is always a great skin goal.
Wesley follows up by stating that algae, topical formulations can help even skin color and lighten dark spots. A study done on human skin cells shows that marine algae extracts and algal carbohydrates can improve hyperpigmentation.
Some of the brightening power is likely due to the fact that brown and green algae have high levels of vitamin C, a natural ingredient famous for its brightening properties.
Supplements can help manage Inflammation*
Wesley says that the certain properties in algae can be a proactive way to manage inflammation and other skin concerns.* "Since it has anti-inflammatory properties, the algae or metabolite of the algae has the potential to stop the inflammatory process that causes effects like pigment and wrinkles in the first place," she says.* It has this effect topically, as well as ingested via supplements.*
Protects against sun damage
If you're a sunscreen fanatic (which we all should be), you will be elated to hear that some species of algae offer natural UV protection. "For combating oxidative stress, especially that which is induced by UV exposure, red and brown algae can offer protection," says Barr.
On top of that, algae produce water-soluble molecules called mycosporine amino acids, and they act as added UV protection, too. "The amino acids work not only as antioxidants scavenging toxic-free radicals but also by dissipating UV energy into a form of harmless heat, essentially acting like nature's sunscreen," says Barr.
But that doesn't mean your daily habit of sunscreen should be chucked out the door. If you choose to apply algae topically, consider it an extra layer of sun protection, but don't make it your only.
Clears clogged pores
No one wants clogged pores, but finding an ingredient that can detox and clear our pores gently can be a real struggle. Thankfully, algae is chock-full of antioxidants, vitamin B, magnesium, zinc, and detoxifying minerals that can help to clean out gunk and buildup in pores.
Reduces the appearance of fine lines
Because algae are loaded with antioxidants, it helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. "[The] benefits of algae come by inhibiting enzymes, which break down collagen and reduce stimulation of associated inflammation from UV exposure," says Wesley.
According to a comparative study, astaxanthin, which naturally occurs in algae, was found to be 6,000 times stronger than vitamin C, 800 times stronger than CoQ10, and 550 times stronger than green tea catechins.
This marine-based ingredient is a powerhouse when it comes to improving our skin. Barr explains, "This helps maintain suppleness and reduces the appearance of fine lines."
Andrea Jordan is a beauty and lifestyle freelance writer covering topics from hair and skincare to family and home. She received her bachelor's in Magazine Journalism from Temple University and you can find her work at top publications like InStyle, PopSugar, StyleCaster, Business Insider, PureWow and OprahMag. When she's not writing, you can find Andrea tackling new recipes in the kitchen or babysitting one of her many nieces and nephews. She currently resides in New Jersey with her husband and cat, Silas.