Sea Veggies Are Good For Your Gut — But What About The Skin?
It's not always the case that what's good for the gut is equally beneficial for the skin, but in the case of sea vegetables, there's quite a bit of overlap. Sea veggies—like kelp, algae, chlorella, and spirulina, for example—are hailed as superfoods in nutrition, as they are loaded with antioxidants, minerals, proteins, and fatty acids. Many of these botanicals are beloved in skin care formulations too, with a variety of benefits including improved barrier function, smoother texture, eased appearance of fine lines, and brighter tone.
A caveat: Superfood isn't a specific class of foods, with defined parameters. It's very similar to how "clean," "hypoallergenic," or even "dermatologist-tested" aren't regulated words in the beauty space. However, many folks have come to understand that "superfood" denotes an ingredient with above-average qualities—and that's how I'm using it here. Because, truly, sea veggies go above and beyond for the skin. Here, what to know and look for.
What to know about sea veggies and your skin.
The first thing to understand about algae is they are not a monolith—experts believe there are more than 800,000 species of algae1, and not all species carry the same benefits. In addition, how they're formulated within a product will influence how they influence the skin.
Overall, though, the primary reason these are used in skin care is they're incredibly effective hydrators—which is why you'll most often see them in face creams, moisturizing serums, and body lotions. "In topical formulations, marine algae have been used as a moisturizing and thickening agent to help the skin feel more moisturized and smooth," board-certified Naissan O. Wesley, M.D., board-certified dermatologist told us about algae.
In fact, some types of algae—most notably brown seaweed—were found to be able to attract and hold more water than hyaluronic acid, which is arguably skin care's most famous humectant. Humectants can improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by plumping the skin with moisture.
They're also excellent at restoring the barrier and skin microbiome. Most sea veggies are thought to be what's known as prebiotics. Prebiotics feed the ecosystems on the skin, helping promote a healthy, balanced environment—and in doing so, reducing inflammation, improving complexion, and helping deal with signs of premature aging. For example, chlorella (a specific type of micro green algae, found in mindbodygreen's postbiotic hand cream and body lotion) has been shown to reduce transepidermal water loss, ease visible signs of stress, smooth the appearance of fine lines, and improve overall complexion (i.e., reduce dark spots).
Finally, most have antioxidant properties that can manage oxidative stress and all the woes that come with it. For example, several types of algae have skin-brightening properties that can help to diminish the appearance of dark spots2. They can also help protect your precious collagen: Algae inhibits the mechanisms in your body that break down collagen3 associated with inflammation from UV rays.
While nutrition and skin care aren't a one-to-one comparison, they often serve as fodder for inspiration for each other. Marine botanicals are a perfect example: These skin superfoods can do wonders for your skin, just as they can for your overall health.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.