"You'll notice that algae is always several things: It can grow deep in the water, it can float in water, and it also retains a lot of water," says Dennis Gross, MD, a star dermatologist and founder of his eponymous skin-care line. "It has this mushy consistency, which means it has a lot of water retention within the algae fibers. So when you use algae in skin-care products, it's always going to be the driving force for hydration." So that yucky feeling it may have underwater can work wonders when used topically via a beauty product.
You'll notice more and more beauty brands have been incorporating the marine-derived ingredient, too, for this very reason. As you browse the algae-spiked offerings, you'll see that there are various types of algae being used for the skin. "Algae is fascinating because it’s one of the few organisms where we're continually discovering new species," says Allison McNamara, founder of Mara skin care. "Algae has been around for two billion years and is constantly changing and evolving. There are seven major types of algae, but the most common types used in skin-care products are rhodophyceae or red algae, phaeophyceae or brown algae, and cyanophyceae or blue-green algae."
"When you use algae in skin-care products, it's always going to be the driving force for hydration." —Dr. Dennis Gross
Dermatologist Rita Linkner, MD, of Spring Street Dermatology in New York points out that you'll most commonly find brown and red algae in beauty products. "Brown algae has phlorotannins which absorb certain UV light to act as an antioxidant," she says. "This is how brown algae can improve collagen quality. Brown algae also has fucoidan in it which can help with wound healing by protecting elastic fibers in the skin from breaking down over time. Red algae's active anti-aging ingredient is called mycosporine-like amino acids which also absorb certain wavelengths of UV light, so when used topically, studies have shown that red algae can in fact improve smoothness and firmness in the skin."
To break down all the science-y aspects of the MVP skin booster, let me allow McNamara to explain the laundry list of the nutrients within algae that aid in a healthy complexion: "Each different type of algae has its own unique properties, but in general, algae has a high concentration of copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc, along with vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K," she says. That makes algae ideal for hydrating, plumping, and toning the skin because the master mix of essential vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fatty acids "help to protect the skin, repair environmental damage, and fight against wrinkles and other signs of aging," she says. "Besides that, it can boost collagen production while balancing your oil production, reducing puffiness, and soothing redness."
All of that, plus it's very bioavailable to your skin. "Marine algae is one of the most abundant sources of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants and essential fatty acids that are readily absorbed to nourish and rejuvenate the skin," adds Jenefer Palmer, founder of Osea. "It has more minerals than most any other plant on the land or in the sea. Algae works as a purifier, and it’s often referred to as the lymphatic system of the sea. Similarly on skin, it can draw out impurities and detox the skin."
All the experts I spoke with said algae's good for pretty much every skin type with the small exception of those with severe acne. "Almost all skin types can definitely benefit form algae in their routine," says McNamara. (This is because of its comedogenicity levels, which can be fine depending on how the product is formulated, she says.) "Algae is praised for its ability to firm, smooth, and re-texturize, and is a key player for anti-aging and hydration." With that said, start slathering one on ASAP for a mermaid-level glow.
Shop algae for your skin-care routine
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