Cosmeceutical Critique

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


Skin protection potential of Ishige okamurae

In 2015, Piao and associates demonstrated that diphlorethohydroxycarmalol (DPHC), a phlorotannin isolated from Ishige okamurae, protected human keratinocytes from UVB-induced matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) expression by inactivating ERK and JNK. MMPs are known to contribute to photoaging and tumor promotion.8

Early in 2020, Wang and associates demonstrated that DPHC, isolated from the marine brown alga I. okamurae, exerted protective effects against UVB-induced photodamage in vitro in human dermal fibroblasts and in vivo in zebrafish by suppressing collagenase and elastase production and the expression of matrix metalloproteinases. In vivo, the brown alga extract lowered cell death by decreasing lipid peroxidation and inflammatory response. The investigators concluded that DPHC warrants consideration as an ingredient in cosmeceutical formulations intended to protect against the effects of UVB radiation.9

The same team also reported on their study of the protective effects of DPHC against skin damage in human dermal fibroblasts caused by particulate matter. They found that DPHC dose-dependently exerted significant decreases in intracellular synthesis of reactive oxygen species. The seaweed product also stimulated collagen production and suppressed collagenase activity, as well as matrix metalloproteinases. The researchers concluded that DPHC may be an effective skin-protective ingredient against particulate matter for use in cosmeceutical products.10

Skin protection mouse studies using various marine species

The last 3 years alone have featured several studies in mice that may have significant implications in accelerating our understanding of how to harness the bioactive properties of multiple marine species.

In 2018, Wiraguna and associates studied the protective effects of 0.2% and 0.4% Caulerpa sp. (a genus of seaweed native to the Indo-Pacific region) extract gels on photoaging in the UVB-irradiated skin of Wistar mice, finding that topical applications of both concentrations of the seaweed extract protected mouse skin from UVB-induced photoaging, with treated mice revealed to have higher collagen expression and preserved collagen structure and decreased MMP-1 levels, compared with vehicle controls.11

The next year, Prasedya and associates showed that the brown macroalgae Sargassum cristafolium exerted photoprotective activity against UVA in mice. Mice pretreated with the seaweed before exposure displayed intact collagen formation and no increases in epidermal thickness, compared with controls.12

At the same time, Santos and associates demonstrated that mice fed a diet supplemented with the red seaweed Porphyra umbilicalis experienced significant decreases in the incidence of human papillomavirus type 16–induced premalignant dysplastic skin lesions.13

Also that year, Zhen and associates evaluated the protective effects of eckol, a phlorotannin isolated from brown seaweed, on human HaCaT keratinocytes against PM2.5-induced cell damage. They showed that eckol (30 mcm) reduced reactive oxygen species production and protected cells from apoptosis by hampering the MAPK signaling pathway.14Earlier that year, Kim and associates studied the viability of the microalga Nannochloropsis oceanica, considered most often as a possible biofuel, for potential photoprotective activity against UVB-irradiated human dermal fibroblasts. They determined that pigment extracts (violaxanthin was identified as the main pigment) were not cytotoxic to the fibroblasts and that treatment with the pigment extract upregulated collagen expression and significantly inhibited UVB-induced damage. Further study revealed that violaxanthin significantly mitigated UVB-induced G1 phase arrest, senescence-associated beta-galactosidase activation, and p16 and p21 up-regulation, among other functions, suggesting its consideration, according to the authors, as a possible antiphotoaging agent.15

Finally, early in 2020, Bellan and associates evaluated the antitumor characteristics of the sulfated heterorhamnan derived from the green seaweed Gayralia brasiliensis as seen on the biological activities in the B16-F10 murine melanoma cell line. The polysaccharidic fraction was found to be effective in reducing melanoma cell migration and invasion capacity.16


Marine ingredients have been ripe for exploration, extraction, and usage in the cosmetic realm for several years. Evidence suggests widespread potential across several species for dermatologic purposes. Indeed, data indicate that some species appear to be suited for treating AD, alopecia, and wrinkles and may possibly render effective photoprotection. More research is necessary, of course, to ascertain the extent to which such ingredients can adequately address cutaneous health and how truly effective the marine ingredients are in currently marketed products.

Dr. Baumann is a private practice dermatologist, researcher, author, and entrepreneur who practices in Miami. She founded the Cosmetic Dermatology Center at the University of Miami in 1997. Dr. Baumann has written two textbooks and a New York Times Best Sellers book for consumers. Dr. Baumann has received funding for advisory boards and/or clinical research trials from Allergan, Galderma, Revance, Evolus, and Burt’s Bees. She is the CEO of Skin Type Solutions, a company that independently tests skin care products and makes recommendations to physicians on which skin care technologies are best. Write to her at


1. Fabrowska J et al. Acta Pol Pharm. 2017 Mar;74(2):633-41.

2. Pangestuti R et al. Mar Drugs. 2018 Oct 23;16(11):399.

3. Kim JH et al. Mar Drugs. 2018 Nov 21;16(11):459.

4. Colantonio S & Rivers JK. J Cutan Med Surg. Jul/Aug 2017;21(4):299-307.

5. Tian T et al. Int Immunopharmacol. 2019 Oct;75:105823.

6. Gil TY et al. Mediators Inflamm. 2019 Mar 17;2019:3760934.

7. Kang JI et al. Mar Drugs. 2017 May 5;15(5):130.

8. Piao MJ et al. Biomol Ther (Seoul). 2015 Nov;23(6):557-63.

9. Wang L et al. Food Chem Toxicol. 2020 Feb;136:110963.

10. Wang L et al. Molecules. 2020 Feb 26;25(5):1055.

11. Wiraguna AAGP et al. Dermatol Reports. 2018 Oct 1;10(2):7597.

12. Prasedya ES et al. Biomedicines. 2019 Sep 27;7(4):77.

13. Santos S et al. Mar Drugs. 2019 Oct 29;17(11):615.

14. Zhen AX et al. Mar Drugs. 2019 Jul 27;17(8):444.

15. Kim HM et al. Photochem Photobiol. 2019 Mar;95(2):595-604.

16. Bellan DL et al. Mar Biotechnol. 2020 Apr;22(2):194-206.


Next Article: