Cosmeceutical Critique

Seaweed and other marine-derived products in skin care, Part II: Cosmetic formulations, fucoidan, and salmon eggs


The skin-lightening potential of fucoidan

In 2017, Wang et al. investigated the antimelanogenic activity of fucoidan – a complex sulfated polysaccharide extracted from brown seaweed known to possess a broad array of biologic functions – on B16 murine melanoma cells. Their in vitro studies revealed that fucoidan suppresses B16 melanoma cell proliferation and cellular tyrosinase activity and has potential as a skin-whitening cosmeceutical agent.11

Two years later, Jesumani et al. investigated the polysaccharides extracted from the seaweed species Sargassum vachellianum, S. horneri, and S. hemiphyllum. Found to be abundant in fucose, all of the evaluated polysaccharides demonstrated dose-dependent antioxidant activity and effectiveness in hindering tyrosinase and elastase. The researchers concluded that all of the tested species display potential as key ingredients in cosmeceutical agents intended to treat wrinkles or lighten skin.12

More recently, a comparative study by the same team revealed that both fucoidan-rich polysaccharide extract and polyphenol-rich extract from the seaweed S. vachellianum delivered significant protective activity. Both protected the skin from UV harm: The fucoidan-rich extract showed superior free radical scavenging and antimicrobial activity, while the polyphenol extract performed better at absorbing UV radiation. The investigators suggested that both extracts could provide a balanced approach to skin protection when featured in skin care products.13

In addition, it is worth noting that a key monomeric component of red macroalgae (Rhodophyta), 3,6-anhydro-l-galactose, has been found in vitro to display skin-whitening activity.14

Salmon eggs

In a 2013 double-blind, randomized clinical trial with 66 patients, Lønne et al. reported that subjects treated topically with salmon egg extract experienced significant amelioration of photoaging, including wrinkles, pigmentation, erythema, and xerosis, yielding global skin appearance improvement.3,15

A pilot study by Mekas et al., which was reported 2 years later and included 75 patients, revealed that skin tone and evenness were improved by a topical exfoliative cream featuring hydrolyzed roe proteins, based on subjective and objective measures comparing 4% glycolic acid.3,16

In 2016, Yoshino et al. showed that human dermal fibroblasts incubated with salmon egg extract upregulated the expression of collagen type I genes and several oxidative genes.3,17 The topical application of hydrolyzed salmon roe proteins to human skin has also been demonstrated to eliminate cell-to-cell adhesions thus ameliorating the appearance of photodamaged skin.1,3,16

More recently, a comprehensive PubMed search on the bioactive ingredients used in Korean cosmeceuticals reported early in 2020 that there is increased interest in salmon eggs because they provide a copious supply of unsaturated fatty acids, proteins, vitamins, and minerals known to nurture cutaneous health.3,15


Seaweed and other marine life forms have been considered a rich source for cosmetic and cosmeceutical products for several years. Research into the numerous bioactive properties of these multitudinous species has ramped up in recent years and is yielding evidence regarding the efficacy and potential broader uses of such ingredients in cutaneous health care. As we build on our understanding of just how dynamic a source of treatment options may lie under the sea, we become increasingly aware, ironically, of the damage that human industrialization exerts on the planet, as well as these precious marine resources (including the possibly deleterious effects of chemical sunscreens like those that are now banned for sale in Hawai‘i). Humanity will need to become much better stewards of the Earth if we are to enhance our future opportunities and possibly harness the potent marine ingredients still available with the potential to enhance skin health and appearance.

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 Inc., a company that independently tests skin care products and makes recommendations to physicians on which skin care technologies are best. Write to her at


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15. Lønne GK et al. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2013 Oct;35(5):515-22.

16. Mekas M et al. J Drugs Dermatol. 2015 Nov;14(11):1306-19.

17. Yoshino A et al. Clin Interv Aging. 2016;11:1159-68.


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