Cosmeceutical Critique

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


The use of bioactive ingredients culled from the marine environment has increased significantly in recent years for use in skin care because of the reputed antioxidant and anti-aging activity of these substances.1-3

Seaweed ingwio/Getty Images

In the last couple of decades, secondary metabolites with bioactive properties have been identified in seaweeds. Among these substances, phlorotannins have been isolated from brown seaweeds and demonstrated to exhibit anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer, and antiwrinkling activity, as well as some capacity to promote hair growth.4 Sanjeewa et al. suggest that phlorotannins, or marine polyphenols, derived from brown seaweed are well suited for use in cosmeceutical formulations and appear to exhibit skin whitening and antiwrinkling properties in particular.4 This column will discuss recent findings regarding the use of marine ingredients in cosmetic formulations, with a particular focus on substances such as fucoidan, as well as emerging evidence regarding the benefits to human skin derived from salmon eggs.

Dr. Leslie S. Baumann, a dermatologist, researcher, author, and entrepreneur who practices in Miami.

Dr. Leslie S. Baumann

Recent studies of marine products in cosmetic formulations

In 2017, Fabrowska et al. showed in two groups of 10 volunteers each (one ranging from 20 to 30 years old and one from 40 to 50 years old) that the freshwater alga Cladophora glomerate is an effective ingredient for use as a cosmetic agent intended to moisturize and firm the skin.5

The next year, Thu et al. reported on the preparation of a cream mask composed of Vietnamese seaweeds (Caulerpa lentillifera, Sargassum crassifolium, Ulva reticulata, and Kappaphycus alvarezii), which they found to be abundant in proteins, polysaccharides, carotenoids, and other vitamins and to have potent antibacterial, cell proliferation, moisture retention, and tyrosinase inhibitory properties. The authors added that the seaweed cream mask was safe, provoked no irritation, and appeared to be effective in delivering anti-aging and moisturizing benefits.6

In 2019, Jesumani et al., in reviewing the potential cutaneous benefits of bioactive substances in seaweed, noted a significant increase in the use of ingredients found in macroalgae or seaweed in cosmetic formulations, also noting the range of reputed bioactivity (i.e., antioxidant, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antilipidemic, antimicrobial, and anti-allergic).7 Seaweeds are a significant source of vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, and green, red, and brown algae contain pigments that protect against UV irradiation.7,8

Also that year, Hameury et al. conducted an ex vivo assessment to predict the cutaneous anti-aging benefits of an aqueous gel containing 6.1% marine ingredients (amino acid-enriched giant kelp extract, trace element-enriched seawater, and dedifferentiated sea fennel cells) topically applied on human skin explants. The investigators found that 64 proteins were significantly regulated by the gel when marine ingredients were compared with untreated skin explants, with the ingredients shown to act on the epidermis and dermis. These proteins are involved in multiple functions including gene expression, inflammatory processes, dermal extracellular matrix production, and melanogenesis and keratinocyte proliferation, suggesting, according to the authors, that marine ingredients could play a role in preventing cutaneous aging and contributing to the health of the epidermis and dermis.9

Early in 2020, Poulose et al. reported on the first use of a photoprotective cosmetic cream combining nanomelanin and seaweed that exerts antioxidant, antibacterial, and wound healing activity.10


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