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Marine Ingredients: The Future of Skin Care

By: Angela Eriksen-Stanley
Posted: May 28, 2013, from the June 2013 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
Chlorella vulgaris

Chlorella vulgaris

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During the past 40 years, techniques used to preserve seaweed post-harvest—including the process of nutrient extraction—have become extremely sophisticated. When looking for a marine skin and body care brand, it is important to seek a company utilizing cutting-edge techniques. Once seaweeds have been harvested, they must be preserved in a way that respects the integrity of the raw material. If heat or chemicals are used to preserve seaweed, they can damage the potency of nutrients, including important peptides, vitamins, enzymes, fatty acids, antioxidants and complex sugars. Freeze-drying has proven to be the best way to preserve seaweed’s potency because, instead of using heat or chemicals, a cold process removes the water. All that is left after freeze-drying is the dry matter, including nearly 100% of the original concentration of biological actives.

Perfectly preserved algae can then be used to create high-quality, potent ingredients, otherwise known as seaweed extracts. State-of-the-art extraction and filtration methods can isolate and extract very specific molecules. These molecules can then be concentrated into an ideal potency to help balance various skin conditions. For instance, a peptide extracted from Chlorella vulgaris, a single-cell green algae, stimulates the product of four types of dermal collagen and elastin. This peptide has been formulated into topical creams to restore youthful function to maturing skin. Another seaweed, Laminaria digitata, retains water in its plant tissue—much like the epidermis holds water—and even during low tide, it stays plump and moisturized. After identifying that the skin of Laminaria contains water-binders very similar to those found in the epidermis, these water-binders (a combination of sugars, minerals and amino acids) were extracted to be used in cosmetics. When used as a key ingredient in topical creams, the skin’s hydration system may be improved.

Sustainable development

Another facet to consider when looking for high-quality marine ingredients is the origin of the seaweed, and how it is grown and harvested. If growing areas or conditions dramatically differ season to season, the seaweed will not contain the same balance of nutrients each harvest. When the nutrient concentration is different, the components in the marine extract will be affected. A great way to bypass this potential problem is through seaweed and micro-algae cultivation practices. Seaweeds can be grown via high sea farming, in which seaweed spores are attached to ropes. The ropes are put out to sea in a protected area where the water is very pure and stable. Once the seaweed reaches maturity, it can be cut, freeze-dried and used for ingredients. This method allows seaweed to be grown in a pure, consistent environment that is also incredibly sustainable. These seaweeds can be grown specifically for cosmetic use, reducing the need to harvest from the wild and reducing human impact to these precious marine areas. One seaweed that is grown this way for cosmetics is called Undaria pinnatifida. Extracts of Undaria help to improve the condition of the extracellular matrix, or dermal network of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid that keep the skin dense and plump, while circulating water throughout the epidermis.

Micro-algae and small seaweeds can also be cultivated by replicating natural marine conditions in the laboratory. Purified seawater is used as a medium, and all conditions—such as light, oxygenation and pH—are regulated to maximize the quality of the microalgae. All of these levels can be adjusted for the individual species being grown. Once the seaweed or microalgae have multiplied to appropriate levels, they are freeze-dried and specific actives can be extracted. One alga that is cultivated in vitro for cosmetic use is Porphyra conchocelis. In nature, Porphyra produces alpha hydroxy acid to create holes on the surfaces of rocks so that it can adhere. This lactic acid is a very gentle, yet effective, exfoliating ingredient for the skin. Using cultivation and sea farming as a means to produce seaweed creates very stable, consistent results in the final skin care product, while at the same time offering sustainable, eco-friendly skin care options.

The future of marine ingredients

A new frontier for creating advanced cosmetic ingredients is the use of marine biotechnology. In nature, microscopic algae produce various molecules, such as polymers, enzymes, pigments and peptides. In the laboratory, it is possible to not only cultivate these algae, but to naturally stimulate their production of these valuable molecules. Marine biotechnology uses micro-algae as “factories” to produce cosmetic ingredients that provide powerful results. An exopolysaccharide (EPS), or complex sugar that is excreted, is produced for skin care using this science. In nature, the micro-alga produces the EPS as a biofilm to help it adhere to surfaces when conditions get aggressive. This biofilm, made of a complex structure of sugars, provides both instant and long-term results. Fifteen minutes after applying a product containing the EPS, wrinkles are often visibly smoother and skin is lifted. After one month of daily use, the EPS improves the production of collagen and elastin in the skin to help restore a youthful appearance. Using marine biotechnology provides the cosmetic industry with highly potent ingredients that cannot be acquired from any other marine- or land-based raw material.

The Skin Care Ingredient Handbook is so much more than an ingredient dictionary. You will learn about skin care trends, active versus functional ingredients, OTC drugs, INCI names, antioxidants and DNA and understand how to read labels. Did we mention the newest ingredients are listed?

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