The most widely used type of macroalgae in skin care, brown algae—laminaria digitata and laminaria saccharina are two kinds you’ll often see on ingredient labels—contains phlorotannins, which absorb certain UV light to act as an antioxidant and free-radical fighter. “This is how brown algae can improve the skin’s collagen quality and also lighten the skin,” explains New York dermatologist Rita Linkner, MD. “It also has fucoidan in it, which can help with wound healing by protecting elastic fibers in the skin from breaking down over time. ” King adds that brown algae is known for its moisturizing benefits, too.
Considered the most antioxidant-rich of the three macroalgaes thanks to its chlorophyll pigment, green algae has been shown to repair DNA deterioration associated with long-term sun damage, says Dr. Linkner. “This group of algae is commonly known as photolysosomes, which can manipulate light to reverse UV oxidation,” she adds, “and this type of defense mechanism is now being incorporated in new-age sunscreens. ” Green algae is also loaded with brightening vitamin C, which has the power to inhibit tyrosinase, an enzyme that promotes melanin production in the skin, leading to dark spots and discoloration.
Linkner says red algae boasts “mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs), which have been shown in studies to improve skin firmness and smoothness when applied topically, as well as absorb certain wavelengths of UV light. ” To make the most of these photoprotective and antioxidant effects, she recommends applying algae products in the morning.
Ginger King, a cosmetic chemist with expertise in marine ingredients, says algae is a gold mine for skin care. “Scientists and aquaculturists have figured out ways to extract high amounts of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and antioxidants from the seaweed, which can then be infused into skin-care products to moisturize and detoxify skin, as well as boost microcirculation and protect cells from oxidative damage.
Algenist recently discovered a way to extract pure L-ascorbic acid (a form of vitamin C) from spirulina, which is the key ingredient—and first of its kind—in its latest product. “In our studies, this new blue algae vitamin C outperformed other tested, commonly used forms of vitamin C and other brightening ingredients used for targeting pigmentation specifically,” says Tammy Yaiser, vice president of product development for Algenist.
Of the more than 30,000 identified species of algae, only about a dozen have been studied for their use in skin care. “Some forms of algae are the ancestors to all land plants, which shows the resilience, vitality and strength of these simple plants,” says Allison McNamara, founder of Mara Skincare.