Algae is the ingredient equivalent to a white t-shirt. It goes with everything, and everyone should own one of the many variations available.
Slimy. Moist and Green. Someone is bound to be triggered. Typically, the slightest graze of seaweed against my foot in murky water is enough to send me over the edge, but a research-backed promise to alleviate dryness and brighten dull skin has left me second-guessing my intolerance to marine ingredients.
Sure, a lot of what goes on in the skincare industry is marketing-centric fluff, but Algae just hits different (if you don’t watch tiktok or have teenagers in your family, you won’t understand that reference). Algae seem to not “toe the line” amongst the likes of mushrooms, coconut oil, and other trendy buzz-word ingredients. Some, rather, most skincare trends aren’t one size fits all. While exfoliating acids typically work for more tolerant skin types, salicylic acid is specific to the acne-prone, and sulfur to the oily. The benefits and efficacy of Algae, on the other hand, apply across the board. The proof lies in the research.
I’m a fan of FACTS, especially the fast facts, so here they are…
- There are over 30,000 kinds of Algae, of which only 12 have been researched for their use in skincare. ref
- Marine ingredients are nothing new in skincare, algae have been included in La Mer’s cult favorites for over 60 years, but until recently, chemists didn’t realize the full scope of benefits and how to extract them
- Aquaculturists and chemists have started extracting high amounts of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants from algae
- When infused into skincare, they protect the skin from oxidative cell damage, boost microcirculation, detoxify, and MOISTURIZE skin.
How To Shop: Algae Edition
- Brown Algae (phaeophyceae): Listed as laminaria, and laminaria saccharina. This form contains phlorotannins, which absorb specific UV lights as an antioxidant that fights off free-radical damage. It’s most known for its moisturizing benefits and, in some studies, outperformed hyaluronic acid. wow.
- Red Algae (rhodophyta): Commonly used forms are Irish Moss, and lithothamnium calcareum. Red algae types are a rich source of bioactive polysaccharides like carrageenan, which help to boost the skin’s natural barrier function and ability to retain moisture. You’ll typically find these in detox masks as they gently exfoliate and prep the skin for the next step in your routine.
- Green Algae (chlorophyta): Heralded as the most antioxidant-dense of all macroalgae because, you guessed it, the chlorophyll pigment. In studies, green algae have been shown to repair DNA deterioration linked to long term sun damage. Nowadays, you’ll find green algae incorporated into sunscreen formulations for its ability to manipulate light and reverse UV oxidization. In case our green friend wasn’t efficient enough, it’s also loaded with vitamin c.
Microalgae: We’ll go over the two most universally used forms of microalgae
- Spirulina: A cyanobacteria that you’ve likely read about or seen listed as an ingredient, easily identified by its blue-green color. Its unique shade is derived from a pigment called phycocyanin.
- Chlorella: Green (obvious, no?), and grows in freshwater.
- Both assist in neutralizing free radicals and other toxins but have the added benefit of anti-inflammatory and brightening properties. When used together, they are an anti-aging powerhouse.
So we get it, algae are great, we’re ready to try it, but how do we know what form and benefits we can take advantage of within a specific product
As per usual, it takes a bit of detective work to understand what’s behind the curtain of the ever-mysterious ingredients list. In case you didn’t know, nine times out of ten, you won’t be able to decipher what variant or concentration of an ingredient you’re getting from the published list (super annoying, we need to fix that). You’ll have to champion yourself to do a little digging (or ask me). You’ll become a superhero of sorts, armed with the knowledge to make an educated choice before adding to cart. As per usual, I’m ridiculously kind and thoughtful, so here’s a shortcut on what you need to know to make sure you’re getting the right kind of algae for your skin. Beware of marketing, and understand what you’re looking for!
There are two main types of algae used in skincare, Microalgae and Macroalgae.
Macroalgae (seaweed) are multicellular marine plants found in clean coastal waters and divided into three groups depending on their pigment: red, green, and brown (kelp). Macroalgae form a large tangible plant, while Microalgae’s counterpart is primarily unicellular and invisible to the naked eye. Because microalgae have a smaller molecular weight, they can better penetrate the skin. That said, the results are enhanced when combining both variants into one formula #teamwork. Thankfully, most of the newer skincare products containing algae feature this powerhouse combo of micro and macro-organisms.
Whether you’re a city slicker combatting the bombardment of pollutants or you’re struggling with unwelcome skin dehydration, integrating a daily dose of algae to your routine could be just what the doctor ordered. Literally. Below I’ve rallied my top 6 favorite skincare products, all well-vetted and formulated with you guessed it, algae. Keep an eye out for this ingredient, especially amongst the “clean” beauty space; it’s only going to get bigger.
Best Algae Skincare 2020
Undaria Algae Body Oil
Best For Body. It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with this product. I go through a bottle of this every month. One of my girlfriends introduced me to this body oil on a trip to the mountains, and it saved our skin from the dry, chapped wind and winter air. Here’s the thing about this stuff. It smells like heaven. I apply on wet skin straight out of the shower, and it absorbs right into the skin without that sticky, oily feeling most body oil products leave you with. Osea’s Undaria Body Oil is formulated with Undaria Seaweed infused into a blend of seed oils – Acai, Babassu, and Passion Fruit, all meant to firm skin (I can attest to that). On a few occasions, I’ve opened a new bottle and seen actual seaweed specks floating in the bottom of the container. Not to worry, this is likely, because Osea soaks their certified organic Undaria Algae in barrels of botanical oils for six months to naturally distill all of those yummy nutrients, vitamins, and minerals into their most potent form.
Universal Face Oil
For Dry Skin. My dry skin is so needy. Not many products have been able to rise to the occasion and fill my skins high demand for moisture, until this! I’m a huge proponent of antioxidants for skin, and after researching what algae can do for dry skin. Mara Beauty has piloted the algae craze in skincare with their proprietary algae plankton blend and four superfood plant oils to replenish and hydrate dry, tired skin. I will always use a face oil as the last part of my skincare routine, and the Universal Face Oil will always be part of the rotation. If you’re nervous about using a face oil and have oil, normal, or combination skin, fear not, this award-winning product is made for all skin types.
Spirulina + Microalgae Kale Spinach Mask
Youth To The People
For Hydrating + Cleansing. Spirulina, a type of blue-green microalgae works with a powerhouse blend of amino acids and superfoods to give skin a reset. Spirulina is an excellent source of chlorophyll, which has cleansing properties and helps your skin retain moisture. If you’re looking for a hydrating mask, definitely give this a try. As someone with drier skin, I steer away from most masks, even if they claim to be hydrating because of the extra stripping involved in the application and removal process, but for this, I’ll make an exception!
Red Algae Mask
For Acne. Always a challenge to find a product that can help mitigate blemishes, whiteheads, and even cysts without drying you out. I feel like most dermatologists love to dry your skin out (unintentionally) with really aggressive concentrations of ingredients. Red marine algae, on the other hand, is a great warrior against said ailments. This algae contains beta carotene levels, giving it its red color, and is a precursor of Vitamin A, the foundation of popular anti-acne treatments like retinol, tretinoin, and yes, even Accutane. Osea sources the red algae and enriches it with Gigartina Seaweed for protection against blemished skin and environmental pollution. I like to use this as a spot treatment for pesky blemishes I want to be gentle with, or as a thin layer bi-weekly detoxing treatment.
Active Treatment Essence
Just Get It. Talk about a cult favorite. Microalgae is king for hydration and has been found to help treat atopic dermatitis and eczema. Vitner’s Daughter is a gentle formula sans irritating ingredients and touted as the ultimate multi-corrective hydration step. Yes, its expensive, but the quality of ingredients and formulation proves to be worth it time and time again for anyone with chronic skin conditions, or even just dehydrated skin. This formula delivers optimal nutrition, micro-exfoliation, brightening, firming, and multi-level hydration to noticeably improve the skin’s overall appearance. Let’s not forget that algae can offer more hydration than hyaluronic acid, and this product is proof of the claim!
Superscreen Daily Moisturizer
For Sun Protection. Sunscreen is the enemy of moisture if you ask me. We love SPF; we need SPF, so why not add some extreme hydrating ingredients into the mix. Blue-Green algae are packed dull of antioxidants to protect, hydrate, and nourish the skin, so well done Supergoop! for including them in this daily moisturizer with SPF. I love how the unique formula delivers intense moisturization without feeling heavy on the skin. Its bouncy, watery texture melts into the skin, leaving it soft, smooth, and hydrated.