Algae, sea kelp, seaweed: Just as we’ve gotten used to eating this stuff—wrapped around rice, or nicely spiced in a salad—now we’re being told to rub it on our skin and bathe in it. Have we gone off the deep end?
With over 20 edible varieties to choose from, this green, slippery stuff has been a staple in Asian diets for thousands of years. And for good reason: It’s loaded with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, trace elements, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese and zinc.
But how does all this green (brown and red) goodness translate to skincare, which isn’t ingested, but applied topically?
The use of seaweed as a source for healing dates back to 12,000 BC. Ancient Greeks used it for wound recovery and Pliny the Elder describes using seaweed to treat joint disease.
Turns out this nutritionally-dense item has anti-inflammatory properties. “For that reason alone, seaweed extracts are used for a variety of skin conditions, including acne and rosacea,” explains Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at New York City’s Mount Sinai Medical Center’s department of dermatology.
Yet not all seaweeds are created equal. Kombu, for instance, is a great source of nutritional iodine. Nori (the wrapping on your spicy tuna roll), is high in protein. And for skincare, it’s hard to beat Undaria algae (commonly known as Wakame) to stimulate the production of collagen and dermal fibroblasts.
Whether these aquatic anti-agers can take on more studied, wrinkle-busters like retinol is unlikely, but there’s more than adequate proof that seaweeds are great hydrators—especially when it comes to reactive, blemish-prone skin. And it’s natural and fully sustainable. Time for a sea change.