Seawater and skin – a unique connection
We all know that our bodies are composed of around 78 percent water, but our similarities to the ocean don’t end there. Seawater and blood plasma have a nearly identical chemical composition in terms of mineral and trace element levels. In fact, seawater is so close to the human body’s internal environment that if white blood cells are removed and placed in a sterile diluted seawater solution, they are able to maintain normal cell function. Since sustaining ideal mineral levels is a critical factor in preventing cellular imbalances and boosting cell function, it seems logical that the cosmetic industry would be fascinated by seawater and its potential in skin care.
The beauty industry’s interest in the use of seawater in beauty treatments is nothing new. There’s even a term for it – “Thalassos” is the Greek word for sea and inspired the term ‘thalassotherapy’, which describes a health and beauty treatment developed in France around 1969. Thalassotherapy is very common treatment in beauty spas in the countries that surround the mineral rich waters of the Mediterranean and Dead seas. Seawater’s nutrient-rich composition includes magnesium, calcium, sodium, iodine, silicon, zinc, selenium, sulphur and fluoride, and advocates of thalassotherapy claim these minerals enter the body through pores to supplement skin cells and help to draw out toxins.
Seawater also provides an ideal growing environment for micro and macro-algae which absorb these various nutrients. What’s more, depending on the aspects of the environment it grows in, algae can develop different nutrients and cell functions which act as natural self-defence mechanisms against environmental aggressors. This self-protection ability is particularly evident in the algae found in the French region of Brittany, which experiences the second highest tide fluctuations in the world. As a result, the native plants adapt to the dual environment where during high tide they are protected by cold, mineral-rich seawater and at low tide exposed to UV rays, airborne pollutants, wind and bacteria. These seaweeds have developed potent antioxidants and bioactive peptides to protect themselves during such stressful and ever-changing conditions. This makes them of great interest to companies wanting to utilise these benefits in skin care products that will help human skin defend itself against the very same environmental threats that cause skin damage and premature ageing.
Sea ingredients find favour in skin care
With seaweed being of such interest to the beauty industry, techniques have been developed to preserve the algae in a way that respects the integrity of the raw material. As treatment using heat or chemicals have both been shown to reduce nutrient levels, freeze-drying has become the preservation method of choice; it uses a cold process to remove the water leaving almost 100 percent of the original concentration of biological actives intact. These algae actives can then be used to create high-quality, potent seaweed extracts, while state-of-the-art extraction and filtration methods are able to isolate and extract specific molecules such as polymers, enzymes, pigments and peptides for use in skin care products.
Marine biotechnology is another groundbreaking technique which has made it possible to not only cultivate algae, but also to naturally stimulate the production of their highly valuable molecules by using micro-algae as ‘factories’. This provides the cosmetic industry with powerful ingredients that cannot be acquired from any other raw material.
Key marine ingredients in the skin care industry
Laminaria digitata is a seaweed that has the ability to retain to stay plump and hydrated – even at low tide. Its skin contains water-binders (a combination of sugars, minerals and amino acids) which are similar to those found in the human epidermis. These water-binders can be extracted and used in products to improve the skin’s hydration levels.
Okinawa Red Algae is sourced on the Okinawa islands beyond the southern tip of Japan. It is a complex source of polysaccharides that are proven to replenish the skin’s natural water reservoir and increase its moisture-retention capabilities. For example, it contains Beterhelin, a natural polysaccharide which is reputed to enhance the skin’s barrier function.
Chlorella vulgaris is a single-cell green algae which contains a peptide rich in amino acids lysine, proline, glycine, and alanine to help prevent the breakdown of collagen, as well as stimulate the production of four types of dermal collagen and elastin. Studies show that in some instances, a small concentration of 0.016 percent stimulated collagen synthesis and concentrations of 0.4 percent strongly increased the density of the epidermal layer. In addition, other studies have shown that it can increase skin firmness and significantly reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
Hyadisine is an exopolysaccharide (EPS) obtained by fermentation from a marine bacterium that inhabits the intertidal Bay of Douarnenez (Britanny, France) and is collected from a colony of mussels which are exposed to extreme dry conditions among other harsh environmental changes. The exopolysaccharides have a high water retaining capacity which deliver a long-lasting moisturising effect and may assist in wrinkle reduction.
Gorgonian Extract is an extract from the marine organism pseudopterogoria elisabethae (sea whip), a renewable resource harvested from the Caribbean Sea. It contains powerful anti-inflammatory compounds called pseudopterosins that are helpful to reduce redness, contribute toward cellular repair and even have analgesic, pain reducing qualities that are useful for treating sunburns, cuts and minor irritations to the skin.
Zonase is an enzyme derived from the hatching fluid of salmon, where it allows the fish embryo to hatch from its egg by digesting the eggshell without harming the larva. The ingredient was originally marketed by the skin care industry as an exfoliant, however studies also show that it has excellent moisturising abilities.
Marine Collagen Hydrolysate is often advertised as being able to increase skin hydration and promote skin firmness. It also has antioxidants that help to protect the skin against environmental elements and ageing, however clinical studies have yet to prove this and many scientists claim that topical application of collagen is little more than hype.
Sea Beet Peptide (Beta maritima) is the coastal wild ancestor of the beetroot vegetable. It contains high concentrations of polyphenols, niacin, ferulic acid and vitamin C. It is now proven that sea beet has potent cosmetics activity in its peptidic form: Sea Beet Peptide helps to slow down the melanisation process, which thus blocks the melanin synthesis that leads to darker skin, freckles and sun spots. It appears that three percent to five percent of the active have a de-pigmenting effect by inhibiting up to 110 percent of the melanin synthesis, making sea beet extract ideal as an ingredient in skin whitening products.
Sea Fennel Peptide boasts a high antioxidant compound content including vitamin C, flavonoids and carotenoids and it is considered beneficial in the treatment of acne lesions.
Sea Lavender Peptide is a coastal plant which grows in soils with a high salt content and has developed a resistance to harsh environmental conditions including dehydration. Sea lavender peptides are rich in polyphenol antioxidants which are known to search out and destroy free-radicals that can cause skin damage and premature skin ageing.
Sustainability and marine skin care
It is a frightening statistic that non-sustainable sourcing of seafood has led to an estimated loss of 90 percent of predatory fish from the world’s oceans. Overfishing has not only driven certain species to near extinction, but has also disrupted many ecosystems. It is only logical to be concerned that the popularity of marine ingredients and the cosmetic industry’s thirst for ‘the next big thing’ could therefore increase large-scale sourcing, or non-sustainable production methods that could potentially cause irrefutable damage to marine ecosystems. The challenge for the cosmetics industry is to combine its quest for innovation with a concerted effort towards sustainability, which will enable the industry to explore marine potential without disrupting the ecosystem. And it’s not just marine life that is an issue. From an environmental perspective water also needs to be protected, and as it is the number one ingredient in most beauty products, skin care manufacturers must now aim to consider ways to minimise water pollution, use water sustainably and re-use it where possible.
Furthermore, the industry needs to recognise that it is using fossil fuels to extract a finite natural mineral resource. It stands to reason that it is important that operators take responsibility to carefully manage both their license areas and their production operations to ensure that valuable resources are used in the most efficient and effective manner possible.
Some measures have been taken to help protect the sea and the marine life within it. In 2006 the European Union imposed deep shark fishing limits in the North East Atlantic, while environmental groups have pressured skin care manufacturers to begin phasing out the use of squalene in their products. Squalene is an oil extracted from the liver of some species of shark and can be attractive to formulators due to a shorter processing time than its counterpart olive oil. Alistair Currie, policy advisor for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) states that, “According to Oceana, Unilever and L’Oréal have both phased out the use of shark-based squalene and several other companies including Beiersdorf, Schwarzkopf & Henkel, Boots and Clarins have either stopped using this ingredient or have never used it.”
Other industries are also demonstrating marine environmental stewardship. While relevant to the construction industry, the UK trade association for the marine aggregates industry, British Marine Aggregate Producers Association (BMAPA) members recognise that the environment in which they operate is sensitive and accept the responsibility to manage their operations in ways that will help to minimise impact on the marine environment. In November 2006, BMAPA published a sectoral sustainable development strategy to provide a clear policy framework for marine aggregate operations under the pillars: social progress, environmental protection, natural resources and economic prosperity. The strategy provides a benchmark against which future progress reports will be measured. BMAPA’s annual sustainable development report which draws on data from the previous years identifies a range of key performance indicators that allow changes in the performance of the sector to be identified over time.
Sustainable sourcing of marine ingredients was featured in the European edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit hosted in Paris on 21–23rd November. The Summit highlighted the environmental implications of marine sourcing and recommended best-practices, with examples of companies that are leading the way in marine sustainability. OceanBasis, Apivita, Helia and Lipotec participated, as well as other organisations involved in the sourcing and use of marine ingredients for cosmetic purposes. German company OceanBasis have established a sustainable aquaculture farm in the Baltic Sea to produce algae for its natural cosmetics. The certified farm is now providing a sustainable source of active ingredients for its Oceanwell range.
Aquaculture or aquafarming, is the farming of aquatic organisms such as fish, crustaceans, molluscs and aquatic plants. It involves cultivating freshwater and saltwater populations under controlled conditions, akin to agriculture. Mariculture refers to aquaculture practiced in marine environments and in underwater habitats.
It might sound an ideal solution to a fishy problem, but some environmentalists still say that aquaculture poses problems due to the extraction of marine species from oceans affecting future stock growth, the release of organic wastes and toxic effluents into the oceans and the destruction of coastal ecosystems, as well as the displacement of coastal communities and
depletion of fresh water sources to build aquaculture ponds. Greenpeace states that there a number of conditions that an aquaculture operation must adhere to in order to be truly sustainable including:
- is continually moving towards plant-based feeds originating from sustainable agriculture;
- does not use fishmeal or fish-oil-based feeds from unsustainable fisheries and does not represent a net loss in fish protein yield;
- does not use wild-caught juveniles;
- only cultivates species that are native in open water systems, and then only in bag nets, closed-wall sea-pens or equivalent systems (if there is cultivation of non-native species, it must be restricted to land-based tanks);
- does not result in negative environmental impacts in terms of discharges and effluents to the surrounding areas;
- does not result in negative effects to local wildlife (plants as well as animals) or represents a risk to local wild populations;
- does not use genetically engineered fish or feed;
- uses stocking densities that minimise the risk of disease outbreaks and transmission;
- does not deplete local resources, for example, drinking water supplies and mangrove forests;
- does not threaten human health;
- supports the long-term economic and social well-being of local communities.
Innovations to increase sustainability
A number of other companies are looking to protect the environment – and ensure their future in the skin care industry – by operating in a more sustainable manner. Such companies are making a point of choosing only ethically sourced ingredients and they realise that by minimising their environmental impact they can enjoy a certain amount of autonomy in terms of resources and processing. Sustainable harvesting of seaweed for example has now been adopted by the European Union under the European Organic Legislation and involves harvesting only the top third of the seaweed, so that it regrows to its original size in an eight- month period and reduces damage to the marine eco-system.
- Italian brand Lacote produces an anti-cellulite product range using Guam seaweed which can be collected from the seabed just once a year.
- The brand Phytomer has adopted a system of mass-producing much of their own algae and micro-algae in their laboratories.
- Voya sustainably hand-harvests its seaweed and is also involved with saving distressed seals and abandoned baby seals off the west coast of Ireland, which are later released back into the waters.
- French company Codif International harvests marine ingredients in strict compliance with a controlled management programme for natural resources. These include the establishment of an exclusive nursery and algal culture programme for Dictyopteris membranacea on a 70-hectare marine leasehold site in a protected zone at the mouth of the Rance River.
Beauty therapists that are looking to incorporate marine skin care into their therapist range should source reputable skin care companies that are using marine ingredients proven to be effective on the skin in clinical trials. Therapists can feel confident marketing them to clients looking for a range that uses natural ingredients but offers cosmeceutical results and it is an extra assurance that customers are going to get the quality they demand from the products.
Introduce marine products to your customers as an innovative and an exciting area of growth in the skin care industry. Assure clients that marine biotechnology is not just junk science or the next big thing, but that there are certain marine ingredients delivering proven results and benefits to the epidermis.
As a beauty professional, take the time to research the key ingredients included in your ranges so that you can comfortably explain to interested customers what those ingredients are, which part of the world they stem from and their potential topical benefits to the skin.
Investigate the sustainability strategies of your brands. If a customer asks you about the environmental implications you can then explain what actions the brand is taking to protect the environment while sourcing their ingredients from the sea and they can be assured that the product they are using are not going to damage the world’s precious resources.