Contrary to how Hollywood has portrayed her, Cleopatra isn’t actually thought to be one of the most beautiful women of all time, or even of her time. Some historians report she was frumpy and ‘in need of a good dentist’. So how did the powerful woman who ruled in 1st Century BC accomplish such a lasting reputation as a monument of beauty? It appears the secrets lie not in her beauty, but her beauty regime.
The Ancient Egyptians were the first to understand and harness the healing powers of the sea, in particular – salt water. Hippocrates, believed to be one of the greatest minds in the history of medicine, discovered its abilities to heal and clean wounds.
These findings were further developed by the Romans several hundred years later, inventing pelotherapy – extracting the sediment from saltwater lakes for use in mud baths by the wealthy and powerful.
For thousands of years, Asian cultures have been using marine ingredients to treat an array of aches, pains and ailments. Over the centuries more became known about the rivers, lakes and oceans around the world and in 19th Century France, thalassotherapy (the Greek word thalassa meaning sea and therapeia meaning treatment) was born.
The world’s first health resort was built for Herod The Great in around 30 BC on the shores of the Dead Sea, a salt water lake with one of the richest saline concentrations on earth, over 33 percent salinity compared with around 3.5 percent for most of the ocean. Sea water contains the same chemical composition as blood plasma and has in the past been used as a blood substitute during transfusions. French biologist Rene Quinton carried out an experiment on a dog in 1897, over a period of 12 hours gradually replacing the animal’s entire blood supply with isotonic seawater. Within two days of the experiment commencing, half of the blood components had regenerated and by the fourth day almost all of the drained blood components had been restored. The dog was found to be in excellent spirits (there are reports that the animal was in better condition than prior to the experiment taking place). The similarities of these two substances make it easier for the body to absorb the available minerals and vitamins into the blood supply.
Salt assists with muscle contraction and expansion, nerve stimulation and adrenal function in the body. It also contains magnesium which is important for producing enzymes, bone formation, forming tooth enamel and building resistance to heart disease. Sodium isn’t manufactured naturally by the body so needs to be consumed to gain its benefits. Chloride ions (one of the two elements found in salt) aid digestion, combining with hydrochloric acid to enable us to digest our food.
Many of us are aware of the pitfalls of excessively high salt levels and the detrimental effect it can have on the body. However in recent years scientists have theorised that the original evidence suggesting salt is bad for the body was very weak, with many now advocating its moderated use to aid the body’s normal function. Refined salt or table salt has been stripped of the magnesium and trace minerals and also has additives (including a bleaching agent) to dry it out, so unrefined sea salt contains far more benefits.
Kelp, also known as brown algae, is one of the more than 250,000 seaweeds found in the ocean and shores around the world. It extracts nutrients from the seawater and concentrates them into the fronds. It contains over 60 vitamins and minerals used by the body, together with high naturally occurring levels of iodine which support the thyroid, regulate energy production and help the body to burn excess fat stores. British Association of Dermatologists published a journal in 2012 releasing clinical trial results showing that using brown algae on acne sufferers showed a 64 percent reduction in spots. Kelp has shown in clinical research studies to be an anticancer agent, having the ability to cause cell death in cancer cells. This suggests there is a huge future for this marine super food.
Collagen, from the Greek word kolla, meaning ‘glue’ has a fascinating history dating back thousands of years. Animal skin was boiled to manufacture an adhesive product and was used by the Egyptians in many different applications. Scientists carbon-dated the oldest glue product ever found and established its age as being 8,000 years old – and made of collagen.
It is found abundantly in our skin, as well as tendons, ligaments cartilage and bone. Around the age of our mid-twenties, the body’s ability to produce collagen diminishes and as a result production of collagen slows down. It is this aging process that has given rise to a multibillion dollar industry to try to slow the visible signs of collagen depletion as well as develop techniques for its use in cosmetic surgery, bone grafts, tissue regeneration, arthritis therapy and the treatment of burns victims.
Up until recently the majority of collagen products have been manufactured from bovine and porcine sources (beef and pig). Despite the risk being small, there is still potential for humans to contract BSE, better known as ‘mad cow disease’ from using bovine sourced collagen products. It’s also slower to be absorbed by human skin so treatments were being supplemented with injections (increasing the risk of infection). These limitations prompted scientists to search for alternative options and there is now a growing market for the use of marine peptides (collagen) in the cosmetics industry. The process by which the peptides are extracted retains the triple-helix structure and preserves the poly-peptides and amino acids which make the collagen more effective. The nature of the environments that fish live also mean that the peptides are more resilient to physical, temperature and chemical damage.
Marine collagen is becoming more widely used in cosmetics as a moisturiser and in the battle against ‘anti-ageing’ to assist with skin elasticity. It is also effective as an anti-inflammatory in the treatment of arthritis.
Cyanobacteria, or the blue-green algae is actually a bacteria from one of the larger groups of seaweeds found in nearly every body of water, including oceans, fresh water, on wet rocks, wet soil – even in Antarctica. Essential ingredients for the body like vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D, E, magnesium and potassium are found in concentrations ten times that of soil grown plants.
In recent years, blue-green algae has become prevalent in the fight against ageing. High levels of fatty acids and proteins are said to strengthen the skin fibres and improve firmness and elasticity. The blue-green variety also contains high levels of antioxidants which help fight free radicals. Amino acids (protein) have also shown positive effects on the building of new tissues and cells, as well as the ability to repair damaged cells.
In Greek mythology, Prometheus moulded man out of water and earth, and then gave them fire which he hid from Zeus in a stalk of sea fennel.
Crithmum maritimum, samphire or rock samphire is more commonly known as Sea Fennel. The edible plant grows in coastal areas primarily on the southern and western coasts of Britain and Ireland, the Mediterranean and western coasts of Europe, North Africa and the Black Sea.
Hippocrates also realised the benefits of the plant and prescribed it to treat infant colic. Today further advancements in its use are emerging with sea fennel stem cells becoming one of the popular actives in marine based beauty products. While scientists continue to research the wider use of stem cells to treat incurable diseases, this is still some time away from making the leap into readily available products and treatments for the consumer. However, plant stem cells (and those of fruits like grape and apple) have made the transition from science lab into beauty product. While there is little scientific research to prove infallibly the benefits of these marine actives, many products offer consumers biochemical rebalance of the epidermal barrier, restoration of hydration and renewal of skin cells.
Thalgo, one of the leading manufacturers of marine based beauty products and a 40-year veteran in the thalassotherapy industry is one company maximising the potential offered up by the ocean. Their patented, micronised marine algae is derived from three carefully selected algae for their rich vitamin and mineral content. The touted benefits include relief for muscular and circulatory problems, some dermatitis and even their anti-obesity effect. Body wraps, balneotherapy, powdered sachets and gels all offer up the benefits of marine algae for cleansing, remineralising and purification. Seawater used in thalassotherapy treatments is harvested from a depth of 40 metres or more to reduce the effects of pollution, sunlight and bacteria – ensuring it is nutrient rich. With an endless supply of ingredients and becoming one of the top actives found in organic face and neck care ranges, many spas around the world now offer these treatments with growing popularity.
Like any emerging technology, the sustainability of biotechnology research and development into the marine industry for cosmetic (and other sector) uses needs to be fully explored. Research first began in the 1960s into sea sponges, algae and lesser known aquatic organisms which produced surprising results for scientists. They discovered new compounds and chemicals that weren’t present in land based plants and microorganisms. Since this time, aquaculture has continued to be a growth industry and as a result of advances at molecular level is now on the brink of a biotechnology revolution. The need for regulation in this industry has become evident and in May 2012 a global event took place in Canada with the OECD and associated trade and industry affiliates. The purpose was to look at marine biotechnology, its contributions to the food, population health, sustainable industries and fuel sectors and how policy in the OECD could influence the sector and its long term sustainability.
A series of international conferences, The Sustainable Cosmetics Summit investigates the challenges faced by the beauty industry when sourcing sustainable and ecologically friendly products. Attendees include manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, industry agencies, researchers and investors. The Summit is actively involved in sustainable development and continues to donate shares of its profits to sustainable development charities.
Seaweed has been a staple in Japanese cuisine has many centuries due to the belief it has curative abilities for worm infestations, tuberculosis, the common cold, arthritis, and even tumors. Dating back to the Ming Dynasty, Chinese people have controversially used the nutrients taken from shark fins for their purported benefits, blood nourishment, energy, increasing functions of the kidneys, lungs, bones and many other parts of the body. Health shops promote the use of fish oil, omega3 products for healthy bones and skin.
Despite the benefits being known by civilizations for millennia, it seems the science to understand and harness the potential is only now catching up. Over the past 40 years, billions of dollars have been spent worldwide researching the unlimited potential that marine biotechnology has to offer. Global Industry Analysts expect the worldwide marine biotechnology market to reach US$4.1 billion by 2015, reflecting the future that medical, pharmaceutical, aquaculture, nutraceutical and cosmeceutical companies see in the growth of the industry.
2,000 new marine species are being discovered every year and an estimated two thirds of species continue to remain unknown. Scientists have discovered that in a single drop of seawater there are around 10 million viruses, one million bacteria and 1,000 small protozoans and algae. So with water covering over 70 percent of the earth’s surface, it seems that what is currently known is just a drop in the ocean.