It's wrapped around sushi rolls, offered as a snack chip, and used in salads. But did you know seaweed is a wildly beneficial ingredient for your skin? With over 30,000 known species of seaweed in the ocean, this powerful plant is loaded with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and proteins. Intrigued, we turned to the leading industry experts to learn more about what magic this botanical ingredient can work on your skin.
Below, Lydia Sarfati, a New York City-based master esthetician and pioneer in the seaweed industry since 1970 as well as Dr. Brendan Camp, MD, a double board-certified dermatologist at the Medical Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in New York City, speak to the benefits of seaweed and how incorporating it into your routine can be just as beneficial in your beauty products as it is in your meals.
TYPE OF INGREDIENT: Antioxidant, exfoliant, hydrator, brightener
MAIN BENEFITS: Regulates oil production, exfoliates, brightens, and moisturizes dry, dull skin.
WHO SHOULD USE IT: Anyone looking for hydrating and exfoliating benefits. Also, those with acne, rosacea, and skin sensitivities will benefit from its healing properties.
HOW OFTEN CAN YOU USE IT: Seaweed extract can be used at any time.
WORKS WELL WITH: Seaweed extract is compatible with many ingredients, although it can be used alone. These include Vitamin B3, hyaluronic acid, peptides, and botanical extracts.
DON’T USE WITH: There are no specific ingredients known to have a negative interaction with seaweed, but Sarfati notes it's always best to work with your skincare professional or esthetician when creating a full skincare program.
What Is Seaweed?
Seaweed is the name given to species of marine plants and algae that grow in oceans, rivers, and lakes. "Seaweed is perhaps the most beneficial and abundantly available natural ingredient for skincare on the planet," says Sarfati, who has dedicated the last 40 years of her life to researching the benefits of seaweed extracts in skincare and beauty products. She notes the composition of seaweed is what makes it such an incredible ingredient. "Seaweed is a very powerful concentration of seawater and is able to uptake minerals by absorption and active transport from seawater," she explains. "Because of these processes, some seaweeds have a dense concentration of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins and lipids, which all pose benefits for the skin."
Through her research, Sarfati was able to identify over 13 different types of seaweed that can be used to create a number of beneficial cosmetic effects. "Because there are so many different species of seaweed, it can be useful for all types of skincare and cosmetic products, from cleansers, toners, moisturizers, serums, and masks to cosmetics like powder and lipgloss."
Benefits of Seaweed
Both Camp and Sarfati agree seaweed possesses a ton of skincare benefits and healing properties, addressing everything from excess oil to fine lines and wrinkles.
- Regulates oil production: Some seaweed has shown to decrease oil production, while others have shown to decrease the bacteria involved in acne formation, making this a potential ingredient for anti-acne activity.
- Diminishes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles: Seaweeds like Laminaria Digitata are a potentially rich source of amino acids (like glycine) and natural antioxidants (like vitamin C), which promote collagen production to smooth lines and give the appearance of plumper, more youthful-looking skin.
- Heals acne, rosacea, and sensitive skin: Camp says "seaweed can help soothe skin conditions associated with inflammation, like acne and rosacea." It has anti-inflammatory properties and contains natural minerals like magnesium and zinc, which have been known to help improve the appearance of redness in sensitive and hypersensitive skin. It also shields the skin from harsh environmental conditions by creating a protective barrier.
- Brightens the skin: "Seaweed helps with brown spots by either affecting pigment production or by affecting how pigment is transported in the skin," says Camp.
- Exfoliates dead skin cells: Sarfati says that the detoxifying benefits of Corallina officinalis (a red seaweed that forms calcium carbonate) helps to gently remove dead, loose skin cells from the skin surface.
- Moisturizes the skin: "Seaweed not only contains essential fatty acids that help maintain our skin’s barrier, but it's also rich in polysaccharides such as alginic acid, which help to lock moisture into our skin," says Sarfati.
Side Effects of Seaweed
While there are no known negative side effects, Camp recommends spot-testing on the inside of your arm for a few days if you have sensitive skin. He also notes that like most skincare products, the benefits of using a seaweed-containing product are not always immediate, but rather sustained use over time should help address the consumer’s concern.
How to Use It
"The wonder of seaweed is that it targets a wide variety of skincare concerns—antioxidants are anti-aging, humectants act as skin hydrators, vitamin B complex is soothing, and so forth," says Camp. "The extracts of seaweed are popular ingredients for many beauty products like cleansers, moisturizers, anti-aging products, scrubs." Those with dry, sensitive, and acne-prone skin as well as those looking for anti-aging properties will benefit from seaweed.
The Best Products With Seaweed
A Byrdie-approved skincare product featuring marine-sourced ingredients, this moisturizer promises to calm redness and irritation while stimulating metabolic turnover for glowy, hydrated skin.
"This is a highly concentrated extract from the Laminaria Digitata seaweed, which is rich in vitamins, amino acids, and minerals that aid in reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles," says Sarfati. She recommends this as the first step to the brand's iconic Four-Layer Facial for more luminous skin.
Users of this Byrdie-loved retinol oil will notice overnight hydration that lasts all day, a decrease in overall redness, and plumper looking skin. The perfect final step to your skincare routine, this nutrient-packed oil is packed with vitamin A, powerful algae extracts, and 1.2 percent clean retinol.
Camp recommends this as a lightweight daily moisturizer for oily skin types. It contains three nutrient-rich algae extracts along with vitamin E and a blend of seven botanical extracts to hydrate without leaving behind a greasy residue.
Choi JS, Bae HJ, Kim SJ, Choi IS. In vitro antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of seaweed extracts against acne inducing bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes. J Environ Biol. 2011;32(3):313-318.
Telang PS. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2013;4(2):143-146. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.110593
Kim JH, Lee JE, Kim KH, Kang NJ. Beneficial effects of marine algae-derived carbohydrates for skin health. Mar Drugs. 2018;16(11):459. doi:10.3390/md16110459