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Much can be said about the bounty of the sea. The ocean has brought us serious hits like sea salt scrubs, seaweed wraps, caviar creams, and of course, beach hair. The latest beauty secret from the ocean? Spicules, tiny sponge endoskeletons.
If spicules sound a little gross, well, maybe you should reconsider those caviar creams. Spicules aren’t any worse than that (promise). In fact, these tiny sponge particles may be your new favorite exfoliator. They’re derived from marine sponges, so they’re meant to be gentle enough for any skin type, but abrasive enough to possibly create microtears that help your skin absorb any active ingredients you apply after.
Spicules are a fairly new skincare ingredient, so the research is limited, and you won’t find too many products to choose from just yet. But recent studies are looking promising, and in a few years, you may just be clearing a spot on your bathroom shelf for a new oceanic beauty secret.
To find out more about this up-and-coming skincare ingredient, we tapped board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, and cosmetic chemist Victoria Fu to help us understand how spicules work and tell us if they’d recommend jumping into the trend right away or waiting until we know more.
Meet the Expert
- Joshua Zeichner, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.
- Victoria Fu is a cosmetic chemist, the co-founder of Chemist Confessions, and chemist-in-residence at Revela.
Read on for everything you need to know about spicules in skincare.
TYPE OF INGREDIENT: Exfoliator
MAIN BENEFITS: Help to deliver active ingredients
WHO SHOULD USE IT: Anyone looking to see greater benefits from their skincare
HOW OFTEN CAN YOU USE IT: Once a week to start, then increasing frequency as needed
WORKS WELL WITH: Serums for hydration or other targeted benefits
DON’T USE WITH: Spicules should work with most ingredients, but those with sensitive skin may want to alternate days with retinol.
What Are Spicules?
“Spicules are microscopic particles that are derived from marine sponges,” says Zeichner. “Think of them like tiny pieces of the sponge being added to your skincare products.” Made of calcium or silica, these little particles are naturally pointy and crystalline in shape, meaning they’re (minimally) abrasive. “They’ve been compared to microneedles, but I look at them more like a natural alternative to physical exfoliation,” says Zeichner.
Benefits of Spicules for Skin
Spicules are fairly new in the skincare game, which means the research is still happening. “They’re currently being looked at in research as delivery vehicles in the drug, health, and wellness sector,” says Fu. “Because it’s such a new field, how they work for skin is still not fully understood.”
Spicules aren’t an active ingredient—meaning they don’t offer any nutrients or benefits themselves—but they may help to prep your skin to receive other ingredients like hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, or vitamin C. Essentially, the real benefits of spicules will totally depend on what product you follow them with.
- May enhance the absorption of skincare: "Active delivery is a big part of a chemist’s job in creating a proper formula,” says Fu. “It is incredibly challenging since the skin is such a great shield.” The hope with these tiny crystalline sponges is that they’ll lift dead skin or dirt from the surface of your face, making it easier for your skin to absorb the ingredients that follow. Recent studies have shown some promise.
- A natural alternative to other physical exfoliators: Physical exfoliants haven’t always been environmentally friendly. Spicules are natural, dissolvable, and native to the sea, so you won’t send anything questionable down the drain.
Skin Type Considerations
The hope is that spicules will be gentle enough for all, but Fu says it's too early to say what skin types spicules are best for. Sensitive skin that is finicky about exfoliation may want to hold off on this one until more research is done. In the meantime, Zeichner says you can receive similar benefits from chemical exfoliants (like salicylic or glycolic acid) or silica-based exfoliating pads.
If you want to be ahead of the skincare trends, just make sure you conduct a patch test before covering your face with anything. “The general rule we like to [follow] is that with anything new, always patch test to make sure the formula is right for your skin,” says Fu, who adds that she wouldn’t recommend replacing your current skincare treatments with spicule formulas just yet.
How to Use Spicules for Skin
If you’re still set on being the first to try this new ingredient, Zeichner recommends using spicules like any other exfoliator: Start with once a week and then increase frequency as your skin builds tolerance. Because they don’t deliver any actives, you’ll want to use spicules right before any serums or oils containing hydrating ingredients, vitamins, or antioxidants. Then follow with a moisturizer as usual.
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Kim TG, Lee Y, Kim MS, Lim J. A novel dermal delivery system using natural spicules for cosmetics and therapeutics. J of Cosmetic Dermatology. 2022;21(10):4754-4764.