The idea of seaweed for skin is an ancient one and it is sort of obvious that seaweeds might be good for our skin at first glance. When we think of seaweed, we imagine soft, moist, cool; things that seem soothing for skin. We might also think of the minerals and the compounds that protect the seaweed in the ocean, as being there for our skin as well.
However, the huge diversity of seaweeds and the complexity of their different molecules means that the story for skin is much deeper and more complex than you can ever imagine. Even for people like me, who are absorbed in the research space, it is still hard to envisage what is really going on between cells and the matrix that they live in. I like to think of it as travelling in the opposite direction to exploring the universe; travelling into the depths of complexity of inner space in our tissues. The tissue of both seaweeds and human skin is mesmerizingly complex at the molecular level.
Importantly the molecules from seaweeds themselves are so vastly different that there is no simple story of how seaweed can help skin. It depends on which seaweed you are working with, and also which part of the skin or skin processes you are targeting.
Some of you may or may not know of the very personal and up-close lesson in skin that I had to learn during a random scalping event. The skin of the scalp in particular is even more complex with many more layers than that of normal skin.
Ironically the seaweed extracts that I was making during the time of my accident were destined for our wound healing research, and suddenly I became much more in-tune with what was actually going on in my own body’s reconstruction and remodelling phases of skin and scalp. Of course I took the opportunity to use my seaweed extract during the healing and remodelling phase of my new scalp. For the past 18 months I have been applying the extract and have ended up with very good condition new skin. Not to say that the efforts of the amazing surgeons and health care workers were not the major component of this recovery, but the actual development of full thickness repaired skin takes well over a year and it is important to nourish your skin from the inside and support it well from the outside throughout this time. In a similar way it is important to take daily care of your skin throughout life.
We will continue to highlight the developments in our research that we are undertaking on seaweed molecules and skin in our blog series, but here is a brief overview of some of the important things that we have focused on to date and that we wanted to bring to the market early through our skin care range.
Supporting the ECM (extra cellular matrix)
Some of the fascinating processes that take place in the continual regeneration of the skin is the creation of the complex matrix or scaffold that is needed for cells to attach to and do their job. Indeed skin is made up mostly of extra cellular matrix around the cells which holds cells together, transports important molecules, and give skin it’s flexibility and strength. PhycoTrix seaweed extract is unique in that it mimics the natural connective glycans of our own skin – things like dermatan sulfate which is essential in the support and guidance of collagen structures that are made by the skin cells. We found that by making 3D printed scaffolds from our seaweed extracts, human skin cells recognised the structure of the PhycoTrix molecules and could anchor themselves naturally to a structure that then allowed the placement of the collagen that the cells produce. Not only that, it appears that we can also influence the production of other matrix molecules by skin cells themselves such as elastin, and even protect them from attack by enzymes that break down these important cell proteins. PhycoTrix is present in all of our skin care extracts but especially concentrated in Nourish and Shield.
Inflammation is a natural process, but we can also have too much of it in skin. Indeed the skin of a baby in the womb does not scar because inflammation does not happen in the skin of the unborn. Once we are born and as we get older the scarring effect increases and research indicates that it might be due to inflammation processes that start to protect us from microbial attack. Regardless, understanding the right balance of inflammation in wound and skin processes is a very active field of research. This is where some seaweed molecules might have a benefit as a number of seaweed species do show anti-inflammatory activity on human immune cells (macrophage cells). Our research has shown that different seaweeds, and indeed different extracts from different seaweeds, have different levels of anti-inflammatory processes. We have identified and use our priority species and extracts based on this, and these are present in all of our skin range and concentrated in Nourish and Shield.
Shielding from oxidative stress
One of the big impacts on skin throughout life is of course the stress from UV exposure and oxidation of skin tissue. Over time this exposure gives us our lines of wisdom, which we shouldn’t be afraid of, but too much damage early and without adequate support from your diet and skin protection can lead to early disease and functioning of the skin. The benefits to skin from anti-oxidant compounds are well established, but there are many different processes and different anti-oxidant molecules that are needed to protect skin in different ways. We have done a lot of research to show that it is not only which species of seaweed, but how it is cultivated and which molecules you extract that have a big impact on how effective anti-oxidant processes are. These molecules are rich in our PhycoTide extract used in Cleanse, Purify and Soothe. We also make sure to formulate our skincare with diverse anti-oxidant ingredients, such as from Kakadu plum and Rosemary.
You can try our seaweed extracts in our new look PhycoDerm skin care range, where the highly negatively charged molecules are there to strip away impurities, anti-oxidants help to protect the skin, moisture retaining molecules provide a serum base and a shield to collagen breaking enzymes, and complementary oils and minerals help to seal in a barrier to the daily environmental challenges.
As the deep molecular world of seaweed and skin unfolds in our research, we will continue to update our blog series here, so reach out and stay in tune with our newsletter series to hear about the latest developments.