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Algae in Cosmetics: Uses and Benefits

There is a growing demand for natural cosmetics -- cosmetics made from all natural/organic ingredients -- due to the benefits they offer and lack of many harmful chemicals present in conventional cosmetics products. Consequently, the natural cosmetic industry is rapidly expanding to meet these increased demands. And some of the key active-based natural ingredients used in cosmetics are extracted from marine phytoplankton. Algal extracts are used as thickening and binding agents in cosmetics, as well as active ingredients that nourish, hydrate and rejuvenate tired skin, reduce appearance of wrinkles and improve overall condition.

According to a paper published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry1, marine microalgae are rich in minerals and vitamins absorbed from the surrounding seawater that offer many health and beauty benefits; they are also powerful antioxidants and protect against skin damage caused by radiation and exposure to UV rays.

Cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies are beginning to see the value in incorporating natural extracts from this readily available resource into their health and beauty products. For example, coben (an active ingredient in algae that regulates the production of the skin pigment melanin) can be used as an active ingredient in skin lightening products. Algoid Technologies produces and supplies algae extracts, oil, powders and food supplements to cosmetic and pharmaceutical labs for use in anti-wrinkle and anti-aging products, and is currently working on releasing an organic cosmetics line based on marine biotechnology.

According to an article published online in Natural Cosmetics News2, research illustrating the benefits of algae in combatting water pollution has piqued the interest of cosmetics labs in Chile, who recognize that these properties can also help cleanse and rejuvenate human cells to firm body tissue, reduce the effects of aging, and improve overall vitality. Algae can also help to improve circulation in body tissue, which benefits areas of the body that accumulate fat, and thus is often used as an active ingredient in anti-cellulite treatments.

Algae can be used in two ways in cosmetics: they can either serve as a stabilizing, emulsifying, or other type of agent necessary for product preparation; or as the active therapeutic ingredient in the product, for example in anti-aging skin treatments or after-sun skin care products. Algae can be incorporated into cosmetics, beauty products and dietary supplements (often referred to as cosmeceuticals) as algal extracts of select elements, or alternatively, pieces of dried seaweed can be crushed and ground and incorporated into skin care products such as exfoliating lotions, face masks, face washes and soaps.

Similarly, wastewater is high in nitrates and phosphates, yet wastewater treatment plants are currently unable to remove large volumes of these nutrients during the treatment process in a cost-effective manner. Consequently, utilizing wastewater for algal production could potentially solve both these problems simultaneously as demand for (and use of) fertilizer is reduced, while nutrients present in wastewater are removed by algae and utilized to produce biomass during algal production.

Although the use of macro- and micro-algae is fairly new in commercial beauty products, cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies are rapidly recognizing the health and beauty benefits that algae offer, and are catching up with this trend. Consequently, there is a growing demand for algal-based ingredients by cosmetic manufacturers to meet the increasing demand for algal-based cosmetics by consumers who are hungry for beauty products made from natural ingredients. This in turn has led to a growth in commercial algae producers to supply this growing market.

References & Further Reading
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