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Benefits of Microalgae on Skin

Microalgae are tiny plant cells, also known as phytoplankton, that pack a powerful punch in terms of the health benefits they offer humankind. While microalgae are frequently used as a binding agent in beauty products, they also have active ingredients that benefit the skin, and consequently they are increasingly being used in the formulation of beauty treatments and skin care products, commonly referred to as cosmeceuticals.

The term “cosmeceuticals” is a derivative of the terms “cosmetics and pharmaceuticals”, and products that are categorized as such contain active ingredients that are beneficial to health and wellbeing. Algae are rich in bioactive compounds, such as sulfated polysaccharides, phlorotannins, and tyrosinase inhibitors, which serve as secondary metabolites that aid health, as well as active ingredients such as vitamins, phytochemicals, enzymes, antioxidants, and essential oils that offer great potential for the development of cosmeceutical products [1, 2].

Microalgae absorb minerals and nutrients that are dissolved in the surrounding water, many of which are known to be powerful antioxidants that protect the body from free radicals. This helps to reduce the effects of aging, especially on the skin. Studies conducted on the metabolites extracted from brown algae [3] have shown that they have many properties that offer health benefits, including: antioxidant [4], anti-allergic [5], anti-inflammatory [4, 6, 7], anti-carcinogenic [8] and anti-hypersensitive [9] properties.

Anti-Aging Benefits
Skin wrinkles form as a result of oxidative stress that leads to collagen in the skin being weakened, which in turn leads to aging of the skin. Prolonged exposure to the sun's UV rays can cause oxidative stress that results in skin damage, which speeds up the signs of aging, resulting in premature aging [10]. Studies have shown that phenolic compounds derived from marine algae can prevent UV-induced oxidative stress in human skin cells [11] and inhibit the drivers of sun-induced skin aging [12]; they have also been shown to inhibit skin cancer in mice [13].

Skin Allergies
Inflammatory skin allergies such as Atopic dermatitis (AD) -- a hereditary skin disease that usually manifests during early childhood, but can occur later in life too -- is a disease that affects around 17% of the US population. AD symptoms include dry itchy skin that often results in lesions due to the afflicted person scratching the infected area. These skin lesions allow antigens to enter the body via the skin, giving rise to other allergies, including asthma, allergic rhinitis, as well as food allergies [14]. Phlorotannins extracted from marine algae have been investigated for their anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties and have been shown to have potential to treat inflammatory diseases, including AD [15].

Skin Lighteners
Skin whitening cosmetics are popular with women in many regions of the world, notably Asia. Marine algae are a natural source of tyrosinase inhibitor agents that are widely used to reduce skin pigmentation, and are thus now being used as a natural ingredient in skin lightening cosmetics.

Natural Beauty
With more and more women opting for natural organic beauty products, cosmetic manufacturers are seeking natural alternatives to synthetic ingredients conventionally used in their products. From the above, it is clear that microalgae offer many health benefits and have great potential for the formulation of natural beauty products in the future ahead.

References & Further Reading

[1] Thomas NV, Kim S-K. Beneficial Effects of Marine Algal Compounds in Cosmeceuticals. Marine Drugs. 2013;11(1):146-164. doi:10.3390/md11010146.
[2] Kim S.K., Ravichandran Y.D., Khan S.B., Kim Y.T. Prospective of the cosmeceuticals derived from marine organisms. Biotechnol. Bioprocess Eng. 2008;13:511–523. doi: 10.1007/s12257-008-0113-5.
[3] Blunt JW, Copp BR, Munro MH, Northcote PT, Prinsep MR. Nat Prod Rep. 2011 Feb; 28(2):196-268.
[4] Wijesekara I., Senevirathne M., Li Y.X., Kim S.K. Functional Ingredients from Marine Algae as Potential Antioxidants in the Food Industry. In: Kim S.K., editor. Handbook of Marine Macroalgae: Biotechnology and Applied Phycology. John Wiley & Sons Ltd.; Chichester, UK: 2012. pp. 398–402.
[5] Vo T.S., Ngo D.H., Kim S.K. Marine algae as a potential pharmaceutical source for anti-allergic therapeutics. Process Biochem. 2012;47:386–394. doi: 10.1016/j.procbio.2011.12.014.
[6] Siqueira RC, da Silva MS, de Alencar DB, Pires Ade F, de Alencar NM, Pereira MG, Cavada BS, Sampaio AH, Farias WR, Assreuy AM. In vivo anti-inflammatory effect of a sulfated polysaccharide isolated from the marine brown algae Lobophora variegata. Pharm Biol. 2011 Feb; 49(2):167-74.
[7] Vo TS, Ngo DH, Kim SK. Potential targets for anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic activities of marine algae: an overview. Inflamm Allergy Drug Targets. 2012 Apr; 11(2):90-101.
[8] Grozdanic N., Stanojkovic T., Kljajic Z., Etahiri S., Assobhei O., Konic-Ristic A., Srdic-Rajic T., Kardum N., Backovic S. In vitro evaluation of antioxidant and antitumoral activities of marine algae Gelidium sesquipedale and Fucus spiralis. Eur. J. Cancer. 2012;48:S26.
[9] Samarakoon K., Jeon Y.J. Bio-functionalities of proteins derived from marine algae—A review. Food Res. Int. 2012;48:948–960. doi: 10.1016/j.foodres.2012.03.013.
[10] Chung JH, Seo JY, Choi HR, Lee MK, Youn CS, Rhie G, Cho KH, Kim KH, Park KC, Eun HC. Modulation of skin collagen metabolism in aged and photoaged human skin in vivo. J Invest Dermatol. 2001 Nov; 117(5):1218-24.
[11] Ryu B., Qian Z.-J., Kim M.-M., Nam K.W., Kim S.-K. Anti-photoaging activity and inhibition of matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) by marine red alga, Corallina pilulifera methanol extract. Radiat. Phys. Chem. 2009;78:98–105.
[12] Pallela R, Na-Young Y, Kim SK. Anti-photoaging and photoprotective compounds derived from marine organisms. Mar Drugs. 2010 Apr 8; 8(4):1189-202.
[13] Hwang H, Chen T, Nines RG, Shin HC, Stoner GD. Photochemoprevention of UVB-induced skin carcinogenesis in SKH-1 mice by brown algae polyphenols. Int J Cancer. 2006 Dec 15; 119(12):2742-9.
[14] Novak N, Bieber T. Allergic and nonallergic forms of atopic diseases. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003 Aug; 112(2):252-62.
[15] Sugiura Y., Takeuchi Y., Kakinuma M., Amano H. Inhibitory effects of seaweeds on histamine release from rat basophile leukemia cells (RBL-2H3) Fish. Sci. 2006;72:1286–1291. doi: 10.1111/j.1444-2906.2006.01287.x.
[16] Solano F, Briganti S, Picardo M, Ghanem G. Hypopigmenting agents: an updated review on biological, chemical and clinical aspects. Pigment Cell Res. 2006 Dec; 19(6):550-71.
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