Microalgae: Your New Skin-Care BFF

Microalgae oil is having a major moment — and not just in beauty. Scientists have their eyes on the stuff as an alternative biofuel (so much so that the U.S. Department of Energy has invested a cool $18 million in the project). Nutritionists are calling it the next soy (it's made up of 50 to 60% protein). And recently, it was introduced as a natural surfactant for sudsy home and personal products — and cosmetic chemist John Milligan says it’s superior to coconut-based surfactants.

Stock-market investors are rushing to put money into the growing field (um, no pun intended) — and you might want to do the same when it comes to your beauty routine. "Microalgae is expected to deliver by taking the oil out of the algae and providing hyper-hydration and a concentration of vitamins and antioxidants," says dermatologist Jeannette Graf, MD. Adds cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson, "Most algae extracts are about 95 to 98% water-based, but when they extract the oil it has a slightly different function in terms of moisturization."

While the use of algae (and microalgae) in cosmetics isn't new, get ready to see an influx of products featuring the super-ingredient, as well as cool new uses for it. "The research is moving really quickly and biotech companies are continuing to discover more active ingredients and uses, including treating hair loss," says Dr. Graf. Until then, we rounded up 10 products with algae and microalgae extracts, and found out why you should incorporate them into your routine ASAP.
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Algenist is one of the leaders in microalgae-oil research. In fact, its classic face oil is one of Wilson's favorites for its superior moisturizing benefits (and when a cosmetic chemist says that, you pay attention).

Its recent launch — the Anti-Aging Bi-Phase Peel — has major hydrating benefits, as well as another function of algae: brightening. "Algae brightens the skin immediately by promoting microcirculation," says Dr. Graf. Combined with glycolic acids, this quick peel leaves skin looking even and vibrant.
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"Algae is so moisturizing," says Wilson. "If you think of algae, it's always moist. It has the ability to bind water as a humectant." 3Lab's new Anti-Aging Cream capitalizes on that, infusing skin with vital hydration while addressing age spots and dullness with vitamin C.
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Tata Harper's Beautifying Face Oil also provides a brightening effect, thanks to brown-algae extract. "Algae is a very broad term that can include brown, red, blue, green, and black algae," explains Wilson. "Companies can extract different components from it — which is what gives some a brightening effect, a Botox effect, or a moisturizing effect. You can find so many uses for it."
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This deeply reparative hair mask contains Abyssine, a byproduct of microalgae. In this case, it relieves and refreshes the scalp, while vitamins A and E work to strengthen and protect the rest of the hair.
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"Masks are great delivery systems [for algae]," says Dr. Graf. "They lock in the nutrients and don't allow them to go anywhere, so you get the [benefits of the] whole [product]." This face mask also contains apricot-kernel oil for crazy-soft skin in 10 minutes flat.
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For a midday pick-me-up, try Kate Somerville's facial mist. It packs a punch of moisture (thanks to blue-green algae), as well as vitamins B, C, and E.
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This rich eye cream softens existing lines (again, that's the blue-green algae) while antioxidant-rich lotus flower fights off future ones.
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It may sound gimmicky, but Sunday Riley's de-puffing body treatment could very well be legit. "It's not something that has had a lot of studies, but the drainage comes from the fact that [algae] has a mineral that increases circulation and flow," says Wilson. Either way, the cooling formula relieves tired legs and feet.
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Ideal for dry skin, this moisturizing foundation is infused with marine algae to help smooth lines (rather than settle into them).

Tarte Rainforest of the Sea Water Foundation SPF 15 with Brush, $39, available September 24 at QVC.
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Salt sprays can be incredibly drying — which is why this formula has sugar to give hair messy bends, and a dose of marine algae to soften parched strands.
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