You may have noticed a rise in skincare brands touting algae as the hero skin saviour to add to your routine. Initially, the thought of algae might make your skin crawl, evoking memories of the green slime touching your leg while paddling in lakes and rivers as a child. Sure, it's not the most glamorous of skincare ingredients, but it's time to get reacquainted with the water-dwelling organism.
"It's strange, isn't it," poses Dom Bridges, founder of natural British brand Haeckels. "Algae never went away, as cultures around the globe have used it continuously for centuries – particularly as a base powder to consume. I think the current buzz is connected to our falling in love with the ocean again."
Whether it's because we're looking at the world's oceans differently in light of Blue Planet II and recent horrific statistics on plastic damage, or because the industry is returning to the natural world for its key ingredients, algae is on the up. The slippery organisms vary, but are predominantly water-based, more complex cell-wise than plants, and use photosynthesis to harbour a wealth of nutrients.
In terms of benefits for your visage, algae "hydrates, softens and detoxifies the skin. While replenishing essential vitamins and minerals, it rebuilds your skin and works effectively on conditions like eczema." Because it lives on tidal plains – or mudflats, coastal wetlands which are formed when mud is washed up by tides and rivers – algae has to protect itself from dehydration and sun exposure, which is directly transposed onto our epidermis when applied topically, Bridges explains.
Jo Chidley, founder of Beauty Kitchen, uses seahorse plankton, "a special king of micro algae," in a range of her products. "It protects itself from environmental stresses by producing a unique mix of antioxidants and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids," she explains, "which are the only two fatty acids your own body cannot produce and are the ones needed for healthy sustainable skin, lipids, sterols, carotenoids and vitamins (A, D, E & K)."
If your mind is conjuring up images of people in wellington boots handpicking algae from the UK's shoreline, I'm afraid it's not quite as wholesome as you'd imagine. It is, however, sourced sustainably. "We cultivate everything ourselves, and our seahorse plankton comes from our bioreactor (a big greenhouse to you and I)," Chidley says. "This is a cradle-to-cradle method, as not only do we get the greatest ingredient, but when you grow algae it creates energy that is sold back to the grid, turning CO2 into oxygen. This means we're not taking from the ocean."