Thursday, May 28, 2015

Aquatic Life

seaweed and algae
Nutrient-rich ingredients from the sea provide ultra-healthful benefits both inside and out.

How excited were we to read about one of our favorite skincare lines, Phytomer, in the latest edition of American Spa?

Summer is almost here, which means it’ll soon be time to hit the beach. And although few things top a cooling dip on a sweltering day, you don’t have to wait for warmer weather to harness the sea’s healing powers. Marine ingredients, such as algae, seaweed, and more, play a key role in detoxifying, replenishing, firming, and soothing the skin. It’s really no surprise that several skincare lines, such as Osea, Phytomer (including Phytomer's sister companies; Phytoceane, Vie Collection and Fleurs), and Repêchage to name just a few, are based on marine ingredients, while others feature specific sea-based products.When the time does come, you will be looking (and feeling) more beach-ready than ever.

It was her grandmother’s knowledge of natural healing and faith in the power of the sea that set the stage for Jenefer Palmer, chief seaweed officer of Osea, to create the marine-based line. A fresh algae bath in Buenos Aires and the way it made her feel inspired her to track the algae back to its source along the desolate beaches and pristine coastal waters of Patagonia. “Aside from producing an estimated 70 percent of the oxygen in our atmosphere, marine algae offers us unmatched skincare benefits,” says Palmer. “Seaweed alginate, or gel, has been used to treat burns and skin maladies for centuries. In addition to soothing, hydrating, and mineralizing the skin, certain types of seaweed, including gigartina and undaria algae that Osea uses in its formulations, have anti-aging benefits, such as boosting the skin’s collagen production.”

Another longtime proponent of the healing powers of marine ingredients, Lydia Sarfati founded the marine-based skincare line Repêchage after witnessing seaweed’s use in agricultural methods in Israel in 1977. “People were using seaweed as a biostimulant for plants, because nutrients that are in seaweed are nonexistent in the terrestrial environment,” she says. “I thought, ‘If it can stimulate plant growth and yield a greater production of fruits and vegetables, what could it do for our skin?’”

Harvesting seaweed.
Plenty, according to seaweed enthusiast Charles Yarish, Ph.D., a department of ecology and evolutionary biology professor at the University of Connecticut and a member of Repêchage’s board of directors. Yarish explains that seaweeds contain antioxidants, anti-tumor compounds, and biochemicals called phycocolloids, which can help the skin retain moisture. “Certain seaweeds are rich in natural phyto-hormones,” he says. “Vitamins, trace elements, amino acids, and micronutrients are also found in seaweeds and are known to improve the health of animals and plants. Many brown and red seaweeds contain glycolipids and phospholipids that are important in membrane repair.” Those powerful properties helped form the foundation of several skincare lines. “I knew that seaweed facilitated the richest and most efficient source of skin benefits available on the planet,” says Sarfati. “It was natural, sustainable, and had the greatest bio-affinity to our own skin.” Chances are, for any skin-related struggle you face, there is a marine-based product with a solution.

Marine ingredients have long been recognized for their detoxifying benefits as well.

Because of sea-sourced ingredients’ similarity to the body’s chemical composition, their nutrients are readily absorbed through the skin.

Turning Back the Clock

Apart from combating cellulite, algae and seaweed also yield a firming, youthful effect. As a result, nourishing marine facials are sure to make a splash on your spa’s menu. Clients of Spalon Montage (multiple locations in MN) can experience the firming benefits of marine sugars with the Phytomer XMF Facial ($175, 90 minutes). “The facial incorporates innovative products and offers pioneered ingredients derived from marine biotechnology, a technique that uses marine microorganisms to create active ingredients without the addition of chemicals or additives,” says master esthetician Sabrina Ehlis. Among those pioneered ingredients is Extra Marine Filler (XMF), which is a high-tech marine sugar with exceptional smoothing and densifying properties. According to her, it creates an invisible film on the face to diminish the depth of lines within one hour and, after continued use, increases the fibroblast cells, which are responsible for the production of collagen and elastin.

Marine-based facials are certainly a source of hydration. Hyaluronic acid, which is produced naturally by the body, is often credited with plumping the skin and helping it to look younger. As people age, the body produces less of it. Fortunately, there are other sources, such as that derived from marine algae.

Soothing Sensitivity

For all it does to naturally recharge and restore the skin, seaweed is extremely gentle. “Active phytonutrients in marine-based botanicals are especially beneficial to sensitive skin,” says Michael Bruggeman, founder and CEO of Organic Male OM4.  According to Bruggeman, ocean-derived ingredients help address dermatitis, eczema, rosacea, and other sensitive skin concerns.

Providing Sun Protection

Perhaps the most critical benefit of marine ingredients—providing sun protection—hasn’t even been fully realized yet. However, its potential is impossible to ignore. “In terms of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines, seaweeds can’t be claimed to offer sun protection,” says Seaflora’s Diane Bernard, an environmentalist and seaweed expert known as The Seaweed Lady. “However, ongoing studies are investigating the natural organic properties of seaweed that do contain UV protection. Even after being exposed to the sun and drying out, seaweeds still manage to maintain their health benefits.”

Yarish says the protective potential of seaweeds is thanks to their naturally occurring carotenoids, such as UVB-fighting antioxidants, including astaxanthin, found in chlorella and spirulina. Seaweeds also contain carotenes, which give fruits and vegetables their pigments. The pigments can be used as sunscreen by the plants and to activate melanin. “Other red seaweeds contain a unique class of mycosporine-like amino acids that can prevent skin damage caused by ultraviolet rays,” he says.

Not only can marine ingredients protect you from the sun, but they can also offer some degree of relief after over exposure.

Causes for Concern

For all that marine products do to preserve, replenish, and protect the skin, some might still have some concerns regarding mercury and lead content found in the ocean and questions about the purity of marine-based products. According to Yarish, while pollutants are a serious concern, regulations are in place to keep the level of harmful substances in products safe. Despite harvesters’ inability to control the marine environment and growing conditions, marine-based products can still be certified organic by the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA). “In the 1970s, mercury was added as an ingredient in creams to retard the growth of fungi and prevent product decay,” says Yarish. “Now, there is a much better understanding that mercury can cause neurological damage, hair loss, and skin damage. The FDA regulates products that come into contact with humans and bans any products higher than 1ppm (part per million), and in France, 0.1ppm.(Phytomer and its sister companies are from France) All of this has grown out of the literature showing mercury’s ill effects on humans.”

Bernard echoes the notion that pollutants are a worthwhile concern and stresses the importance of considering seaweeds’ environment during the harvesting process. “Seaweed is wonderful and hugely powerful in terms of accessing minerals and vitamins, polysaccharides, and all kinds of benefits from the ocean,” she says. “However, it does not discriminate between the good, the bad, and the ugly. Polluted waters mean higher levels of arsenic and lead. Seaweeds are an excellent barometer of the health and wellness of any coastline.” That’s why it’s important to note where the seaweed used in spa products grows.

Additionally, when it comes to choosing finished products, Bernard recommends checking the product label to see where seaweed falls on the ingredient list. “If it’s not in the top three ingredients, then it’s really not worth being in the product,” says Bernard. “It’s just being used for marketing purposes rather than having a meaningful, principal place in the product. You also want to take a look at whether it says seaweed extract or if it’s actually a bona fide seaweed.”

You also want to keep in mind that some products may have a strong seaweed smell that may not necessarily appeal to all. And, as Migneault points out, those with a sensitivity or allergy to shellfish or other types of seafood may want to steer clear of products and treatments that incorporate marine ingredients. For others though, the ocean can be a source of healing. With a virtual sea of spa products from which to choose, the case for going aquatic is strong. “Life originated from the sea,” says Lauren Streeter, director of education for Repêchage. “If you’re looking to bring youth and life back to your skin from head to toe, then why not go to the source? All of our skin concerns, from cellulite to acne and hyperpigmentation, and even aging, can be treated with the marvels of the sea.”—Lindsay Lambert Day
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