A Comprehensive Guide to Sea Kelp and Skincare
The skincare industry is packed with specialized products designed to enhance the health and quality of our skin. Most of the resources at our disposal come from official cosmetics brands or prescriptions from dermatologists. The advent of modern medicine has furthered our reliance on these products, which is not necessarily a bad thing since many conditions require a heavy-handed approach.
In some scenarios, our skin is best treated with a lighter touch and less intensive compounds. There are several substances and plants that we are compatible with and can derive beneficial skincare effects. Some are opposed to using holistic remedies due to their belief that such resources are ultimately ineffective. Regardless, there are valid natural resources that can improve our skin, so mainstream pharmaceuticals do not have to be our first choice.
Countless plants grow nationwide with different characteristics and traits that the cosmetics industry has used to create skincare products. While many plants are recognizable to the average individual, there is a misconception that every viable substance for skincare comes from dry land.
Skincare products made from marine plants can provide several benefits that synergize with our biology. One of the most notable marine plants in the skincare industry is kelp, which can be refined into multiple products. Sea kelp has a longstanding reputation with skincare, but the question is: What benefits does it provide?
What is Sea Kelp?
If you have ever been near the ocean, you have likely encountered seaweed since it is a naturally occurring plant in most waters. Most people outside the marine biology field do not know that seaweed is not a single plant but a species of several organisms. One such species is Macrocystis pyrifera, commonly known as giant kelp.
M. pyrifera has the distinction of being the largest species of algae known to man, making it an extremely important example of marine vegetation. While most people associate this kelp species with plants, it technically does not fall under that category since it is a heterokont (flagellate organisms with hairlike growths). Insofar as natural occurrence is concerned, M. pyrifera is found along the coast of the northeastern Pacific Ocean.
Kelp forests of M. pyrifera can be found along the sea from California to Alaska, the latter of which indicates its ability to thrive in colder waters. It is also found in the oceans of South America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
M. pyrifera's common name, "giant kelp," is no accident since an individual stalk can grow to over 45 meters (150 feet). This means a single stalk could grow from a very deep part of the ocean and still grow to the point that the top reaches the surface. However, the truly spectacular thing is that giant kelp grows alongside multiple other members of its species.
The subsequent groups create kelp forests, which create an entire biome wherever it grows. As a result, giant kelp forms symbiotic relationships with other marine life, especially sea otters, moray eels, and red rock shrimp. Witnessing the environment of a giant kelp forest can be awe-inspiring, but giant kelp is more than just an impressive example of marine life.
Giant kelp has become a semi-surprising addition to the skincare and health industries via supplements and other products. The question of the hour is what benefits giant kelp offers for the skincare industry.
What is Photoaging?
Skincare is a combination of maintaining the skin's appearance and health through enhanced care routines and specialized products. Some of these products treat potential health concerns, while others are strictly cosmetic.
The cosmetic side of skincare remains one of the most prominent aspects of the industry and has the highest demand for new products. One of the main reasons for this is because of a process called photoaging, which can affect almost anyone. Photoaging has become a more prevalent issue in recent years due to the increasing volatility of the main cause.
Our sun is more than just a heat or light source. It is an incredibly powerful star that is literally on fire. The gasses burning to keep that star ignited are charged with particles that have been exposed to cosmic radiation. As a result, the sun generates its own unique form of radiation that we are consistently exposed to whenever we step out during the day.
The light is ultraviolet, which has a radioactive energy that, in small doses, is relatively harmless. Unfortunately, large doses of UV radiation can have physical ramifications on our skin, affecting our health and appearance. The most common example of how UV radiation affects our skin is when it causes sunburn.
The part that often gets overlooked is the fact that UV radiation also causes blemishes by damaging the skin on a deeper level. These blemishes involve the skin appearing to age beyond your years, generating wrinkles or lines that could make you look older. This process is called photoaging and involves the UV light of the sun damaging the cells that make up your dermis.
Some individuals have a higher risk of suffering from photoaging, specifically anyone who meets the following criteria:
- Individuals with lighter skin tones (i.e., Caucasian).
- Individuals with moles or who develop freckles before tanning.
- Individuals with blue or green eyes.
- Individuals with blond, red, or light brown hair.
- Individuals with a family history of skin cancer.
- Individuals who spend extended periods in direct sunlight.
While these individuals have a higher risk, people outside these demographics can experience photoaging. Some people do not even need to be exposed to natural UV radiation to suffer from photoaging since tanning beds and other alternative sources can yield the same effect.
For example, anyone who uses tanning beds is exposed to artificial UV radiation with a similar intensity to that produced by the sun. This extraneous exposure to UV radiation damages skin cells and causes the symptoms of photoaging to manifest. These symptoms include:
- Spider veins on the nose, cheeks, and neck.
- Loss of skin tone around the sun-exposed body parts.
- Lines and wrinkles around the eyes and mouth.
- Pigment changes, such as liver spots or freckles.
- White spots on the arms, legs, and back of your hands.
These symptoms are the major issues, but untreated cases can promote the onset of more advanced health issues. Specifically, allowing photoaging to occur unchecked weakens the natural barriers in our skin and makes it easier to develop melanoma or other precancers.
Considering the connection between UV radiation and cancer, the fact that photoaging can lead to a precancer is hardly surprising. The trick is finding a resource you can use to protect yourself from UV radiation aside from avoiding sunlight altogether.
How Sea Kelp Helps
Sea kelp has several applications designed to enhance health, usually by consuming it to absorb the nutrients native to the heterokont. While these nutrients benefit our health, they require us to consume kelp to digest and absorb them. As a result, the idea that we can take advantage of sea kelp as a skincare product might seem hard to believe.
Nevertheless, evidence suggests that giant kelp can provide the necessary compounds to protect against UV radiation. The International Journal of Cancer determined that brown kelp (giant kelp is a larger species of brown kelp) naturally enhances UV protection. Brown kelp seems to be a viable tool due to the concentration of a compound called fucoidan.
Fucoidan is a polysaccharide (one of the better-known carbohydrates) that naturally manifests in most species of brown kelp. Specifically, fucoidan is located in the cell walls of multiple brown kelp species, including M. pyrifera.
Fucoidan has benefits that can be enjoyed by consuming the kelp, primarily addressing weight management concerns. However, studies have assessed fucoidan's effects on the skin when consumed or applied topically. One study from 2022 called Antioxidant and Anti-Photoaging Effects of a Fucoidan Isolated from Turbinaria ornata helped confirm this.
While T. ornata is a different type of brown seaweed, it contains the same nutrients as those from M. pyrifera. The study used zebrafish to test the impact of fucoidan on the inflammation response present in most animals. The results indicated that the fucoidan inhibited the response and reduced unnecessary inflammation.
This is relevant to UV radiation because the burns and cellular damage are inflammatory injuries, which is why sunburns are painful. Using brown seaweed can inhibit UV radiation's impact on our skin and minimize the risk of photoaging and other injuries.
Fortunately, there is more research focusing on fucoidan's ability to protect against the effects of the sun. One study from 2018, Anti-Photoaging Effects of Low Molecular-Weight Fucoidan on Ultraviolet B-Irradiated Mice, expressly focused on the brown seaweed's ability to prevent premature aging. Unlike the previous study, mice were used as the test subjects rather than zebrafish, but the results were equally promising. The mice in the test group assigned fucoidan as a supplement showed reduced concentrations of UV radiation, and their wrinkles corrected and began healing somewhat.
Unfortunately, there are limits to what fucoidan can do since photoaging is, ultimately, irreversible. While you can treat it and reduce the severity while simultaneously protecting against future damage, the effects of photoaging are permanent since the damage is on a cellular level. No cosmetic substances can repair cellular damage, but the fucoidan in sea kelp can add an extra layer of protection to your skin. That said, there is always one last factor to consider when introducing a new substance to your diet.
How Much is Too Much?
Sea kelp is a naturally occurring organism, which means most people believe it is 100% safe. While sea kelp can be used to treat your condition relatively safely, there is no such thing as a completely safe product. The biggest concern is that fucoidan is an anticoagulant, meaning it inhibits our blood's ability to congeal and seal an open wound.
As a result, bleeding while fucoidan is still in your system could cause even a small cut to bleed profusely without scabbing. Fortunately, fucoidan is unlikely to cause serious blood loss unless you suffer a massive cut or injury that causes excessive blood loss. Nevertheless, you should never use products with sea kelp if you are currently taking blood thinners. Anticoagulants and blood thinners have the same effect, so using sea kelp and prescription blood thinners could double the effect.
Taking both could make it that much easier to bleed out since your blood will be thinned much further. The good news is that absorbing fucoidan via topical application limits the anticoagulant effect on someone. Despite that, it is still extremely dangerous to combine it with a standard blood thinner. Therefore, make sure you do not use products with sea kelp (or fucoidan) if you are on prescription blood thinners. You should consult your primary care physician before introducing any new substance to your daily routine.
Finding the Right Blend
Sea kelp is an amazing example of marine life despite not being the type that swims around freely. It generates an incredible submarine biome that benefits multiple forms of sea life, and its composition has introduced beneficial resources for humanity.
Using sea kelp for your skin can offer significant benefits for protecting against ultraviolet radiation, but there are limits. Ideally, your sea kelp skincare product should combine it with other natural compounds to reinforce the benefits. Unfortunately, finding a product that contains multiple compounds that synergize with sea kelp can be a significant challenge.
We at Teami have always believed that natural compounds are ideal for enhancing our health and appearance. That is why we have made it our mission to cultivate a catalog of health and beauty products made with natural ingredients.
It might surprise you to learn that we offer a product that uses sea kelp and other natural ingredients to cleanse and protect the skin. Our Gentle Superfood Liquid Cleanser will ensure you get all the benefits sea kelp has to offer (among other compounds). We encourage you to visit our website and try our cleanser firsthand. After all, finding the right blend is a Teami effort!
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