Washing Up With Seaweed
If you want cosmetics that remove cellulite, reduce wrinkles, combat acne, moisturize skin, improve skin elasticity, prevent oxidant damage and so much more, just kelp yourself.
Sorry. Puns are hard to resist when talking about the growing wave of "marine" cosmetics -- products containing extracts of seaweed, sea mud, and other things you'd probably consider icky at the shore.
"Nature's beauty seacret!" puns an advertisement for SeaAllure, a new anti-wrinkle face patch made by Bio Med Sciences of Allentown, Penn. It contains a sugar isolated from giant bladder kelp.
Seaweeds -- macroalgae, to be technical -- are rich in sugars, proteins, vitamins, iodine, antioxidants, amino acids and other biologically active compounds. But experts say that doesn't necessarily mean the claims made for marine cosmetics are based on solid scientific evidence.
"Almost all cosmetics, whatever they're made of, are topical, and probably don't do a lot for you except make you feel good," said Ara DerMarderosian, a professor and expert on bioactive natural products at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. "The seaweed angle is just another novelty. Everybody is trying to go with something new and different."
John Wille, a molecular biologist who has a cosmetic and pharmaceutical consulting firm in Trenton, said, "There is some science behind it, but not much. Not to discredit anything, but most of this is hype."
Underwater plants are not entirely new in the beauty business. Seaweed wraps and "detoxifying" baths are staples of spas, while carrageenan, derived from red seaweed, has long been used as a thickening agent in cosmetics, not to mention ice cream.
But these days, there seems to be a tsunami of seaweed-spiked beauty potions. The Body Shop has a seaweed line that includes a toner, exfoliator, wash and "mattifying" day cream. Nivea for Men has an Oil Control Face Wash with extract of Fucus vesiculosus -- giant bladder kelp. Celebrity makeup artist Sue Devitt offers a luxe line of foundations with a triple-seaweed formula, plus Microaquatic Blue Anti-Aging Protection Primer with blue algae. Red Water Laboratories, based in Greece, offers an Anti-cellulite Gel with seaweed and ivy. Another cellulite suppressor is Jergens' Skin-firming Moisturizer with Seaweed Extract.
Marinova, an Australian biotech company that supplies seaweed blends and extracts to pharmaceutical and health-food companies, says inquiries from cosmetic firms have increased tenfold over the last year.
"Twelve months ago, this market was really in its infancy," Nick Falk, Marinova's business development director, said in an e-mail. "There has been a dramatic upturn in interest from cosmetic clients."
Seaweed has also inspired an ardently enthusiastic book, "Seaweed: Nature's Secret to Balancing Your Metabolism, Fighting Disease, and Revitalizing Body and Soul." Written by Houston nurse Valerie Cooksley and published in May, it is billed as a "comprehensive guide" to seaweed in cosmetic, medicinal and nutritional applications.
Historically, seaweed -- which comes in thousands of species in brown, red and green -- has been used as a treatment for cough, asthma, hemorrhoids, goiters, stomach ailments, urinary diseases, tumors, ulcers and headaches, says the National Library of Medicine's Medline database.
The Victorians put seaweed concoctions on their skin to treat sprains, arthritis, bruises, and the "limbs of rickety children," Falk and two of his Marinova colleagues wrote last month in Cosmetics & Toiletries magazine.
Some of these premodern uses were not as silly as they may sound today. In laboratory studies, for example, bladder kelp has been shown to have antifungal, antibacterial, anticoagulant, anticancer and antioxidant activity. It also contains iodine, which has been used to treat thyroid disorders such as gout. In animals, kelp can lower blood sugar.
However, Medline says, "there are no reliable human studies" showing kelp is effective or safe for any of these purposes in people.
Modern cosmetics don't have to be backed up by reliable human studies, either. "Clinically proven" is a popular label, but may simply mean a group was asked to use the product and rate it.
The Body Shop, for example, clinically proved its seaweed products on 60 women with oily skin areas. The vast majority said their skin looked less shiny and felt "fresher and more balanced," according to Allison Harmon Lane, the company's public relations director.
"If a company is not making a health claim, just a cosmetic claim, it's up to that company to decide what kind of tests to do," said Jane Houlihan, vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group in Washington and author of the advocacy group's cosmetic safety database. "The truth is, they don't have to do anything to make those marketing claims."
Unlike competing products, SeaAllure, made in Allentown, consists of boomerang-shaped patches that the customer wears on her crow's feet or smile lines (or both) every night for two weeks.
The patches are coated with a polymer gel infused with kelp extract plus wheat proteins, said Bio Med Sciences president Mark Dillon. He founded the company 20 years ago to market the gel, which he developed and patented, to treat wounds and scars in burn care and plastic surgery.
Dillon said SeaAllure "increases skin hydration by reducing normal evaporation" and by delivering "hydrophilic polysaccharides and proteins" that "effectively hold moisture in the skin even after the patch is removed." This "firms the skin, thereby reducing the appearance of wrinkles."
In other words, the treated skin temporarily looks less wrinkly because it gets a bit puffy.
Of 20 women who tested the patches for two weeks, 85 percent thought they looked younger -- on average, 2.7 years. But a week after treatment stopped, 70 percent said their gains were gone. (Curiously, dermatologists detected more persistent improvement in most of the women, a disagreement that Dillon attributes to the physicians' trained eyes.)
Given the fleeting nature of the wrinkle reduction, Dillon said, customers are now advised to use the patches three times a week for two weeks after the initial two weeks, then as needed for "maintenance and touch-ups."
Twenty pairs of patches cost $49.95, so that could add up to a lot of seaweed. But Dillon is confident that SeaAllure -- being marketed to spas and to consumers through women's magazines, cable TV channels, and the Internet -- will appeal to women who want to look more radiant without resorting to surgery, peels or Botox.
While modern technology and underwater flora are a potent beauty combo, DerMarderosian at University of the Sciences reminds his students to go back to the basics.
"Back in the 1800s, French dermatologists studied nuns because they had the best, youngest-looking skin of all," he said. "It was because they covered up all the time, which protected their skin from the sun."
Contact staff writer Marie McCullough at 215-854-2720 or email@example.com.
Source: Dayton Daily News. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. Powered by Yellowbrix.