Why we love giant kelp and other brown seaweeds
What grows 2 feet a day, is a floating party island for sea otters and a superhero for your skin and climate change? Meet giant kelp.
Kelp and other brown seaweeds grow in a harsh marine environment. Constantly exposed to sun and extreme high and low temperatures, they produce specialized compounds to protect themselves against environmental stresses. These compounds make brown seaweeds a potent bioactive ingredient for skin protection and care. There are so many kelp benefits for skin and for the planet. Here’s why we love kelp:
Kelp and other brown seaweeds are great for your skin!
- It’s vitamin and mineral rich. Kelp is a source of vitamins A, B2, B6, B12, E, C, K, folate, niacin and calcium, iodine, and magnesium.
- Say goodbye to synthetic preservatives. Antioxidant rich kelp and seaweeds are a great natural substitute. The pigment that gives kelp its brown colour, fucoxanthin, is a strong antioxidant (Pacific Seaweeds). Many synthetic preservatives such as BHT and BHA and parabens are associated with cancer and endocrine system disruption. Check out one of our favourite documentaries, “Toxic Beauty,” if you’re curious about the dark side of synthetic preservatives in skincare. You can stream it for free on CBC.
- It’s antioxidant rich. Inflammation can occur from environmental factors, allergens and even stress. The high levels of antioxidants in brown seaweeds may combat oxidative stress caused by inflammation and calm the skin1.
- It’s moisturizing. Studies show that kombu (a brown seaweed popular in Japanese cuisine) has greater hydrating and moisturizing effects than hyaluronic acid. You might be wondering how does it do its moisturizing magic? Scientists think that when kombu extract is applied to the skin, its amino acids and minerals draw water from inside the body to the outermost layer of the skin. It’s also thought that alginate and protein in seaweed attaches to skin proteins to form a protective barrier for both immediate and long-term regulation of moisture loss2.
- It may help diminish the signs of aging. With age, skin thickness normally increases and skin elasticity decreases especially in the face. In Japan, a study was conducted where a gel of 1% bladder wrack (a brown seaweed) extract was applied to human cheek skin twice daily for five weeks. The results showed a significant decrease in skin thickness as well as a significant improvement in elasticity3.
- It may be harnessed for UV protection. Floating atop the ocean, kelp is exposed to extreme UV radiation which produces free radicals in cells. In response, kelp produces antioxidants that help combat those free radicals. These bioactive components are capable of absorbing the UV radiation and keep human cells from UV-induced aging4. Fucoidan, the slime of kelp, absorbs UV light and is incorporated in some sunscreens5.
Kelp and other brown seaweeds are great for the planet!
Kelp, our favourite antioxidant rich algae, is also a friend in the fight against climate change. Emerging research shows that seaweed is a quadruple threat when it comes solving the carbon problem that has been causing the warming of our planet. Here’s how:
- It’s a carbon capture superhero. Giant kelp’s unique structure and tendency to float far into the ocean and sink to depths of thousands of feet allows it to capture and sequester carbon. In fact, 173 million tons of carbon are removed from the atmosphere each year through this natural process. In 2018 we put 32 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere. One idea is to farm kelp on a massive scale. If it was done on a big enough scale, it could draw down many billions of tons of carbon dioxide a year. And proponents say it could sustainably produce large amounts of seafood to help feed a growing population. Seaweed farming is much more low maintenance than land agriculture. While we’d have to find space to grow the kelp, it’s not as much of an issue as it is to find land to grow trees. It also grows up to 2 feet a day, making it one of the fastest growing organisms in the world6.
- Fighting those famous cow burps. Livestock farming is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gasses because cows burp out methane which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. Adding seaweed to livestock feed reduces methane in cow burps by up to 70%. Hundreds of millions of cows are farmed around the world. Feeding seaweed to livestock isn’t a new idea. Seaweeds have been used as livestock feed for thousands of years. Such uses have even been mentioned in ancient Greek texts and in the Icelandic Sagas7.
- Give your garden a natural boost. Organic gardeners know that seaweed is a nutrient rich replacement for petrochemical fertilizers. In Europe, farmers gathered seaweed washed ashore from beaches to improve nutrient-poor soils until the advent of chemical fertilizers and the increased size of agricultural land8.
- Restoring balance to the ocean. Researchers are finding that kelp can effectively absorb CO2 and reduce acidity in the ocean through photosynthesis9. CO2 in the atmosphere dissolves directly into seawater, lowering the pH and making it acidic10. Scientists say growing kelp in local waters could help mitigate the damaging impacts of acidification on marine life11.
1 Shanura Fernando, I.P., Asanka Sanjeewa, K.K., Samarakoon, K.W. et al. The potential of fucoidans from Chnoospora minima and Sargassum polycystum in cosmetics: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, skin-whitening, and antiwrinkle activities. J Appl Phycol 30, 3223–3232 (2018)
2 Choi, Jae-Suk & Moon, Woi & Choi, Ji & Do, Kee & Moon, Sun & Cho, Kwang & Han, Chae-Jeong & Choi, In. (2013). Effects of seaweed Laminaria japonica extracts on skin moisturizing activity in vivo. Journal of cosmetic science. 64. 193-205.
3 Fujimura T, Tsukahara K, Moriwaki S, Kitahara T, Sano T, Takema Y. Treatment of human skin with an extract of Fucus vesiculosus changes its thickness and mechanical properties. J Cosmet Sci. 2002;53(1):1-9.
4 Wang HD, Li XC, Lee DJ, Chang JS. Potential biomedical applications of marine algae. Bioresour Technol. 2017;244(Pt 2):1407-1415. doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2017.05.198
5 Druehl, Louis D., and Bridgette Clarkston. Pacific Seaweeds: A Guide to Common Seaweeds of the West Coast. Harbour Publishing, 2016.
6 https://www.newscientist.com/podcasts/ episode #16
7 Fleurence, Joël, and Ira A. Levine. Seaweed in Health and Disease Prevention. Academic Press, 2016. Page 9.
8 Fleurence, Joël, and Ira A. Levine. Seaweed in Health and Disease Prevention. Academic Press, 2016. Page 10.