Algae has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat skin problems. Today, scientists are studying how these tiny organisms affect our bodies and the environment. We know the benefits of algae extract on the skin with its hydrating and anti-inflammatory properties. Interestingly, algae extract shows up on many ingredient checkers as comedogenic. I need to also caution you not all these ingredient checkers are based on scientific data- so take them with a grain of salt. Still it brings the question to inquiring minds is it comedogenic, are there certain kinds of algae we need to be wary of?
Are all the algae comedogenic or a specific one?
In general, it is hard and quite unfair to generalize all algae as comedogenic. And here is why. Algae is one of nature’s most abundant sources of nutrients. In fact, there are more than 1 million species of algae living in every square inch of ocean water. These microscopic organisms provide us with essential minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, phosphorus, iodine, selenium, and vitamin B12.
They are excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation and also help maintain healthy skin by helping prevent dryness and irritation. The world of algae offers a tremendous and relatively untapped potential of bioactives from three branches of macroalgae (seaweeds) such as green (Chlorophyceae), red (Rhodophyceae), and brown (Phaeophyceae). We also have the microalgae that is a diverse group of microorganisms such as prokaryotic cyanobacteria (blue algae). Several of the macro and microalgae biocomponents have been shown to have high potential for anti-inflammation, anti-aging, skin-whitening, UV protection, boosting collagen synthesis, anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, and anti-viral properties.
The science behind the idea that algae is comedogenic is very outdated. On the net, there are several articles regarding algae and comedogenicity without any scientific references. All they say is that algae contain a high amount of iodides which irritates pores, triggers inflammation and accelerates comedones.
Interestingly enough, there is a paper from 1955 and 1976, that suggest iodides from kelp caused comedones when INGESTED as supplements and there is nothing about when it is applied on the skin ( and here is the reference for it: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/article-abstract/535824). Currently, there are no recent scientific papers found in Pubmed concerning algae-derived compounds leading to acne-development, keratinization, or comedogenesis.
Deep Dive: Algae Extracts
Let’s go deeper in the rabbit hole, algae extracts or bioactives extracted from macro or microalgae used in skincare are highly processed. This means that is beneficial parts of the algae are kept and all other non-beneficial parts are removed including iodides that are implied in comedogenicity. Here is another interesting part of this dilemma, we get more iodide from our food than we need. Unfortunately, this excess iodine intake can cause acne in some acne-prone people. So, for anyone who are prone to acne, limiting food intake with high iodine content like dairy, salt, seaweed, potatoes, preserved foods, and liver is the first step in preventing comedone development.
Second important point is any additional products with the high iodide content could make them an acne trigger. These products could be your supplements or skincare products. Therefore, if you are severely acne prone, it might be better to be wary of products that are full of too much iodide or whole algae as the main ingredient, which would be listed at the top of product’s ingredient listing. Furthermore, most of the “comedogenic lists” can be misleading because these are usually rated based on the 100% concentration of the whole ingredient or plant, which is not the case when such ingredient is used in skincare.
Overall, algae extracts and their bioactive components in skincare are fine. The biological and molecular structure of these extracted components are tiny, water-soluble and can be easily removed from the skin, which cannot get “stuck” in pores to clog them. The only time they could create a problem would be when you are allergic to the ingredient and used a product that contained it.
A good time to avoid algae for acne-prone skin would be as follows:
1- If the product made of 100% whole algae.
2- When you know you have a sensitivity or an allergy to algae, then it is better to steer away from algae containing products in general.
What are the certain types of algae that are better for acne-prone skin?
There are MANY beneficial algae that are beneficial and safe, when the extract or bioactives from the whole plant is used. Macro algae are known producers of bioactive components with anti-viral, antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. The key point here the extracts with these beneficial bioactive compounds such as polysaccharides, phenolic compounds, lipids with antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory activities could be helpful in acne management as well as delay signs of skin aging. We love algae and incorporated it into our Micro Algae Immun B3 Serum.
Here are couple examples of algae components with their skincare benefits
• Astaxanthin has strong antioxidant activity and protects from peroxidation by scavenging the radicals.
• Phlorotannins extracted from E. cava and E. stolonifera algae provide photoprotection towards UVB rays by reducing the cell damage caused by UVB radiation
• Scientific studies have shown that antibacterial compounds and extracts derived from red seaweeds are effective on Cutibacterium acnes and Staphylococcus epidermidis growth, which are the key bacteria in acne development.
• Fucoidans isolated from the Chnoospora minima and Sargassum polycystum algae were shown to have major role in inhibiting collagenase and elastase activity.
• Compounds derived from E. bicyclis algae have natural antibacterial potential against acne-related bacteria
• S. serratifolium algae extract has potential antimicrobial activity against pathogenic bacteria related with acne.
• Scientific studies have shown that Green Caviar (although called a caviar it is a plant!) or Sea Grape algae (Caulerpa species) extracts and oil could protect against photoaging and has antioxidant and antibacterial potential.
And the benefits list goes on…
Algae has been used as a skincare ingredient since ancient times. In fact, algae was one of the first foods consumed by humans. Today, algae extracts are used in cosmetics because of their ability to help maintain moisture levels in the skin. They contain high concentrations of proteins, amino acids, and fatty acids that help keep skin hydrated.