«Seaweed has a large uptake of minerals, which it absorbs directly from the sea». Using these in skincare can help alleviate the negative impacts of the industry
Seaweed is one of nature’s most diverse organisms with over 30,000 species globally. The myriad of its potential recognized and in recent years new methods have been developed; to extract nutrients and minerals from the plant.
Varied uses range from plant fertilizer to clothing particles and food supplements. A relatively new application is for skin and bodycare products as innovated by the British company Haeckels. Founded by Dom Bridges in 2012 and based along the area of the English coast surrounding the port of Margate. The company focuses on innovating the potential uses of seaweed using scientific research.
Harvesting Seaweed with Respect
‘Seaweed’ is a term that disguises a number of complexities. Used to encompass a variety of species that fall under the three broad categories of red, green and brown algae; or, to use the correct terminology: Rhodophyta, Phaeophyta and Chlorophyta.
Collectively these comprise a polyphletic group, meaning that the origins comprise different ancestral sources. Another factor that unites these 30,000 varieties is their importance to the health of the oceans and the Earth in general.
Seaweed is recognized within global climate issues due to the fact that plankton can aid in carbon sequestration; while research conducted by Greener Grazing shows that the addition of small amounts of red seaweed to cow feed can reduce methane enteric emissions.
As much as seaweed grows in abundance, improper harvesting can still negatively affect the ecosystems that the plant supports. This is a consideration particularly important to Haeckels explains Jessica Gregory, head of Biodesign at Haeckels.
«Our harvesting process works directly with the ocean» with a keen eye kept on the «tide times and natural quantities». Doing so enables for the dialogue between the habitat that seaweed provides to a range of marine creatures and its benefits to mankind to remain in equilibrium.
Excessive harvesting could in turn reduce future yields with damage to the roots of the plant. Therefore, it is imperative to only harvest what is needed from mature specimens. This principle of retaining biodiversity is as much the case as it is for crops in the sea as it is on the land.
Seaweed High Bioactive Potential
The realization of seaweed’s potential as an ecological skincare ingredient at Haeckels developed from their first product: the Seaweed Block. This soap bar uses seaweed blended with shea butter and botanicals to create a cleansing product with exfoliating qualities.
Since this initial product, Haeckels has realized that there are multiple ways to use seaweed in skincare by focussing on chemical properties. One of the principal benefits of the seaweed plant is that it has a strong uptake of minerals from the sea that it converts through metabolic functions.
«Around 80% of its composition is made up of proteins, lipids, bioactive peptides, enzymes, polysaccharides, fatty acids and vitamins». They are also high in phenolic content. As Gregory explains in relation to Haeckels, these elements can all be processed for skincare purposes.
«An example of this is the Haeckels Algae Plump +B3; which is made from marine polysaccharides produced through fermentation». This has been shown to deliver hydration three times the level of hyaluronic acid.
Scientific research reveals that «different seaweeds have slightly different biological profiles»; and these come to bear on their application in skincare products. For instance, dulse is a red macroalgae rich in polysaccharides that have been shown to visibly nourish and tighten the skin.
Other skin benefits prevalent in other varieties of seaweed include as antioxidants, boosting collagen and increasing hydration of the epidermis.
Principles of green chemistry
The impact of the skincare sector as a pollutant is not just due to packaging: it is also affected by the ingredients used. Ecosystems, and especially aquatic ones, are directly tainted by the chemicals used that runoff into water systems.
While the destruction that microplastics have caused on marine environments cannot be denied nor ignored. The lifecycle of ingredients must be considered, with the ideal approach being one that considers the process «from cradle to grave, or from manufacture to biodegradation».
Doing so can allow for a positive rather than negative outcome of skincare production. By using all natural ingredients in the formulae decreases the contribution of further pollutants to the environment and these can instead be reabsorbed back into the ecosystem.
Respecting the yields of the sea also extends to reaping the most benefit from every harvest. At Haeckels this approach to reducing wastage has been applied in investigating methods to use a single plant in diverse ways. For example, kelp extract can be incorporated within cleansing products or function as a deodorant when combined with oyster mushrooms.
Following this approach means that as little as possible of a product harvested from a marine environment goes to waste. Any detritus at Haeckels is taken to a local allotment to use in agriculture because seaweed is known to be beneficial for aiding soil quality.
A Local Mindset for a Global Outlook
Water temperatures and ecosystem nutrients directly affect the species of seaweed that grows in a specific geographical region. Along the coastline of Margate, the two most prosperous varieties are dulse and bladderwrack. This means that at Haeckels the products generally focus on bioactive derived from these; as in the case of the Bladderwrack Extract that is used as a cleanser.
Retaining a local mindset in the face of global expansion plans is a challenge that presents itself to many small, independent businesses. There is a risk of losing founding principles based on ecological concerns in the face of a necessity; to source a greater quantity of ingredients and to create a carbon footprint due to the export trade.
One solution is to establish satellites which make use of, and work with, the local environment. Haeckels trialled this approach when they opened their first international store in Japan. There is a local seagrass native to Japan known as Eel Grass and which can only be harvested once a year to protect the fragile habitat it supports.
This seaweed variety is rich in polyphenol which is a powerful antioxidant that can increase oxygen levels in the skin. Replacing the bladderwrack used in the soap bars produced in Margate with Eel Grass has allowed for a new product that does not place demands on the seaweed harvest of the Kent coastline.
This localized approach towards retailing products dependent on resources derived from the environment is key. To changing attitudes towards global availability and the impact of human carbon footprint on the broader ecosystem.
Haeckels Natural Skin Care
Established in 2012 by Dom Bridges, Haeckels incorporates the local seaweed harvested from the area surrounding Margate in Kent in skincare and bodycare products. Central to its approach is the fusion of a respect for the ocean habitats; with a scientific approach towards fining new methods to extract the bioactive potential from seaweed.