Marine ingredients – Making a splash


The cosmetics industry is constantly thirsty for fresh ideas so it’s little surprise that the sea has been the latest source of inspiration for many product launches, Nadia Di Martino reports

Including its oceans, seas and lakes, water makes up over three quarters of the earth’s surface and such abundance makes it appealing to cosmetics manufacturers.

A quick search on Google provides approximately 360,000 results for the term ‘sea water cosmetics’ and almost 1.5m results for ‘marine ingredient cosmetics’. Indeed the cosmetics industry’s interest in all things marine looks far from ceasing, many years after Shu Uemura first incorporated deep sea water into its skin care and make-up products.

But what are the benefits of water and marine ingredients? According to Nica Lewis, head consultant, Mintel Beauty Innovation: “Chlorella vulgaris is emerging often in beauty launches and Chlorella pyrenoidosa often appears in hair care products these days. Both are taken as health and dietary supplements because they are rich in protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. When ingested they help maintain healthy digestion and healthy skin.”

Traditionally algae, known to have good anti-ageing properties, has been used for beauty and health since ancient times and according to Lewis there are over 200 kinds of algae that have been used for over 30 years in various cosmetics and toiletry products.

More recently, targeted research has brought about a new generation of high tech cosmetics and an increasing number of manufacturers have chosen to market their products under the marine tag. Algae extracts are now found in thousands of skin care, hair care, soap and bath products. Results indicate that the use of algae has more than doubled since 2004, with algae extracts becoming one of the top actives found in organic face and neck care ranges, according to a recent study by Mintel.

Besides algae, the sea offers marine collagen, a material derived from the substance found on fish scales which is very popular with Japanese skin care and nutricosmetics companies in particular. It’s said to provide support for the skin with its anti-ageing benefits which has made it very successful with consumers.

Meanwhile, sea water features minerals and trace elements that claim to be good for healthy cell functioning, regeneration and helping the microcirculation of the body – so all in all there are many benefits to be gained from the depths of the ocean and this is something that is increasingly being taken advantage of.

Oriental wave

The marine trend is generally thought to have started off in Asia, with brands like Shu Uemura rapidly gaining followers in their droves. According to Lillian Chan-Gusto, UK business manager for US company Erno Laszlo: “In terms of marine ingredients, Asia has been harvesting its properties for centuries. New products featuring marine ingredients are generally well received by customers, as they are already aware of their natural benefits. After whitening, the biggest interest in Asia is that of anti-ageing and marine ingredients provide the answer to this need in many cases.”

According to Hossay Momand, founder of Yllume, a new brand that subscribes to the marine credo, the popularity of sea ingredients in Asian products is partly due to the dietary habits of these cultures. “Rich in seafood such as fish, seaweed and kelp, the Asian diet has undoubtedly been a major influence here. Traditionally people would have made use of everything they fished, making the most of all available ingredients. Chinese emperors also used pearl powder up to 2,000 years ago for beautifying purposes.”

She continues: “Europe is catching up on this trend and a great more deal investment is being poured into R&D in this area. This will benefit formulators on a global level. From a European perspective, French companies remain at the forefront of this particular area of development. But now also the extensive shoreline in Scotland is a place where marine ingredients are being sourced, partly thanks to the European Centre for Marine Biotechnology in Oban,” she adds.

According to Lewis, France was into marine ingredients from very early on, featuring “some of the original marine and thalasso therapy brands such as Phytomer and Thalgo and newer brands like Science et Mer from an early stage”.

A stream of ideas

The use of marine ingredients on a widespread basis in Asia has prompted many more mainstream brands to employ marine ingredients too, especially to attract consumers in a market that is increasingly segmented.

Selected marine-derived actives have started to appear in new prestige skin care launches, including Elemis (The Steiner Group), La Prairie (Beiersdorf) and Crème de la Mer (Estée Lauder). And tellingly, Elemis’ best selling global product is its Pro-Collagen Marine Cream. “This product has been clinically proven to deliver a 45% increase in hydration and 78% reduction in the depth of wrinkles with its revolutionary formula of Padina pavonica. These algae, hand picked by scuba divers off the waters of Malta, mimic the skin’s own function. “It transforms the complexion in just two weeks,” comments Noella Gabriel, Elemis’ director of product and treatment development.

The Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Cream also features absolutes and ginkgo biloba liposomes said to facilitate the deep penetration of moisture into the skin.

In 1995, Estée Lauder acquired La Mer, a luxury brand that is now a complete range of facial skin care and body products sold in over 50 countries worldwide. The brand’s best seller, the moisturiser Crème de la Mer, features sea kelp, eucalyptus and calcium. In 2009 to mark the first World Ocean Day the company launched the limited edition La Mer World Ocean Day Moisturising Cream exclusively in the US. Sold at $745 per pot, its proceeds were donated to Oceana, a non-profit organisation that focuses on improving water quality and fish habitats.

Elemis best selling global product

Elemis best selling global product

Meanwhile a couple of months ago Erno Laszlo launched its first flagship boutique in London’s Covent Garden while also launching its new line, Laszlo Blue. Products including the Laszlo Blue Firmarine Lift Serum and the Laszlo Blue Firmarine Eye Therapy reportedly harness bio-marine ingredients to keep the skin younger and firmer.

Elsewhere, new company Yllume makes use of sea fennel stem cell infusion. This plant is found on the Brittany Coast in France and represents the latest in the line of marine actives available. The Yllume Ultimate Illuminating Complex claims to target and support the skin’s own stem cells, enhancing regeneration and improving wrinkled skin prone to excessive pigmentation.

Marine ingredients are not only about high street brands and not just about skin care either. PitRok for instance has recently launched PitRok Sea Minerals Shampoo, Conditioner and Bodywash. The products feature organic seaweed extract and Dead Sea salts and are suitable for both vegetarians and vegans.

Supplements are also another route for marine ingredients and lines such as Ocean Kelp (Higher Natural Principles) containing a seaweed formula are said to be ideal for vegetarians. The tablets feature natural iodine and trace minerals and the ingredients are sourced from clean ocean water.

Meanwhile, in the cosmeceutical channel, SkinCeuticals (L’Oréal) features products mainly sold through dermatologists and doctors’ surgeries. The Emollience and Daily Moisture products feature Brazilian marine extracts, grapeseed, rose hip and kelp. Brazilian sea algae is said to nourish and hydrate the skin while oils of grapeseed, rose hip and macadamia restore and maintain moisture.

A word of warning

As water remains the number one active used in most beauty products, the issue faced by manufacturers is how to minimise water pollution, use water sustainably and re-use it where possible. The fact that vegans, vegetarians and animal friendly consumers are most likely to avoid products that feature sea creatures and fish-based products on moral grounds is also worth bearing in mind when using marine ingredients.

In 2006 the EU imposed deep shark fishing limits in the North East Atlantic and pressure from environmental groups prompted manufacturers to begin phasing out the use of squalene in their products. Squalene is oil extracted from the liver of some species of shark and it can be particularly attractive to formulators as it has a shorter processing time than its counterpart olive oil.

Alistair Currie, policy advisor for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) comments: “According to Oceana, Unilever and L’Oréal have both phased out the use of shark-based squalene and several other companies – including Beiersdorf, Schwarzkopf & Henkel, Boots and Clarins – have either stopped using this ingredient or have never used it. The website is a great resource to track down which products contain certain ingredients and for finding out more.”

The use of whale-derived ingredients in cosmetics has sparked controversy too. Ambergris, derived from whale intestines was traditionally used in fragrances. According to Momand: “As with all natural ingredients, there are always going to be challenges that lie not just in the discovery of these new ingredients but also in achieving reliable and sustainable supplies of them, in a way that doesn’t harm anything.”

Probably the right approach is for manufacturers to consider marine cosmetics as part of a wider project encompassing sustainability and environmentally friendly practices, which has been a driver with organic products.

Possibly the use of algae extracts might look like the best bet for cosmetics given their abundance, sustainable harvesting and thanks to their multiple beauty benefits. And with marine biotechnology currently said to be one of the best ways to promote anti-ageing, combat inflammation and stop free radicals, there’s no reason why companies shouldn’t be able to combine high-tech products with the preservation of ocean life and the environment.