What Does Algae Do for the Skin?

Seaweed has some amazing benefits for the skin, but oftentimes, products containing it such as La Mer can cost a pretty penny. However, Cassandra has found seaweed skincare products that are borderline dupes of La Mer(i.e ones that don’t cost $400 or require a psychic connection from a dead physicist to be made.) 

So, rather than speaking on the hype as many brands do, we are going to speak about skincare. What are the actual benefits of seaweed? How much should we be paying for those benefits, how do we use it, and is algae something that we absolutely need in our skincare routine? And since it comes from the ocean, how do we make sure that it’s harvested responsibly? 

First, let’s talk about the difference between seaweed and algae? 

Seaweed is that magnificent thing that grows at the bottom of the ocean or gets washed up on the coast. Seaweed is an umbrella term that refers to marine plants or algae. Algae is a specific term and an organism. It’s not a plant or an animal. They are eukaryotes that attain energy from photosynthesis. However, they lack many other structures of true plants. For example, algae do not have roots, stems, or leaves. Some algae also differ from plants in being able to move. They normally occur in moist soil and aquatic environments (Biology libra text), and there are many reasons it can beneficial for the environment, good proteins for our faces, and a sustainable solution for skincare. 

A lot of seaweed, including algae, used for skincare comes from the California coastline, Patagonia, and France. However, there are many different kinds. Kelp is what’s mostly used in skincare including La Mer. Kelp are large brown algae that live in cool, relatively shallow waters close to the shore. You can have red algae, blue algae, green algae, and when it comes to seaweed, there’s just as much diversity. You can have red seaweed, brown seaweed, and green seaweed which all come with different benefits.

In regards to the quality of each, the algae or seaweed mostly depends on how its sourced, formulated into products, and properly preserved. The formula determines how effectively the seaweed will be delivered into the skin.

So, in a good formula, what can seaweed (marine plants) actually do for the skin? 

Many studies have examined seaweed in skincare. Many of them have found that seaweed can act as powerful biological actives. One study specifically spoke about the different, valuable compounds they have like proteins, carbohydrates, fatty acids, amino acids, phenolic compounds, pigments, etc. These are all great compounds for barrier repair.

What are the benefits of algae?

One study in 2021 specifically said that algae could be used as an antioxidant, antimicrobial, antibacterial, anti-aging, anti-wrinkle, anti-acne, and moisturizing agent. Basically, it looks like certain types of algae have the potential to deliver on these skin concerns. However, it’s not guaranteed that they always will. More simply, it’s not yet definitive as to whether or not they cure acne or diseases. Algae can also emulsify skincare products (combine two ingredients that do not ordinarily mix).

Moreover, algae have been shown to greatly soothe acne-prone skin. It can give a lot of moisture, hydration, and skin support, specifically, in wound healing. 

As mentioned before, specifically algae can be very supportive and moisturizing to the skin. And while algae is not a plant, it conducts photosynthesis. Therefore, it has the capability to absorb UV rays. Now, while algae are not the same thing as sunscreen, algae can be used alongside sunscreen in order to help the way our skin processes UV rats. although 

Moreover, algae are a great source of amino acids and antioxidants. Given that, it’s very helpful to damaged skin barriers. If you’re looking for something moisturizing, nourishing, fights free radicals, and gives a glow underneath your sunscreen, algae, and seaweed marine plants are both very potent.

Overally, there are over 35,000 different types of algae and seaweed marine plants out there. So, it’s impossible to go through everyone, but a review paper showed that certain seaweed marine plants and algae can both have antimicrobial and anti-fungal activity that can not only benefit the skin but self-preserve a product (keep it fresh). 

The are many products available with them, and you can mix them with other ingredients. 

OSEA Hyaluronic Sea Serum - $88

For instance, this serum has three types of algae (gigartina skottsbergii extract, macrocystis pyrifera extract, and undaria pinnatifida extract), and it also has two types of hyaluronic acid. It’s fragrance-free, and it’s amazing for someone who needs moisture or to repair a damaged skin barrier. 

On the other hand, if you want a lightweight but very nice gelatinous serum for spring, this one from the ALGENIST also works very well. It’s very hydrating, and it almost feels like a cactus serum. It absorbs easily into the skin, and it helps greatly with fine lines, wrinkles, and dullness. We normally don’t see unscented luxury brands that are made ethically 

ALGENIST Blue Algae Vitamin C Brightening Serum - $72


This contains vitamin C along with blue algae which are both powerful antioxidants, but it does have a heavy fragrance though.

This is luxurious, vegan, and cruelty-free. It’s potent, fun, and comes out as a blue-green color. This goes along great with sunscreen because the blue algae specifically have antioxidant and UV-absorbing properties.

OSEA Advanced Protection Cream - $108

This is the Osea advance protection cream. Cassandra finds it to be extremely comparable to La Mer but at a fraction of the price. This product is made in the USA and has recyclable glass packaging. Many of OSEA’s products are made of seaweed from the California Coastline. La Mer’s creator, Max Huber used to source seaweed from the coast in San Diego, but now that it’s acquired by Estee Lauder, they don’t do that anymore.

The texture is not the same as La Mer because OSEA is a little more buttery, and the main ingredient in La Mer is petrolatum AKA vaseline. 

If you’re looking for something that Cassandra believes is worth the money, this is one of Cassandra’s favorite dupes for La Mer although not identical. It’s very Luxurious as well.

OSEA Seabiotic Water Cream - $54

OSEA also has this water cream. This is the seabiotic water cream. It’s a level up from the drugstore body creams that we’re all very familiar with. The formula is gorgeous, and it reminds Cassandra of something mermaid-like.

OSEA Undaria Algae Body Oil - $72

This is a great algae product, and Cassandra actually uses it as a cleanser. It has undaria algae and citrus.

But, if you are looking for something super inexpensive, there are other options

MARIO BADESCU Seaweed Night Cream - $22

This is an inexpensive seaweed product. It’s very nice on the skin, but it does have a powdery fragrance. Overall, the formula is very good. 

SEAWEED BATH CO Hydrating Soothing Body Cream (Unscented) - $7.99

This is under $10 on Amazon at whole foods. This is the hydrating soothing body cream, and Cassandra says that for the price, it’s very similar to La Mer.

Except for the BATH Co and Mario Badescu products, we know these are a little expensive, but at the same time, they’re much less expensive seaweed products than La Mer. And based on the ingredients and how they deliver on the skin, Cassandra feels that they are worth every single drop. 

Coverphoto credit:KLAUS VEDFELT/GETTY