Marine microalgae, commonly known as seaweed, contains bioactive compounds that have a variety of uses in the formulation of skin care products. It can be used as an additive, an active ingredient or as a gelling, thickening, texturizing, emulsifying or moistening agent. Seaweeds are also low-cost and renewable.
According to Life Technology, seaweed has been used in cosmetics for centuries, but, despite its myriad of beneficial ingredients — including antioxidants, vitamins and minerals — the ability to use the superfood in cosmetics has been hampered by challenges in extracting its compounds.
A recent article by scientists from Brazil demonstrates that all of the raw material from seaweed can be transformed into cosmetics ingredients using green technology that is available now.
“The article arose from the idea of connecting the development of relevant scientific research on the macroalgal universe with potential demand from the cosmetics industry,” said Leonardo Zambotti Villela, a researcher with the University of São Paulo’s Institute of Chemistry and the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Laboratory, who was one of the authors of the article, as the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) reported. “We conducted a review of the literature to explore how macroalgal extracts are currently used and see what other activities are possible and worthwhile for the cosmetics industry. We set out to build all the knowledge in the scientific and industrial literature into biorefining scenarios and strategies so that seaweed can be 100% converted into ingredients. This entailed developing a pipeline from collection or production of macroalgae to post-production processing.”
The article, “Macroalgae Biorefinery for the Cosmetic Industry: Basic Concept, Green Technology, and Safety Guidelines,” was published in the journal Phycology.
Villela said the researchers’ goal is to analyze the protocols that can help apply the results from the scientific research to real-world industry. Villela believes that numerous aspects of biotech research have not been examined in depth.
“The industry can only use findings on toxicity and biological activity, such as anti-aging and anti-oxidizing effects, among others, if they come from experiments that strictly follow the protocols of agencies such as the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] and ISO [International Organization for Standardization]. Our study offers a shortcut to this transition,” Villela said, as reported by FAPESP.
A more thorough examination of the potential of seaweed extracts could allow the cosmetics industry to meet currently favored government, social and environmental sustainability requirements.
The complexity of seaweed’s combination of compounds, which include proteins, polysaccharides and lipids, has made them traditionally hard to purify and extract, Life Technology reported.
Extraction methods have involved using harsh chemicals that can be harmful to humans and the environment, besides resulting in poor quality extracts and low yields.
The researchers put together evidence on the potential of Brazilian seaweed.
“We’ve always been at the forefront of biotech and ecology, especially bioprospecting and ecotoxicological research,” Villela said, according to FAPESP. “Also, for many years we took part in the Brazilian Antarctic Program [Proantar] and collected macroalgae from the Antarctic for environmental research and to prospect for biological assets.”
Green technology could alter the methods by which seaweed is extracted and used to make cosmetics, reported Life Technology. One promising possibility is supercritical fluid extraction, an approach that uses carbon dioxide to extract seaweed’s beneficial compounds.
Supercritical carbon dioxide is an environmentally friendly solvent that is nonflammable and nontoxic and can be used in the extraction of a variety of natural compounds. Due to its ability to be highly selective, it can be utilized to extract particular compounds from complex mixtures.
The Brazilian research group is a member of a network of researchers called Redealgas that is associated with institutions that look at algae’s potential environmental, social and biotechnological impacts.
“It’s a highly productive network from the standpoint of academic output as well as patents. It also works with coastal communities on social programs for their professional development,” Villela said, as FAPESP reported.
Using green technology to extract beneficial compounds from seaweed could allow for its complete use in the creation of more environmentally friendly cosmetics products and provide more economic opportunities for seaside communities by developing new markets for seaweed, reported Life Technology.