Luxury Skincare Brands Are Leaning More Into Marine Ingredients — Here's Why

Everything is better near the ocean — and under it.

<p>Getty Images/ InStyle</p>

Getty Images/ InStyle

Bio-technology and highly-trained chemists often come to mind when thinking about the future of skincare. And while there's certainly truth to that theory, it would be a disservice to turn a cheek to the many wonders of the natural earth that already exist — namely the sea.

Here, we share why more and more marine ingredients are being found in skincare, as well as their benefits.


Known to many as a delicacy best paired with champagne and a cocktail dress, caviar holds more than a handful of anti-aging secrets. In 1987, La Prairie's group of scientists began to look into whether its nutritional aspect could translate into skincare benefits, and what they found has been the center of its iconic Skin Caviar and White Caviar collections.

"Compositional analyses and a vast array of tests have allowed us to build a holistic understanding and mastery of caviar science," says Dr. Jacqueline Hill, Global Director Strategic Innovation & Science at La Prairie. Of its many benefits, caviar has been found to be rich in amino acids, containing the proteins, vitamins, and minerals required for the structure and vitality of the skin. Furthermore, Dr. Hill explains that caviar extracts boosts collagen production in skin cells and naturally-occurring ceramides.

La Prairie uses Acipenser baerii caviar for its Skin Caviar collection and Acipenser gueldenstaedtii caviar for its White Caviar collection — but of course, the final formulations are fine-tuned by some of the world's most highly regarded scientists to maximize the potential of caviar. Most recently, the brand partnered with a Swiss bioanalytical laboratory to develop test protocols that allowed them to identify and quantify components of skin ligaments. "The next step was to screen active ingredients to verify whether we could improve the structure of skin ligaments," shares Dr. Hill. The result of that research was the brand's new Skin Caviar Harmony L'Extrait, which improves the skin ligaments to help create a more contoured, youthful look.


<p>Courtesy of La Prairie</p>

Courtesy of La Prairie

Marrying natural ingredients with scientific innovation isn't groundbreaking news. However, what is eyebrow-raising is how ingredients can be completely reimagined in a lab to be more ethical and sustainable, all while being bio-identical to its original form.

That&#39;s where squalane comes into the conversation.

Biotech company Amyris took squalene — a top-tier occlusive emollient found naturally in our skin and, when sourced for skincare, is traditionally extracted from shark livers — and created a bioengineered a sugarcane-derived alternative that's vegan, clean, and effective.

"An estimated 3,000 sharks are required to produce just under one ton of squalene and up to 2.7 million deep-sea sharks per year were killed to meet the global demand for squalane in the cosmetics industry alone," explains Ana Kertesz, Amyris Chief Growth Officer and President of Amyris Studios.

She says that this plant-derived, sustainable, ethical, and renewable version of nature’s most effective emollient saves two million sharks per year — which is applaudable considering the rapid decline of shark populations due to overfishing and the demand for their meat and fins. And while they often get a bad rep for their portrayal in horror films such as "Jaws" and "The Shallows," sharks are crucial for maintaining the ocean's ecosystem — their extinction would be detrimental.

Its this bio-engineered squalane thats essential to all of Amyris's brands — including Costa Brazil, Pipette, and Biossance — not to mention the dozens of external brands that Amyris shares their technology with. And at a 94 to 97% purity, it's the purest form of sustainable squalane on the market. "As a skincare ingredient it literally has everything going for it: A biomimetic emollient with best-in-class moisturizing power and sustainably produced," adds Daan Thorn Leeson, Senior Director of Product Innovation at Amyris.

So sure, under the sea may be where we want to be, but if endangered marine ingredients can be used as inspiration and act as a catalyst for a better future, even better.


<p>Courtesy of La Mer</p>

Courtesy of La Mer

When speaking of marine life and conserving it within the beauty industry, the conversation goes beyond preserving certain species — we must think about underwater plants, such as marine flora.

Kelp holds a growing secret...

Giant sea kelp has the natural ability to regenerate itself at a rate of up to a foot and a half per day. This is why kelp forests are so large, reaching up to 262 feet in length. This makes for perfect homes for marine life, but its skincare potential is not to go unnoticed.

In fact, when aerospace physicist Dr. Max Huber suffered an accident that covered him with severe chemical burns, he harnessed kelp's power to help heal his skin. It took 12 years and over six thousand experiments, but he eventually landed on a fermentation process that transformed sea kelp and other pure ingredients into Miracle Broth — La Mer's winning secret.

"A three-to four-month bio-fermentation process transforms natural sea kelp, vitamins, and other pure ingredients into the skin-soothing miracle at the heart of La Mer. In this time-honored tradition of fermentation, individual ingredients undergo a metabolic process that transforms them into micronutrients that the skin can more readily recognize and receive," shares Paul Tchinnis, the Executive Director, R&D for La Mer.

To source the kelp, La Mer's team hand-harvests only the top fronds of giant sea kelp to ensure the ecosystem remains intact. "By cutting the top fronds, we allow the sun to penetrate further down into the water, providing more energy for the plant to regenerate," explains Tchinnis.

From there, he says the sea kelp is then placed on ice and flown to the Max Huber Research Labs where it begins its transformation into Miracle Broth, the legendary elixir that flows through all La Mer's products, such as the brand's new Concentrate.

Of course, kelp is just one type of algae.

There are an estimated one million species of algae.

But that's not why it's so popular in skincare. "Algae has a host of skin benefits including hydration, anti-aging, skin detoxification, and free radical protection, to name just a few," says MARA founder, Allison McNamara.

MARA uses a proprietary blend of wild collected algae that consists of brown algae and microalgae, but adds different types of algae and sea ingredients depending on the formula, such as chlorella, blue sea kale, sea lavender, and kelp. "Our proprietary blend serves as the base in every MARA formula and stimulates natural hyaluronic acid synthesis in the skin, which keeps the skin supple and hydrated–a key pillar of our formulations," says McNamara of its star marine ingredient blend. "It’s loaded with phytonutrients and fatty acids to plump, firm and smooth, and protects against free radical damage."

As a Southern California native, she shares that she always looked to the sea for its restorative properties, so when she began doing research for her brand, it was second nature to look toward the ocean. "I was blown away with the literature and raw materials we found in the algae space and knew then that I wanted to build a line around clean, sustainably sourced algae," she furthers.

Many other brands have taken notice, too. One Ocean Beauty, for example, harnesses the power from a variety of algae from around the world with cutting-edge blue biotechnology to reproduce other marine ingredients through bio-fermentation in a lab. The marriage of natural and high-tech, in this case, produces first-in-class products — such as its Bioactive Body Sculpting Marine Cream.

Sisley-Paris leans into a brown algae called Padina pavonica, popularly known as the peacock's tail, to promote plump, bouncy skin. Its extract is featured front and center in several of its products, notably its Supremÿa La Lotion and Hydra Global.

Tatcha is another one, using Okinawa red algae at the center of all its products to increase barrier function, replenish the skin’s natural hydration reservoir, and boost its moisture-retention capabilities. But more on Tatcha in a moment.

<p>Courtesy of MARA</p>

Courtesy of MARA

When speaking of the luxuries of the ocean, we must address pearls.

Typically found in fine jewelry and as high-end embelishments in both apparel, footwear, and bags — pearls have been status items for a very long time. The American Gem Society even says the oldest known pearl jewelry was discovered in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess who died in 520 BC, and that ancient Greeks thought pearls to be the tears of Gods. Their scarceness has lead to their allure, both in fashion and in skincare.

"Pearl is rich in calcium, magnesium, over 15 amino acids, and other minerals. It is naturally rich in antioxidants, which help to neutralize free radicals and minimize the signs of premature aging on skin," explains Rose Sparacio, Vice President of Product Development at Tatcha.

"Ancient Japanese beauty wisdom has long recommended ingesting crushed pearl powder in tea or mixing it with water for facial treatments. Japanese Ama, female free-divers, would dive up to 30 meters to collect the precious gem," shares Sparacio "Today, we source our crushed pearl powder from Japanese Mother of Akoya Pearl, which comes from the inner lustrous layer of the shell."

Pearl can also be found in Clé de Peau's Wrinkle Smoothing Serum Supreme, QMS's Advanced Pearl Protein Day & Night Cream,

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