Personal Care Ingredients Derived from Marine Species

By The Cosmetic Chemist Staff
June 15, 2018

illustration of marine species

In recent years, there has been a significant amount of interest in the personal care industry to discover novel compounds derived from marine fungi, algae, bacteria, and other species.1-3 The world’s oceans comprise rougly two-thirds of the Earth’s surface and provide a marine ecosystem for innumerable species of living organisms. These species must endure a variety of environmental conditions, which has lead to the evolution of a number of metabolites with unique properties. The pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries have taken great interest in harnessing the activity of these molecules for health and personal care applications.

Chitin is one of the most abundant biopolymers in nature and is found in many marine species. It is a polymer of repeating N-acetylglucosamine units that is an integral component of the exoskeleton of many insects and crustaceans (e.g., crabs, lobsters, shrimp, krill, etc.). Chitin is not soluble in water; however, after industrial processing it is converted to its deacetylated form, chitosan, which is soluble in slightly acidic aqueous environments. Further derivitization to carboxymethyl chitosan leads to water solubility over a wider range of pH and greater opportunities for use in various applications.4 There are actually a number of chitin and chitosan derivatives that are currently used or are being investigated for potential applications in hair, oral, and skin care.5 In oral and skin care, an attractive feature of chitin and chitosan derivatives are their antimicrobial properties. They also find potential use as humectants and moisturizing agents.

There has also been a great deal of interest in deriving proteins and peptides from marine fish for cosmeceuticals.6 Type I collagen is found in the skin of marine fish and can be extracted using either an acetic acid or pepsin method. The extracted collagen has many applications in skin care products designed for skin repair or tissue regeneration. It also has noteworthy potential in wound healing and tissue engineering applications. In the commercial space, most skin care preparations containing marine peptides are based on collagen.

Much interest has also been focused on elucidating the cosmeceutical properties of marine algal compounds and how they affect the skin. Marine algae—commonly known as seaweed—consists of brown algae (phaeophyta), green algae (chlorophyta), and red algae (rhodophyta). Some of the important molecules found in these algae and used in cosmetics consist of phlorotannins, sulfated polysaccharides, and tyrosinase inhibitors.7 Marine fungi and bacteria are also good sources of bioactive compounds, such as mycosporines, carotenoids, exopolysaccharides, and fatty acids.8 Overall, there are a number of application areas in cosmetics for marine-derived ingredients. Some of the most relevant application areas include photoprotection, anti-ageing, and skin whitening.

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7. N.V. Thomas and S.K. Kim, Beneficial effects of marine algal compounds in cosmeceuticals, Mar. Drugs, 11, 146-164 (2013).
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