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Asian Skincare Ingredient 101: Seaweed Extracts

The ocean is amazing. That’s why I pay way too much money to live within walking distance of it and pay way too much money to eat its contents. Its depths contain countless mysteries, including supergiant (that’s the actual term) crustaceans and single-celled amoebas somehow 10cm in diameter. It houses an astonishing variety of wildlife, including animals with unearthly shapeshifting abilities. It’s where salt comes from. And it also provides one of my absolute favorite skincare ingredients: seaweed.

Not counting the unfortunate run-in I had with Crème De La Mer when I was about 20, I got my first real taste of seaweed as a skincare ingredient in 2015. A skincare swap with a friend landed me a bottle of a random obscure seaweed-containing serum out of a Memebox. The serum was okay, but something about the seaweed component in particular intrigued me. The rest is history.


Skincare benefits of seaweed extracts
Packed with polysaccharides, carotenoids, flavonoids, minerals, and beneficial fatty acids, seaweed makes for a highly nutritious (and freaking delicious) food. The same components may also make it highly beneficial to skin.

The polysaccharides and fatty acids in seaweed give it humectant and emollient properties: it adds hydration to skin and fills in the microscopic crevices at the surface of skin, giving an instantly plumper and smoother appearance. That’s an effect I’ve noticed time and time again in the seaweed products I love (which I’ll be listing and discussing down below!).

In addition to those immediate moisturizing effects, seaweed’s bevy of carotenoid and flavonoid antioxidants may make it a helpful ally in the eternal battle between free radicals and your skin. When left unchecked, free radicals produced by UV exposure and other environmental and lifestyle factors can damage cells and DNA, ultimately accelerating the visible aging process.

Antioxidants scavenge free radicals, neutralizing them before they cause harm to your cells. While I wouldn’t consider seaweed a first-line defense against skin aging, I love it as a supplement to my tret and sunscreen for keeping skin firm and resilient. Some seaweed-derived compounds show promise against hyperpigmentation, too.

A simple list of properties doesn’t quite do seaweed justice, though, at least for me. Plenty of products combine humectant, emollient, antioxidant, and brightening components. This is where the YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) aspect of skincare comes in. There’s a certain magic to the seaweed products I love, a perfect balance of different components, that simply delivers better results for me than most other products that theoretically should be comparable.

And with that, let’s get on with it: my favorite seaweed skincare products!

My picks for putting seaweed on your skin


Holy Snail's Shark Sauce

Holy Snails Shark Sauce

If you’re familiar with the history of Holy Snails and how Shark Sauce came to be, this one should be no surprise. Shark Sauce exists because I wanted a brightening serum in a seaweed base, and that is almost exactly what it is, except even better than my original idea. We don’t just use seaweed extract in this product.


Shark Sauce, Double Shark, and all the Sauce du Mois Shark Sauce variants, like Hanbang Shark and Great White Shark, utilize sea kelp bioferment. Fermented seaweed is also the star ingredient in La Mer products, but Holy Snails comes without the eye-watering price tag and whatever ingredient(s) in Crème De La Mer made my face explode all those years ago.

 Fermentation breaks down the compounds of the fermented ingredient into smaller and theoretically more bioavailable fragments, which may make it easier for skin to utilize to its full potential. I definitely feel it in the effects of Shark Sauce and Sauce du Mois. These serums don’t just gently brighten and fade hyperpigmentation. They also hydrate weightlessly and smooth the surface of my skin, leaving me silky all day and all night long.


Annie’s Way Hyaluronic Acid + Seaweed Hydrating Sheet Mask and Gingko + Seaweed Anti-Wrinkle Eye Mask

Seaweed also features prominently in these two Annie’s Way silk masks. If you watch my Instagram stories, you’ve probably seen both of these masks in my skincare routines, since I use them more often than any other sheet mask or eye mask in my stash.

Annie's Way Hyaluronic Acid & Seaweed Hydrating Sheet Mask

I love these masks. It’s not just the nearly weightless, nearly invisible, and perfectly clingy material they’re made out of, and it’s not just the generous soaking of hydrating serum each of them provides. Just about any mask can hydrate. But not just any mask can instantly and visibly firm and smooth my skin as much as the Hyaluronic Acid + Seaweed face masks can. And not just any eye mask can rapidly lift and tighten my eye area and iron away fine undereye lines like the Gingko + Seaweed eye masks can.

Annie's Way Gingko + Seaweed Anti-Wrinkle Eye Mask

I never want to be without a handful of each of these masks in my fridge. That’s why they’re the main attraction in my Instant Glow Skincare Kit here.


My Beauty Diary Repair Power and Moisture Power Brightening Black Pearl EX sheet masks

Like the two Annie’s Way masks I discussed above, My Beauty Diary makes sheet masks that belong in my “never want to go without them” category. I have a lot of favorites from this brand (possibly because almost all of their masks contain multiple seaweed extracts!). The two Brightening Black Pearl EX sheet masks are standouts.

Moisture Power Brightening Black Pearl EX Sheet Mask
I reviewed the Moisture Power Brightening Black Pearl EX masks on my own blog a couple years back and stand by what I said back then:

The main results of these masks are insanely hydrated skin. Insanely. It’s exactly the kind of hydrated skin that AB fans look for: plump and bouncy, the upper layers so full of hydration that skin gains a milky translucence from all the extra water beneath the surface. It’s skin that seems to drink in light, refracting it back out as a soft inner glow, rather than skin that just reflects it from a shiny surface. Luminous.

My Beauty Diary Repair Power Brightening Black Pearl EX Sheet Mask

My more recent use of the Repair Power Brightening Black Pearl EX masks yielded similarly spectacular results, with a bit less moisture but an extra boost in elasticity and general bounce.

As I mentioned, however, almost all My Beauty Diary masks utilize seaweed extracts, often several different ones. I believe that’s one of the reasons their masks have always worked so well for me—they’re on my permanent love list.

It may not be the most new or exciting ingredient in the skincare world, but seaweed in its various forms has been exceptionally reliable for my skin. If you haven’t tried it yet, grab something from my list and give it a shot. It might turn out to be just what your complexion needs!

And now I think I’ll order in some sushi.