Seaweed in perfumes and skin care

Photo by Romel Hall (taken from the Barbados Photographic Society) of Sargassum seaweed covering an East Coast beach in Barbados

Photo by Romel Hall of Sargassum seaweed covering an East Coast beach in Barbados.  Taken from the Barbados Photographic Society. Copyright Romel Hall.

“Love is like seaweed, even if you have pushed it away, you will not prevent it from coming back.” – Nigerian proverb

With current focus on the uncontrollable amounts of Sargassum seaweed washing up on the beaches here in Barbados and other Caribbean islands, let’s look at some of the ways seaweed is used in both commercial and natural perfumes as well as in skincare and beauty products.

Sargassum is just one variety of seaweed. It is a brown seaweed that grows several metres and is usually found floating in huge flat masses in the open ocean.  The type washing up on the shores of Barbados originates from the Sargasso Sea in the middle of north Atlantic ocean, and also possibly the Southern Atlantic and northern Congo River.

In skincare many different varieties of seaweed are used including Fucus vesiculosus L. also referred to as Bladder seaweed, Dictyota dichtoma from Scandinavia and Carragheen also known as Irish Moss.

Sargassum seaweed, east coast Barbados. Photo by H. Oxenford. Taken from

Sargassum seaweed, east coast Barbados. Photo by H. Oxenford. Taken from

Seaweed, like most oceanic materials, naturally absorbs its nourishment from the sea and therefore contains a considerably high content of minerals, trace minerals such as iodine, calcium, potassium, iron, amino acids and vitamins. This makes it an extremely attractive and marketable natural ingredient for beauty companies.  Seaweed is frequently harvested by hand and then processed into an extract so that it can be incorporated into beauty products. Whether much or all of the valuable nutrients found in seaweed are lost during the extraction process is uncertain. Beauty companies are nevertheless keen to tout the supposed benefits of seaweed in their products – which include collagen enhancing, rejuvenating, skin firming, antioxidant and hydrating.

Crème de La Mer is a luxury cosmetics brand which uses fermented seaweed extract as the central ingredient in its range of products. The seaweed is combined with other ingredients such as mineral oil, petrolatum, glycerin, lime extract, lanolin alcohol, sesame seed and eucalyptus leaf oils.


la mer cleansing gella mer

The Body Shop also has an entire seaweed skin care range which uses wild-harvested seaweed from Ireland, and is designed for oily and combination skin.

bodyshop2Seaweed absolute is a very thick, dark brown or green natural perfume material distilled from seaweed in France. It is a rare, fairly expensive ingredient that niche, artisan perfumers use when creating fresh, marine-inspired fragrance notes. It has been described as smelling like “….seaweed drying on a saltwater beach after a heavy storm or surf.” Seaweed absolute also has a mossy, herbaceous, green aroma and perfumers will often pair it with complementary natural materials such as oakmoss, patchouli, carnation, cedarwood, pine and lavender.  Lush Cosmetics also uses seaweed absolute in their Sea Vegetable Soap.

Floating sargassum seaweed photo by Seabird McKeon. From the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.

Floating sargassum seaweed photo copyright Seabird McKeon. From the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.

Commercial perfume companies use seaweed and marine notes in general to convey the idea of “beachy”, by-the-sea-freshness and clean, natural, rugged living. Most perfumers working for the commercial brands, rather than use seaweed absolute, will more often create aquatic accords from synthetic and natural materials. In 2012 Oscar de la Renta introduced Sargasso – an aquatic fragrance for women which featured notes of seaweed, cucumber, citrus and patchouli. And last year British perfumer Jo Malone launched Wood Sage & Sea Salt, inspired by the unique character of British beaches and intended to evoke the feeling of pleasure and freedom associated with rocky, windswept shores.

In an upcoming post we will look at why seaweed, and the sea in general, smells the way it does.

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