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Marine ingredients and the skin.

Just as we learned early in life that 70% of the human body is composed of water, water covers approximately the same percentage of the earth's surface. While fishing and harvesting of algae have occurred throughout human history, (1) it has been only since the 1970s that widespread scientific interest in the great biologic and chemical diversity of the vast oceans of the world has led to investigations into medical and cosmetic applications of the rich life beneath the sea. (2) During this period, the marine environment has been found to boast multiple organisms with unique metabolisms adapted for survival in challenging conditions, yielding secondary metabolites, some of which have become valuable in the pharmaceutical and cosmeceutical markets. (3,4) Thus, the inclusion of bioactive substances from the sea in drugs and cosmetic products is primarily a recent phenomenon. (1) In fact, marine ingredients in cosmetics are thought to confer various benefits to skin health, including antioxidant, antiacne, antiwrinkle, and antityrosinase activity. (3)

Chemistry and biologic activity

Several marine microbial natural products have been found to display antimicrobial, antitumor, and anti-inflammatory activity. (2,5) And seaweed extracts (green, brown, and red algal compounds that include constituents such as phlorotannins, sulfated polysaccharides, and tyrosinase inhibitors) have been incorporated into cosmeceutical products, with a long history of traditional folk uses for various health--including skin--conditions. (3,6,7) Kim and Li reviewed the beneficial health effects of marine fungi-derived terpenoids in 2012, reporting that hundreds of these compounds have been discovered in the last few decades, with many exhibiting anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antimicrobial, and antioxidant activity. (8,9) Terpenoids, or isoprenoids, are a subclass of prenyllipids, which include prenylquinones, sterols, and terpenes, the largest class of natural substances. (10)

The terpenes are the largest group of biologically diverse marine compounds, and include the pseudopterosins, which are structurally discrete active metabolites of the Caribbean gorgonian soft coral Pseudopterogorgia elisabethae, which is native to the waters of the Caribbean Sea, Central Bahamas, Bermuda, the West Indies, and the Florida keys. (11,12) The most common gorgonian corals are diterpenes. (13) Twenty-six derivatives of the octocoral P. elisabethae (designated PsA-PsZ), also known as the sea whip, sea fan, or sea plume, have been isolated. (11,12,14) Pseudopterosins were first isolated in 1986. (14,15)

Based on the identified biologic activities, particularly anti-inflammatory capacity, of pseudopterosins, researchers have investigated their potential for treatment of various conditions including asthma, cancer, contact dermatitis, dermatoheliosis, HIV photodamage, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis. (1,11)

After decades of extensive research of pseudopterosins, these tricyclic diterpene glycosides are thought to provide superior anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, compared with standard anti-inflammatory treatments, without inducing adverse side effects; they also offer marked antimicrobial and wound-healing effects. (3,11,14,16,19)

Other marine diterpene glycosides include eleutherobins and fucosides, which also exhibit notable biologic activity. (15) In particular, the anti-inflammatory and analgesic activities of pseudopterosins have been found to be concentration- and dose-dependently more potent than the standard-bearing indomethacin. (11,14,17)

Marine ingredients in topical formulations

The first product to include pseudopterosins was the skin formulation Resilience marketed by Estee Lauder more than a decade ago. (19,20) Natural marine ingredients have since been incorporated into a few more products, such as Imedeen, an oral skin care preparation that contains Marine Complex. (21)

In 2012, Rietveld et al. ascertained whether the Marine Complex from Imedeen could variously alter skin morphogenesis in female and male human skin equivalents. Cells were culled from female and male donors between the ages of 30 and 45 years for human skin equivalents that were cultured for 7 or 11 weeks with or without Marine Complex. The investigators found that the number of Ki67-positive epidermal cells was greatly augmented by Marine Complex in female human skin equivalents. The Marine Complex significantly spurred the level of secreted procollagen I and elevated the deposition of laminin 332 and collagen type VII in the dermis. Human skin equivalents treated with Marine Complex also exhibited more viable epidermal cell layers and a thicker dermal extracellular matrix, compared with controls, with these effects less salient in male human skin equivalents. The investigators concluded that supplementation with Marine Complex positively stimulated overall human skin equivalent tissue formation, with its effects on the basement membrane and dermal constituents suggestive of potential for use against human skin aging. (21)

Previously, Xhauflaire-Uhoda et al. evaluated the skin hydrating and firming dose-response effects of cosmetic preparations enriched in algae- and fish collagen--derived substances in randomized, controlled, double-blind medium-term (12 subjects aged 18-55 years) and short-term (3 subjects over the age of 50) trials. In the short term, serum formulations enriched in marine compounds manifested a superior moisturizing effect on the forearm, compared with creams. In later stages, cream formulations were more active, especially after repeated applications. Investigators observed a sustained firming activity in association with both the lotion and cream during treatment, but such results did not persist after treatment was stopped. (22)

Product development

Technologic advances, including sampling strategies, nanoscale nuclear magnetic resonance for structure determination, total chemical synthesis, fermentation, exploration of genomic and metagenomic resources, combinatorial biosynthesis, synthetic biology, and biotechnology represent important ways in which novel marine natural products are being developed, according to several authors. (1,2,4)


Marine ingredients are a relatively new and fascinating category of substances that can and are being harnessed for pharmaceutical, cosmeceutical, cosmetic, and nutritional uses.

Beyond the challenges of obtaining sufficient raw materials and producing effective formulations, the continued viability of such resources may be threatened by human exploitation of the seas and climate change. That said, the oceans offer the greatest biodiversity on the planet and dermatologic preparations derived from such sources present intriguing possibilities, particularly the apparent anti-inflammatory activity of gorgonian and other terpenes. These compounds appear to have the potential to replace, or serve as desirable alternatives to, conventional therapies for inflammatory skin disorders.


(1.) Biotechnol Adv. 2011;29(5):468-82.

(2.) Mar Drugs. 2013;11(3):700-17.

(3.) Mar Drugs. 2014;12(2):1066-101.

(4.) Future Med Chem. 2011;3(12):1475-89.

(5.) Org Lett. 2000;2(4):507-10.

(6.) Mar Drugs. 2013;11(1):146-64.

(7.) J Cosmet Dermatol. 2014;13(1):56-67.

(8.) Adv Food Nutr Res. 2012;65:409-13.

(9.) Crit Rev Microbiol. 2011;37(3):245-9.

(10.) Nat Chem Biol. 2007;3(7):408-14.

(11.) J Drugs Dermatol. 2013; 12(10): 1177-9.

(12.) J Ind Microbiol Biotechnol. 2006;33(7):532-8.

(13.) Nat Prod Rep. 2009;26(5):681-710.

(14.) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 1986;83(17):6238-40.

(15.) Bioorg Med Chem. 2011;19(22):6702-19.

(16.) Arch Biochem Biophys. 2004;424(1):97-104.

(17.) Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2006;15(2):143-52.

(18.) J Nat Prod. 2004;67(10):1672-80.

(19.) Mar Drugs. 2004 May;2:73-82.

(20.) J Nat Prod. 2004;67(8):1216-38.

(21.) J Cosmet Dermatol. 2012;11(3):213-22.

(22.) Int J Cosmet Sci. 2008;30(2):131-8.


Dr. Baumann is chief executive officer of the Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in the Design District in Miami. She founded the Cosmetic Dermatology Center at the University of Miami in 1997. Dr. Baumann wrote the textbook "Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice" (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002) and a book for consumers, "The Skin Type Solution" (New York: Bantam Dell, 2006). She has contributed to the Cosmeceutical Critique column in Dermatology News since January 2001. Her latest book, "Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients," was published in November 2014. Dr. Baumann has received funding for clinical grants from Allergan, Aveeno, Avon Products, Evolus, Galderma, GlaxoSmithKline, Kythera Biopharmaceuticals, Mary Kay, Medicis Pharmaceuticals, Neutrogena, Philosophy, Topix Pharmaceuticals, and Unilever.


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Title Annotation:Cosmeceutical Critique
Author:Baumann, Leslie S.
Publication:Dermatology News
Date:May 1, 2016
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