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Applications of algae in cosmetics: an overview

Authors:
  • Institute of Science, Nirma University
  • Gujarat Biotechnology Research Center Gandhinagar

Abstract

Algae are oxygenic photosynthetic organisms that are mainly found in aquatic environments and wetlands. There is an increasing trend in the usageof photosynthetic microorganisms including macro- and micro-algae in the field of Cosmeceuticals by incorporating the bulk products extracted from its biomass into cosmetic formulations.There are many scientific corroboration that proves the competence of algae but of course, it depends on specific type of extract, how it is processed and its application. Due to the growing economic aspect of the cosmetic industry, the need for harmless and efficient natural raw ingredients has become an utmost necessity.According to certain research reports, algal products used in cosmeceuticals have been known to be suitable alternatives with constructive effect even after prolonged usage. Diverse algal species are now being used widely for the treatment of various skin related problems by acting as a moisturizer or texture enhancing, sunscreens, anti-wrinkling, etc. This review basically focuses on the commercial value of various algal products extracted from both macro- and microalgal species for its use as a substitute in the biotechnology and cosmetic industry.
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Applications of Algae in Cosmetics: An
Overview
Surabhi Joshi1, Roshani Kumari2, Vivek N. Upasani3*
B. Sc. student, Dept. of Microbiology, M. G. Science Institute, Ahmedabad, India 1, 2
Assoc. Professor, Dept. of Microbiology, M. G. Science Institute, Ahmedabad, India 3
ABSTRACT: Algae are oxygenic photosynthetic organisms that are mainly found in aquatic environments and
wetlands. There is an increasing trend in the usageof photosynthetic microorganisms including macro- and micro-algae
in the field of Cosmeceuticals by incorporating the bulk products extracted from its biomass into cosmetic
formulations.There are many scientific corroboration that proves the competence of algae but of course, it depends on
specific type of extract, how it is processed and its application. Due to the growing economic aspect of the cosmetic
industry, the need for harmless and efficient natural raw ingredients has become an utmost necessity.According to
certain research reports, algal products used in cosmeceuticals have been known to be suitable alternatives with
constructive effect even after prolonged usage. Diverse algal species are now being used widely for the treatment of
various skin related problems by acting as a moisturizer or texture enhancing, sunscreens, anti-wrinkling, etc. This
review basically focuses on the commercial value of various algal products extracted from both macro- and micro-
algal species for its use as a substitute in the biotechnology and cosmetic industry.
KEYWORDS: Cosmeceuticals, anti-tanning, anti-ageing, skin sensitizers, soothing agents, moisturizers, antioxidants,
texture enhancer, thickening agent.
I. INTRODUCTION
The term Cosmeceuticals is a consolidation of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, encompassing the biologically active
compounds retaining therapeutic value. These are assortments of various chemical compounds, some of which are
acquired from natural sources like plants, animals, algae, minerals, while others are synthetic like sodium lauryl
sulphate, PVP, ethyl paraben [1]. Algal products have been used in the cosmetic industry as antioxidants, sunscreens,
thickening agents, skin sensitizers, moisturizing agents to enhance the competence of skin against abrasions, tanning,
etc. [2]. Algae are primitive unicellular or multicellular eukaryotes, which are photosynthetic, i.e., they are primary
producers harnessing energy from sunlight and converting it into chemical energy for the biosynthesis of organic
compounds such as sugars. Algal species contain a green coloured pigment recognized as chlorophyll, which is an
imperative component in the process of photosynthesis. These pigments assist in absorption of energy from the light
source and transferring it to the reaction centre of photosystem I and II. These pigments can be differentiated into two
types, chlorophyll a and chlorophyll b. Thus, carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight are utilized, to convert oxygen into
sugars like glucose/starch and biomass [3]. Algal species can withstand extreme environment conditions of pH,
temperature, osmotic pressure, salinity, exposure to ultraviolet rays, anaerobiosis and are able to thrive efficiently under
these diverse conditions. They are able to defend its cellular components by the counter production of primary
metabolites such as oleic acids, vitamin E, vitamin B12, lutein, and zeaxanthin [4]. Secondary metabolites are also
generated under harsh conditions in which they might be present. These metabolites possess antibiotic and
antimicrobial effect against pathogenic fungi and viruses [5]. Algae are further divided into two major categories,
micro-algae and macro-algae.
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A. Micro-algae
Microalgae also known as blue green algae or cyanobacteria are prokaryotic, microscopic unicellular algae having an
approximate diameter of 1-50 µm. They are phototrophic, but some can also grow heterotrophically. They carryout
oxygenic photosynthesis that is quite similar to that found in terrestrial plants, utilizing carbon and light (radiant)
energy for their metabolism [6]. They exist individually, in chains or cluster. Micro algae contain phosphorous, calcium,
iron, vitamin A, B, C, E, folic acid, biotin, beta-carotene, pantothenic acid and vitamin B12 [7]. There are some micro-
algal species that can adapt to changes when phosphorus is exhausted in the environment; some species of microalgae
possess the ability to substitute non phosphorus membrane lipids in place of phospholipids [8].
B. Macro-algae
Macro-algae are eukaryotic, macroscopic multicellular algae, widely known as seaweeds. The habitat of macro-algal
species is marine water or sea water with the optimal availability of light [9]. They are benthic plants, therefore, their
viability depends on how closely attached they are with the seabed or a solid underlying layer of rock. Macro-algal
species have simple structure consisting of thallus, lamina, kelp, holdfast and frond sorus, thus morphologically
differentiating itfrom the typical terrestrial plant, consisting of complex tissue and organ organization [10].
Macro-algae can be divided into three major groups based on their pigmentation [9]:
Chlorophyceae (green algae)
• Phaeophyceae (brown algae)
Rhodophyceae (red algae)
II. RELATED WORK
According to “Malthusian Theory of Population”, Malthus predicted that exponential population burst would gradually
surpass the availability of food, and thus in 1890s experts suggested alternate food sources like algae, yeast, and fungi.
Therefore, to find an unconventional food source, researchers in 1948, were able to cultivate Chlorella under optimal
conditions in shallow ponds. It was observed that Chlorella pyrenoidosa was able to convert radiant energy in the
presence of CO2 into its biomass, which contained 50% protein [15]. Even today Chlorella spp. is being used as a
dietary supplement. Milledge, et al. (2014) in their paper “Macroalgae-derived biofuel: A review of methods of energy
extraction from seaweed biomass” stated that due to increased exploitation of algal products, the industry has gained a
multibillion-dollar status. Algal metabolites especially three major phycocolloids are being used proficiently in food
and cosmetic industry as value added ingredient [9]. Micro-algae have been used for various industrial applications,
mainly due to its ability to produce biologically active compounds. For obtaining such compounds, attention should be
given to the cultivation conditions of micro-algal species such as pH of the medium, incubation temperature, light
intensity, the type of bioreactor used and medium composition. These cultivation conditions influence the rate of
metabolism of the micro-algae used [4]. The different cultivation systems used in the Netherlands are horizontal tube
reactors, three-dimensional tube reactors, flat plate reactors and raceways [6]. For the extraction and purification of
phycoerythrin pigment from Mediterranean red algae (Corallina elongata), Rossano, et al. (2003) in their paper
“Extracting and purifying R-phycoerythrin from Mediterranean red algae Corallina elongata Ellis & Solander” stated a
one-step procedure, in which the purification was centred on the use of hydroxyapatite chromatography technique [19].
III. PIGMENTS PRODUCED BY ALGAE
A. RED ALGAE
The red algae produce a photosynthetic red protein pigment called phycoerythrin along with chlorophyll. This pigment
imparts color to red algae due to its light-harvesting property in which the red light is reflected, while blue light is
absorbed [19]. The protein is covalently bonded to phycobilins containing chromatophores. The presence of the stated
pigment enables these algal species to carry out the process of photosynthesis [20]. Some species of red algae used in
cosmetics are Irish moss, Gracillaria spp., Porphyra spp., etc.
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B. GREEN ALGAE
It produces photosynthetic pigment chlorophyll, which is able to trap light energy. This pigment is similar to the red
pigment called Haemoglobin present in human red blood cells. It provides oxygen to the exposed surface of the algal
species and prevents it from drying by moisturizing it. It also possesses anti-inflammatory effect [21]. Some species of
Green algae used in cosmetics are Chlorella vulgaris, Ulva lactuca, etc. β-carotene obtained from Dunaliella salina is
used as colorants and food supplements as a nutraceuticals as it is a precursor of vitamin A [22].
C. BROWN ALGAE
Fucoxanthin is a supplementary pigment found in the chloroplast of brown algae. It has tyrosinase inhibitory effects
which helps to reduce or control skin pigmentation, possesses anti-inflammatory effect and also, assists in preventing
natural aging of the skin by supporting the formation of collagen (a structural protein which tends to disperse with age).
Furthermore, the pigment moisturizes the skin and keeps the skin cells working efficiently [23]. Some species of brown
algae used in cosmetics are Isochrysis spp., Postelsiapa maeformis, Laminaria digilata, etc.
IV. BIOTECHNOLOGICAL APPLICATIONS OF MACRO- AND MICRO-ALGAE
Algal species are extensively sought after to aid in various biotechnological applications (Table 1). The use of algae has
been possible due to its features such as high growth rate, controlled pigmentation, simple harvesting methods,etc. that
makes it a suitable system for biotechnology. These algal species are used as biofertilizers to stimulate plant growth by
increasing the nutrient content. Organisms like Spirulina spp., Gigartina spp. and Chlorella spp. are used as dietary
supplements, providing high protein content that boosts immunity. Other unique species of algae are used specifically
for wastewater treatment and as stabilizing agents in food industry. Heterosigma spp. are being extensively and
selectively used as biofuel producers, these species are capable of producing biomass, which can be burned to produce
heat and electricity and reduce the concentration of harmful pollutants by converting them to organic residuals.
Table:1. Biotechnological applications of algae
Application
Organism
Type of algae
Fertilizers
Laurencia
obtuse
Rhodophyceae
Increase in plant length, potassium
content, leaves number, plant fresh
weight, and nitrogen content [11]
Nostoc, Anabaena
Cyanophyceae
Stimulates plant growth, fix
atmospheric nitrogen[12]
Dietary
Supplements
Spirulina s
pp.
Cyanophyceae
Contains 60% protein, source of
vitamin B, source of iron and
manganese [13]
Gigartina spp.
Rhodophyceae
Boosts immune system and fights
viruses [14]
Chlorella s
pp
.
Chlorophyceae
High protein
content, controls weight,
prevention from cancer, boost
immunity [15]
Biofuels producers
Heterosigma akashiwo
Raphidophyceae
Neutralizes nitric oxide gas.
Produces huge amounts of
carbohydrates that can converted into
bioethanol [16]
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Chlamydomonas reinhardtii
Chlorophyceae
Produce biomass, which can be
burned to produce heat and electricity
[17]
Stabilizing agent in
food products
Mastocarpus stellatus
Rhodophyceae
Excellent stabiliser in milk products,
reacts with the milk protein casein,
Also used for toothpaste, ice-creams
and lotions [17]
Wastewater
treatment
Scenedesmus
spp.
Chlorophyceae
Settling and bio flocculation,
simultaneous algae biofuel
production [18]
V. APPLICATIONS OF ALGAE IN COSMETICS
A. Skin whitening and anti-wrinkling
When direct exposure between skin and UV rays is established for a long period of time, the radiation is absorbed by
melanin, a complex polymer pigment which imparts colour to human skin and also acts as a protective barrier for
human skin cells [24].Thereby constant exposure to sunlight, increases melanin in the skin resulting in tanning.
Radiation from sunlight helps synthesize tyrosinase which helps to catalyse reactions for the formation of melanosomes,
which then mature into melanin and is further differentiated into keratinocytes to augment the dilapidation of skin.
Thus, the hydroxylation of L-tyrosine to 3, 4-dihydroxy-L-phenylalanine and L-DOPA takes place where the latter
undergoes oxidation resulting in the formation of dopaquinone. Melanin is then converted from the dopaquinone
formed. The large amount of melanin formed causes skin pigmentation and needs to be constrained. Thus, tyranose
inhibitors are used to catalyse rate-limiting step in the process of pigmentation [25]. Pigments from algae such as
fucoxanthin from brown algae Laminaria japonica, Alaria, chorda, and Macrocystis help to reduce the activity of
tyrosinase and melanogenesis [23].
B. Algae against skin aging
Skin aging is a complex biological activity which refers to the loss of elasticity of skin, appearance of fine lines, ridges,
creases and discoloration of the skin with growing age [26]. Our skin is subjected to extreme severities of harsh
environmental factors and thus, skin problems like dryness, thinning, skin laxity, fragility, enlarged pores, and sagging
of skin leads to premature wrinkles as the elastin fibres slowly undergo deterioration [27]. The natural process of
wrinkling of skin is amplified if there is a continuous exposure of heavy metals, nutrient deficiency, and lack of
moisture on the epidermis. The most common cause of skin aging is reactive oxygen species (ROS), such as peroxides,
superoxide, hydroxyl radical, and singlet oxygen. The protein kinase is stimulated by ROS which phosphorylates
transcription factor, activator protein 1,whose function is to usually control gene expression in response to cytokines.
This transcription factor triggers an increased regulation of matrix metalloproteinase leading to the dilapidation of
collagen from the skin [24]. Recent scientific studies have led to promising conclusions about how algal products, such
as vitamin E which is a fat soluble antioxidant and pigments such as carotene can rejuvenate and help the skin to be
immune towards skin aging, and also decrease the risk of skin cancer among the users [28]. The antioxidant properties
of β-carotene found in green and red algae help against skin aging [29]. Algal species such as Turbinaria ornate,
Ahnfeltiopsis, Colpomenia, Gracilaria, Halymenia, Hydroclathrus, Laurencia, Padina, Polysiphonia are used as anti-
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aging agents [30]. Mycosporine like amino acid (MAAs) protects against UV-A which can cause skin damage and
premature skin aging. MAAs are found in Porphyra umbilicalis [31].
C. Algae as moisturizing agent
A moisturizer is made up of a complex mixture of chemical compounds which make the epidermis of skin softer. If the
skin is not properly moisturized, it is prone to acne aggravation and can even cause eczema. Thereby, moisturizers help
in retaining the moisture of the skin preventing drying, bruising and wrinkling. Water along with certain acids such as
hyaluronic helps in moisturizing the human skin [32]. Polysaccharides such as alginate, agar, carrageenan, and
fucoidans (Table 4) from certain algal species help to regulate the distribution of water in the skin. These
polysaccharides are non-toxic, economical, abundant in the algal biomass which can be used as an alternative for
lightweight oils, such as acetyl alcohol, or silicone-derived ingredients [5]. Studies have shown how polysaccharides
from certain algal species like S. japonica, Chondrus crispus, and Codium tomentosum helps in the absorption of water
or moisture, providing soothing effect, that aids in proper water circulation. This keeps the skin moisturized in
extremely hot and dry environments [33].
D. Algae as thickening agent and skin sensitizer
Thickening agents are used in lotions or other cosmetic products if the water content is high in the formulation to
prevent inconsistency. Thickening agents used in cosmetics include polyethylene glycol and vegetable gum [34]. Agar
works as a binder which is found in the cell wall of red algal species Gracillaria and Gellidium. Carrageenan obtained
by Chondrus crispus, is another kind of thickening and stabilizing agent [35]. Some algal species can also be inculcated
in cosmetics as skin sensitizers as they contain pigments such as phycocyanin, proteins, vitamin A, sugars, carrageenan
which are useful and constructive for skin [36].
E. Algae as antioxidants
Antioxidants are chemicals that transfer electrons to an oxidizing agent providing glowing skin by preventing skin
damage. An antioxidant helps in skin tightening, reduction of wrinkles and reduces inflammation. Retinoic acid is a
type of vitamin A which reduces dark spots, dark circles and wrinkles, it also boosts skin elasticity [30]. It has been
found that cyanobacteria blooms produces retinoic acid [37]. Carotenoids are fat-soluble accessory pigments which
help algae to harvest light in conjunction with chlorophyll to carry on the process of photosynthesis [38]. Vitamin C
and Vitamin A serve as natural antioxidants. Algae like Spirulina maxima and Chlorella vulgaris contains vitamins
which also aids in skin toning, healing of dark circles, purifying skin, encouraging hair growth by treating dandruff [39].
VI. SOME OF THE ALGAL SPECIES USED IN COSMETICS
Algal species found in seabeds and pools, are collected and through different methods the biomolecules / pigments are
extracted and incorporated in certain cosmetic products with a wide range of functions. The metabolites serve as agents
for the treatment of skin, like anti-wrinkle or moisturizing agents. Polysaccharides such as alginates, carrageenan, and
agar derived from Phaeophyceae and Rhodophyceae act as gelling agents in various shampoos, lotions, etc. Apart from
this,the ingredients of macroalgae possess stabilizing, preserving and organoleptic (substances that can be perceived
through senses involving smell, touch and sight) properties (Table 2).
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Table:2. Macro algal species used in cosmetics
Algal
s
pecies
Type
Pigment
Fatty
acids/Metabolites
Applications
/
Products
Irish moss
Red
algae
Phycoerythrin
Omega
-
3
fatty
acids,
Omega-6 fatty acids
Emollient,
moisturizing,
s
heaths
damaged or dry hair, nutritive,
Skin soothing, anti-inflammatory [41]
Sea
Lettuce
(Ulvalactuca)
Green
algae
Chlorophyll
-
a,
Chlorophyll-b,
β-Carotene
O
leic
acid,
Linoleic,
and Linolenic acid
Antioxidant,
anti
-
inflanrnmtoiy,
skin
elasticity, collagen synthesis, anti-
wrinkle,emollient, moisturizing [42]
Sea
Palm
(Postelsiapal
maeformis)
Brown
algae
Chlorophyll
-
c
,
Fucoxanthin
Skin
softening,
anti
-
wrinkle,
nourishing, moisturizing, anti-
inflammatory [43]
Fucus
vesiculosus
Brown
algae
Chlorophyll
-
c
,
Fucoxanthin
T
i
ghtening effect and stimulates
metabolism [44]
Porphyra
umbilicalis
R
ed
algae
Phycoerythrin
a
-
L
inolenic
acid
,
Skin
-
conditioning agent [45]
Ascophyllum
nodosum
B
rown
algae
Chlorophyll
-
c
Fucoxanthin
,
Alginates
Anti
-
ag
ing agent, anti
-
wrinkle agent,
smoothing agent [46]
Unicellular microalgal species like Spirulina, Chlorella, and others find an active role in the cosmetic industry as the
pigments/metabolites produced by these organisms, enriches the beauty products. The amino acids and proteins from
certain species of algae possess natural moisturizing ability which is exploited to the utmost for the purpose of keeping
the skin hydrated and prevents drying of the skin cells [31]. Other algal metabolites such as lipids (carotenoids, sterols),
phycobiliproteins (phycocyanin), terpenoids and pigments, contains anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant activities,
alongwith acting as stabilizing agents in emollients. More effective bioactive compounds can be developed by gaining
better understanding of algal cultivation method and its genetics [40] (Table 3).
Table: 3. Micro algae species used in cosmetics
Algal
species
Type
Pigment
Fatty
a
cids
/
Metabolites
Applications
/
Products
Spirulina
Blue
green
algae /
cyanobacteria
Phycocyanin
Gamma
-
Linolenic
acid,
Phycocyanobilin,
Phycoerythrobilin
Anti aging, anti
-
wrinkle, collagen
synthesis, anti-inflammatory, nourishing,
antioxidant [47]
Isochrysis
Brown al
gae
Cantaxanthin,
Fucoxanthin
Mistiric Acid, Oleic
Acid
Antioxidant, s
uncare,
s
oothing
agent,
anti-irritant [48]
Dunaliella
salina
Green algae
Chlorophyll
-
a,
Chlorophyll-b,
β-Carotene
P
almitic acid
,
Linolenic acid,
β-Cryptoxanthin
Ant
ioxidants, smoothing agen
t
,
Anti-inflammatory [49]
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Chlorella
vulgaris
Green algae
Chlorophyll
-
a,
Chlorophyll-b,
β-Carotene
Palmitic acid
Palmitoleic acid,
Polysaccharides,
A
nti
-
aging, de
-
pigmentatio
n,
moisturizing and thickening agent [50]
Tetraselmiss
uecica
Green algae
Chlorophyll
-
a,
Chlorophyll-b,
β-Carotene
Palmitic acid,
Stearic acid
andVitamin E
-Tocopherol)
Anti
-
oxidant, protective activity
[51]
Botryococcus
braunii
Green
algae
Chlorophyll
-
a,
Chlorophyll-b,
β-Carotene
Palmitic acid,
Stearic acid
Anti
-
oxidant [52]
VII. COSMETIC PRODUCTS USING ALGAL METABOLITES
In the current scenario, a large number of small and large scale business entities have inclined profusely towards using
algal metabolites in their cosmetic products (Table 4). For example, the algal products of these companies range from
sea-wed powder and fertilizers from Red algae, algal proteins for hair therapy, astaxanthin in cosmetics, food and
beverages, etc. Swiss snow algae mixed with sea almond oil is used in anti-ageing cream. These companies often
guarantee the products to be completely organic and health centric. Organisms such as Spirulina, Dunaliella spp,
Chlamydomonas spp, etc. add value to these products by producing metabolites such as asthaxanthin, certain proteins,
MAA, etc. that facilitates in the nourishment of skin and hair. Red algal species possesses cleansing properties which
refine the skin assisting in the overall health of skin cells.
Table: 4. Companies using algal products
Compan
y
Product
name
Algae
Applications
/ Product
Reference
Aquarev
industries
-----
Red algae
Carrageenan and
Kappaphycus
alvarezii cultivation, sargassum
seaweed powder, seaweed,
liquid fertilizer
www.aquarev.in/
Algatech
-----
Green algae
Supplies astaxanthin, obtained
from Haematococcus pluvialis,
which is used as dietary
supplements, in cosmetics, food
and beverages.
https://www.algatech.com/
Nykaa
Iraya algae
body serum
Green algae and
Spirulina
It moisturizes and conditions
the skin, making it soft.
http://www.nykaa.com/
L’Oreal
Paris
Pure face
mask
Red algae
Made from clay and
red algae.
It exfoliates, refines the skin
and has cleansing properties of
Red algae.
https://www.lorealparis.co.in/
La Prairie
Cellular Swiss
ice crystal dry
oil
Snow algae
(Chlamydomonas
nivalis)
Anti
-
ag
ing cream which
contains Swiss snow algae
mixed with sea almond oil.
http://www.laprairieswitzerlan
d.com/
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Aubrey
Organics
Blue Green
Algae Hair
Rescue
Conditioning
Mask
Blue
-
green algae
Algal protein
present
helps in
strengthening of hair and
prevents breakage and split
ends.
http://aubreyorganics.com
Algenist
REVEAL
Color
Correcting
Eye Serum
Brightener
Green algae
(Dunaliella
salina,
(Haematococcus
pluvialis)
A concealer that reduces
uneven skin around the eye and
covers dark circles.
https://algenist.borderfree.com
Dove
Dove
Regenerative
Repair
Shampoo
Red algae
It provides nourishment to
damaged hair and repairs it,
restoring hair strength.
https://www.purplle.com
Jenelt
Ultra UV
Defence
Brightening
Cream with
SPF 30
Sunscreen
Red algae
(Porphyra
umbicalis)
A
sunscreen with
antioxidants
which prevents the skin from
UV rays and premature skin
ageing.
http://www.jenelt.com/
Osea
Osea eyes and
lips
Red algae
(Chondrus
crispus)
It hydrates the delicate skin
around the eyes and lips.
https://oseamalibu.com/
VIII. CONCLUSION
Algal species are now actively being utilized proficiently in the diverse cosmetic products as a reliable organic
ingredient and also to add value to these products. The main constituent of the algal product are the pigments produced
by these photosynthetic organisms. The algal metabolites such as polysaccharides, MAAs, proteins, etc. have diverse
functions and applications. They enhance the health of the skin by acting as anti-aging, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory,
anti-wrinkling and collagen boosting agent. Algal species are also used in various other biotechnological industries
such as biofuels, biofertilizers, dietary supplements, etc. This review mainly focuses on the growing applications of
algae in the cosmetic industry.
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https://www.organicconsumers.org/old_articles/bodycare/toxic_cosmetics.php.
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