Posts Tagged ‘algae’

Guides: Algenist and other products using algae

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

By Hannah Sivak, PhD
Biochemist
Skin Actives Scientific LLC
Gilbert, AZ

Algenist and its “alguronic acid” are a special case of marketing. You see, alguronic acid does not exist, even it sounds real (like hyaluronic acid). Whay you will find in the ingredient list is “microalgae exopolysaccharides”. I have the resources to find scientific information about real stuff, but with so many microalgae and so many exopolysaccharides, there is no way to find out what this “alguronic acid” may be.

Algal polysaccharides vary a lot in structure and physical properties, and many of them are already used in skin care so it is not a bad idea to exploit these resources, especially when you are trying to make money. Why do I object, then? Scientific language is important in communication, and a clear chemical nomenclature in is essential to allow the exchange of ideas between scientists and with the public. Inventing fake names does not help. Also, to tell the public that a great discovery has been made of a non-existent chemical is fraud.

The company producing the ingredient is Solazyme, a company created to bring an alternative source of energy to the table, whose main objective seemed to be obtain alternative fuels extracted from microalgae cultures to replace dwindling fossil fuels.

Obtaining usable fuel from microalgae as a money making venture is not easy because microalgae culture requires a certain investment of fossil fuel energy to culture the algae and to extract the “fuel” from the culture. Energy (and money) is needed to keep clean the filters that separate algae from the medium. In some conditions, microalgae will secrete polysaccharides that will “foul” the filters. Solazyme and their consultants came with a way to recoup some of the money expended in cleaning the filters: use this gunk that clogs the filters to make expensive skin care products.

I was not surprised to see more annoying marketing tools used by Algenist.

The fallacy:
“Think about how algae can live anywhere, live in the coldest of places, or the harshest of places, and think about translating that to skin care”.

Plants and bacteria can live in very extreme conditions, and research into how they achieve this feat can be illuminating. But the chemicals involved in survival are tied to the peculiar way the plant or bacterial cells are organized, the same chemicals will be usually useless when “translated” into skin care products.

If you wish to find useful algal polysaccharides, come to Skin Actives. We know a lot about algae, we know a lot about plant polysaccharides, and we know quite a bit about skin care.

Some special carbohydrates we use in Skin Actives products:
Macrocystis pyrifera, the substrate in our bioferment, alginic acid, laminaran, and fucoidan, all polysaccharides. We at Skin Actives have been using algae exopolysaccharide for a long while: the extracellular polysaccharide produced by Porphyridium – a red alga, has sulfate groups attached to the backbone are non-reducing terminal D-xylopyranosyl and galactopyranosyl residues. It is known that this polysaccharide has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and the xylitol residues may be responsible in part for the anti-inflammatory activity (we use xylitol in our anti-inflammatory cream).

Fucoidans are sulfated polysaccharides with a structure that depends on the plant source, and growing conditions. Applied to the skin fucoidan will increase the density of collagen bundles, decrease activity of proteases (enzymes that break down dermal proteins), increase scavenging of free radicals and increase cell proliferation. These effects would be mediated through increased expression of integrin a2Ăź1 and may also help with wound healing. In addition to assisting in collagen synthesis, fucoidan inhibits the replication of many viruses, including herpes, human cytomegalovirus, HIV-1 and others. Fucoidan has been shown to inhibit the binding of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (involved in human ulcers) to stomach epithelial cells.

The beta glucan we use is extracted from yeast and similar to those in Maitake mushroom, but different from oat beta glucans. The difference is in the way the sugar subunits are linked to each other, changing the tridimensional structure and affecting the way they relate to the immune system, which recognizes shape. The cell wall of yeast is very complex , with a structure that is still being studied and seems to include beta(1–> 3)-glucan, beta(1–> 6)-glucan, chitin, and mannoprotein. Apparently, the stimulating effect of these carbohydrates is not acquired through encounters with pathogens the way we acquire immunity to most microorganisms, but is innate, i.e. present in our genetic make-up. When we come in contact with these very special carbohydrates, our immune system seems to activate so that, when we come in contact with a pathogen, we are better able to deal with it and stop an infection.
Xanthan gum is a bacterial exopolysaccharide used to thicken skin care products and foods and is present in our European cream.

Update 4/6/2011. I received a comment via email, something very unusual for an Ebay guide. It suggested that my comment was “sour algae”. I replied that my comment did not refer to the possible quality of the product (which I did not try) but to the scientific (unscientific) aspects of the marketing. I despise the misuse of science to commit fraud. It is the equivalent of a medical doctor violating the Hippocratic oath. I know that scientists don’t have such an oath but maybe they should.

I can’t offer an opinion on the so called alguronic acid and its effect on human skin because I can’t offer an opinion on something that does not exist.