It has been said that Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love who arose from the foaming depths of the sea, owed her supple skin, shiny hair and sparkling eyes to the natural elements surrounding her -- seaweed, sea mud and sea salt. Packed with vitamins, minerals and proteins, these sea treasures aren't just the stuff of myths; in products, they can do everything from help clear up acne to add luster to the hair.
The effectiveness of these ingredients seems to lie partly in the similarity between seawater and human blood plasma. "The percentage of dissolved minerals in blood is similar to that of seawater," says Ryan Drum, Ph.D., a biomedical herbalist, member of the American Herbalist Guild and expert in seaweed therapy in Danby, Vt. Because of this similarity, when the body encounters the sea or a sealike environment, the skin doesn't have to protect itself from the outside elements. "It's a relaxing, overall 'ahhh' experience for the skin," Drum says. Products containing sea ingredients, while having the ability to exfoliate and smooth the skin, also contain vitamins and antioxidants that may help quell skin-damaging free radicals. How to solve summer beauty problems with sea-based products:
Problem: Rough, scaly skin you want to hide under a towel
Sea solution: Because sea salts are rough-textured, they're effective exfoliants, helping to smooth the skin. Choose one that includes skin-soothing oil in its ingredient list -- and use once or twice weekly while in the shower. Good bets: Biotherm Aquathermale Polishing Body Mud ($19; biotherm.com), Origins Salt Rub Smoothing Body Scrub ($30; origins.com) and Neal's Yard Remedies Seaweed Salt Scrub ($35; nyr-usa.com). Rub the salts in gentle circular strokes, avoiding the face and any open sores or cuts (salt stings wounds). And since sea salts can be abrasive, also avoid them if you have sensitive skin.
Problem: Dry leg skin that looks unsightly in a pair of shorts
Sea solution: Seaweed also helps exfoliate dry, dead skin, Drum says. To rehydrate moisture-sapped skin, soak like a mermaid in a sea bath or shower with it (try Pevonia Aromatic Seaweed Bath, $20; 800-PEVONIA; or Nivea Bath Care Relaxing Ocean Breeze Shower Gel with Sea Kelp and Aloe, $5; at drugstores). The polymers that make seaweed slippery also help skin feel silky -- why you should smooth on a seaweed gel or lotion like Jergens Skin Firming Moisturizer with Seaweed Extract ($5; at drugstores), Aquatonale Gel for Legs ($34; aquatonale.com) or Podovis Dry Foot Moisturizer ($4; podovisfootcare.com), which works wonders on chapped heels. Or head to a spa for a superconcentrated seaweed wrap. The seaweed exfoliates, while the trapped heat causes you to sweat, temporarily plumping the skin and improving its appearance.
Problem: Breakouts on your face and/or body caused by pores clogged with sweat and oil
Sea solution: Use a cleanser and toner a.m. and p.m. that contain sea ingredients. Try The Body Shop Seaweed Purifying Facial Wash ($10; thebodyshop.com) and Estée Lauder Clean Finish Purifying Toner with sea-plant extract ($16.50; esteelauder.com) followed by a light moisturizer like Prada Reviving Bio-Firm Moisture SPF 15/Face with marine-sourced collagen and elastin ($95; 888-262-1395). A sea-mud mask, used two to three times weekly, can also help, says Sonya Dakar, an aesthetician in West Hollywood, Calif., whose clients include Drew Barrymore, Debra Messing and Kirsten Dunst. "Sea mud rids the skin of oils and other impurities that dull the skin," she says. "Its highly absorbent quality enables it to penetrate the pores, providing optimal cleansing." But don't limit these masks to your face; use them wherever you get breakouts: your back, chest and even your butt. Try Sonya Dakar Mud Lavender Mask ($45; 877-72-SONYA), DDF Detoxification Mask ($22.50; ddfskin.com) or Nu Skin Epoch Glacial Marine Mud ($32; nuskin.com).
Problem: Limp hair that lacks body, shine and luster
Sea solution: Hairstylists have found that there's no better way to get soft, luxurious locks than from the nutrients found in seaweed. The proteins, in particular, seem to strengthen roots, add body and shine and condition the scalp, says Linda Kingsbury, Ph.D., a Moscow, Idaho-based herbalist. Shampoos and conditioners to try include Bumble and bumble Seaweed Shampoo and Conditioner ($9 each; bumbleandbumble.com), Rusk Deepshine Sea Kelp Crème Shampoo and Conditioner ($13 each; rusk1.com), and Back to Basics Color Protection Shampoo and Conditioner ($9, $10; backtobasics.com). Or, once weekly, try a hair masque like H2O+ Hair Repair Seaweed Masque ($17.50; h2oplus.com) or Ahava Hair Mud Masque ($16; ahava.com); you leave it in for 10 minutes, then rinse out.
Problem: Skin that's gotten too much sun and feels overheated
Sea solution: Because seaweed and algae can have a cooling effect, a sea-based topical treatment (such as Phytomer After Sun Soothing Lotion, $33; sephora.com; or Crabtree and Evelyn La Source Body Toner, $17; 800-CRABTREE) is a perfect skin soother after too many hours in the sun. If the burn is on your face, try using a gentle mist containing seaweed like Osea Sea Plasma Spray ($24; oseaskin.com). Or opt for a mask like the cooling Geomér Blue Lagoon Seaweed Mask ($35; 800-8-BENDEL) or BlissLabs Seaweed Task Masks ($45; blissworld.com). But as always, the best protection against the sun is to limit your exposure and don a hat and a full-spectrum sunblock like La Mer The SPF 18 Fluid ($75; at Saks Fifth Avenue stores), which uses a seaweed cocktail that forms a barrier on the skin to help prevent skin dehydration.
Feed Your Face
Celebrity makeup artist Sue Devitt and Lydia Sarfati, president of New York City-based beauty company and spa Repêchage, believe so much in the benefits of seaweed for the skin that they've added it to makeup. Sue Devitt Triple C-Weed Whipped Foundation ($39) and Triple C-Weed Loose Powder ($29; suedevittstudio.com) contain seaweed that helps keep your face hydrated without that heavy-makeup feel. And both the foundation and the powder are good for all skin types. Sarfati has added seaweed to everything from a vitamin-rich mascara to moisture-regulating blush and foundation ($14-$29; repechage.com).