Lifestyle | Fashion And Beauty
A long-lost natural skincare product lurking in the depths of the Western Cape’s sea beds has made a resurgence due to its ability to cure a host of skin conditions.
Kelp (Ecklonia maxima), which has been used in various beauty products for centuries, has been found to contain anti-inflammatory properties.
This means many skin conditions, from redness to itchiness, can be relieved using kelp.
Kelp seaweed up on a sandy beach in the Western Cape. Photo: iStock
To make this skin curing process classier than rubbing a giant piece of kelp on the affected area, various bottled ranges of alternatives are now available.
The active ingredient in kelp skincare treatment is known as CEM-K.
CEM-K contains phlorotannins and fucoidans, known for their anti-oxidant and anti-viral properties. CEM-K also contains vitamins and minerals such as iodine and zinc.
The story goes that marine biologist Dr Nigel Christie began investigating the potential health benefits of kelp about 15 years ago.
He collaborated with a pharmacist to formulate a product that uses kelp in an aesthetically pleasing way.
The first products were a skin cream and a shampoo, which through informal testing proved to be able to treat skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
And so Lamicare Health was created and has continued to provide South Africans with products containing kelp.
Lamicare Health CEO Lee Glanville said research is being done into the potential pharmacological application of kelp’s polyphenolic compounds.
It is possible that kelp’s compounds also have antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal and antiseptic properties.
Glanville listed the following common skin conditions that can be alleviated using kelp:
Psoriasis is one of many skin conditions alleviated by using kelp-based products. Photo: iStock
An added benefit is people with compromised immune systems are also able to use the product because it is free of steroids.
Diabetics, HIV patients and cancer victims, who commonly experience itchy skin conditions during their treatments, can take full advantage of this.
The kelp used in Demikelp’s skincare products is harvested by hand.
Glanville said the Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries (Deff) gives annual permits and quotas to control the removal of any marine resources, which includes kelp harvesting.
According to the quotas, no more than 10% of the total biomass of kelp forests can be harvested.
Kelp is typically harvested for agriculture and to feed abalone.
Glanville said kelp had been harvested on an industrial scale for many years, with no negative impact on the kelp forests of the Western Cape.
“In fact, the regular removal of the older, mature plants in a controlled way allows for more resources to be made available for the younger plants.
“Due to the rapid rate at which these plants grow, the same area can be harvested again in just two years.”
One day’s worth of kelp harvesting provides enough product for a whole year’s worth of Demikelp products, Glanville explained.
Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries seaweed unit scientist Mark Rothman explained that 10% of kelp beds in kelp forests die each year, due to old age, disease or intense storms.
Kelp takes around two and a half years to reach maturity. If an area is extensively harvested, he said it would take four and a half years for the area to recover.
However, he assured that in South Africa, “kelp harvesting is done in a controlled and sustainable manner.”
This large abalone farm at HagaHaga in the Eastern Cape is one of several that produce much of their abalone feed by growing the seaweeds Ulva and Gracilaria in massive raceway ponds. Photo: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Kelp forests are monitored using satellite imagery to see if they are increasing, decreasing or staying the same.
“As long as the Maximum Sustainable Yield is adhered to, there is no risk of over-harvesting. In South Africa, no mechanised harvesting is allowed; all harvesting has to be done by hand – whether it is on scuba, from a boat or wading into the sea.”
Rothmans added that kelp acts as an additive to the main ingredient, which means large amounts are not required.
A map showing positions of the seaweed rights areas in South Africa. Image: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
University of the Western Cape biodiversity and conservation biology lecturer Professor AJ Smit said the process of harvesting natural products such as kelp stocks is a sound practice that is generally well-managed.
“They very seldom run the risk of over-exploitation or degradation of the coastal ocean and the quantities of the natural products produced are also far less compared to alternatives involving terrestrial resources,” Smit said.
However, he cautioned that concerted efforts must be taken to “avoid harmful practices when the intention is to procure ‘natural’ supplements, health products and remedies promoted for their supposed benefit to humans”.
Otherwise these products would be hypocritical.
“Most things are harmful by some definition – what amount of harm are you happy to live with?,” he asks.
It is not yet possible to cultivate kelp artificially, owing to the “very tricky biology of kelp – being large brown seaweeds belonging to the Order Laminariales, including the South African kelps, Ecklonia maxima and Laminaria pallida”.
Lucky for kelp, this is not needed as long as consumers act responsibly when disposing of their packaging.
“No harm is being done to kelp beds,” assured Glanville.
“Mother Nature knows what she’s doing, so we’re quite happy to let her continue doing what she does best.”
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