Allow us to remind you: Seaweed is hot right now. From its gut-healthy benefits to enhancing the skin microbiome, seaweed is a product you’ll want to have on your shelves (be it in your fridge or in your bathroom). 

But when it comes to the holy grail that is seaweed skin care, there is one caveat to be mindful of. According to Olie Biologique founder Linda Thompson, if you’re using this one product, you should proceed with caution. 

The general rule of thumb: Retinol & seaweed shouldn’t mix. 

Because algae is an active ingredient that promotes cell turnover, it has benefits similar to those one would hope to gain from using retinol. It’s also a great thickening agent (thick skin is healthy skin), which is why many beauty brands have included this clean ingredient in their formulas.

“Studies have shown by using this active at a certain percentage, it encourages the promotion of collagen production while providing skin-smoothing properties,” says Thompson. 

Board-certified dermatologist and founder of MMSkincare Ellen Marmur, M.D., agrees, as she says, “Algae promotes blood circulation, provides the skin with moisture, and regulates the sebaceous gland function. It activates cell renewal, increases the skin’s resistance and has an anti-inflammatory effect. The proteins in algae supply skin cells with energy, while the mucus substance protects skin from drying out.” 

Because of these benefits, it might not be the best idea to layer the two active ingredients, especially one as strong as a retinol.  

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To seaweed, or not to seaweed?

If you’re choosing between the two, it pretty much depends on your skin condition. If you’re facing severe acne, milia, or hyperpigmentation, a dermatologist might prescribe Retin-A—the more powerful form of retinol that also may cause more side effects. Whereas if you want the smoothing effect of a retinoid without those irritating symptoms (read: dry, inflamed skin), an algae-derived product might just do the job. 

“Seaweed skin care products don’t have to be used as carefully as retinol. It’s more of a hydrating ingredient, and it isn’t typically drying or irritating,” Marmur adds. 

Even if you’re not using a prescription Retin-A, you’ll still want to think twice before coupling an over-the-counter retinol with an algae product. While OTC products are not as strong as prescription-only retinol, you should still be aware of the side effects (and always, always remember sunscreen, Marmur advises).

And if you’ve already made the transition to natural retinol alternatives or a trendy bakuchiol-infused product, you should still heed this warning. Let this be your quick tip: When it comes to active ingredients like algae, you don’t want to be stripping the skin as you pile on product after product. 

While you should always consult your doctor before choosing products to pair with a prescription retinol, consider this advice as a general rule of thumb. You’ll be better off lathering on a hydrating moisturizer after a retinoid rather than an algae-derived face oil or mask.

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