Thursday, September 15, 2011


Algae has been a hot topic in the clean energy community for years; it can be used to produce biofuel efficiently, with minimal water use, and without taking up arable land. But Solazyme, a San Francisco-based algae fuel startup, is expanding its brand by bringing algae technology into the nutrition and cosmetics industries. This week, the company unveiled Algenist, an anti-aging skincare line that uses microalgae compounds as a main ingredient.

The idea for the Algenist skincare line came from Arthur Grossman, a Stanford University professor and microalgae expert. Soon after the company's inception in 2004, the Solazyme team came to Grossman to find out what applications microalgae might have besides biofuel. His response: skincare, primarily because algae successfully protect themselves against the same harsh environmental conditions as humans.

So Solazyme set to work investigating microalgae, eventually stumbling upon Alguronic Acid, a compound produced by one microalgae species that protects algae--and human skin--from the environment. The compound is, according to Solazyme, significantly more effective than hyaluronic acid (a popular anti-aging skincare ingredient), vitamin C, retinol, vitamin E, and other anti-aging ingredients in increasing skin elastin production, inhibiting melanin production, and protecting against UV-triggered cell damage.

Algenist's products have also been shown in a third-party study to increase skin smoothness, decrease fine lines, and cut down on wrinkles after just a few weeks of use (I've seen the before and after pictures, and they're impressive). Algenist is, in other words, the kind of line that skincare merchants dream of. But Solazyme decided against selling its wares to the L'Oreal's of the world. "It's so different, it has such a unique story, it would have been a shame to sell it to someone," says Frederic Stoeckel, Vice President and General Manager of Algenist.

Instead, Solazyme launched its Algenist division, which has successfully slipped its products into all 800 Sephora stores in the U.S. and Europe (the products go on sale on March 24). Algenist's products, which include a reconstructing serum, moisturizer, and eye balm, will also be sold on QVC beginning on March 25.

The Algenist line is the first series of products to come out of Solazyme, but skincare is only one part of the company's moneymaking strategy. Still, Stoeckel says, it's exciting to see "a biotech brand delivering such efficient results" in the skincare world.

My obsession with cosmetics has lead to a unusual side effect: an absence of “new product” excitement. Then I saw this on Sephora’s website….CURE!

“It started out as a renewable energy project—and turned into an unexpected anti-aging discovery. Algenist comes from a team of biotechnology scientists based in San Francisco. They were working on developing microalgae-based renewable energy solutions when they uncovered alguronic acid, a powerful compound responsible for regenerating and protecting the microalgae cell. When scientifically tested, it demonstrated significant antiaging properties, too. The result? A breakthrough skincare collection that offers never-before-seen technology for rejuvenated, younger-looking skin at any age.” – Sephora

First, I love that Solazyme, Inc. is based in San Francisco, and who’s main purpose is developing a renewable oil source utilizing the microalgae’s “prolific oil production capabilities”. Through serendipitous discovery, they find Alguronic Acid®, which is the isolated protective molecule that microalgae uses to protect itself from UV exposure and desiccation (drying out).

Sure, algae isn’t a newcomer to the cosmetic and skin care world. Dr. Max Huber, the aerospace physicist used sea kelp and bio-fermentation to create his Miracle Broth™. Creme de La Mer was born (although it is now owned and distributed by Estee Lauder) and a plethora of algae-centric products followed. Algenist was also smart in formulating their products without parabens, sulfates, synthetic dyes, phthalates, GMOs and triclosan (according to Sephora’s website) keeping them on trend.