The Mermaid Apothecary

seas scrubs in jars

Using the Sea to Clean Your Skin (And the Beach!)

By Jessica Anderson

We all want that dewy, beachy glow, but many skin care products contain harmful chemicals and non-biodegradable microbeads (tiny bits of plastic added as exfoliants). These toxins and plastics wash into our rivers, lakes, and oceans where they can have a devastating effect on marine ecosystems. So what’s an ocean-minded mermaid to do? 

Thankfully, some companies are eliminating these ingredients from their products, and recent legislation has banned the manufacture and sale of microbeads in some states. These are certainly positive changes, but why not take matters into your own hands while you beachcomb? 

That’s right—you can use the bounty of the sea to keep our waterways clean, and to keep your skin fresh and glowing. The surprising solution is right at your feet: seaweed!

Why Seaweed?

Seaweed has been used for centuries, in myriad ways: as food, fertilizer, health-food supplements, and beauty-care regimens. We add it to toothpaste and ice cream. We wrap ourselves in it and call it algotherapy. From ancient Japan to the tropics to Ireland and France, seaweed has long been valued as a powerhouse sea-vegetable.

As seaweed and kelp receive more and more attention for their anti-inflammatory, detoxifying, and hydrating properties, their popularity in high-end hair and skin products is skyrocketing—and with good cause! Seaweed’s anti-aging properties have been scientifically proven. It’s rich in iodine as well as vitamins A and C, potassium, iron, calcium, and magnesium. And it’s the perfect foundation for your very own mermaid apothecary.

Seaweed Harvesting

Granted, to some this might sound icky, while for others it’s an invitation to adventure. But before you grab your collecting bag and hit the beach, take note of these recommendations. 

Identifying Useful Seaweeds

If you’re not familiar with your local marine algae species, now’s the time to dive in to some research. Most of what we call ‘seaweed’ falls into three categories: red algae, green algae, and (our West Coast favorite!) brown algae. You don’t need to memorize scientific names, but learn what’s common to your beaches and how to identify it.

Dos and Don’ts of Collecting

  • Harvesting seaweed for personal use is legal in many areas, although some states require a permit. Know which species are safe to harvest, which are protected, and how much you may take. Check with your state’s fish and wildlife or natural resources department for more information (most have their guidelines available online). 
  • Take care and be aware when traversing tidal rocks: they’re slippery when wet, and are home to many intertidal creatures. 
  • Check that your seaweed doesn’t have any accidental hitchhikers like limpets or crabs.
  • Take only wet, fresh seaweed, not old and dried. You’ll know it’s fresh if it doesn’t show signs (or smells!) of decomposition. Even better is still-living seaweed, but again, make sure you’re in an area that allows for this type of harvest, and know how to harvest the algae without damaging it.  

Low tide is the best time to harvest. Rinse off excess sand and place your seaweed in a plastic/waterproof bag. Collect any beach trash along the way and double your ocean-conservation points!

Preserving Your Salty Harvest

It’s best to process your seaweed right away so it doesn’t decompose. Give the seaweed a quick freshwater rinse and lay it on a towel in the sunlight to dry. Allow approximately 24 hours to dry. 

When your algae is completely dried, pulse in a high-powered blender to pulverize it into a powder. There will likely be some larger, coarser bits which can either be sifted out or remain mixed in with the powder. Store your seaweed powder in a clean, dry mason jar.

For the extra-adventurous mermaid, fresh seaweed can be added to a warm bath. Let the seaweed soak so that the water extracts the iodine and minerals, then strain out, or hop right in and enjoy your own personal tide pool!

Stocking your Mermaid Apothecary 

Every mermaid apothecary needs high-quality, natural ingredients to mix her beautifying concoctions. Here are some essentials that are easily obtained—you may already have many on hand. Organic is preferable when available.

  • gentle, skin-safe oils (olive, sweet almond, grapeseed)
  • aloe vera gel
  • honey
  • essential oils of your choice (avoid all citrus, which are not recommended for skin)
  • sea salt
  • sugar
  • kelp powder 
  • spirulina powder (a blue-green algae)
  • bentonite or kaolin clay
  • non-metal bowl and spoon for mixing

These ingredients are versatile enough to make many different skin care products. If you don’t live by the beach (or are just too squeamish!), don’t fret! Chances are your local health food store (or a reputable online source) will carry organic, sustainably-harvested kelp and spirulina powder. 

Mermaid Beauty Care

You’ve harvested your seaweed, stocked your apothecary, and now it’s time to get started! Here are two simple, DIY, seaweed-based recipes to begin with. These base recipes can be modified and customized to your liking. Experiment and enjoy!

The Mermaid Mask

A moisture-rich face mask base.

  • 1/2 t kelp powder (no coarse granules)
  • 1/2 t spirulina powder
  • 1 1/2 T aloe vera gel
  • few drops essential oils
  1. Combine your seaweed powders in a non-metal bowl. For extra detoxifying power, add bentonite or kaolin clay (plus extra aloe for consistency).
  2. Add your essential oils and gently stir to combine.
  3. Add aloe vera gel and stir again.
  4. Apply to a clean, dry face with your fingertips. Don’t forget your neck and décolletage!
  5. Leave the mask on 15 minutes, then wipe clean with a warm, wet washcloth, or in a steamy shower.
  6. Bask in your mermaid glow!

mermaid face mask

Salty Dog Sea Scrub

kelp spirulina sea salt sugar

An exfoliating shower scrub for the whole family.

  • 3 T kelp powder (coarser flakes are great)
  • 1 T spirulina
  • 1/2 cup sea salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup almond oil
  • essential oil 
  1. Combine seaweed powders, sea salt, and sugar in a non-metal bowl.
  2. Add in essential oils and mix well. 
  3. Add in 1/4 cup almond oil and mix; add remaining oil slowly (as needed) until scrub reaches a good consistency: not too crumbly and not too oily. 
  4. Transfer to a clean, dry mason jar with a tight lid. 
  5. To use, scoop out with fingertips in the shower and scrub in circular motions. Avoid face and sensitive areas. Rinse with warm water. 

essential oils and sweet almond sea scrub

Please note: this is not medical/pharmacological advice, so please check with your physician if you have any questions or concerns. Always test a small area first to check for skin sensitivities.

Online Resources

This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine May/June 2018 issue.

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