One of the most nutritious foods on the planet gram for gram, spirulina is a blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, that’s been praised for its many benefits.
Spirulina is a complete protein, contains all the essential amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids, and is rich in many nutrients, including B vitamins and iron.
Because of these qualities, spirulina makes a great addition to your skin care routine.
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Based on studies done on this powerhouse ingredient, spirulina may help promote skin health in several ways.
Spirulina may have a positive effect on gut health, which may improve the appearance of the skin.
“A healthy gut microbiome is associated with improved skin health, including regulation of skin inflammation,” says Dr. Marie Hayag, a board certified dermatologist and founder of 5th Avenue Aesthetics in New York City. “Spirulina has been shown to promote healthier gut microbiota and as a result, this could mean better skin health.”
Although more research on humans and spirulina is needed, some animal studies suggest that the blue-green algae may help support gut health as people age. A
Although more research needs to be conducted, some studies have shown possible benefits associated with the use of spirulina extracts in topical formulas.
“Most of [these studies] indicate antioxidant benefits, a brightening effect, and moisturizing properties,” says Hayag. “These benefits are mostly associated with the use of spirulina extract, not the powdered form of it.”
Spirulina may provide anti-aging and anti-inflammatory effects, thanks to the many antioxidants it contains.
“Spirulina fights free radicals and, therefore, can prevent skin damage that can lead to wrinkles and signs of aging,” says Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, dietitian and founder of Real Nutrition.
Phycocyanin is the main active ingredient in spirulina and gives the algae its rich blue-green color.
Spirulina also contains many important amino acids, including glycine and proline, which keep the skin firm and support the body’s collagen production.
Spirulina for collagen production and skin tightening
“This could possibly contribute to a skin tightening effect, but to reiterate, this needs to be studied further,” says Hayag.
May eliminate toxins
According to Hayag, there isn’t significant evidence available to prove that spirulina helps eliminate toxins in the body or skin.
However, “Some literature suggests that spirulina can help address experimentally induced heavy metal toxicity, specifically arsenic,” says Hayag. “This doesn’t really translate too well to our bodies and skin, however, and requires further investigation.”
May prevent candida
Some studies have indicated that spirulina may potentially prevent candida skin infection through antifungal activity. However, more research is needed.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much evidence to support the claims that spirulina helps to diminish the appearance of acne, psoriasis, eczema, or tightening of the skin.
However, “Spirulina does possess antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, which could potentially help with conditions like acne and eczema, but this needs to be studied more in-depth,” says Hayag.
Spirulina for acne
A 2020 study suggests that applying a cream containing spirulina to the skin could be an alternative option for acne treatment due to its high antioxidant and antimicrobial effects. Spirulina might be a better option than local antibiotic therapy due to fewer side effects and no antibiotic resistance.
Spirulina for psoriasis
A 2020 study showed that spirulina helped to reduce the presence of psoriasis in mice. The study suggests that spirulina could potentially be developed as a natural pharmaceutical for psoriasis treatment.
Spirulina for eczema
A 2020 study suggests that an ointment containing spirulina may help improve eczema symptoms when applied topically two times per day for 3 weeks.
- 1 tbsp. honey
- 1/2 tsp. spirulina extract or 1 tbsp. spirulina powder
- 1 tsp. evening primrose oil
- Combine ingredients in a bowl and mix them.
- Apply to clean, dry skin.
- Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then wash off with a cleanser. Pat dry.
- ½ tsp. spirulina extract or 1 tbsp. spirulina powder
- 1 tbsp. carrier oil of your choice, such as argan oil, jojoba oil, or squalane oil
- Combine ingredients in a small bowl.
- Apply to clean, dry skin in a circular motion.
- Wash off with a wet cloth and water. Pat dry.
- 1/2 tsp. spirulina extract or powder
- 1/2 tsp. jojoba oil
- 1 drop of tea tree essential oil
- Apply as a spot treatment to blemishes.
- Leave on for up to an hour.
- Rinse off with a cleanser and pat dry.
Chlorella is a type of green algae, while spirulina is a cyanobacteria. Although spirulina is referred to as blue-green algae, it’s classified separately from green algae. Additionally, their vitamin and mineral contents differ.
“Spirulina contains more omega-3 fatty acids, provitamin A, and magnesium,” says Hayag. “Chlorella has a high fiber content and can’t be digested properly by humans. It must therefore be taken as a supplement, unlike spirulina.”
If you have an allergy to spirulina, iodine, or seaweed and seafood, avoid eating or using it topically. It’s also not suitable for people with a rare genetic condition known as phenylketonuria (PKU). Spirulina contains a substance that can’t be metabolized by individuals with this condition.
“People with any sort of autoimmune disorder should avoid it as well because it has effects that stimulate the immune system,” says Hayag.
Additionally, it’s important to purchase your spirulina from a reputable source.
“You want to make sure you get your spirulina from a [reliable] source, as it can be contaminated,” says Shapiro.
Much research has been done on spirulina for overall health, but there isn’t much research on humans and spirulina’s effect on the skin. There’s evidence to suggest that spirulina may help in collagen production and anti-aging, thanks to its strong antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.
Daley Quinn is a beauty and wellness journalist and content strategist living in Boston. She’s a former beauty editor at a national magazine, and her work has appeared on sites including Allure, Well + Good, Byrdie, Fashionista, The Cut, WWD, Women’s Health Mag, HelloGiggles, Shape, Elite Daily, and more. You can see more of her work on her website.