Credit: Leigh Tait NIWA

Posted on 07 December 2021

Seaweed could be the answer for skin and environment safe suncare products

Kiwi scientists are investigating if Aotearoa New Zealand’s seaweed and algae can be used in sun care products that are healthy for our skin and the environment.

The scientists are looking at how some seaweed and algae have compounds that can protect skin from UV damage.

Mike Packer and Tom Wheeler are co-leaders of the Seaweed sun defence project.

“Many sun care products have damaging human health side-effects. Also, many are being banned due to their environmental impact on corals and other marine life. We need better products that don’t harm us or the environment. We think seaweed and algae could help solve this problem”, says Mike Packer.

“The first part of our research is a study of seaweed species on marine farms to identify endemic (only found in Aotearoa) species that might contain compounds for use in sun care products and can also be easily farmed. Some seaweed and algae species have bioactive compounds that can protect skin from UV damage. Then we will look at developing a way to identify and measure suitable compounds.”

“We are interested in the compounds’ potential to prevent and treat sunburn in new ways, not just simply blocking damaging UV light. This includes potentially interacting with the processes underlying the sunburn process – to stop the damaging parts of the sunburn process.”

Excitingly, project members are drawing on both mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) and western science to identify which species are best to develop for sun defence. They’ve partnered with Wakatū Incorporation and SRW Laboratories to do this.

“SRW Laboratories is excited to be collaborating with Wakatū Incorporation and Cawthron on this project. The project will deliver new science and offer more options for consumers looking for advanced skin care protection from UV exposure. It will also open up future export opportunities”, says Greg Macpherson, Founder of SRW Laboratories.  

Building a blue economy  By investing in innovation in the seaweed sector, Aotearoa has fresh opportunities to build back better from the impacts of COVID on the economy. The seaweed sector can provide employment for people transitioning out of traditional marine economy sectors, such as fishing.

“A major aim of the project is to develop tools for use in future research to help the developing seaweed and algae industry in Aotearoa, as well as new products with better outcomes”, says Mike Packer.

For New Zealander’s to be able to use marine resources long term, the marine environment needs to be healthy. Aotearoa’s fledgeling seaweed sector could play a key role in transitioning to a ‘blue economy’, where marine activities and businesses contribute positively to social, cultural and ecological well-being as well as generating economic value.



Media contact
Emma Williams
021 837 966

More about the Seaweed sun defence project
This Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge project, is led by Cawthron and was co-developed with industry partners Wakatū Incorporation and SRW Laboratories Ltd.

Cawthron Institute is New Zealand’s largest independent science organisation.

Wakatū Incorporation is owned by 4,000 Māori families who descend from the traditional landowners of Nelson, Motueka and Golden Bay. They have interests in aquaculture and high-value natural products. For this project they are supplying the seaweed biomass and will carry out the biodiversity study on their marine farms, in the Marlborough Sounds. Finally, they will proactively take-up results of the research and help to commercialise them.

SRW Laboratories Ltd will feed in knowledge, market insight and resources and inform research decisions.

About the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge
The vision of Sustainable Seas is for Aotearoa New Zealand to have healthy marine ecosystems that provide value for all New Zealanders. It brings together around 250 ecologists, biophysical scientists, social scientists, economists, and experts in mātauranga Māori and policy from across Aotearoa New Zealand. It is funded by MBIE and hosted by NIWA.
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About the National Science Challenges
Sustainable Seas is one of eleven National Science Challenges. These align and focus Aotearoa New Zealand's research on large and complex issues, bringing together scientists and experts from different organisations and across disciplines to achieve a common goal.

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