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04.23.13

INNER WORKINGS: ALGENIST

INNER WORKINGS: ALGENIST

The Sephora Glossy visited Algenist HQ to learn more about the high-tech skincare brand.

Algenist’s Marketing Director Paul Deacon pulls up in front of Sephora’s offices in a car powered by microalgae, the same super-ingredient that powers the brand’s skincare. Already, it’s not a typical meeting: We head to the South San Francisco headquarters of Solazyme, Algenist’s parent company, to learn how they’ve applied the study of microalgae to alternative energy, chemicals, nutrition—and of course, the skin.

Solazyme came about in the early 2000s, primarily focused on the use of microalgae for alternative fuel. “We started working with a professor at Stanford, Arthur Grossman—he’s now our chief of genetics—who encouraged us to think about what these compounds are actually doing,” explains Jeff Avila, VP of Sales. “Microalgae is so successful in nature because of its regenerative properties. We started doing in vitro tests, and saw amazing results for UV protection, reducing melanin production, increased elasticity.” As a whole, the microalgae mega-mix became known as alguronic acid.

In addition to the skincare brand we all know and love, Solazyme also develops microalgae for alternative chemicals, energy, and fat substitutes. In terms of its energy application, microalgae is no joke: United Airlines flew the world’s first commercial flight on Solajet renewable jet fuel in 2011.

Clad in a lab coat and very chic goggles (that’s me in the photo!), I tour the lab. In each room, experiments with microalgae samples procured from university libraries or private collections for high levels of certain compounds get larger-scale. “About 60 percent of our employees are scientists working in the labs,” says Avila. They’re not only identifying key strains, they are figuring out how to maximize their desired benefits and physically growing more through fermentation (there’s a larger facility for that in Peoria).

We get to a separate section of the building to hear about the nutritional uses of microalgae. It’s pressed and milled into a fine powder that’s rich in heart-healthy lipids, 50 percent oil by weight, high in omegas 6 and 9 (and some omega 3 to boot), and protein rich. Not to mention it’s gluten-free, non-allergenic, and a good vegan protein source for the soy-wary. Food scientists and pastry chefs work on it as a replacement ingredient in common commercial foods and pitch it back to their companies. We do a blind taste test with ice cream and cookies to try and identify which is made with the microalgae powder and which is commercial. In every case, the Solazyme version is the favorite.

Now it’s time to talk skincare. “Essentially it was an unexpected discovery because we weren’t screening for beauty uses,” Deacon explains of their newly patented ingredient. “We compared it to hyaluronic acid and alguronic acid is far denser in intelligence and information. Once the polysaccharide was isolated, we spent a lot of time and effort into clinical tests: how it performed in vitro versus other leading antiaging ingredients for skin cell regeneration, increase in elastin synthesis, decrease in production of melanin, and decrease in cell damage from ultraviolet light.”

While impressive before-and-after tests flash across a screen, I eagerly test all the Algenist products, including the new Pore Corrector Anti-Aging Primer. Their formulas are all packed with alguronic acid plus other tried-and-tested active ingredients for maximum benefits—many promise visible results in just ten days.

We head back in our algae-mobile with extra cookies and a generous bag of samples. After trying them all, I’m fully convinced that I was in the presence of true Algenius. HOLLY SIEGEL

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