Waves break gently against Ireland’s rugged west coast. Seagulls circle overhead as two lone figures – one in yellow waders; the other in brown – enter the sea at low tide. These two carry no machinery or even light equipment but instead work the waters with only their hands – carrying on Silgo Co.’s longstanding tradition of hand-harvesting seaweed. All for use in seaweed baths.

Said to be the country’s only indigenous spa therapy, seaweed baths have been attracting visitors to the west coast of Ireland since the early 20th century. Traditionally older people came to ease joints achy from painful rheumatism and arthritis. When seaweed (and sea salt) are added to a bath, the hot water draws the detoxifying nutrients out of the seaweed – mainly chlorophyll, magnesium, and iodine – all of which work to ease muscle pain. Over time, however, science has confirmed a plethora of other therapeutic benefits derived from seaweed – including increased circulation, reduced stress, relief of skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, acne, and rosacea. And appealing to many-body toning, slimming and cellulite reduction.

Image courtesy of VOYA Organic Beauty

At one point, western Ireland was home to more than 300 seaweed bathhouses. Today, only a handful remain. The most traditional being Kilcullen in Enniscrone. Opened in 1912, Kilcullen continues to offer seaweed treatments in the traditional Irish way: a steam bath in seawater (spa-goers are enclosed in a wooden box with only their heads protruding as swirls of steam curl around their heads). Next it’s into the actual seaweed bath – a freestanding porcelain tub filled with mounds of giant seaweed strands and hot water pumped directly from the sea. The texture is soft, velvety; the smell –slightly of the ocean. After a 30-minute soak, the experience ends with an icy hose-like shower – also in seawater. To invigorate and seal in the minerals and vitamins absorbed into the skin. 

A more modern and upscale seaweed steam/bath experience comes at VOYA Seaweed Baths in Strandhill, which opened in 2000. In addition to this popular origin spa –thousands visit annually – VOYA offers its seaweed therapies in high-end, luxury spas around the world. And has singlehandedly introduced Ireland’s seaweed benefits and tradition to homes all over the world via its retail line. 

Curious to experience an authentic Irish seaweed bath (at home) we purchased one of VOYA’s most popular seaweed products, Lazy Days/Detoxifying Seaweed Bath, which arrives in a beautiful box and offers two bathing options (if unlike us, you take time to read). 1) Fill the bathtub with hot water and drop the entire netted bundle, along with sea salts, into the bathwater (for easy cleanup). Or, 2), snip the netting and release each individual strand of seaweed (Fucus Serratus) in the water. The dried pieces, when blended with the hot water, immediately plump into giant swirling loofahs, prompting bathers to squeeze precious seaweed oils from the plant; rub on arms, legs, torso, face, even hair. Option two is messier, but we did it anyway. Twice in fact, as the seaweed can be reused for two consecutive days/baths. And afterward, works wonders on the garden as an organic fertilizer. 

On the other side of the Atlantic, OSEA (ocean, sun, earth, atmosphere), founded by Jenefer Palmer, is also making waves with its luscious, seaweed products. Jenefer’s unwavering devotion to seaweed and its powerful healing properties lies with her grandmother, Elsa.

Image courtesy of OSEA

Palmer comes from a long line of holistic healers. Her grandmother, Elsa, was one of the very first female chiropractors in the States. A decade into her practice however, she took a terrible fall, tore several tendons in her leg, and was bedridden – unable to care for her patients for many months. 

“As a lifelong helper and healer, this paralysis was devastating,” says Palmer. “One morning, [Elsa] awoke from a dream in which the ocean had healed her – and insisted my grandfather take her to the beach near their home in Long Island, New York. It was the middle of December. There was snow on the ground. But she was determined to swim in the frigid waters. Almost immediately, she saw small improvements. She continued swimming daily. Within a few weeks, her leg was healed.

“My grandmother attributed her recovery to the minerals and trace elements present in the saltwater and the abundance of seaweed found in the Long Island Sound,” Jenefer continues. “She continued to promote healing through her chiropractic practice – and to swim in the cold water of the Atlantic – well into her 90s. Her belief in the healing powers of the ocean was passed down to me. ”

In the early 1980s, Jenefer became spa director at one of southern California’s first wellness spas, Murietta Hot Springs. It was there she started designing new treatments including Ayurvedic body wraps, detox baths, herb-based aromatherapy salt glows, underwater lymphatic massage, and body wraps based on flower essences. To complement these treatments, she searched for natural skin care products to use and sell at the spa.

Image courtesy of OSEA

“It was nearly impossible to find skincare brands that weren’t packed with harmful ingredients,” says Jenefer. “And then I had this ‘aha’ moment where I knew I could create something better that was both safe and effective.” She formulated her first seaweed-based product 35 years ago and launched OSEA 10 years later. 

“The benefits of seaweed are endless, the best-kept secret of the ocean,” says Jenefer who favors two main seaweed species, Gigartina and Undaria, in her OSEA formulations. Gigartina stimulates collagen production which helps reduce wrinkles. Plus moisturizes and protects the skin from environmental pollution. Undaria [Pinnatifida] possesses many vitamins, minerals, plus Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. Undaria also contains fucoidan, which keeps skin firm and younger-looking.

But not all seaweeds are created equal. Although OSEA is inspired off the coast of Malibu, California, Palmer turns to the pristine waters of Patagonia for the USDA-certified organic seaweed present in her formulations, where almost all are sourced directly from a family-owned cooperative. 

“Our seaweed is sustainably hand-foraged as it naturally migrates into shallow waters, as opposed to suppliers using diesel-powered ships who often utilize invasive methods to harvest from the ocean floor,” says Palmer. “The moment I pulled my first harvest of seaweed directly from the waters, I knew I had found the key ingredient for OSEA. To this day, I love being on the Patagonian shores when we hand-harvest our seaweeds directly from the frigid waters.” 

Image courtesy of OSEA

OSEA Products We Love: 

Hyaluronic Sea Serum –containing three different seaweeds and three different molecular weights of hyaluronic acid. “The seaweed gives it an amazing texture and visibly improves signs of aging,” says Palmer. “People love how quickly it absorbs into their skin and that they see pretty immediate results. Plus, it’s for all skin types.” 

Undaria Algae Oil a unique, omega-rich, lightweight marine-based body oil loaded with Undaria algae and luscious seed oils–acai, babassu, passion fruit, and sesame. “We soak the seaweed in the oils for up to nine months,” says Palmer. “The outer wall of the seaweed breaks down and infuses the oil with sea minerals. The result is a mineral-rich oil that hydrates and firms the skin. People love that it reduces the appearance of stretch marks and it’s not a greasy body oil.”

Ocean Lotion –this much-loved lotion weightlessly wraps the body in moisture, delivering an abundance of antioxidants, minerals, and trace elements. It also contains shea butter, rosehip, and kukui oils. For ultimate hydration, Palmer suggests blending with equal parts Undaria Algae Oil. Divine.

On Our Radar: One Ocean Beauty

This clean beauty, marine-based line is one to watch. Even before launching (in 2018), founder Marcella Cacci, a Burberry veteran and lover of the sea, committed $250,000 to Oceana – a global marine conservation organization – to help save the world’s oceans. Instead of extracting or even gently hand-harvesting seaweed and other active marine ingredients straight from the ocean, the brand is using advanced blue biotechnology to replicate potent sea extracts and algae. 

We especially love One Ocean Beauty’s simple five-product skincare system: Purifying Ocean Mist Cleanser (marine microorganism from the Antarctic Ocean), Replenishing Deep Sea Moisturizer (marine actives from the Antarctic; nutrient-rich algae extract from the Sea of Japan), Eye Revival Marine Cream (marine actives isolated from brown kelp off the French coast), Revitalizing Sea Serum (marine actives from the Antarctic; brown kelp from the French coast), and Marine Collagen Supplement (marine collagen sourced from deep-water fish).