From sea to skin: Why we use Alaskan bull kelp in our natural skincare

From the cold blue Pacific Ocean to the warm soothing waters of your bathtub – we incorporate locally harvested Alaskan bull kelp into several of our products to celebrate and share the beauty of Alaska’s rugged coastline and infuse the restorative magic of the big blue ocean into your body care routine.

So what's the big deal with kelp?

Chock full of marine-derived minerals and vitamins, kelp has been called “the new kale” – but this majestic sea vegetable stands head and shoulders above those bitter greens:

  • Nutritious and delicious to eat, kelp offers high levels of calcium, iron, iodine, and B vitamins.
  • Kelp also contains naturally occurring fucoidans; bioactive compounds currently being studied for their powerful anti-inflammatory properties and ability to support natural collagen production in the skin.
  • When applied to the skin, kelp's mucilaginous qualities (what gives kelp and other seaweeds that slick, slippery texture in the water) are soothing, protective, and softening.
  • Kelp grows naturally, and quickly, along Alaska's many rocky and nutrient-rich seashores. At the peak of summer's daylight kelp can grow a foot per day. Requiring no input of fertilizers or arable land, it's a remarkably renewable resource with next to no ecological footprint.
  • Macroalgae - including kelp - growing in coastal environments sequester an estimated 200 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, according to this source.

The ways in which kelp can nourish and care for our bodies extend far into and beyond the worlds of culinary and skincare delight.

A woman sits beside the beach, pouring bath salts from one hand into another SHOP KELP-INFUSED SKINCARE

The kelp that feeds, softens, and refreshes your skin in our Deep Blue Sea Bath Salts and Mermud Soap comes direct from the cold, clean waters near our island home in archipelago of Southeast Alaska. We source our kelp from friends Matt & Lia of Barnacle Foods, based in Juneau, AK. The team at Barnacle harvests bull kelp each summer season and transforms it into deliciously unique edible creations like salsa, pickles, and seasonings. Beyond creating tasty foods, Barnacle is committed to developing a sustainable resource: one that is good for our bodies, good for our planet, and good for the rural communities of Southeast Alaska.

We're excited to be part of sharing the incredible benefits of this renewable marine resource with the world. To bring you along on the journey I've asked Matt to share the story of how this wonder-seaweed makes its way from the wild waters of the Pacific to your skincare and snack plate:

Alaska Pacific ocean bull kelp beds harvested for natural skincare

Where do you harvest kelp?

Matt: We harvest wild kelp from within a boat ride of Juneau, usually in the protected waters of the Inside Passage in Northern Southeast Alaska. The boat ride can be anywhere from one hour on a fast boat, or up to 15 hours on a slow boat toward the open ocean. We harvest from large kelp beds that look more or less untouched after we're done harvesting.

What does a typical harvesting day look like?

Matt: We check the weather and work with the tides to make sure the kelp harvest will go as smoothly as possible. If the weather is windy our boat will be pulled out of the kelp bed or pushed into the rocks along the rocky shorelines where kelp beds thrive. Timing harvests around low tide when the current is calm ensures that we can find kelp floating on the surface. Kelp grows best in areas of high current and can be pulled underwater out of view when the water movement is racing by with the tide.

Harvesting wild bull kelp off the coast of Alaska for Gathered and Grown Botanicals natural skincare

We decide on a location before leaving the harbor and motor out. Once at the kelp beds we make observations and take photographs to compare the kelp bed to past years abundance. The harvest can be anywhere from 3-12 hours depending on how many pounds we are bringing back. When we work with a larger boat we also bring a small skiff to harvest from and run loads from the kelp bed to the bigger boat. Long harvests are like marathons with repetitive lifting and reaching over the side of the boat to grab each piece of kelp one at a time.

How many people on your crew are involved in the harvest process?

Matt: We go out with at least three people for every harvest, and sometimes as many as 5-6. Over the course of the harvest season we try to bring all of our crew out on the water for a harvest. It allows everyone to see the magical places where the kelp thrives and appreciate each step of our process. We also bring out the occasional customer or friend who wants to volunteer and see the process first hand.

What do you love most about working with kelp?

Matt: Kelp grows in beautiful areas right beyond the intricate rocky shoreline. Whenever you take a moment to look up during a harvest we see wildlife on the beaches (bears, deer), and marine mammals in the water (whales, otters, seals, sea lions). Working with kelp has connected us to the marine ecosystem at a level where we are grateful for the abundance and also mindful to observe as things may change over time. We want nothing more than for the kelp beds to proliferate and sustain their wild properties into the future.

Harvesting wild bull kelp off the coast of Alaska for Gathered and Grown Botanicals natural skincare

Why do you think kelp is an important resource?

Matt: Kelp is a global commodity that can be used in virtually anything, from food, to bioplastics and fuels, to cosmetics and health supplements. Along with its versatility, it is a huge carbon sink that helps buffer ocean acidification where it grows. As Alaskans explore the possibilities of kelp farming, kelp farms grow without any inputs. No freshwater, no fertilizer, and no need for arable land. With our world population growing, there are few crops that can make that claim. We think kelp will play an important role in feeding the planet incomparably nutritious and tasty foods.

Working with kelp has brought us to many unexpected places. Kelp farming and gathering is a new industry in Alaska with many stakeholders invested in working together to make the most of the opportunity. This keeps things interesting as we're at an intersect of science, food sustainability, nutrition, education, and traditional ecological knowledge. Each day brings a new challenge and angle on what we're doing so it's been impossible to get bored or slow down.

Harvesting wild bull kelp off the coast of Alaska for Gathered and Grown Botanicals natural skincare

Special thanks to Matt & Lia for sharing their words and images for this story. Find their delicious kelp snacks on the Barnacle website & at specialty foods stores throughout AK and the Pacific Northwest!

Shop our kelp-infused skincare favorites:

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