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Coccoloba uvifera The Seagrape in Cosmetics

OCTOBER 2012 by Leigh Fulghum, botanist and landscape designer Illustration by Cathie Katz

Growing up in Florida, I first noticed seagrapes as an unusual leathery round-leaved plant densely covering the endless dunes between me and my beloved ocean. Seagrape was not as widely used in landscaping then as it is now, except in salty neighborhoods. My grandmother, living in an original beach plat, was blessed with a twenty-year old seagrape which enveloped her carport and driveway and sidewalk like a beach umbrella, blitzing the property with hundreds of pounds of the musky, quickly fermenting fruit for several months of the year. With war-rationing passion, she saved pimento cocktail spread and smoked fish dip jars in which to put up her jelly when the season came around. These were filled with the mauvish gel, capped with paraffin and stored on the lowest shelf of the lower kitchen cabinets. None of us in the family could ever bring ourselves to taste it, though little did we know if we had spread it on our faces like a mask we may all be fresh as a daisy now after years of living in the South Florida sunshine.

Of course there is something wondrous in a plant which withstands salt winds, dehydrating factors of many sorts, extreme heat and constant ultraviolet exposure. As a botanist, I have thought such thoughts for years, since a child, really, and I am overjoyed at this point in time to discover the exploding interest in naturally-occurring plant chemicals is illiciting research into more effective beauty products. This will undoubtedly lead to advances in medicine, if not by mistake.

For example, would Latisse have come first if the eyelash-growing property had been discovered before the glaucoma medicine?

Seagrape on coastal dunesMoreso with plants, for which we as humans are adapted biologically to eat and absorb the juices of, and from which so many medicines have been derived, the cosmetic industry is more enthusiastic than Big Pharm to get plant-based products on the shelf. They can do it faster, easier, and with no restrictions on who can buy products. Additionally, society is proving itself willing to sacrifice health for beauty- to buy a cream or a treatment before changing lifestyles.

Therefore, do not be surprised if Maybelline or Cover Girl ends up with the magic bullet, due to the expanding interest of cosmetic laboratories in the thousands of species of chemically active plants to be tested for benefits and marketed in a beauty product line.

As we wander into this new territory of marine or special plants with anti-oxidant, moisturizing, de-wrinkling, tightening, and collagen building properties, it is important to know that various species of plants called seagrapes are marketed in cosmetics. Extract of seagrape is also confused with grape seed extract. Extract of seagrape usually refers to a powdered product made from the seaweed Caulerpa lentillifera, fondly referred to as "green caviar." Grape seed extract is made from Vitis, the basic wine grape.

Another plant used for anti oxidant and anti-microbial properties is Ephedra distachya, also commonly known as seagrape

The seagrape populating the dunes of Florida and the Bahamas is Coccoloba uvifera (pictured). For reasons unknown, it has always been a component of Bahamian Bush medicine, but grants from the French government to determine its cosmetic value produced data ranking the fruit in the top-ten most powerful anti-oxidant containing fruits and vegetables, greater than the Goji. The valuable compounds in Coccoloba fruit are polyphenols, water soluble, which is good for absorbing into skin. For topical treatments, though, we already know only small molecules effectively enter the skin- elsewise we'd be slathering ourselves up with Creme de Collagen. Collagen is too large a molecule to absorb, so the race is on to determine which of the smaller, one or two branched (oligomeric) phenols are readily transported across the cell walls of the dermis.

The oligomeric phenols of intense interest are called proanthocyanidins which have been claimed to be 50 times more potent than vitamin E and 20 times more potent than Vitamin C.

For those citizens, researchers, clinicians, derma-doctors, inventors, and men of medicine, Bush, or otherwise, my Apothecary now offers Coccoloba uvifera fruit (seagrapes), dehydrated at 90°C for long term storage. This product can be re-hydrated or ground for various extraction processes.

Price: per pound/ $40 USD + shipping

Price: per kilo/ $70 USD + shipping

Some companies producing marine plant cosmetics :

Phytomer, French cosmetique producing an anti-cellulite gel from Coccoloba uvifera.

Paris-Bahamas has tested and selected Coccoloba uvifera and Delonix regia, the Royal Poinciana, and found them to be higher in antioxidants than the Goji berry.

Poseidonsciences specializes in aquaculture production of "green caviar" or an algae, Caulerpa lentillifera, also called seagrape.

Okinacea produces a skin tightening and skin-smoothing product from (algal) Sea grape extract associated with Hydrolyzed Rice proteins. This product claims to rebuild collagen and restore fullness to skin.

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