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A strange sludge called sea moss is taking over health food stores and smoothie shops across the country. It’s off-yellow, jiggly, translucent — and, according to some dubiously-qualified “health experts” on TikTok, it can do everything from aid digestion to improve thyroid conditions to clear up your skin. And another shocker: such a supposed miracle product doesn’t come cheap. A 380ml jar of sea moss – equivalent to about 10 servings – can set you back £13, or over one pound per two tablespoon serving.

But is sea moss really the fix-all product that your iPhone claims? And is it worth breaking the bank for? It’s complicated. So, we tried to get to the bottom of it.

What is sea moss, and how is it made?

“Sea moss” is a catch-all term referring to two kinds of red algae which grow on the seafloor. Depending on where it was harvested, it could be either Irish moss (Chondrus crispus) or Jamaican moss (Gracilaria) which are, confusingly, entirely different plants.

They’re both sold as sea moss because, despite different genetic makeup, they basically have the exact same nutritional value. And, once processed, they look very very similar. Fresh sea moss is kinda like the seaweed you see washed up on the beach. Dried, it looks a little like a ball of uncooked pasta. Despite its recent status as a health superfood, you’ve probably been consuming sea moss without knowing it for years: Irish moss is commercially processed into carrageenan, a thickener that’s used in mass-produced ice cream.

Why has it gained popularity in recent years?

London-based nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr says that the current moment can be traced back to – who else? – serial trend-starter Hailey Bieber. “It found a great deal of popularity after it was included in her famous Erewhon skin glaze smoothie,” she says. Since then the product has been heavily promoted online and in social media clips “as a nutrient-rich superfood with endless potential health benefits.”

Sea moss has been around for a long time, though, and it’s been considered a ‘superfood’ in the past. It was a favourite supplement of Dr Sebi, a Honduran celebrity healer who was popular in the ’90s and 2000s. And Dr Sebi was often accused of fabricating claims about the healing properties of the ingredients he promoted.

What are the benefits of sea moss?

The hardest fans of sea moss claim that consuming one to two tablespoons a day can do everything from make your hair shinier to increase your libido. The main ‘benefit’ people shout about sea moss is that it’ll give you clearer skin and potentially help with weight loss. But such claims tend to be anecdotal, and Lenherr says that “there are very few high-quality studies that demonstrate its specific benefits” due to the fact that “most of the studies conducted on this topic have been done either on seaweed in general or on animals, including worms.”

“Sea moss is rich in dietary fibre, which is why it might support digestive health,” she says. She also notes that rat studies have suggested sea moss has prebiotic effects, which can support overall microbial health – although without human studies, it’s hard to say whether it’ll have the same effect for you.

Nutritionist Fiona Lawson says that “sea moss contains a range of vitamins and minerals, and it can be a particularly good source of iodine.” But she also warns not to “be fooled by the clever marketing: it’s no more remarkable than other fruits and vegetables, including seaweed.”

In skincare products, things might be a little different. Brands like Lush, Serumkind, Haeckels and more have begun incorporating sea moss derivatives into their products – and for good reason, says Alexandra Haq, medical director at London’s AM Aesthetics skincare clinic. She describes the ingredient as “a bit of a skincare powerhouse”: “Being rich in sulphur, it has antibacterial, antiviral and antimicrobial functions, so it is believed to help with balancing the skin microbiome. The high sulphur content also can decrease the excessive production of sebum (oil) in the skin.”

Haq also says that sea moss is non-comedogenic – it won’t clog your pores – and richly hydrating, both big plusses. “Skincare products that contain sea moss can be worth investing in,” she says, “Especially if you’re looking to harness the specific benefits that sea moss offers, such as hydration, anti-inflammatory properties, and nutrient-rich content that could potentially enhance your skin’s health and appearance.”

What are the downsides of sea moss?

Lenherr says that “consuming small amounts of high-quality sea moss is generally safe for most people,” but not to go overboard. “It’s important to be cautious as it’s easy to overdose on iodine when consuming sea moss,” which can lead to serious thyroid issues, she says. If you already suffer from thyroid issues, Lenherr says it’s best to check with your doctor before incorporating sea moss into your diet.

The nature of sea moss production – the word “sea” is right there in the name – has all the risks you’d associate with tuna. “As sea moss is marine-sourced, it could also potentially contain heavy metals such as lead, which is important to note,” Lenherr says. “Check that the brand you are buying from has tested for heavy metals.”

Harry Morgan, founder of sea moss company The Moss Way, says that knowing you’re consuming high-quality moss is key. “The quality and source of sea moss are crucial factors – some commercially available sea moss[es] may be farmed in less-than-ideal conditions and could be subject to contamination,” he says. “Ensuring the sea moss is sourced from reputable, sustainable and clean environments is essential to mitigate these risks.

He adds that “those with allergies to seafood or iodine should exercise caution. It’s always recommended to start with small amounts to assess your body’s reaction.” And if you’re pregnant, Morgan recommends talking to your doctor before adding moss to your diet.

If you’re looking to incorporate sea moss into your skincare routine, the same rules apply as if you were introducing any new product to your skin, says Haq: “Sea moss may cause mild irritation if you’re a first time user, so it’s best to perform a patch test on the inside of your wrist before applying products to the rest of your face.”

What’s the best way to consume sea moss?

Morgan says that there are plenty of ways to incorporate sea moss into your life. “For dietary use, sea moss gel can be blended into smoothies, mixed into oatmeal or soups, or consumed straight from the jar,” he says. “As a skincare product, sea moss gel can be applied directly to the skin as a hydrating mask or added to homemade creams or lotions for its soothing and moisturising effects.”

Lenherr says sea moss gel is the product’s “most natural form”, but that “capsules can provide a more concentrated dose of sea moss, and therefore the potential to have higher levels of nutrients.” Sea moss gummies are also available, but they “tend to have lots of added ingredients including sugars and artificial sweeteners, so tend not to be the option for many purists.”

Is sea moss worth it?

So, you’ve heard the potential benefits and potential risks – is sea moss worth it? Haq says that sea moss skincare products are worth investing in for their “powerhouse” nutritional properties, and work for multiple skin types: “Sea moss helps impart moisture to dry and irritated skin, while aiding healthy skin to remain supple and hydrated.” It’s worth noting however that hard research is very limited.

As a dietary supplement, sea moss might not be your first stop on the path to wellness – although it could carry some benefits. “For most people with no health concerns, enjoying the odd smoothie with a tbsp of sea moss in it will be fine, but if you do suffer from thyroid conditions, I would advise to avoid it for now,” Lenherr says.

For Lawson, sea moss’s high iodine content doesn’t make it a silver-bullet supplement. “It’s a good source [of iodine], but so is seaweed and some dairy products,” she says. “Personally, I would focus your food budget on whole, natural foods and buy organic where possible. Sea moss is a fun addition — but by no means essential.”