The Caribbean Seaweed Expedition (Part 4 of 6)

Harvesting Gifts from the Sea

Wherever I go in the world, I love to research local resources that could benefit our customers, especially for skin care. I am always on the lookout for new ingredients, and whenever possible, try to test them on people in different countries, in different circumstances and in differing climates. I have been looking for years for something that brings “instant results” for a variety of skin types and skin conditions from very dry skin to even semi-oily skin.

Like Robinson Crusoe’s island, most of the San Blas archipelago off northern Panama remains uninhabited. Making up most of the independent state of Comarca San Blas, you could visit an island a day – there are more than 365 islands in the group. Tiny communities of Kuna Yala Indians live on about 50 of the islands, although we never saw a single soul during our stay.

We heard that there are coconut trading and supply ships, which travel back and forth to Colombia or the northern coast of Panama on 6 to 8 day voyages. Once a pirate hangout, helicopter tours now take brave backpackers out to the islands and some tour companies offer cruises when the weather is good. My friend Paul and I sailed there in four days through rough waters in search of a very special seaweed.

While the islands do not usually have the hurricanes that devastate the eastern Caribbean islands, the seas are rough and the wind can be very strong. At times, huge waves reared up behind our boat, higher than the mast. At 90-feet, the sailing yacht “Aria” owned by my friend Paul Roncker is very sea-worthy. Still there were some heart-pounding moments as the ship pitched and rolled.

Close in to the islands, birds were our only companions. A haven for birds and marine life, a major source of food for both flora and fauna is the seaweed that we had come to find.


A crew member went down to collect some of the beautiful seaweed

In a calm channel surrounded by islands, we found patches of the long brown seaweed floating on the deep blue water. Down below, we could see acres of the plants waving like grassy fields. One of the crew dove into the water to harvest the seaweed we had come so far to find. It was a great moment that filled us with joy when the first seaweed came on board.

It smelled salty and good and I even tasted some — it tasted quite nice. Yes, it was slimy – but it was a rich, clean slime. Our hands were rough and hard from days in the hot sun and seawater. When you put the seaweed straight on your hands, it immediately moisturized and cooled your skin.

When we get it back to the lab, we will do extensive tests. However, I’m pretty sure the results of using this seaweed will be significantly better than the ones we have tried so far from Sabah and elsewhere. If we do choose to use the San Blas variety, then we will need to figure out how to get a regular supply from the locals.

We also need to consider the impact of seaweed harvesting. We would only use parts that do not affect the environment in any way. You can find these laying on the beach and thriving in the water, especially long strands that came loose in storms. Plenty of seaweed available!

Floating ‘islands’ of seaweed which have already come loose from the bottom and head with the current and waves towards the beach, can be collected without harm to the environment.
Harvesting free-floating seaweed does not interfere with the unbelievable unspoiled beauty of these islands. The only thing I wanted to take home was seaweed.

There is something exceptional about the quality of the San Blas seaweed. I heard that local people have used it for centuries for various health purposes and also for protecting and caring for their skin. I knew how happy Dr. Gatot would be to get samples of this seaweed as we had had long discussions in our lab in Langkawi. Currently we use seaweed from the coast of Sabah near Borneo, Indonesia. But this seaweed from the San Blas islands of Panama seems to be of the best quality around and therefore well worth our time and investment.

With my skin so rough after days manning the sails under the hot sun with salt spray splattering us constantly, the San Blas seaweed felt so soothing. My skin blisters seemed to heal more quickly than I expected. It certainly works for me!


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The Caribbean Seaweed Expedition (Part 3 of 6)

Seeking the “Secret” for Beautiful Skin

Wherever I go in the world, I love to research local resources that could benefit our customers, especially for skin care. I am always on the lookout for new ingredients, and whenever possible, try to test them on people in different countries, in different circumstances and in differing climates. I have been looking for years for something that brings “instant results” for a variety of skin types and skin conditions from very dry skin to even semi-oily skin.

For four days, my friend Paul and I sailed the Caribbean Sea from Cartegena, Colombia to remote tropical islands off the northern coast of Panama. Dark nights, strong winds, and huge waves tested our sailing skills to the max but we finally found what we had come for – a very special seaweed that we may use in future Paul Penders products.

Meanwhile, back in our lab on Langkawi Island in Malaysia, Dr. Gatot, our senior cosmetic chemist, has been busy developing a new skincare product. The aim? To create a Paul Penders product that would bring back skin freshness almost instantly.

He and I were inspired by a recent visit to a major “high-tech” cosmetic ingredients conference in Bangkok. Researchers from the largest cosmetics companies in the world gathered to share their discoveries. We were intrigued by how some of the “super anti-ageing ingredients” could be created by combining seaweeds and natural plant stem-cells.

In the lab, Dr. Gatot has incorporated some of our trusted Malaysian organic jungle herbs into Paul ‘Penders products including a ‘miracle plant’ called pegaga. Just outside the lab doors, we grow our own organic bismillah plants which he combined with a special quality seaweed from Sabah, Malaysia. When he had finished the new formula and was satisfied with the first batches, they were tested on various people with promising results. Now I wanted this new skincare formula to be tested under tough weather conditions.

As it happened, I had heard of a special seaweed found in the San Blas islands in Panama. A close friend was sailing the Caribbean and invited me to come along for a few weeks. Here was my chance.

Why not do both? Find the intriguing seaweed from San Blas — and at the same time, use the brutal ocean environment of the Caribbean Sea to test Dr. Gatot’s new formula on our own faces, arms and bodies? If these new formulas could work in the toughest conditions, would we not have a real winner for our skincare line?

I wanted to be sure the lab uses the right seaweed – the very best and purest. This is the reason why we went to the western Caribbean to the San Blas group of islands where very few people live. The islands are located some 100 km from the coast of Panama and remain one of the most remote and pristine in the world.

Not all sailboats reach these islands; most of the time there are very strong winds. Over the years, many sailors have lost their vessels. Plenty of ships lay on the reef; some have gone down recently, some may have lain there for 50 years or longer. The strong sea currents and huge waves are ‘king’ around these very small and very beautiful islands.

During our four-day voyage, pods of dolphins played around the boat. As the islands appeared on the horizon, we sighted a few birds overhead and sea rays jumped out of the water. This is not a popular tourist spot — there is nothing much to do here but admire what is still pure nature. White very fine sand, blue-green water and palm trees adorn these deserted tropical islands. Always, there is the huge sound of magnificent high waves.

Were the dolphins greeting us or warning us too?

Were they saying to keep the islands unspoiled and that we should leave this special environment in exactly the same condition as we found it?

If we decide to use the San Blas seaweed in Paul Penders products, we will have to take into account the difficulties involved in harvesting and shipping it from Panama to our facilities in Malaysia. Even more importantly, we will need to consider the impact of seaweed harvesting on the local people and the marine environment.

And of course, as our boat neared the San Blas islands, the big question loomed in n my mind:

“Have we really found the ‘fountain of youth’ – a secret weapon for beautiful skin?”

Please join me next time for more of our “Caribbean Seaweed Expedition.”


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The Caribbean Seaweed Expedition (Part 1 of 6)

Ship Ahoy! Seeking a Lifesaver for Beautiful Skin!

Wherever I go in the world, I love to research local resources that could benefit our customers, especially for skin care. I am always on the lookout for new ingredients, and whenever possible, try to test them on people in different countries, in different circumstances and in differing climates. I have been looking for years for something that brings “instant results” for a variety of skin types and skin conditions from very dry skin to even semi-oily skin.

Just over a year ago, I heard about a very special seaweed that we might be able use for a brand-new product formula. In a total of 6 blogs, I look forward to sharing my exciting adventure sailing in the Caribbean with you.

This trip provided an ‘ultimate test.’ Would I find the ‘magic’ seaweed growing around remote islands off the coast of Panama? How would I know? What could be a better test of new natural skincare products than trying them out on peoples’ skin, even on a sailboat in the tropics? Our skin was battered all day long by the brutal sun, dry conditions, salt water and strong winds.

Some 100 km off the coast of Panama lie the pristine and isolated San Blas group of some 350 islands, of which a few inhabited by a very small population of Kuna Yala Indians. In this remote place, the islanders manage to retain much of their traditional lifestyle. A friend had told me that the locals use a high-mineral seaweed both for food and for their skin care regimens. I had to go see for myself!


 
TWO “PAULS” SAILED THE CARIBBEAN TOGETHER
 

Luckily, my lifelong friend Paul Roncken is also interested in the wonderful things of nature and is actually sailing around the world on a beautiful 90-foot sailboat called “Aria.” I flew to Aruba to meet him. We sailed to Cartagena in Colombia where we took on extra provisions. Then it took us four days and nights in treacherous seas to reach the San Blas islands — but we finally got what we had looked fo…

We heard of boats of people who had tried to reach the remote islands and had had to turn back. Many ships lie buried beneath the wild waves or are cast up on the reefs. To see these ships buried was hard to look at. We were lucky as we had an experienced crew and captain!

Testing Nature´s Finest Ingredients

Sometimes the best tests can be done outside the laboratory. The ultimate test lab is Nature itself. The natural environment, the weather, the factors of sun, water, wind, and available nutrients all force the local flora and fauna to adapt. The San Blas archipelago endures some of the harshest conditions and remains among the world’s most pristine and unpolluted. What we were to find there would have to be very special.

Where is Nature’s lab? To me it is anywhere in the world.

In nature’s lab, we can finish what our R&D people start. Our scientists work long hours to make sure all components are in the right chemical balance. Of course, we always try them out in study groups to see if they perform well and meet my own critical expectations as well. Under nature’s harsher conditions, however, we can put our new creations to the ultimate tests. Then we can decide whether these new formulations will really stand up against the elements of life, such as ageing, sun and wind damage, and man-made pollutants.

Please join me for the next parts of this Caribbean adventure when I’ll tell you more about what we discovered!

 


 

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