Celebrity-Loved Clean Beauty Brand Mara Launches Its First Vitamin C Serum

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Sea Vitamin C Serum, an oil-based serum, is formulated with an impressive blend of vitamin C — 15 percent THD ascorbate, along with 14 other fruit- and plant- derived forms of vitamin C (Kakadu plum, papaya, and grapefruit, to name a few) — to illuminate skin.

As you probably know, vitamin C is "a potent antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals," explains New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Patricia Wexler. "Because of its antioxidant properties, vitamin C aids in your skin's natural regeneration process, which helps your body repair damaged skin cells." In simpler terms: Antioxidants protect your skin from UV and pollution damage and make your skin look brighter, firmer, and more even.

For the uninitiated, the particular form of vitamin C in Sea Vitamin C Serum, THD ascorbate, is an extremely stable, oil-soluble form of vitamin C, according to cosmetic chemist Ginger King. "It's a vitamin C ester that is stable in oils," King tells ishonest. "It is the most stable vitamin C in the industry in the ester form."

All of this to say, in terms of brightening power, the Sea Vitamin C Serum nails it on the head — and then some. But that's exactly the point, says Mara founder Allison McNamara, who began the line in 2018 with the sole goal of creating a vitamin C product down the line.

"I've been formulating this product since 2017, since before we launched the brand," she tells ishonest. "I knew that I wanted to create four capsule products: the everyday Universal Face Oil, a great, easy cleanser that's super versatile (the Chia + Moringa Algae Enzyme Cleansing Oil) and functional, and then my two favorite actives: retinol (the Evening Primrose + Green Tea Algae Retinol Oil) and vitamin C (the Sea Vitamin C Serum)."

But to launch a new product — in the middle of a pandemic — McNamara had to make sure it was unique enough to grab consumers' attention. "If I'm going to introduce a vitamin C serum in 2020, how is it going to stand out on a shelf?" asks McNamara, to a group of beauty editors ahead of the Sea Vitamin C Serum launch. "What's going to make it different than all of the other options that have been around for years?"

For one, there's its serene blue bottle (made of recyclable glass), along with its cocktail of skin-soothing ingredients (adaptogens, moringa, and algae) to harmonize with the potency of the vitamin C. "For me, because I'm really fair and have sensitized skin, I wanted to bring in a really calming story," says McNamara of the additional ingredients found in Sea. "There are three types of adaptogens in here — chlorella, reishi, and ginseng — a trifecta that's really unique that balances with the vitamin C."

Together, the three herbs, along with squalane and algae, add a tranquil take on the traditional vitamin C serum to calm redness, fight inflammation, and hydrate skin, all while THD ascorbate brightens skin and "helps with collagen synthesis for firmer skin," says King.

Formula aside, for those who regularly use a vitamin C serum know scent is arguably one of the most memorable aspects of the experience. That's why McNamara made sure her version was notably fragrant but in a non-traditional way.

"I really love a sensory experience, and I didn't want to smell like a hotdog or burnt chicken," she says. "I feel like a lot of vitamin C [serums] can smell really funky, and that is not how I like to wake up." Instead, you'll find that Sea smells more of thyme with hints of sweet citrus — a much more subdued scent to kickstart one's day — no hotdog water involved.

Texture-wise, although technically a hybrid oil-serum, the clear-hued Sea Vitamin C Serum is more on the oilier side of the spectrum. What feels like a traditional face oil when dropped into the palm of your hand, quickly absorbs into skin, evaporating like that of a dry oil. "There's no stickiness or tackiness; it doesn't feel like a primer," says McNamara. I agree — I found the dry-down to be smooth, somewhat silky, and far from syrupy.

Here I am, wearing the Mara Sea Vitamin C Serum with nothing else but a coat of mascara.

I prefer to apply the Sea Vitamin C Serum right after cleansing in the morning, with just a hint of essence as my base. I squirt two to three drops into the palm of my hand, warm up the oil à la human friction, and then gently press into my cheeks, chin, and forehead, specifically focusing on spots where my melasma has flared up this summer.

Typically, with traditional water-based vitamin C serums, I'd fan my face and move right along to a hyaluronic acid serum before applying moisturizer and then sunscreen. But with Sea, I've found that I prefer to let the product really sink into my skin for a few extra minutes, with a cup of coffee in hand, before moving on to the next product in my extensive line-up.

After a few weeks of testing the serum with zero sensitivity and a few compliments from coworkers on how "glowy" my skin is looking during Zoom meetings, I don't see myself going back to a traditional vitamin C serum — at least for now. I've been super impressed with how easy Sea Vitamin C Serum is to wear bare-faced or layer under the occasional work-from-home makeup moment. That being said, with a quarter of Sea already gone, I have a feeling I'll be nearing the end of my bottle sooner than I'd like.

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