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 Allure. "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).
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 Allure. "It is the most stable vitamin C in the industry in the ester form.
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.
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.
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