The Celebrity-Loved Clean Skincare Brand With a Game-Changing Sunscreen Serum

Mara Beauty founder Allison McNamara has made a glow-boosting SPF you'll want to reapply.

Beauty Boss: Allison McNamara for Mara Beauty
Photo: Courtesy

Even though Mara Beauty founder Allison McNamara grew up surrounded by sunscreen (her father is a beauty industry veteran who helped develop some of the most beloved formulas on the market), she had a hard time finding one that spoke to her needs. So, she made her own.

The Sea Kale Sunscreen Serum is a unique, first-to-market mineral sunscreen that goes on like your favorite serum — and offers the same glow-boosting, calming benefits.

"We like to say, it's going to help you upgrade your day glow," McNamara says of her brand's latest launch. "SPF is the last step in your skincare routine, but this is a sunscreen you're going to want to reapply because it has a glowy finish that doesn't leave any white residue."

In just a few years since Mara launched in 2018, the clean skincare brand's algae-infused products have already gained a cult-following and a number of celebrity fans, including Chrissy Teigen and Olivia Munn. And Mara is stocked at clean retailers like Credo Beauty and Detox Market.

Here, McNamara shares her journey to beauty brand founder, why synthetic ingredients are safe, and what sustainability means to her.

What personal experiences inspired you to start Mara Beauty?

I was a TV host, producer, and journalist before I started Mara. In 2015 I found myself at a crossroads in my career. My second TV show had just been canceled because people weren't watching entertainment news at 6pm anymore. I started to think about what I was passionate about. Beauty has always been at the forefront because my family worked in the industry when I was growing up. And I had always wanted to be a beauty host, but I was the fashion entertainment host at PopSugar. Then, Refinery29 hired me as the beauty host and that gave me my first taste of working in beauty.

The idea to create an algae-infused brand came to me while I was on a trip to Istanbul and visiting the Sea of Maramara. Mara is also the last four letters of my name and it means "sea'" in Gaelic (I'm an Irish citizen). After the trip I found a lab and a formulator, but it took years to get Mara off the ground. We didn't launch until 2018.

How has growing up around the beauty industry and working in it helped shape your approach to making products?

My dad would bring home samples of whatever product he was working on and that textural experience of feeling various formulas throughout the years really helped hone my skills. Now I can tell within the first use if I'm going to like something. I formulate kind of like I'm writing a story. There's got to be a hook, like is it a retinol or vitamin C product, for example. That's like the thesis statement and then there needs to be a body, which is the carrier oils. Smaller active ingredients and marketing points round out the story.

Mara's sunscreen is unique because it's a physical SPF serum that doesn't leave a white cast. Tell me more about the formula.

I felt that there was a hole in the market for something that provided a face oil-like finish, but also adequate sunscreen protection. In addition to the non-nano zinc oxide, there are skin-supporting ingredients like blue sea kale, moringa, and hemp seed. The formula also has calming marine botanicals to help reduce redness from sunburns and redness, and finally, the algae blend protects against blue light.

Sustainability has become a big buzzword in the beauty industry. What does it mean to you as a brand founder?

It's touchy because when I launched this brand in 2018 I would use the word a lot. Then I started doing research — because I believe knowledge is power — and realized what sustainability means is keeping things at the present. We don't have the big budgets of beauty conglomerates, but we're trying to find ways to leave the world better than how we found it. We started with our glass bottles and a recycling program. Looking towards the future, something we're talking about is being plastic negative or being carbon negative. A big part of it is also looking at your whole production cycle and knowing if your suppliers practice fair trade and picking manufacturers that are close in proximity to you. It's really loaded question and I could talk about it forever. I'm still learning, but I do know I don't want to be part of the cycle of brands who are just using the word sustainability to get you to buy something.

VIDEO: When You Apply Sunscreen in Your Skincare Routine Actually Matters A Lot

Shop Mara Beauty Products

Sea Kale Sunscreen Serum

Mara Beauty Products

This lightweight sunscreen serum wears beautifully on its own for effortlessly dewy skin, but it feels equally good layered under makeup, too.

To shop: $52;

Algae Retinol Face Oil

Mara Beauty

Unlike many clean skincare brands, Mara formulates with retinol. "I think synthetics are safe, and that's where the misunderstanding comes in," McNamara says of the clean beauty category. "Ours is still a retinol you can't use while pregnant or breastfeeding, but that doesn't mean it's a toxic ingredient."

The Algae Retinol Face Oil combines BHT-free retinol that helps minimize wrinkles and blemishes by stimulating cell turnover with an anti-aging algae blend, calming hemp-derived cannabis, soothing fermented green tea, and cacay, a natural source of vitamin A.

To shop: $120;

Volcanic Sea Clay Detox Masque

Mara Beauty

Give your skin a reset with Mara's pore-clearing mask. The treatment includes four types of oil-absorbing clays, plus the brand's signature algae to refresh skin. Strengthening adatogen ashwaganda, green tea, and ethically-sourced honey round out the formula.

To shop: $54;

Sea Vitamin C Serum

Mara Beauty

In addition to 15% vitamin C (THD ascorbate), this glow-boosting serum is infused with 14 vitamin C-rich fruit extracts, marine botanicals, and herbs. There's also a cocktail of anti-aging ingredients, including firming chlorella, reishi, and algae.

To shop: $96;

Universal Face Oil

Mara Beauty

The product that started it all, Mara's face oil is formulated to be hydrating for all skin types. It includes a cocktail of algae, plankton extract, and superfood plant oils.

To shop: $72;

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Beauty Boss profiles the brains behind the brands making waves in the beauty industry. From the ideas that first inspire brands to how best-selling hair, makeup, and skincare products are made, find out how these leaders get it done.

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