Mara Beauty Founder Allison McNamara Drops Her Skin-Care Routine

Allison McNamara was pretty much born to shine—or in her case, glow. The Mara Beauty founder chose the name of her clean skin-care line to reflect the last four letters of her name, but also because mara means “sea” in Gaelic. She was inspired by Sea of Marmara in Istanbul, hence the brand’s #SeatheGlow tagline that can be seen on everything from her packaging to social media. 

But it’s more than just clever marketing that has garnered the brand plenty of celeb devotees and makeup artists. The algae-infused line is sustainably sourced via wild collecting in France and Ireland and is the closest I’ve found to bottling that just-from-the-spa glow that we all seem to be searching for. In fact, it’s why I named Mara’s latest launch—the Algae + Zinc Sea Kale Sunscreen Serum—one of the best beauty picks of 2021. 

And yet, becoming the CEO of a skin-care brand wasn’t McNamara’s plan growing up, or even during most of her 20s. Prior to launching Mara, the University of Southern California grad was a TV host, producer, and fashion and beauty journalist, which unbeknownst to her at the time help lay the foundation for her future success. 

“We have an upper hand as journalists because we are shown so many different products that you try and test, but I also approach formulating the same way you would approach doing research for a piece you’re writing,” McNamara tells Glamour. “And I do think that helps set our products apart. There’s a lot of thought that goes into the formulation process, and I own every formula.”

Back in 2018 that formula led to Mara’s first product—the Universal Face Oil—which McNamara says was a gamble, even though it paid off. “It was risky, looking back, to launch with one hero product, but I think it was really the beginning of the trend we’re seeing now, which is a more curated approach to beauty.”

Personally, McNamara takes a minimalistic, less-is-more approach to skin care, along with Botox in her forehead every six months with board-certified physician associate Sari Hoban. “It’s nothing crazy and I let it fully wear off [before going in for more]. I think that’s the biggest mistake people make—they put all new filler, new Botox, new whatever, over old work.”

She also swears by Emma Goodman’s chakra cleansing facials as well as Vivace MicroNeedling at Skin Five, which she does twice a year. “It’s a specific type of microneedling that I love. That’s why I got into the derma roller at home. It’s a pricey treatment, but I see amazing results with it, and it’s not as invasive as others.”

But treatments only work when you have a great foundation to start with, and McNamara definitely does. For Glamour’s latest Drop the Routine, she fills us in on her skin-care mainstays that have taken her from “dry as the Sahara” to combination skin that glows from within. 

My cleansers

Mara Algae Enzyme Cleansing Oil and the Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser. I’ll be honest—washing my face is probably one of my least favorite skin-care steps. So I knew if I made a product that I actually wanted to use, that I had done something right. I wanted a cleansing oil that removed every trace of makeup and could give you that fresh foaming cleanse. And I actually don’t wash my face in the morning unless I’ve done a really crazy workout. I only wash my face in the evening. I think people wash their face too much. It’s often a source of a lot of breakouts for people because they’re overcleansing the skin. So on days where I’m wearing a lot of makeup on screen, I will use the Mara Algae Enzyme Cleansing Oil in the evening. And for days where maybe I didn’t leave the house at all or put on as much makeup, I love the Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser. It’s so soft. I usually use it one to two nights a week.

My toner/essence

I use Tata Harper Brightening Essence in the morning only. I love using a brightening essence, something with a water-based product that has a slight tinge of actives. I also love the Agent Nateur Holi(water) more for the smell than anything else. I like that step because it hydrates the skin and allows penetration for the next few steps. I think it’s especially important to have some form of water or moisture to make sure your skin is damp in the morning if you’re not cleansing your face so you can actually receive the serums that you’re going to put on next.

My serums

I use the Mara Sea Vitamin C Serum to get my vitamin C and Farmacy Honeymoon Glow AHA Resurfacing Night Serum for my acid. I love our Sea Vitamin C Serum because I think it is such a beautiful way to get a heavy jolt of vitamin C, with 15% THD ascorbate along with 14 different forms of natural vitamin C, so really it averages more like a 20% vitamin C blend. It’s so great for brightness, hyperpigmentation, glow, sun damage. I use that every single morning. The Farmacy Honeymoon Glow AHA is the acid I go back to the most. I also like Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment. I love an acid step because I think it’s so great for resurfacing and for that extra amount of exfoliation that you don’t get with a retinol. While retinol increases the cell turnover, it doesn’t actually exfoliate everything, so it’s kind of nice to have that. I usually use an acid one to two nights a week.

My moisturizer

I actually don’t love cream-based moisturizers. It’s a really hard sell for me to love one, but Weleda Skin Food The Original Ultra-Rich Cream I love because it’s more of a serum hybrid. It’s the most hydrating, amazing product. But I would be wary if you’re someone who is prone to breakouts with this product. It’s similar to a Vaseline-type product in a way because it’s got lanolin in it, but it’s super hydrating if you’re in the pits of winter and your regular moisturizer just isn’t cutting it. 

My eye cream

I like the Agent Nateur Eye Serum for adding hydration around the ocular eye area. I’m very dry, so I like it in the mornings or even in the evenings if I just want an extra step of hydration. It has a gel consistency to it, and I enjoy it. But I have never seen—yet—super-dramatic improvement from an eye cream. I definitely think that Botox or Dysport, if you’re really looking to target or have preventative aging around the eyes, is probably your best bet. I formulate products for a living now, and a lot of eye creams are the same ingredients [used in other products] just on a more macro smaller. And the price is like 10 times more. I get dark circles because I’m so fair, and it’s not like anything’s going to change it because it’s genetics. But if it makes you feel good and it feels as if you’re doing something, then that’s important. I don’t want to hate on people who enjoy their cream. 

My face masks

I do love a mask, even though masks are not an essential step to a skin-care routine, which is why I toyed with launching our own. But I do think a detox mask is so nice. I started formulating ours when I was doing so much travel, or just being in a place like New York City or L.A. where you feel there’s a lot of environmental toxins and pollution. I use the Mara Volcanic Masque to detox twice a month, although a lot of our clients like doing it twice a week. And then I love the Goop Microderm Instant Glow Exfoliator for resurfacing. It’s so good. I think I screamed a little bit the first time I used it because it was so crazy, but I’ve built up tolerance to it and I just feel like it makes your skin look so nice. And sometimes I’ll even use it in the morning if I’ve got a big meeting or if I’m on camera where you can really see skin texture because I think it gives you a really nice, smooth canvas. It only takes three minutes, so it’s superfast.

My retinol and face oil

I use the Mara Algae Retinol Face Oil with evening primrose and green tea four or five nights a week, and my skin has never looked better. The retinol is a treatment step. It isn’t oil, but we put it in the oil because we wanted to deliver a high amount of active without drying out the skin. So keeping the skin barrier happy and healthy is the top priority. And that’s how we’re able to get away with these really heavy actives, and high percentages too because 1.2% is not a small load of retinol. It’s not a prescription retinol, obviously, but it is a traditional linear retinol. I like this closest to the skin, but if you’re someone who’s supersensitive, you can actually put on the Mara Universal Face Oil first and then put the retinol on top. But I made them to work together because even though the retinol you might feel is super hydrating, I like to wait like 10 minutes and then apply universal face oil or I’ll apply Weleda skin food or whatever I’m doing that night. But I do think you need a moisture step after the retinol. 

My face mists

I don’t mist all that often, but I mist with the Tower 28 SOS Daily Rescue Facial Spray spray whenever I’m having a maskne moment because it really helps. It’s amazing for acne-prone skin. I also use that before I do the detox mask. I like to have a slightly damp face before I do a mask and then I’ll actually spray on the Tower 28 SOS Spray while the mask is on because you want to keep hydration. And then the Lilah B. Aglow Hydrating + Setting Face Mist is just the perfect face mist if you want to look glow-y and beautiful. I love having it throughout the day. It just gives you this gorgeous glow.

My sunscreens

Everyday I use our Mara Algae + Zinc Sea Kale Sunscreen Serum SPF 30 layered with the Saie Slip Tint Dewy Tinted Moisturizer SPF 35 Sunscreen. We forget that there’s a certain amount of SPF you’re supposed to use each day. I want to say it’s like a quarter of a teaspoon to get the full FDA-recommended SPF 30. So a lot of times I don’t want to use just one product for that full amount. I find that layering is a better and easier way for me to adhere to the guidelines. So I’ll usually do two pumps of the Mara SPF, and then I love using the Saie SPF 35 Slip Tint. I’ll wait like 5 to 10 minutes in between. I also recently discovered the Tower 28 version. It’s a little less glowy, so it’s a nice combo with the Mara SPF, but I usually do try and layer two together because I think it’s a nice way to fully maximize the amount of SPF you’re using. And make sure to shake the Mara Sunscreen Serum before use because you’ll notice it does have separation if you don’t shake it. 

My lip balm

Summer Fridays Lip Butter Balm. I’m not a vanilla person, but for some reason I like the scent of this one. 

My device

I have a lot of devices that I use, but the Jenny Patinkin Rose on Rose Derma Roller I think is the most sophisticated way to do your at-home derma rolling. I have been using it pretty consistently, and I have noticed a big difference in my skin. Hers is like the tiniest little pricks, and I don’t feel that if you use it properly that you’re going to hurt the skin barrier. She also has some amazing tutorials. I was very scared to try a derma roller before her, but I love that device. I also have an LED mask that I use once or twice a week, and I use the NuFace from time to time.

Jessica Radloff is the Glamour West Coast editor. You can follow her on Instagram at @jessicaradloff14.

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