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I’ll tell you what I was not doing at 20. I was not launching a million-dollar all-natural and vegan skincare line from my dorm room. I was likely close-up analyzing the lingering aftermath of teenage acne and pleading with it to kindly pack up, leave my face, and never come back. But thankfully, Akilah Releford, the founder of Mary Louise Cosmetics did just that (with just $200 in her pocket). Her top-selling product is oh-so-fittingly called Miracle Serum and it’s an Instagram favorite.
Naturally, when the subject line "I dropped out of med school and created one of Instagram's favorite facial serums" landed in my inbox, I had to know more. With incredible before and after’s to show for it, I had to try out this magical serum for myself. Releford was kind enough to send me her bestsellers to see what all the buzz is about.
Mary Louise Miracle Serum
Star Rating: 4.9
Best for: All skin types, but especially those prone to breakouts, scarring, and hyperpigmentation
Uses: Evening skin tone, hydrating skin, treating eczema, as well as fading acne scars, dark spots, razor bumps, and hyperpigmentation
Potential Allergens: Seed and/or nut allergies
Active Ingredients: Vitamin C, organic baobab and sunflower oils
Byrdie Clean: Yes
About the brand: Mary Louise Cosmetics is a Black-owned, vegan, organic, and cruelty-free skincare brand. The brand focuses on creating nourishing and clean beauty products that are effective and affordable.
About the Brand
Before we discuss all the wonder that is her miracle serum, Releford’s road to building her empire is worth mentioning. She spent most her pre-med days at Howard University researching DIY face masks, calling on her little sister to be guinea pig. She was determined to make a vegan and cruelty-free skincare option that actually works without breaking the bank. “My goal for Mary Louise is to have affordability, quality, and ‘ingredients you can pronounce’ co-exist in the same space,” she says.
Releford is proud that her company is one that women of color can identify with. “Early on, I became the face of the brand by default because so many people knew me from my Twitter days,” she says. When asked if she was ever faced with any challenges as a newly established Black-owned skincare brand in an industry known to be notoriously lacking in diversity, she had this to say: “Looking back I think this was more of an advantage than a setback because women of color could relate to me and could pin a familiar face to the beauty products they were using.” She says, of the recent acceleration of the Black Lives Matter movement, “The light that is currently being shined on Black-owned businesses is long overdue and I hope that it continues to stay."
Releford’s maternal and paternal grandmothers, Mary and Louise, were both Mississippians who passed on family beauty secrets and natural home remedies. The brand’s name and her first product, the Mississippi Mud Facial Mask, is a tribute to them. “I feel very surreal sometimes to have so many people around the world saying my grandmothers' names,” she says. “I know they would be extremely proud and I’ll continue to channel their energy into the products I create.” Following the mud mask, she created her Miracle Serum, both of which became instant internet favorites.
About My Skin: Congested and combination
While I generally don’t get a lot of inflamed breakouts, I’ve had my share of leftover marks and discoloration. I often contend with blackheads and closed comedones (those little skin-colored bumps that are essentially just clogged pores). Basically, my skin needs a little extra help in the exfoliating department.
My daily routine looks the same both in the morning and at night. I wash my face with PCA Skin's BPO 5 Percent Cleanser on Vanity Planet's Cleansing Brush and pat dry. For toner, I’ve been reaching for PCA Skin's Smoothing Toner, then I like to mix a dot of the brand's Hyaluronic Acid Boosting Serum with the Rejuvenating Serum and finish with the Clearskin Moisturizer. To speed up cell turnover and encourage exfoliation, I swipe a cotton pad loaded with Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting Liquid across my face about three to four times a week.
I do, on occasion, get lazy and mistakenly think I can get away consequence-free with skimping on the routine. This is when extra breakouts will emerge and leave behind marks well after the initial spot has healed.
While I tested the Miracle Serum, I pressed a few drops into my skin after cleansing and toning. The product directions suggest applying onto damp skin and waiting about five minutes before putting on other products to ensure full absorption. I ended up playing with the way I layered the serums, and, found it worked best to apply the Miracle Serum on top of my PCA serums, as it has the thickest consistency.
The Ingredients: Super nourishing, hydrating, and regenerative
“The girls who messaged me from the twitter thread were requesting a product for dry/sensitive skin,” says Releford. “I knew the ingredients in the Miracle Serum were highly effective and [I] have used them to treat my eczema before.” Mary Louise Cosmetics uses only natural and organic ingredients in all of their products. Formulated with only three ingredients, the Miracle Serum is vegan and clean. It also passes Byrdie’s Clean Beauty Pledge with flying colors.
Baobab Oil: The MVP of the serum, baobab oil is a nutrient-rich oil extracted from the African baobab tree. As one of the longest-living trees in the world, it commonly called the “Tree of Life.” Every part of the tree is useful and has medicinal properties. Baobab oil is one of the most prominent oils from Africa and has been used for thousands of years for its regenerative abilities. Harvested from the seeds of baobab fruit, the silky oil is non-siccative, meaning air doesn’t dry it out and gives it a much longer shelf life than other natural seed oils.
I could go on and on about the incredible benefits of baobab. Here’s what you need to know. It has a remarkable and unique complex of fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals, and is easily absorbed into the skin’s epidermal tissue—making it super nourishing. It’s high in vitamins C, A, D, E, and F, which make it an excellent antioxidant. The thick emollient is quick-drying, so it doesn’t leave a greasy residue and is hydrating without clogging pores. Baobab aids in the regeneration of skin cells, smooth wrinkles, relieves eczema and psoriasis, and works as an anti-inflammatory.
Sunflower Seed Oil: Sunflower seed oil is said to enhance the skin barrier to maintain hydration, fight acne, and protect the skin against environmental stressors like UV rays. The vitamin E-rich oil protects the skin’s collagen and elastin, giving it excellent anti-aging properties. Linoleic acid, or omega-6 fatty acid, calms inflamed skin and encourages new skin cell development.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is the extra something that takes this serum to miracle level. This is what will brighten stubborn hyperpigmentation and lighten dark spots by interfering with melanin production, resulting in a more even skin tone. It’s also known to protect the skin from free radical damage and encourage collagen production (hello baby skin).
The Packaging: Some difficulty opening
When I first went to twist open the amber dropper bottle, it’s worth noting that it was a little bit of a struggle. The cap is on tight. I don’t consider myself as having weak hands and I ended up having to use a towel to grip the lid as I twisted to get the dropper free. This is my one and only gripe with the serum—even after continued use I haven’t noticed any loosening in the seal. However, for travel, a tight seal isn’t exactly a bad thing.
The Feel: Smooth oil
The serum is formulated from a mix of oils, so don’t be alarmed when it feels as such. Baobab oil is extremely viscous, but the other ingredients help to thin it out. At first, I was surprised at the thick, oily texture—I’m accustomed to the more watery feel of other serums. I’m not used to using oils, so it felt slightly, and I mean slightly, greasy on my face at first. Thanks to the baobab’s speedy drying, that went away nearly instantly, and in its place was an incredible feeling of hydration and nourishment. It’s like I could feel my skin cells regenerating. Putting it on, I couldn’t resist the urge to give myself a little impromptu facial massage.
The Results: Even skin tone and dewy glow
The first day I applied Miracle Serum, I had an annoying spot of hyperpigmentation following a healed breakout. My main concern was to see if I could really fade them with this stuff. The verdict? A whole lot more happened than just the fading of dark spots. It definitely took some time to see results, but it’s worth it. With a few weeks of diligent use, the red mark on my cheek had become a lighter pink and was certainly less noticeable on my face. I also started using the serum to treat razor bumps on my legs and the results were even more shocking than with my face. I’ve been dealing with stubborn spots on my legs for over a year now and a few months with this serum has worked, well, miracles. After continued use, my overall complexion appeared more even, hydrated, and glowy, and I noticed more suppleness in my cheeks.
The Before + After
[Note: This is a before-and-after photo provided by Marie Louise Cosmetics and is not of the author.]
The Value: Totally worth it
The brand did send this to me, so when I saw the $35 price tag, I mentally added it to my future shopping cart. The two ounces of product is a lot more affordable than other luxury serums (my beloved PCA serums run about triple that). At four months of regular use on both my face (twice daily) and legs, the serum has just about to hit the halfway point—a little bit goes a long way. It ends up being a super affordable investment and the results are beyond worth the price.
Similar Products: You have options
Bio-Oil: The closest alternative I would say is the holy grail Bio-Oil. It’s an even more budget-friendly option at only $13 at Ulta for a two-ounce bottle. Bio-Oil is known to fade stretch marks, hyperpigmentation, scars, and balance uneven skin tone. It also works as an excellent moisturizer for the entire body.
Our Verdict: Yes, it’s a miracle
Mary Louise Cosmetics’ Miracle Serum is just that good. If you have dry skin, hyperpigmentation, scars, uneven skin tone, eczema, or razor bumps, I definitely recommend giving this stuff a go. Releford wanted to make a natural “fit-it-all” skincare item and the Miracle Serum is exactly that.