Antoinette Marquez (left) and Bonnie Kish
Paul Wellman

Some 5,580 miles across the Pacific Ocean from our little beachside town sits Japan’s Ago Bay, home to the ama, or the “women of the sea.” Also known as the mermaids of Japan, ama are deep-sea free divers, famous for collecting everything from pearls to seaweed and for their profound bond with their natural environment. Ama provided the inspiration for Antoinette Marquez’s store Ama SeaBeauty, which she recently opened on Santa Barbara’s State Street.

Like these Japanese divers, Marquez plunges beneath the waves in search of nutrient-rich seaweed and other marine ingredients, which she then uses to create the assortment of all-natural beauty potions offered as part of her thalassotherapy skin treatment (thalassotherapy being any cosmetic and health treatment that uses seawater).

Marquez’s thalassotherapy treatment is designed to keep the skin looking youthful and radiant by optimizing cellular function and maintaining skin tissues, she said. Marquez explained that over time, skin loses layers of cells, its collagen corrodes, and its elastin loses its structure. These three factors ultimately make skin more sensitive to UV radiation and more susceptible to damage and speed up the appearance of aging. The cure, for Marquez, is found in the ocean.

“The makeup of the ocean is identical to our blood serum,” Marquez said, “so the health benefits of getting into the ocean are incredible. If we would all go in the water more frequently, we would be healthier.”

Indeed, naturopathic physicians, alternative-medicine practitioners, and skincare experts have all recognized the benefits of algae extracts, seaweeds, sea salts, and other marine ingredients in treating an array of bodily ailments and skin conditions. Researchers have found that with the essential nutrients and the right biological conditions, we can cultivate our body’s self-repair capabilities and achieve a reversal or slowdown of aging. Replete with vital nutrients, when applied to the skin, sea extracts create the ideal regenerative environment for accelerating the recovery of damaged or aged skin.

Beyond its deep-sea beauty secrets, the store itself replicates an ocean paradise. Submerging you in waves of turquoises and coral whites, you, too, can feel like a mermaid when you enter Ama SeaBeauty, discovering jars upon jars of nature’s best skin serums nested among beds of sea shells. A long table sits in the center of the store, inviting visitors to explore the wonders of thalassotherapy together.

Marquez’s all-natural skin treatments grew out of her bigger mission of sustainable living. Environmental consciousness inspired her and her husband to purchase 25 acres of land in the Pacific Ocean with the hopes of reforesting the kelp beds that are so essential to maintaining a thriving ecosystem.

“Our skin is our relationship to the environment,” Marquez said. For her, the kindness with which we treat our skin should be equally extended to our planet ​— ​the environment that nourishes and heals us and allows all life to thrive.

Ama SeaBeauty is at 506 State Street. Call (805) 722-2227 or visit


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