Beauty Store Business first caught up with Jenefer Palmer, founder and president of OSEA skin care, at Cosmoprof North America 2019, where she shared some colorful anecdotes about OSEA’s early days. The company has been around for more than 20 years and is one of the truly organic, totally natural, vegan skincare lines that launched long before it was trendy to be clean. A former spa director and holistic arts practitioner with a Hollywood clientele, Palmer began developing natural skin care because she could not find anything effective made without synthetic ingredients.
Today, Palmer is proud to have pioneered clean skincare formulas that are not only non-toxic, effective and cruelty-free, but also free from animal-derived ingredients such as lanolin, beeswax, carmine and more. Uniquely, all of OSEA’s products contain a sustainably sourced seaweed and are packaged in glass.
Here, Palmer shares more about OSEA and hints at what might be in store for the family-run company in 2020.
Some company founders say that they dreamed of starting their own brand, but the origin of OSEA really began with an actual dream your grandmother had. Can you tell our readers a little bit about that?
Yes. My grandmother was one of the first female chiropractors in the United States. She actually graduated from chiropractic school 100 years ago in 1919! After seriously injuring her leg to the point that she was bedridden, she had a dream that if she went in the ocean she would be healed. In the middle of winter, she demanded that my grandfather carry her down to the frigid Long Island shore to soak and then make a seaweed poultice for her leg. Within a few weeks, her leg had healed and they continued to swim in the ocean daily well into their 90s—even when it meant cutting through the ice!
What properties of seaweed make it such a great skincare ingredient and the star ingredient of OSEA’s line of products?
The benefits of seaweed are endless. There are three main species we use in our formulations:
Gigartina skottsbergi (red algae) stimulates collagen production and hydrates and soothes skin. It protects skin from environmental aggressors and also stimulates cell regeneration.
Undaria pinnatifida (wakame) is unique in that it possesses many vitamins and minerals, plus omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. These nutrients are known to facilitate cell regeneration and support skin health. Undaria also contains fucoidan, which helps increase the production of dermal fibroblasts. These skin cells are within the dermis layer of our skin; they support wound healing and skin recovery.
Macrocystis pyrifera (giant kelp) protects the skin due to its ability to minimize damage from exposure to UV radiation. It contains polyphenols, which provide photoprotection. It also fights inflammation and other surface irritations, while visibly diminishing uneven skin tones.
That’s impressive! Why does OSEA source its seaweed from Patagonia in South America?
Patagonia has some of the purest, cleanest waters in the world. Seaweed acts like a sponge and soaks up everything around it–the good, the bad and the ugly. Because we hand-harvest in the pristine waters of Patagonia, OSEA is lucky to have the purest quality, most nutrient-rich seaweed in the world.
You had a highly successful career as a spa director and in the healing arts, working on celebrity clients. How did it prepare you for OSEA?
For many years I worked as a cranial sacral therapist in Malibu, and before that as a spa director at the historic Murietta Hot Springs. I incorporated cranial sacral therapy into our spa menu and it’s now a signature offering in OSEA facials [at OSEA’s Skincare Studio in Venice, California]. Touch and energy work is so important to the healing of the skin. As a spa director in the 80s, even at a premiere natural spa like Murietta, it was still nearly impossible to find luxury skincare brands that weren’t packed with harmful, synthetic ingredients. This is ultimately the reason why I decided to found OSEA.
OSEA launched at Fred Segal more than 22 years ago, when Fred Segal was arguably the hottest retailer in Los Angeles. How did that come about?
When we launched OSEA in 1996, I knew I wanted it on the clean, chic shelves of Fred Segal. But honestly, at that point I had zero sales experience. I literally walked into Fred Segal one day with a box of OSEA products and asked some sales associates if they were interested in carrying a natural, Malibu-based skincare product in glass jars. I got some strange, but compassionate looks and was told that their buyer would contact me if interested. As I was leaving the store, I literally bumped into Ron Robinson the head buyer and vice president of Fred Segal with my huge box of OSEA products. Maybe it was my oversized floppy hat or the confused look on my face, but he smiled, taught me to write a purchase order and gave me a chance to sell OSEA in his fabulous store. I’ll always be grateful to Ron for giving us our start. And I’m proud to say OSEA is still there 23 years later!
OSEA was among the first to use clean, vegan and organic ingredients. It is safe to say that your company is a pioneer of the clean/ natural beauty movement. What were some of the early challenges?
At first, people didn’t like that our products were in glass. ‘Eco-friendly’ wasn’t really a thing back in 1996. The biggest challenge was that there wasn’t a general awareness about clean beauty like there is now. It was tough to convert beauty junkies who were used to using formaldehyde- based fragrances in their skin care to OSEA, which is either unscented or uses pure, steam-distilled essential oils as its aromatherapeutic base. Finally, sourcing natural ingredients was super tricky. At that time there were mostly only small farms and select suppliers distributing plant-based ingredients. I’m proud to say that after 23 years, we are still working with most of our original suppliers.
Those are real hurdles you overcame. What is the next challenge in this arena?
Sourcing natural preservative systems is the next big challenge in the natural skincare world. If there is even one drop of water (including hydrosols, aloe vera, etc.), a natural-derived preservative system is needed or the product will develop mold (and even harmful bacteria) in just a few days. We are always on the lookout for new natural preservative systems.
Please tell us some of OSEA’s top customer favorites and why.
Undaria Algae Body Oil: This product is super unique and not just because it’s Victoria Beckham’s favorite! We make this body oil, similar to how one would fabricate a good wine. We soak our Undaria seaweed in vats of botanical oils for months in order to distill all of the bioavailable nutrients into the oil. Then we filter out the seaweed and infuse it with essential oils. The result is a super silky, mineralizing body oil that nourishes skin and leaves you glowing. [Also,] Hyaluronic Sea Serum: When I formulated this, I wanted it to be different than other hyaluronic acid serums on the market. It’s a blend of three molecular weights of hyaluronic acid and three different seaweeds. It floods the skin with hydration and minerals. It’s not even three years old and continues to be our best-selling product.
Do you still experiment with skin care?
Yes, I’m constantly working on new formulations. I’m super excited that we have some new, innovative products launching in 2020!
How would you define the OSEA customer?
OSEA customers are all ages and skin types: vegans, animal rights activists, the health conscious, yoginis, natural beauty lovers, gluten-free folk, mamas, models, wellness coaches, healers, artists, medicine makers and, of course, the eco-concious!
What has been most gratifying about founding your own family-run company?
What could be better than working with the people you love? It has brought us closer together, despite disagreements. On occasion, when we just simply cannot agree, we meet with our business family therapist. It’s a must for any family in business together!
How would you define your company culture?
Our company culture is compassionate, vegan and plastic-free. We do not provide bottled water and use an under-sink water filter to purify. Team members bring or cook their own lunch in our fully equipped kitchens, which eliminates the need for paper plates, napkins, paper towels and plastic utensils/cups. All leftovers are composted and pretty much all team members are composting at home now, too. We only have one printer in our office, but honestly try our best not to use it. Almost everything we do is digital.
You really walk the walk! What makes OSEA unique from other natural skincare brands?
OSEA’s philosophy is built into our name–OSEA, which stands for ocean, sun, earth and atmosphere. Since we launched in 1996, the ethos of OSEA has always been wellness. OSEA recognizes the link between human health and the health of our planet, hence our glass packaging, organic vegan ingredients, utilizing sustainable species of seaweed and our Skincare Studio recycling program. OSEA is a conscious lifestyle.