By Janet H. Cho
The Plain Dealer, Cleveland
FreeRange SkinCare founder and President Sandra Bontempo created her first egg-based skin cream for her then-four-month-old son, whose severe eczema and atopic dermatitis made him break out from other baby lotions.
A fourth-generation soap and lotion maker and entrepreneur, Bontempo grew up on her grandparents’ farm in North Ridgeville where they grew or made everything they ate, and nothing was wasted. Tinkering with the simple ingredients in her kitchen, “it wasn’t until I started incorporating the egg that he stopped having the flare-ups,” she said.
The eggs came from the family’s 17 serama chickens, and the more she applied the cream, the more her baby’s symptoms calmed down.
Using her background in organic chemistry, she started making other products like soaps and lotions, some with the egg whites, others with eggshell membranes, scenting them with essential oils like lavender and mint (she also makes unscented for sensitive skin).
“Egg yolks help heal sun damage,” egg whites shrink pores, and the eggshells help reduce wrinkles, she said. “There is so much in this egg that is so good for your skin,” and is more easily absorbed than other beauty products, she said. Just as farm-fresh eggs taste better than the commercially produced kind, Bontempo believes the skincare benefits from their eggs are superior, too.
Bontempo grew her business by word of mouth, one friend referring another, and started making regular appearances at farmers’ markets with her friendliest chickens and roosters. Her most popular rooster, Winston, is a certified therapy rooster who visits nursing home and battered women’s shelters.
Business consultant Melissa Knelly met Bontempo at an entrepreneurs showcase, politely tried a bit of her FreeRange Body Butter, and walked away. But as the day wore on, Knelly kept noticing how soft and supple her hands felt.
Knelly had recently been diagnosed with extreme sensitivies to the synthetic chemicals in the high-end makeup and moisturizers she was buying from her dermatologist and beauty salon. But she wasn’t having any reactions to the FreeRange products.
Not only did she go back and buy the body butter, moisturizer and eye serum, but she volunteered to become Bontempo’s business coach. She helped her pare down the number of products she was producing and helped her redesign her packaging to be more upscale. “She used to have shampoo, hair pomade, shaving cream, and body lotion.”
She catered so much to what her customers wanted that she was making specialized products for only two people, Knelly said.
FreeRange SkinCare now sells about 30 items, from sunscreens and lip balms, to masks and cleansers, to high-end spa cleansers, toners, and eye creams.
Bontempo and Knelly recently opened their first retail store at 1361 East 55th St., in Cleveland’s St. Clair-Superior neighborhood. “We hope this becomes a destination,” as well as a showplace for other small businesses looking for new customers, Knelly said.
Bontempo is donating a portion of their sales to support the rescue, care, and rehabilitation of hens. During October, they are also donating proceeds to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation
Still produced in Bontempo’s in-home laboratory, FreeRange SkinCare is available at North Union Farmer’s Market in Shaker Square, Mustard Seed Markets in Solon and Montrose, and at most of the Heinen’s Fine Foods stores in Greater Cleveland and suburban Chicago.
Heather Lentz, Heinen’s director of wellness, said: “I think they’re innovative and relevant. Good skincare is important. Our skin is the largest organ we have, and it has a huge job to do. It also requires nutrients to be able to optimally perform its functions.
“We should pay attention to what we put on our bodies — just as we focus on what we put into our bodies,” she said. “I believe FreeRange products offer ingredients that feed the skin to nourish and support healthy skin functions.” Although the products have only been on shelves a few months, customers seem receptive to trying them, she said.
Akron-based Mustard Seed Market & Cafe has carried FreeRange SkinCare products at its Solon and Montrose stores for about a year. “I am happy to report the line is doing very well in our stores, and am happy to support local,” said Tony DiMichele, nutrition category manager, via email.
“FreeRange skin care is a very clean line that meets all of our quality standards,” meaning that it contains no: artificial flavorings or colorings, harmful chemical preservatives, or partially hydrogenated oils; was not irradiated; and is a “cruelty-free cosmetic,” he said. Fellow employees said the Lavender Vanilla Body Butter is “their favorite product for bruises, dry skin, and eczema.”