Our founder & formulator Jenefer Palmer recently sat down with Alyssa of Live Planted to discuss all things OSEA, seaweed and safe skincare.
Listen to the podcast above or read our transcription of the talk below!
Hello and welcome to another episode of Live Planted. I’m your host Alyssa. If you’re new around here, Live Planted is all about living a practical, vegan, sustainable and kind life! There’s no right way to do it, that’s why I try to bring you different perspectives, different guests every single week so you can see how people apply this lifestyle and see if it can work for you.
Today, we are talking to Jenefer Palmer who is the founder of OSEA Malibu. OSEA is a plant-based, vegan, cruelty-free skincare line that I honestly think is so inspirational in how their company works. I think Jenefer is one of those people who just has that little something that draws you in. She’s very interesting to talk to, she has a lot of information and I’m excited to share this episode with you! So let’s get straight into it!
Jenefer Palmer took to creating her own skincare when she failed to find a sustainable line for the holistic health spa she was managing. Environmentally conscious and meticulous, Jenefer’s approach to formulating required she go to the ends of the earth to find the purest most potent source of seaweed–a main ingredient in her products–which she discovered in the pristine channels of Patagonia. Far removed from the heavily polluted waterway traffic, overgrown sea algae are sustainably hand-harvested by scuba divers who are conscious not to disrupt the natural ecosystem thriving off the coast of Chile and Argentina. In 1996 OSEA launched in Malibu, CA where it is still based, family-owned and operated. OSEA, an acronym for Ocean, Sun, Earth, Atmosphere, was the first of its kind to deliver innovative formulas made with certified-organic, bioavailable seaweed and pure, steam-distilled and cold-pressed essential oils. OSEA is entirely non-toxic, cruelty-free, vegan, gluten-free and California-made!
Alyssa: Welcome to the show Jenefer!
Jenefer: Thank you! It’s so lovely to be here. I appreciate you inviting me!
A: Let’s talk innovating. You launched OSEA with an extremely high-standard for a sustainable product in 1996. This was pre-internet world where everybody’s sort of having a side-hustle. What made you want to step out from the job you had managing a spa to create something of your own?
J: Well, it was really interesting. First of all I’d like to say that I am probably the least likely person in the world to have started a skincare company. I’m not really that focused on beauty. I’m more into cooking, nature and yoga, however I was raised with a health and wellness consciousness. So for me, beauty was just another facet of health. And what initially inspired me was: here I am running this mineral resort health getaway and people were coming and trying to pitch me their skincare product lines. So I did what I had done my whole life growing up with my mother: I read the ingredients. I literally learned how to read at the grocery store. As I started reading all these different ingredients I thought, “What is this stuff?” and this was like in the late ‘80s when I first started formulating. It took me years to really develop and build my whole concept.
I had to order books through the library to get all these resources, you know from the FDA, etc. way before the internet! That would have made my life so much simpler. I’m Google girl! You know, I am so grateful for Google. That should probably be my new hashtag: #gratefulgooglegirl. So, the more that I learned about skincare ingredients, the more horrified I was. I thought, “Well, wait a minute!” So many of these things are so much the same. The price variations were tremendous and what were all these synthetic-derived ingredients?
So, I just became obsessed with this idea that I could do better. It was actually a really kind of arrogant thought, thinking that I, who had a background in archeology and holistic healing, could suddenly step into the cosmetic skincare space and do better. It was arrogant but it was a driver and on Women’s Day today–I’m not sure we’re gonna be sharing this on Women’s Day–it was kind of an empowering feeling of, “Hey, I’m gonna try this!” Because at the time most skincare companies were run by men. That was my initial inspiration and then as I dove in I got deeper and deeper because I’ve always loved to cook and I know that whatever it is you make, it’s really just the sum total of your ingredients. I certainly know about transdermal penetration, absorption, even the skincare products that you use, when you wash your face with a cleanser, that cleanser washes down the drain and how is it affecting our waterways? So I was driven to find the purest ingredients. And seaweed, I like to say there’s a very inconvenient truth about seaweed in that it grows in the water, it absorbs the minerals, the nutrients, the enzymes, the fertilizer, the toxic run-off. It literally absorbs everything. Sometimes people call seaweed, they liken it to the lymphatic system of the ocean. So when I realized that, I suddenly determined I needed to find the purest source of seaweed in the world.
Just yesterday someone looked at me and they said, “What were you thinking? What made you choose seaweed as the base for your products so many years ago?” and I said, “It’s kind of a long story, but as all good stories start, it really comes from my grandmother.” She was the first woman chiropractor and she graduated from chiropractic school 100 years ago. Mind-blowing huh? This woman was a force of nature. When she was 16 her parents put her on a boat. She was in Hamburg, Germany and they said, “We love you but we can’t afford to feed you any longer. You’re going to New York and by the way, see if you can find your brother! He went 12 years ago.” There she was, age 16 and landed at Ellis Island. She ended up getting married and had 5 children. When my uncle became ill, she felt like a chiropractor had healed him so she just calmly told my grandfather, “I’m moving the whole family to Davenport, Iowa and I’m going to chiropractic school and you can join me or just stay in New York.” Can you imagine? I like to say that she was a feminist and a type-A personality before those words existed.
So she came back from chiropractic school, had a successful practice and she fell and tore some ligaments. Well, why would that stop her? Nothing had ever stopped her. It ended up putting her in bed a few months later and she had a dream one night that seaweed and the ocean would heal her. And so she told my grandfather, “Carry me down to the water and put me in.” No one argued with her. She was 5’1” but she really was the general of the family. This was January and it was Long Island, New York! So you can imagine how cold that water was. And at the time there was still algae on the beach and she packed her leg and her hip with algae, went in the water, he carried her home, she felt a little bit better and she continued to swim everyday of the year with my grandfather until they were in their 90s.
You know how every family has like a mythology that the whole family believes and buys into? Well ours was that the ocean is healing. There was no doubt in my mind that the ocean was healing. So without even connecting it to my grandmother, I started formulating, started developing my product line and literally about 5 years after the company launched and I was speaking to a group of about 50 people talking about seaweed. That’s when I had my “aha” moment and I said, “Wait! I’m here because of my grandmother! This was her inspiration!”
So that’s where the inspiration came from to use seaweed. Because primarily, 30 years ago, skincare was marketed to women. And then I thought, “Wait a minute, we make less money than men and we’re being overcharged for all the same stuff.” That’s what prompted me to this belief that I could do better. So that’s how it happened. I like to say that OSEA chose me because I was the girl who washed her face with water and put almond oil on her skin. And my idea of the perfect vacation is not brushing my hair for 2 weeks, but then I have to pick out all the knots but still. So, here I am! I’m in the beauty business! And I love it.
A: I do have to say, as soon as I started using OSEA products I hadn’t been having an allergic reaction on my face. From September to January I used this topical steroid that my dermatologist gave me and when I got OSEA products I switched over and was like, “I’m not going to use anything else. I’m going to see how this works.” and I haven’t had it since I started. I was like, “I used all these different things that were like very serious steroids!” And nothing helped until I switched over and was only using OSEA.
J: Oh thank you! Well you know, I never knew this expression before but I was standing at one of our green beauty boutiques and this woman that we sell and partner with walked up to me and I was introduced [to another woman] and she looked at me and said, “I love your product line but I’m a little conflicted!” and I said, “Well tell me! Let’s connect about this.” She looked me right in the eye and she said, “You know, I used to be a product-whore and you’ve ruined my life! I can only use your products now!” And I thought, what an expression! Product whore. Because if there was anyone in the world who was not a product whore it was me, you know!
A: So let’s talk about the beauty community. Because OSEA was the first company to sign the compact for global production of safe health and beauty products, which holds companies accountable for ensuring that their products are free of chemicals that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, mutation or birth defects. Was making a dent in how the beauty community operates a big initiative from the beginning or did that just sort of come over time?
J: You know, it was a really natural evolution because keep in mind, I’m 64 years old. So I was raised in a different time. I swear, I’ve found my people and it’s the millennials! They’re amazing! I guess I call myself the OG millennial grandmother or something. I grew up eating natural foods and I was always the oddball but it was how I was raised! It was the lense that I saw reality through. So I think it was the EWG or the Breast Cancer Fund and they contacted me about signing this document and it was the most logical, natural thing. I just said, “Oh of course!” and I signed it and faxed it back to them. And then they all started calling me.
“Thank you! No one else would sign it!” I was not the first company to be asked, I was a tiny little company. Yet I did something that was so natural, so logical. Well of course I would sign this! Of course we want to have a global awareness about toxic cosmetic ingredients, yet it wasn’t as apparent to everyone else then. I really had the privilege to go to the California State Legislature and also to Washington D.C. and you know we’re just really in the beginning of this advocacy work because in Europe, so many more ingredients have been banned. There really hasn’t been a lot of changes in the US. So, I guess it was a natural evolution and at the time there was no green-beauty community and I’m so thrilled that there are so many beauty start-up brands and so many passionate women and men just really trying to make a difference! It’s so exciting!
A: So many people are aware of the connection between food choices and the environmental effect but can you explain how choosing a vegan, cruelty-free, non-toxic skincare product also helps the planet?
J: I’m assuming based on the name of your podcast that you certainly have many listeners who are vegan and understand the environmental damage that is being wreaked by animal husbandry and the fact is that there are so many great ingredients that you can find in botanicals, you know earth and sea. What I like to say, with ocean plants and land plants, there’s no need to be killing animals or using their by-products. It’s a waste! And the impact on the environment as well. Look what happened to the whale population because they used to use, I think I’ve forgotten the name, I think it’s ambergris. It was a blubber from whales that was a base for perfume. Well then suddenly they realized the whale population was declining.
Plants are bountiful, it was a very logical direction. Now I have to say, when I first launched the brand I thought we were 100% vegan, but I had a little bit of honey initially in my first production of one of our sprays and then when it was brought to my attention, it’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but I really didn’t see the connection between honeybees and vegan. But once it was pointed out to me, that was gone. So for 22 years, we’ve been a vegan brand.
A: Awesome! So let’s talk packaging, because I think the packaging of your products is just what sets it over the edge. They are just about as luxe as they come. They’re beautiful frosted glass. Heavy and weighty in your hand. They’re in all warm colors which come from the earth-derived ingredients inside. But having a decision as a company to choose these very expensive, luxe packaging is expensive for your bottom line. Why make that decision?
J: It wasn’t even a decision. Again, it was the lense that I saw the world through. My father worked for a large international glass bottle company and he was one of the first in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s to get bottle recycling bills passed. As a child I remember my father just showing me on this graph, because what my dad and I did together, I don’t think he really knew how to be with girls, so we wrote business outlines together. Like when I was 6 years old I was writing business outlines with him. And he just showed me how glass is endlessly recyclable.
I mean, with plastics we have a huge problem because people think it’s going in and getting recycled but 90% of it’s just ending up in a landfill. But with glass the lifecycle of a piece of glass is about 6 months and once you put it in recycling it gets recycled and maybe paved into roads, etc. So I couldn’t even consider plastic because all I knew was that I came from the world of glass and obviously if you’ve ever eaten something out of a glass jar versus a plastic jar it tastes different. Along with, when you’re formulating, you get greater stability with glass. So you have a jar of moisturizer in plastic and as you get halfway through the jar, there’s more oxygen interaction with the product and the polycarbons. There is some type of release and I mean haven’t you ever noticed that when you get to the bottom of that plastic jar it kind of smells like plastic? Whereas glass is inert, it’s stable. You can reduce your preservative levels because it preserves the product! And trust me, when you’re formulating with natural-derived ingredients and natural-derived preservatives, you need all the support you can get to achieve stability in a product.
Let me tell you my favorite part, so when I launched I used standard stock glass packaging and by the way, the packaging has not changed in all these years. Like look at our first six products: Ocean Cleanser, Ocean Cleansing Mudd, Sea Minerals Mist, Essential Hydrating Oil, Essential Corrective and Atmosphere Protection. The logo, the symbol on the front, nothing has changed. People looked at my packaging and back then it was plastic and acrylic and these boxes with plastic wrappers on them and ribbons. All sorts of you know, stuff! And people started looking at my products saying you know, “This is a beautiful product but your packaging is awful.” And at first, I was kind of taken aback, but I said, “Oh ok.” And then it kind of really became sort of my marketing line. I’d say, “Well hey look, you can tell we spent all the money on the ingredients.” And about 6 years ago people started saying, “You know, it’s not that bad. You really don’t have to apologize.” And I’m thinking, “Well finally! Great!” And now people say, “I just had to buy your product because I love the packaging!” And I’m thinking, “Where were you!”
So it’s kind of really amazing that people love our packaging and it’s always remained the same. And my next goal is striving to become a carbon-neutral company. Where we’ll be buying carbon offset credits because I think that’s the next step. Because we are drowning in plastic to put it mildly.
A: To put it mildly!
J: Yeah just to understate the situation.
A: That’s awesome! What a great goal. So, when you set a goal like that does the whole company, I know you guys are family-owned and operated, does everybody have to agree on something like that? Does it just go through right away?
J: Well I do have a little pull on those sorts of things. I think that we’re all pretty aligned and I really just came up with the concept a couple weeks ago. I like to kind of slowly introduce it because it’s an obvious goal. I mean it’s the next part of the endgame, being carbon-neutral. Because you know what's going on with pollution and everything on our planet, it’s serious! That was also something that really came to my mind because I’ve eaten, we used to call it health food, I’ve eaten health food my entire life and about 25 years ago it hit me. Wait, I’m eating health food but then I’m throwing out all this excess garbage! I’m taking great care of my body but I’m taking really bad care of the mothership, planet earth!
A: So I read a quote from you about wanting to raise the consciousness of women so that they use safe cosmetics. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to help raise the consciousness of someone else in their life?
J: My ethos in life is to be kind because I think that kindness is such a powerful force in the universe and I like to say that if you’re not lifting consciousness it’s probably getting lowered. So pretty much in every interaction with everyone, my focus is how can I lift their consciousness? How can I make them smile? How can I make them have a giggle or a laugh? I’ve actually become a student of improv comedy which has really helped me.
But to talk about what is in a product and for the awareness to be that you know there’s transdermal penetration but not just that. What you wash your face with is going down the drain. It’s having an effect everywhere. And I think that we as women, we have to love our bodies because we only get one body and it’s important what we do with it and the choices that we make. And especially for younger women because of your reproductive organs and if you go to the Environmental Working Group’s Skindeep Report and you just start looking at some of these typical synthetic-derived cosmetic ingredients you see some of the things like reproductive-toxins. I mean it’s kind of scary. And so I think that health and wellness there’s so many different levels to it. I think probably the most important organ in the body is your brain because that rules the rest of the system but you know your skin is the largest organ in the body so I think how we treat our skin is really important.
A: Well Jenefer, if people want to find out more about OSEA or buy your products where can they do that?
J: They can go to oseamalibu.com or we have a skincare studio now on Abbot Kinney, our first location in Venice Beach, CA which is so exciting!
A: Awesome! Thank you Jenefer so much for taking the time to share your knowledge. It was really inspiring.
J: Thank you! I just so appreciate the opportunity and if you have a question or anyone wants to reach out just reach out! We’d love to connect with you all. Thank you, have a beautiful day!