On occasion we profile the lives and careers of individuals who are true Wellness Warriors...who have committed work and play to the wisdom of nature, environmentally sound practices, and the health of all. The story of the OSEA family immediately came to mind, and as they say, it’s a true “love affair” with the sea. I hope you enjoy their story as much as I have are inspired to even greater health and wellness.
—Deborah Szekely, Founder Wellness Warrior
OSEA is the Story of Four Generations of Women Who Fell In Love With The Sea
—As told by the youngest generation, Melissa Palmer.
The story of how OSEA came to be is also a story about my family. My great-grandmother, Elsa Reuschle, was one the very first female chiropractors, having graduated from chiropractic school in 1918. My mother Jenefer grew up thinking that it was normal for grandmothers to give their grandchildren an “adjustment” within the first five minutes of seeing them. Later she learned that most grandmothers pinched their grandchildren’s cheeks. Elsa is pictured above with my grandfather Frank in the snow before swimming in the Long Island Sound.
Long Island, 1920s
My family’s relationship with the sea can be traced back to an accident that happened over ninety years ago. My great-grandmother was left with several ripped tendons in her leg. Being a staunch European immigrant, she knew that regardless of her injury, she had to continue to work through the Great Depression to support her family. The endless hours on her feet (working as a chiropractor), put a strain on her muscles and resulted in her being bedridden for months. One night she had a dream that the ocean would heal her. When she woke up, she demanded that my great-grandfather Frank bring her down to the beach immediately. Although it was a cold day in the middle of December(!), he carried her down to the water near their home on Long Island, New York, so she could swim.
From that day on, Elsa began swimming daily and within a few weeks her leg had healed. Due to his wife’s speedy recovery my great-grandfather was convinced of the sea’s incredible healing powers. He decided to join Elsa on her daily swim and by the 1930s, Elsa and Frank had started one of the first Polar Bear Clubs in New York City. The two of them continued to swim every day of their lives and lived well into their 90s.
My great-grandmother passed on her knowledge and faith in natural healing to my mother, Jenefer. She always insisted that my mother had very healing hands, even when she was a young girl. In her early twenties, my mother sought her own natural healing practice and began the serious study of various forms of the healing arts, including Polarity Therapy, Aromatherapy, Acupressure, Shiatsu, and Dynamic Cranial Osteopathy.
PHOTO: Jenefer and friend floating in mineral springs.
Murrieta Hot Springs, 1981
In 1981 my mother was invited to become the Spa Director of the renowned Murrieta Hot Springs, the premier holistic health spa in Southern California at the time. Almost immediately, my mother started searching for an all-natural skincare line. She was looking for something that would complement the spa services she developed which included the (then) revolutionary treatments such as mineral and mud baths, salt glows, aromatherapy massage and body wraps.
Large companies began to court my mother with their new lines of “designer skin care.” Being a newcomer to the skincare industry, my mother was a little overwhelmed by the number of products available. I had never seen my mom use anything on her skin except water and a little olive oil. Wanting to make an educated decision, my mom did the most important thing my grandmother ever taught her: she read the labels and did her research. In fact, my mother had learned to read at the grocery store—my grandmother was insistent on knowing what was in the food she was buying.
What she found was appalling: major skincare companies were filling their products with cheap, dangerous chemical ingredients that my mother would never want on her own skin, let alone Murrieta's clientele. She quickly realized that there was no correlation between the cost of the ingredients and the cost of the product. Some products that had 50 cents worth of ingredients would sell for $50. Where was all this extra cost coming from? My mother’s research led her to discover that all of that extra cost came from packaging, marketing campaigns, branding, and offering “free gifts with purchase”—instead of from investing in the quality ingredients necessary for effective skin care. Every new discovery about existing brands made my mother more determined. Her goal was no longer to find a skincare line that met her standards, but to develop a line of products that placed people before profits, supported skin’s natural health, and produced real results beyond hopeful package claims.
Murrieta Hot Springs was eventually sold and my mother decided that it was time to pursue her dream of developing her own line of skincare products. She knew she wanted an ingredient-conscious skincare line and she could only think of one place to begin: a return to the sea.
My mother moved our family to a small house on a hill overlooking the ocean in Malibu, California, and almost immediately began developing the foundation of her skincare line’s formulations.
It seemed so logical to my mother to combine ingredients from the sea—ingredients that contain healing properties so strong that they healed my great-grandmother’s leg—with pure essential oil blends from the earth’s own garden that have been used to heal skin for centuries, and that she’d been using for years at Murrieta and at home.
She didn’t know it then, but my mother would spend the next 12 years refining the formula for the essentials of her skincare line in our kitchen.
She tested the products that she felt most confident of on everyone. Strangers, my then 8-year-old brother, David, and I all tried various mixtures. She solidified a few specific formulas after getting compliments on the products and repeat orders from the people who had tried them.
Coming from a background in holistic health and healing (and not big business) my mother knew that she had developed an all natural skincare line using the best all natural ingredients available—but would anyone else notice the difference? There was only one way to find out…
I have had the opportunity of seeing OSEA grow from masks, essential oil blends and creams I watched my mother make in our kitchen to a successful skincare line.
When she began receiving more orders than she could handle alone, she enlisted my help in running the company. I have been working as a member of the OSEA team on and off since I was 19! With my brother David, stepsister Mary pitching in throughout the years, and my step dad Steve as the CEO, we really are a family business through and through.
Since the beginning, my mother and OSEA’s integrity have never faltered. Our skincare line today adheres entirely to my mother’s initial vision. We still do not consider ourselves in the business of being a “big business.” Instead, we continue to produce products that support the skin’s natural health and beauty and are designed with ingredient-conscious skincare consumers in mind.
And as for the sea, it remains today what it has always been for the women in my family: the primary source of our ingredients and our inspiration. I live a stone’s throw from the ocean and, despite all of the pressing demands of living and working in today’s world, still regularly get up before sunrise to go for my morning swim.
PHOTO: "Seaweed Is Such An Untapped Resource" - OSEA Founder Jenefer Palmer at TEDxSF
About that algae...
Jenefer became fluent in the basics of cosmetic chemistry by trial and error, later refining her most successful formulas with the help of cosmetic chemists. However, it was not until a business trip to Buenos Aires that Jenefer would discover the key ingredient upon which her skincare line was to be founded.
Wrecked by jet-lag, Jenefer decided to head over to the spa at the hip boutique hotel where she was staying and ended up soaking in a fresh algae bath. The restorative effects were like a bolt from the blue. She couldn’t believe how good that bath had made her feel, her skin was glowing and she felt utterly rejuvenated. She knew she had to know more about that algae, and became obsessed with tracking it back to its source.
She traced the algae, of the Gigartina species, to the coast of Patagonia, a region so far down the South American continent that they call it “El Fin del Mundo”—the end of the world. There she was guided along the desolate beaches and pristine coastal waters of Patagonia by a local family who showed her how to harvest the Gigartina, which was soon to become the key ingredient of her skincare formulations. (Read More: Where We Source Our Seaweed)
Throughout OSEA’s evolution, Jenefer has ensured that the brand stays true to its initial commitment: to provide the highest quality, ecologically-responsible natural skincare to ingredient-conscious consumers. Never forgetting the source, Jenefer and OSEA support ocean preservation, Heal the Bay, and works with a local partner in Argentina to ensure eco-responsible harvesting of their seaweed.
PHOTO: Jenefer collecting algae in Patagonia (left). Melissa Palmer and brother David in Patagonia (right).