By GREGORY ZELLER //
Success is only skin-deep at Hampton Skincare, and that’s just how Mary Allmaras wants it.
The retired RN – she studied at Montefiore School of Nursing in the Bronx and spent her entire nursing career in New York City and on Long Island – founded the Southold startup to peddle a line of skin-care treatments she invented herself, through years of research and formulation.
Hampton Skincare unofficially launched in 2008 and introduced its first products in 2010, but the inventor’s dermatological roots run much deeper, all the way back to a childhood filled with homemade facials – eggs and honey, she noted, to her mother’s chagrin – and a keen interest in medicinal labels.
Allmaras recalls bopping up and down the aisles of her local pharmacy, reading the labels on countless skin and hair products and asking her father – then chairman of the chemistry and physics departments at Greenport High School – about the different ingredients.
Though she didn’t know it at the time, she was developing a lifelong interest in dermatological disorders – “what caused them,” she noted, “why they developed in certain patterns, why they turned particular colors.”
Instead of satisfying her curiosity, nursing only amplified it, particularly her first professional posting in the dialysis unit at New York City’s Cornell Medical Center, “right in the middle of the AIDS epidemic.”
“All these men were getting this skin cancer called Kaposi sarcoma, caused by AIDS,” she recalled. “It was these raised areas of the skin, sort of purplish. I paid attention.”
Other career stops – clinical practice at New York-Presbyterian and Mt. Sinai hospitals in NYC, administrative work pioneering an Emblem Healthcare case-manager program at Stony Brook Medicine and Port Jefferson’s St. Charles Hospital, seven years in SBU’s Medical Review Department – bestowed experience “in all sorts of medical arenas,” she said, and furthered her familiarity with skin disorders.
Among her fascinations were certain Chinese herbs long used to treat such maladies. One in particular stood out: indigo naturalis, a centuries-old treatment for fever, nose bleeds, tonsillitis and a host of other conditions, including childhood epilepsy and chronic myelogenous leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells.
Allmaras was most interested in indigo naturalis’ history as a treatment for eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions – though she didn’t look deeply into the plant’s potential until personal challenges refreshed her vision.
The first challenges occurred in 2008 and 2009, when her father and sister both passed away due to complications from the skin cancer melanoma.
“That was the fuel,” Allmaras noted. “I kind of channeled my grief.”
She was further fueled by her own health scares: The former nurse is a two-time breast cancer survivor – she’s now cancer-free – who also suffers from fibromyalgia, a medical condition characterized by fatigue, widespread chronic pain and other hard-to-pinpoint symptoms.
“It’s challenging,” Allmaras noted. “But it also kind of inspires me. I have this chronic illness, but at the same time, so do all these other people. I wanted to help them.”
Convinced that the skin-care potential of indigo naturalis and other Chinese herbs wasn’t yet fully realized, Allmaras got busy. When she retired from nursing in 2009, she ran an ad in her local paper seeking volunteers and rented space in a Mattituck chiropractor’s office, where she’d conduct her own study of herbs “with long historical uses for chronic inflammatory skin disorders.”
Studying six Chinese herbs and about a dozen volunteers with conditions ranging from Stage 4 acne to rosacea – a long-term condition characterized by facial redness, swelling and pustules – Allmaras confirmed that some of the herbs had “a definite efficacy in reducing inflammation.”
But they weren’t without their drawbacks.
“Some herbs had a nasty smell,” Allmaras told Innovate LI. “Others weren’t as effective. So I had to tighten this up.”
Indigo naturalis is particularly funky – “It stinks something awful,” Allmaras noted – and lots of work was needed to pair it with the right type of lotion for maximum effectiveness.
Years of tweaking followed. Allmaras, who did all the formulating herself, noted a “very, very slow process,” but believes it was worth it in the end: She ultimately created a top-secret extraction process that pulled key chemical compounds known as alkaloids from the indigo naturalis plant.
Other commercial products featuring indigo naturalis incorporate the entire plant, which not only dilutes the herb’s medicinal value but leads to that trademark stench. It also creates products that are intensely blue – not a great selling point, Allmaras noted, for skin creams.
Allmaras’ extraction technique doesn’t only concentrate the herb’s strength, it eliminates the olfactory dilemma. Once she perfected it, the innovator set to concocting a marketable skin-cream recipe, finally choosing shea butter infused with lemon grass and citric acid, her products’ only preservative.
Her first offering, an anti-rosacea lotion, appeared on the shelves of White’s Pharmacy in East Hampton in 2010, followed by an anti-eczema lotion and an anti-psoriasis lotion. Allmaras did all the packaging herself and still does, hand-filling glass containers with labels produced by Academy Printing of Southold.
Her products are no sold longer at White’s Pharmacy, but they are available online and Allmaras said she’s trying to expand her market, targeting regional pharmacies, day spas and high-end hotels, even as she formulates new products. In the works: a spray for scalp psoriasis and an oil for fingernail psoriasis.
It’s a lot of work for a one-woman show – Allmaras even built the Hampton Skincare website herself – but as both a bona fide cottage industry and the expression of a lifelong interest, it’s well worth it, according to the entrepreneur.
“Fibromyalgia may make me feel exhausted sometimes, but to have a skin disorder where you have to cover up all the time – that’s really exhausting,” Allmaras said. “I knew I could create products that would help these people.”