All clear: Two Cleveland-based skin care lines every beauty buff should know

The skin care struggle can be real, but Clevelanders Bethany Hilt and Sandra Bontempo have channeled their frustrations into inspiration—tossing aside traditional regimens to create their own products. Hilt turned to the knowledge she learned from making homemade facial and body care products with her grandmother, while Bontempo looked to her beloved chickens for a solution to her son’s eczema.

The result? Two thriving local companies. Hilt’s Vertere Skin Care offers a line of anti-aging, anti-acne skin care products that recently earned Hilt a finalist slot for "Entrepreneur of the Year" at the Independent Cosmetic Manufacturers and Distributors’ 2018 City Awards in Las Vegas.

As for Bontempo’s FreeRange SkinCare, the line combines her fourth-generation knowledge of making holistic soaps and lotions with a background in chemistry and the eggs her chickens lay for products that not only treat eczema, but also resolve everyday skin issues. In late September, the company opened a brick-and-mortar shop in St. Clair-Superior neighborhood—widening the audience for this egg-scellent venture. 
 

VertereVertere

Growing up in Cincinnati, Hilt began spending time with her grandmother making facial and body care products at age six.

“I have many fond memories of the products we’d make in her kitchen in Northern Kentucky,” she says. “My grandmother passed before I began Vertere. I think she would have been really delighted to know those times we shared sparked something so significant in me that led to me creating a business around it.”

Years later, when now 47-year-old Hilt was in her 30s, she was looking for a way to combat the aging process during a period when "hormonal changes, sun damage, and oral contraceptives" can wreak havoc on one's skin.

“I created Vertere out of my own problem skin,” she explains. “I hit my late 30s, and my skin hit the perfect storm with breakouts, dark spots, and wrinkles.”

Hilt took the lessons she learned from her grandmother and created what is now her Dramatic Transformation Cream, which she says can turn around the look of skin in just three days. “Vertere is Latin for ‘to turn,’” she explains. “I took that knowledge from decades ago and made a product for myself with no intention of selling it. Within weeks, people were stopping me on the street and saying, ‘Your skin glows. What do you use?’”

In 2015, Vertere officially launched when Dramatic Transformation appeared on Evine Live. Today, Hilt has a line of five skin care products that are all free of parabens, phthalates, synthetic dyes, synthetic fragrances, and hydroquinone—and Hilt never tests her products on animals.

“I test each one personally, and then they are tested on human aestheticians before they even hit the shelves,” she says. “My approach to making skin care products is what creates our 72-hour synergy. Unlike many in the industry who believe in relying on a star ingredient, I believe in creating unique synergies with scientific and natural ingredients.”

Today, Vertere products are available on Evine, LovelySkin.com, and at retail stores nationwide. Locally, Hilt’s products are sold at The Powder Room in Woodmere, AJ’s Spa Millennium in Beachwood, Just Browsing in Rocky River, and Skin A Peel in Hinckley. Hilt’s newest product, Smoothing Neck Serum, sold out in 16 hours on Evine Live.

Evine Live has dubbed Hilt “the future of 50,” and this summer, she was voted a finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year at the Independent Cosmetic Manufacturers and Distributors’ 2018 City Awards in Las Vegas.

"It is a tremendous honor considering those voting represent large brands and organizations in the beauty industry,” Hilt says. “I was a finalist alongside Rich Dennis, who is the founder of Shea Moisture, which was sold to Unilever, and the new owner of Essence Magazine.”
 

FreeRange SkinCareFreeRange SkinCare

When one of Bontempo’s three sons was a baby, he developed a severe form of eczema called atopic dermatitis, and she was desperate to find something to ease his suffering. The traditional medications and treatments weren’t working, so she turned to what she knew well: her chickens and their eggs.

“If you have ever had a baby in pain and you can’t fix that pain, you know it’s worse than heartbreaking,” she says. “I’m a fourth-generation soap and lotion maker, so working with family, we were able to come up with this [product].”

As a lifelong fan of chickens, Bontempo was familiar with studies showing the many benefits of eggs—the yolks can heal third-degree burns, the shell membranes can reduce wrinkles by 40 percent, and the whites stimulate collagen and skin cell production—so she started to experiment with volcanic ash and eggs.

The final result was what is now known as Volcanic Ash Treatment Cream. “Not only was he able to tolerate the final resulting formula, [but] his eczema was greatly reduced,” she says. “I was making lemonade out of some lemons.”

After making the cream for family and friends, Bontempo officially launched what is today known as FreeRange SkinCare in 2015. Shortly afterward, Bontempo met Melissa Knelly—a business consultant and now Bontempo’s business partner and FreeRange CEO.

“I have skin issues myself, so I started asking questions,” Knelly recalls of their initial introduction. “I put on a little hand cream and I couldn’t stop thinking about it; my hands were so soft three hours later.”

One year ago, Bontempo and Knelly went through a re-branding and became an LLC. Today, FreeRange has three main collections of products: Essentials (hydrating eye serums, body butters, activated charcoals, masks and moisturizers); Healing (sunscreens and volcanic ash treatments), and its higher-end Plumé line (restorative serums and creams).

“We make a really good team, “says Knelly. “I handle the business side of it, and Sandy handles the products and the chicken family.”

After successfully selling online and at markets and stores like the Cleveland Flea and Heinen’s, FreeRange recently opened its first physical shop in Hub 55 (1361 E. 55th St, Cleveland). The 3,000-square-foot store will not only sell the product line, but host various workshops, skin care demos, makeup tutorials, and art classes.

The two women are fans of Hub 55 and the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood. “We met at a Hub 55 event, and we love the neighborhood,” says Knelly. “After we formed the partnership, people asked if they could stop by and buy our products. The space opened up [in Hub 55] and we jumped at it.”

Bontempo’s chickens were at the grand opening last Saturday, and she says they will occasionally make guest appearances in the future. Other grand opening festivities included music, giveaways, and drinks made with Goldhorn Brewery’s new fall brews.

FreeRange SkinCare is open Wednesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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