A San Diego native and San Diego State University grad with a degree in psychology, Jean Shea was working on a master’s when she decided to leave the program to study art – and then got sidetracked when she began to dabble in creating natural products in the late 1970s.
Shea was making lotions and selling them to natural food stores during a time that she was living near a massage school on Adams Avenue. The massage school asked her to make products for them, and she agreed. “It was a pioneering time when people sort of rebelled against products with chemicals,” Shea said. “At that point, the door started opening up to natural products.”
Jean Shea’s career in the natural massage oils, balms, lotions, butters, sprays, creams, exfoliants and gels business began when she was trying to figure out why a skin care product she was using didn’t look the same as it had just weeks before.
It was 1980, and Shea, a budding entrepreneur in San Diego with an interest in natural products and deep concern about the safety of chemicals in personal care items, hired a chemist in Los Angeles to create a body lotion using natural ingredients that fit certain criteria she had in mind.
Several weeks later when she returned a second time to L.A. to get more product, she said the lotion had a markedly different appearance.
“I knew nothing about making products, but I knew I had a good product,” she said. “This natural lotion, the first time I saw it, it was a cream color. The next time, it was bright yellow. I told (the chemist), ‘This isn’t my natural lotion.’ And he said, ‘Oh yes, it is. I’ll show you the formula.’”
Shea said that when he showed her the formula, she memorized it, “then I drove back home and spent the next day calling around, trying to find the ingredients.”
“That’s how BIOTONE started,” said Shea, referring to her business of 40 years.
BIOTONE eventually grew from Shea creating her own Chamomile Moisture Lotion in her Kensington home with a large pot and mixer and selling it in local health food stores, to today’s state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Allied Gardens that makes — all in-house — dozens of different products for massage therapists, estheticians, aromatherapists, spa workers and other industry professionals.
Shea, in her 70s, continues to create and oversee all the formulations and manufacturing of the company’s products.
The company is partnering with mega online retailer Amazon.com as part of their Small Business brands that are sold in Amazon’s store.
‘In-Demand’ at Amazon
“They consider us an ‘in-demand product’ and want to stock us in their warehouse,” Shea said.
Amazon partners with U.S.-based small business brands that employ fewer than 100 people and have less than $50 million in annual revenues. The company uses a special badge to identify brands like BIOTONE.
Jen Rhodes, BIOTONE’s sales manager for 12 years, said the Amazon partnership is a major step for the company that has just 25 employees. “Even though we’re self-sufficient and we have the ability to market our products and ship them, when Amazon tells you they want to put it through their fulfillment process, it’s a big deal,” Rhodes said.
But Shea and Rhodes both say they are most excited about the company’s evolving presence through the decades, continually looking for opportunities for BIOTONE to expand.
That eye for growth most recently involved the company branching out with a new line of products under a different label – EASE-Z Diabetics’ Dry Skin Therapy Lotion and Diabetics’ Dry Skin Therapy Foot Cream. Both were crafted specifically to help relieve and protect the dry, cracked skin often associated with diabetes.
The products use zinc acetate to offer enhanced relief, repair cracking, restore moisture and soothe itching. They also contain shea butter to trap moisture, and lecithin, which is an active penetration enhancer. The foot cream is being sold in the diabetic department inside 6,400 Walgreens drug stores, the lotion in 2,200 stores, and all are available online at Walgreens.com
“What we’re finding is that the number of people with diabetes is growing and there is an increasing need for products that are formulated to help their very dry skin,” Rhodes said.
Diabetes is one of the country’s leading health issues, affecting more than 37 million Americans, or about 1 in 10, according to the Centers for Disease Control. High blood glucose levels may cause greater loss of fluid from the body leading to dry skin on the legs, elbows, feet, and other areas, making these areas more susceptible to infection.
“Diabetes is not only increasing in the United States but in other countries as well,” Shea said. “It’s an unbelievable problem for people. And some people don’t know they are diabetic or pre-diabetic. Looking into the future, we will continue our quest to develop products for the professional as well as products specifically addressing the needs of the diabetic.”
FOUNDER AND CEO: Jean Shea
HEADQUARTERS: Allied Gardens, San Diego
BUSINESS: BIOTONE Professional Massage and Spa Products, EASE-Z Diabetics’ Dry Skin Therapy Products
BUDGET: $3 million per year for promotion and advertising of EASE-Z
WEBSITE: biotone.com, ease-z.com
SOCIAL IMPACT: BIOTONE is one of the leading contributors to massage therapy research, and provides educational talks to support students, educators and industry leaders.
NOTABLE: BIOTONE founder Shea’s first product, Chamomile Moisture Lotion, was initially only sold through health food stores; now more than 30 of the company’s products are sold to massage therapists, spas and estheticians in the U.S. and internationally.