PORTLAND, Maine — It’s an occupational hazard that affects those who work on the water, such as lobstermen: dry, cracked skin that stings from pulling in nets and traps from the open sea. Turns out, it affects the oyster lady too.
“I wanted to work hard like a lobsterman but not look like one,” Abigail Carroll said.
After five years of planting and harvesting oysters in the Scarborough River, the 45-year-old owner of Nonesuch Oysters has branched beyond oyster farming to launch a line of skin care products. She uses Maine marine life, natural oils and sea salt in her formulas.
Is this the next Burt’s Bees or Tom’s of Maine?
The Biddeford resident taught herself to farm oysters in Nonesuch Point, rocks a designer wetsuit, has trained college students in aquaculture, is helping to plan a Maine oyster trail, runs oyster tours by boat and is introducing Nonesuch Skincare to the market.
When we caught up in a Portland cafe this week, it’s no wonder she admitted “I’m tired. I’ve been going all day.”
Carroll was inspired to create her own skin care line after finding that checking on her bivalves year-round for five years was murder on her skin.
“I found myself on the water for long days. It’s punishing on your hands,” said Carroll, who is known along Saco Bay as the oyster lady.
She tried creams and scrubs, but nothing seemed to soothe her cracked and weather-blasted skin.
Her history of problematic, dry skin led her to look for solutions.
“I like being out there, but I am sensitive to skin issues,” she said.
Carroll started playing around with almond and vitamin E oils, Maine sea salt and kelp. Experimenting with sea vegetables harvested by VitaminSea Seaweed, a nearby food company, proved fruitful.
She noticed a difference right away.
“There are no chemical agents. The algae has all sorts of healing properties, vitamins and minerals,” she said.
Her three products — a seaweed hand salve, a hydrating body oil fortified by Maine algae and a Maine sea salt scrub — have helped her regain her glow and share her sea-farming life in another tangible way.
“As [the company] evolves, we will communicate how the ingredients are harvested, we will use other marine extracts with other benefits and I hope that the skin care products will be another way to express this very unique Maine coast experience,” she said.
Her restorative products are “super minimal,” said Carroll, who developed the line after attending the Top Gun program at Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development last year.
“I think they thought I was going to come up with an artisanal oyster-making machine,” Carroll said.
Though only available in a few Greater Portland spas and boutiques, such as Holly Stone, she is looking to expand this spring. Her next product is a zinc sunblock made with algae, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Lotions also are in the works.
“We are anxious for more,” said Holly Stone, who started carrying Nonesuch Skincare in her Portland Exchange Street boutique this winter. She appreciates that it’s made locally with Maine sea flora. “We are thrilled with it. And customers are coming back and buying multiples. We love it.”
Carroll’s natural balms work for those navigating icy gales in a skiff and for urbanites dodging snowbanks.
“We came from the ocean,” Carroll said. “Your skin is your largest organ. No need to feed it what isn’t good for the rest of you.”
To help sustain Maine’s fragile natural resource, 1 percent from each sale goes toward ocean marine projects.
“We are really about the water,” Carroll said.
Through years as a solopreneur, Carroll has developed a thick shell. But she is not out to unseat others in the rapidly growing skin care sector.
“Maine has a legacy of natural skin care products,” Carroll said, which include Tom’s of Maine and Burt’s Bees. “We want to be in the marine space. We are all about the Maine coast.”
Visit her online boutique at nonesuchskincare.com.