A Handy Solution to Your Dry Skin

Samantha Denver’s wariness of traditional hand lotion products first surfaced at her engineering internship.

It was wintertime and there was no heat in the manufacturing plant where she worked. Her hands were chapped and cracked. With the greasy residue from hand lotion still on her fingers, Denver touched a stainless steel product.

That steel went through a heat treatment moments later and burst into flames.

The aftermath of that mishap inspired the idea behind Denver’s lotion business, Handy Balms. What began as a search for a more practical way to keep her skin moisturized turned Denver, a senior mechanical engineering major, into a burgeoning small business owner. 

“Everything about this business pushed me out of my comfort zone,” Denver said.

Though Denver professed having a natural entrepreneurial spirit, she frequently overcame roadblocks in jump-starting her business idea through critical thinking and leaning on the multidisciplinary resources at Bradley outside of her major. 

Her skills reside in manufacturing and not chemistry, which required extensive research into developing the formula for a satisfactory lotion. Denver discovered that cosmetics are not a highly regulated industry; more worryingly, many products contain potentially harmful chemicals or petroleum-based ingredients.

She opted for a more all-natural approach with three simple ingredients: beeswax, shea butter and coconut oil. Then the trial-and-error ensued. 

Denver hand-makes every single lotion product, blending those three ingredients together in a two-quart melting pot in her apartment. Honing the ideal formula took weeks of tedious testing and adjustments. First, she served as the guinea pig by applying the lotion to her own hands, followed by her boyfriend and engineering friends, all of whom raved about its quality. 

“We’ve only received five-star reviews from people,” Denver said. “And not just from my mom.”

Handy Balms products resemble the push-tube shape of ChapStick — another practical evolution that Denver encountered during her internship.

To relieve her dry skin while working at the plant, she tried to use ChapStick to apply balm to specific parts of her hands. But Denver found herself mixing up which ChapStick she used for her hands and which one she used for her lips. Using one tube for both purposes also seemed off-putting.

She discovered a woman-owned business that produces biodegradable push-tubes, allowing Denver to eschew plastic for the light brown color of cardboard packaging. This enabled her to market Handy Balms as a green product.

Denver leaned on the Small Business Development Center at the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship to launch Handy Balms, and she’s worked with the Turner School and Peoria’s Distillery Labs to nurture the business. But she mostly operates as a one-woman show: making the product, creating and running the website, advertising on social media and running pop-up events.

Originally, Denver thought the target market would be women from 13 to 30, but she has noticed sizable sales from other female demographics and even males. Twenty percent of Handy Balms sales are from men, Denver said, a rarity in the cosmetics industry.

Officially launched in April 2022, Handy Balms is now profitable as of a month ago with $2,500 in sales already covering the $1,500 in start-up fees. The business received an infusion of cash and visibility in April when Handy Balms won the Turner Center’s Big Idea Competition, beating out dozens of other student entrepreneurs and landing her a $8,000 cash prize.

Denver views her business a permanent side-hustle and wants to continue operating and growing it after graduation in May. 

“I like being my own boss,” she said.

Thomas Bruch