Maine history is filled with inventors. Chester Greenwood, as a chilly youth, invented earmuffs to keep his ears warm. Looking for a more hygienic way to clear between his teeth, Charles Forster came up with the idea of wooden toothpicks. Then, of course, there was the Maine Duck Boot, Leon Leonwood Bean’s solution to chronically wet and cold feet.
By: Melissa Waterman
Patrick Breeding and Amber Boutiette bring Maine entrepreneurship to the waterfront. Photo courtesy of Marin Skin Care.
Amber Boutiette, 27, and Patrick Breeding, 25, are modern-day inventors. Like earlier Mainers, the two University of Maine bio-medical engineering graduate students put their minds to solving a particular problem: dry, flakey and itchy skin. What is unusual, however, is the key ingredient they chose to use. Their new company, Marin Skincare, takes a protein found in lobster blood and incorporates it in a skin cream.
Boutiette has suffered from eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, since she was a teenager. Eczema is a chronic disease affecting the immune system that causes painfully itchy, red skin. The origins of eczema are mysterious; the ailment can be triggered by anything from environmental factors to mental stress. “I had it severely,” Amber explained. “I tried steroids and all sorts of expensive creams. Eczema was a huge part of my life.”
Boutiette and Breeding were working with former Lobster Institute director Bob Bayer studying different ways to use lobster byproducts, specifically lobster hemolymph, the lobster’s circulatory fluid that functions like blood. The glycoproteins in the hemolymph system give lobsters a remarkable ability to fight off disease as well as help the animal regrow amputated limbs.
“We were doing cool things with it [the glycoprotein],” Breeding recalled. “We were finding many applications for it.” That fall Boutiette suffered a painful outbreak of eczema, which spread across her upper body and onto her face. Fellow students in her department convinced her to try the lobster protein in a solution to tamp down the discomfort. “After two days the eczema outbreak was gone. I used it for two months and it cleared completely,” Boutiette said.
Eczema is a common disease in the United States. The National Eczema Organization estimates that more than 31 million people have some form of the disease. Boutiette and Breeding recognized the value that the lobster’s glycoprotein might have to eczema sufferers and to others who have psoriasis and other skin ailments. Their aim: to create a skin cream that provides a protective barrier, hydrates the skin, and reduces inflammation.
Breeding brought both research and business development skills to the new venture. Earlier he had gone through the University of Maine’s “Innovate For Maine” program twice, which allowed him to work as an intern with creative Maine companies. He co-founded KinoTek, a sports performance company that uses motion capture and virtual reality tools to decrease risk of injury. Breeding and Boutiette also set up Zephyrus Simulation, a medical-device startup in Orono, while still in school.
“We didn’t know much about the cosmetics industry,” Breeding admitted. “We came to it from a science perspective.” The two worked with professional skin care and consumer testing laboratories in New York and New Jersey to test and finalize their product.
With grants from the Maine Technology Institute and the Libra Foundation, Boutiette and Breeding opened their company online in November, offering one product, a “soothing hydration cream” that combined lobster protein with shea butter, coconut oil, Vitamin E and other non-irritating ingredients. The product swiftly sold out in two months. “All the PR stories in the fall boosted demand wildly. Now we are trying to keep up and stay ahead of the demand,” Breeding said.
The lobster protein is collected at Luke’s Lobster’s processing facility in Saco. Now the plan is to increase the collection process at the facility and ramp up production this summer. “We have had so many mentors, it’s been great,” Breeding noted. “From CEI to Green Light Maine and Maine Sea Grant, we are very grateful for all the mentorship.”