hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture April 2023


Crafting a perfect cream

Longtime Spa City esthetician aims to fill a skincare niche



Mary Kuntz holds a jar of her handcrafted, small batch Divine Radiance face cream. Joan K. Lentini photo

Mary Kuntz holds a jar of her handcrafted, small batch Divine Radiance face cream. Joan K. Lentini photo


ntributing writer


It was the end of another marathon session in the kitchen for Mary Kuntz.
As she took stock of her just-completed project, there were mixing bowls and utensils to clean, a Kitchen-Aid mixer to disassemble, counters to wipe down, and cream to be poured carefully into jars.

There was a slightly sweet aroma in the air, but this was no culinary project. The white cream Kuntz had so carefully alchemized is designed specifically for faces.

Stacked neatly at one end of the countertop was a pyramid of white plastic jars with screw-top lids. Each was about to be filled with her Divine Radiance brand of face cream. The brand officially made its debut at the end of December after nearly a year of research and trials.

Kuntz, a longtime licensed massage therapist and esthetician, said the idea of formulating her own face cream took root rather suddenly last year after an epiphany.

“I’ve always been passionate about natural skincare ingredients that serve a purpose,” she explained. “There are many brands already out there. But I kept seeing so many face products for daytime, nighttime, eyes only, serums vs. creams -- it was overwhelming. So I thought, ‘Why not make one product that covers it all?’ ”

The light-bulb moment came last year after giving a client a facial.
“I was making the usual recommendations for small-batch, responsibly sourced skincare creams,” she recalled. “Suddenly I thought: I should be making my own. What if I take ingredients I know are nourishing and effective and made my own formula?”

Kuntz, 59, said she knew it would be a daunting task, but she was in no rush to arrive at the perfect formula. The starting point, she said, was knowing what she didn’t want in her cream: added fragrance, chemicals and artificial ingredients.


Taking time for beauty
Kuntz’s passion for skincare and wellness dates back to her formative years. She was born to parents who were hairdressers on Long Island, and she said the practice of self-care was modeled to her on a daily basis by her well-groomed parents, Frank and the late Mildred Imbimbo.

When the family moved to Lake George in the early 1970s to run a motel business, Kuntz said their aesthetic sensibilities went with them.

“Every morning my mother would allow time to do her make-up and fix her hair nicely,” she recalled. “She wouldn’t leave the house without doing that, and she always began the process with creams and moisturizers.”

The youngster, fascinated by the ritual, would sit at the bathroom counter, observing her mother.
“It was such a wonderful way for my mother to care for herself and take time just for her,” Kuntz recalled. “And I loved watching her do it.”

She ended up following in her parents’ footsteps and became a licensed beautician after graduating high school. Kuntz worked for a few years at hair salons in the Glens Falls area until she married and moved to Seattle, where her husband enrolled in acupuncture school and she began studying for her massage therapy license.

To keep the cash flowing, Kuntz continued her work as hairdresser at a downtown Aveda salon, where things turned on a dime when a facialist quit and she began apprenticing with the salon’s senior esthetician.

“I was always gravitating to skincare, even while doing hair,” she recalled. “We were taught how to care for and nurture the skin in cosmetology school.”

Like many apprenticeships, this one became a life-changing collaboration.
“The lead esthetician really took me under her wing for three years,” Kuntz said. “She taught me how to give a great facial, and I learned more and more about natural ingredients and how they help the skin from the Aveda line.”

Aveda was founded in 1978 by an entrepreneur who stumbled upon the Vedic philosophy of Ayurveda (a herb-based approach to wellness) while visiting India. He ended up concocting a clove-based shampoo at his kitchen sink and built a cosmetics company that eventually was acquired by the Estee Lauder Companies.

Kuntz said she learned the art of skincare not only from her mentor, but also from the constant flow of clients who poured through the doors of their busy urban salon.

“We were located in a four-star hotel, which meant a lot of business people and the occasional celebrity in town for a movie shoot,” she recalled. “They’d give me feedback, and I learned from it. Seattle was a great city for holistic wellness. It was bursting at the seams because of three massage schools, one naturopath college and three acupuncture colleges. It was just a beautiful environment.”


Practitioner turned inventor
Kuntz returned to the Northeast in time for the birth of her daughter Sophia in 1998. Here she had the comfort of having extended family nearby as her family grew, and professionally she began to build a new following.

After studying and becoming qualified to practice massage in New York state, Kuntz started work as a massage therapist and esthetician at the now-shuttered Crystal Spa in Saratoga Springs. With her West Coast training and sensibilities, she built a robust client list over the ensuing decades, all the while assessing clients’ skincare needs as well as her own.

“I would recommend products I thought had quality ingredients,” she said. “And at some point I began realizing: Why so many products just for the face? There had to be a simpler way.”
Once she set upon the idea of creating her own face cream, Kuntz ventured into the research and experimentation phase, mixing some of her favorite ingredients, such as beeswax and various botanical oils, in differing formulas.

“I was a little nervous at first because I’m not a chemist and thought, ‘What if I mix all these ingredients and they don’t work?’ ” she recalled.

Undeterred, Kuntz gave out samples of her works-in-progress to some clients and friends, seeking honest and function-specific feedback.

It took nearly a year of trial and error, but ultimately Kuntz zeroed in on a mixture that she said nourishes like a serum, protects like a cream, and is suitable for day or night use. She sees a ready market for a single cream that covers many needs.

“Clients would tell me how tired they were of having multiple products clutter their bathroom,” she explained. “It also gets expensive.”

Kuntz briefly considered a third-party manufacturing option but ruled it out after learning she would have minimal input over the ingredient list. Other manufacturers would have allowed proprietary ingredient lists, but the fees were prohibitive. Unwilling to compromise on ingredients or try selling a product with a three-digit price tag, Kuntz persisted in perfecting each batch of her cream.

Eventually she found an Oregon-based company that provided the quality ingredients she demanded, and at a wholesale price. One critical ingredient the company didn’t sell was beeswax, which it deemed too stiff an ingredient to incorporate into a cream.

“But I wouldn’t give up,” she recalled. “I searched until I found a company that made a lotion form of beeswax in an olive oil base.”

She also was adamant about the cream and its ingredients being cruelty-free, vegan, made in the United States, and free of genetically modified organisms, parabens, pesticides and artificial fragrance.

Kuntz said the faint fragrance in her cream can be traced to its botanical oils.
“We’re biologically drawn to plants, so it’s not an obtrusive fragrance,” she said. “The cleaner you become, the less you can tolerate fragrances. My cream has a lot of integrity; bigger companies go for the cheapest ingredients.”

Miriam Allen, a longtime massage client of Kuntz’s, has become an enthusiastic consumer of Divine Radiance face cream.

“It’s the perfect texture -- your face just soaks it in,” she said. “But it’s also lasting: At the end of the day when I wash my face, I can feel it coming off.”

Allen, who lives in Saratoga Springs, said she thinks the cream has made her skin visibly softer after just a month of steady use.

“One day my sister looked at me and said, ‘I’m buying that cream!’” she said.
Kuntz said she loves getting rave reviews, but she added that her goal has never been for an “anti-aging” product, a concept she finds disconcerting.

“We’re so culturally obsessed with the idea of youth; even women in their 20s are getting procedures now,” she said. “I’m more concerned with giving those who use my cream a glow and a vibrancy. And you can glow at any age.”

Lisa Baltz, who has been using Divine Radiance cream for three months, said it has proven to be a perfect for her skin.

“I have older skin which is very dry,” she explained. “This cream feels so hydrating. It smells nice, and my make-up goes well over it.”

Divine Radiance sells on Etsy for $39 and is also available in Saratoga Springs at Four Seasons Natural Foods, Bodywork Professionals, and The Mouzon House. It’s also sold at Hochman Chiropractic in Queensbury.

Happy at last with her face cream formula, Kuntz said she adds the cream’s final ingredient during the manufacturing stage in her kitchen.

“I meditate over the cream as I make it,” she said. “I light candles, turn music on. My prayer is, ‘Whosever face this touches, may it feel comforted and nurtured’ — that is always the intention.”

Visit www.etsy.com/listing/1356855658/divine-radiance-face-cream or www.instagram.com/divine_radiance_facecream/ for more information about Divine Radiance face cream.