Here’s the story of why Jennifer Kurko launched a product line of allergen-free lipstick, lip balm, eye shadow, and other bath and beauty products.

Kiss Freely lipstick display

Jennifer Kurko

Jennifer Kurko would be a normal mom under any other circumstances. Had I met this peppy, youthful business owner on the street, I would never have guessed that she has daughters with life-threatening food allergies, nor could I have guessed her strength in proving to them that every challenge has a solution. She accomplished the latter by launching, in 2015, Kiss Freely, a line of chemical-free beauty and self-care products that totally ditch not just chemicals, but all top 8 allergens..

Instead, I met Kurko at Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest (GFFAF) in Stamford, Conn., in November 2015. “You often think about food when it comes to allergens,” she told me, “and [my family] got pretty good at that. But I had no idea what I was still putting on her skin and hands!”

Kurko’s light-bulb moment came when she bent and kissed her then-7-year-old daughter on the cheek, and left a vivid rash. It was the lipstick.

From there, Kurko, a New York-area licensed clinical therapist, trashed all of her body care products, including make-up, and started from scratch—literally. Just as she’s always done in cooking from scratch to ensure food safety, she began making her own body care products, building allergen-free goods from the ground up.

As we chatted at GFFAF (and later via phone), Kurko mentioned two key foundations for Kiss Freely: inclusion and self-advocacy.

What if you’re a kid and you can’t even touch peanuts? What if toast crumbs or the breading flicked off your classmate’s chicken tenders can wreck your gut? What if someone’s cheesy fingers are enough to raise a rash on your wrist? Allergies like these should never leave children feeling like they cannot advocate for themselves out of fear of exclusion.

Kiss Freely show sign

“I’m so grateful my daughter was articulate from the beginning,” Kurko said, sounding more than just relieved (who wouldn’t be?). “But I feel bad for the kids who struggle. It’s not easy speaking up—especially to a teacher!”

It’s also not easy being the odd-one-out, as kids can remind us. “I really started Kiss Freely just for us,” Kurko explained. “It was my daughter who said, ‘Mom, don’t you think other people might need special lip balm too?’”

“Just like other people need to eat in a special way,” I said. “Yes!” agreed Kurko.

Without any guarantee of financial success, Kurko smacked the name on the product—a name created by her daughter, who said, “Everyone should be able to kiss freely”— and then put up a website.

“I thought it was just our little world, but then I got requests pouring in,” she said. “Someone needed a nut-free body butter. Someone needed a soy-free, gluten-free lipstick…. I was already making the food; why not body-care products too? And people were so grateful.”

Kurko shot off a streak of stories about celiacs and children with severe allergies who have directly contacted her, sometimes with tears of gratitude. There have been girls in dance recitals who couldn’t wear teacher-prescribed make-up, but are now getting safe eye shadow from Kiss Freely. There’s a young woman who special-ordered lipstick and eyeshadow so she could attend a Marine Corps ball; her date has serious allergies to chemicals and nuts…

“I get to see how self-care can actually be an act of service for the community,” Kurko said.

From problem to solution, from struggle to success, Kurko’s launch of Kiss Freely is quite the business model. And as we wrapped up our chat, something else became clear to me: Jen’s unwaveringly positive response to what she described as “a struggle that sometimes really sucks” is the perfect model for her daughters and all young people with food restrictions. Self-care. Self-advocacy. A sense of having the power of choice. And the understanding that a lack of options is just an opportunity to create your own.

I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned, the message is just as valuable as this allergen-free product. In fact, they’re a package deal for Kiss Freely, which makes a case for the importance of self-care when you have life-threatening food intolerances. Kiss Freely provides not only an example of healthy self-advocacy and self-care, but the means to practice it.  


C.J. Williams has made her own celiac diagnosis “a gymnast’s tumble,” as she says, “instead of a bone-breaking free-fall.” Williams writes a blog (TumblingGlutenFree.blogspot.com) to explore travel and celiac-safe restaurants around the world, to discuss the joys of whole foods and whole life, and to promote the idea of building an identity beyond a disease. She also contributes to GlutenFreeandMore.com; click here to read her story of a young woman’s unique outlook on living with celiac disease. And click here to read her blog on Goodman Food Products.