Dr. Tonia Farmer-Pitts of Warren, Ohio, a licensed otolaryngologist who’s also developed her own brand of salt therapy inhalers, “Salt Me!” (PHOTO PROVIDED)
[Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect Dr. Tonia Farmer-Pitts’ background in the field of ENT (ear, nose and throat) surgery, as well as the regulatory expectations for her line of CBD products, which will not be FDA-approved.]
Tonia Farmer-Pitts has been known as Dr. Farmer for 20 years. She is a certified head and neck surgeon, or otolaryngologist, in Warren. However, she was born in Delaware and raised in New Jersey.
“I was recruited here to the Lippy Group for Ear, Nose and Throat in Warren. I am a co-owner of the practice as well as the Lippy Surgery Center” at 3893 E. Market St. in Warren, said Farmer.
Inspired by her twin sister who passed away from bone cancer at a young age, Farmer decided to pursue a career in the medical field. The experience of taking care of her sister granted her the motivation to care for others.
“I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Biology from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. I went to medical school for otolaryngology and one year of surgical internship at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, in Richmond, Virginia.”
BUILDING A BRAND DISCOVERED THROUGH SCIENCE
Inspired by a patient, Farmer decided to create a product to better serve her clientele
“Salt Me! came about because of a patient of mine who had a really difficult sinus disease that was really difficult to treat. We tried to get her sinuses better. One day she came in and was telling me how well she was doing and I examined her, and her sinuses looked fantastic. She told me she started a natural therapy called halotherapy,” Farmer said, which is a form of alternative medicine using salt.
Through research, Farmer noticed halotherapy was more commonly used in Europe. She was able to receive research papers to look more into the remedy. From there she formed her product line, Salt Me!
“I put one and two together and said, ‘What about inhaled salt with essential oils?’ I contracted with a professional aromatherapist and with the research that I did with the halotherapy. That’s how I came up with a salt inhaler,” she said.
Research shows halotherapy is mostly used in Europe for conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and coughs. It’s shown that salty air is beneficial for certain conditions.
WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT SALT ME!
Just like Vicks products, the inhaler is used to help with discomfort within the nasal area. However, Salt Me! differs in ingredients that most people may not notice are important.
“The difference between my inhaler is that it doesn’t use a cotton applicator inside. Mine uses natural Himalayan sea salt as the base, and the sea salt is actually infused with seven essential oils that I have chosen,” she said.
With these ingredients, Farmer noticed they provide a more natural and advanced way of treating major diseases, along with nasal issues.
“I was really going for something that was going to be comprehensive and that was going to benefit most people’s seasonal allergies and seasonal symptoms, because that’s why I really started this line,” she said.
Shown here is a rendering of “Salt Me!” inhalers, developed by Warren, Ohio otolaryngologist Dr. Tonia Farmer-Pitts, which she said use Himalayan pink salt and essential oils to treat nasal and respiratory issues. (PHOTO PROVIDED)
MANAGING A BUSINESS AS A FULL-TIME SURGEON
Farmer said she has managed to keep both her surgeon and retailer professions from conflicting. She said she focuses on keeping her clientele separated.
“So now I predominantly sell [my product] through my e-commerce site. I do have some sales through my practice. But I try not to do that too much only because it can get really hectic in my professional practice,” she said.
With owning a business there will always be challenges, Farmer said
“I think for me, [the] biggest challenge that I have had is really trying to scale to the next level. I think every small business owner starts in the basement or starts in their garage or starts in their living room or their kitchen you know, wherever it may be,” she said.
WORKING IN THE MEDICAL FIELD AS A MINORITY
Ranking high in her class, Farmer accelerated through her journey of medical school. She said she is determined to bring more diversity to the field.
“I was in the top 5% of my medics class. So I spent some time with a Black [ear, nose and throat] surgeon in Philadelphia. And that’s where my passion for ENT started, was when I spent time with him and saw just the different aspects of the field,” she said. “At the time, he was considered an icon in the field, because there’s not too many black ENT doctors, you know — we make up less than 1% of the entire field.”
As an adolescent, Farmer grew up with less diversity in her community as well. However, she received a lot of help, especially from her high school guidance counselor, and graduated second in her class.
“I grew up in a predominantly Black community. We went to the next town’s high school because our town was so small, we didn’t even have a high school. And so I went to a predominantly white high school.”
Salt Me! was one of eight Ohio Black-owned businesses featured this week by Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, in recognition of Black History Month.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR SALT ME!
Farmer said she is excited to expand her business. She also has body products and is working on launching her CBD product line. She would like to increase her inhalers. She currently has three different kinds which are safe for children and women who are pregnant.Farmer said she noticed an increase in people looking for more natural and healthy remedies.
“What will be going out next is an inhaler for nausea and vomiting,” she said. “I have four products in the pipeline coming from the CBD spectrum, which will be complimentary cocoa butter, salt scrub or roll-on, and also the inhaler. My inhaler, which is the most popular product, is now going to have its complementary CBD product as well as an inhaler.”
Farmer is thrilled to launch her new products, which can be expected this year. She is working to make Salt Me! the next available product in local stores, along with making it a household name.
“But my ultimate goal is to really make Salt Me! the next name in everyone’s household, and for it to be in the retail market. People can go to their local store like Target [and] Walmart and purchase it and have it sit next to that Vicks inhaler.”