John Harmon

Paul Wellman

John Harmon

Beach Tar, Be Gone

Santa Barbara City College Student Invents Natural Way to Clean Your Feet

Unfortunately, we now need John Harmon’s invention more than ever before. This past February, the 22-year-old Santa Ynez native and Santa Barbara City College student rolled out Oil Slick, a nontoxic, non-petrochemical-based beach-tar remover designed to help clean you up after a day spent in the sand and surf of the South Coast. Little did he know that, in just a few short months, many of the most beautiful beaches in our area would be more oil-covered for years to come courtesy of the Refugio Oil Spill.

For Harmon, the development of Oil Slick was simply a reaction to an all-too-common scene he watched unfold in the parking lot of Jalama Beach County Park last year. “I had just finished surfing, and I saw this mother dump gasoline all over her 8- or 9-year-olds’ feet to clean them up,” he recalled. “It got the tar off, but wow! It was bad for the beach and bad for the kid.”

So the young man saddled up for a good old Google session to find a better way to get the tar off. “There wasn’t much out there besides baby oil, which is a petro-chemical, or vegetable oil, which doesn’t work nearly as easily as you would like,” he said. “Or, of course, the whole gasoline thing.” As a student in SBCC’s marketing and entrepreneurship program, Harmon recognized a niche and started researching. “The problem is I am not a science guy,” admitted the part-time Uber driver with a laugh. “I failed chemistry in high school.”

Luckily, he found a mentor in SBCC professors Judith Shelling and Julie Samson, who helped clarify his vision for a nontoxic, all-natural tar remover and enlisted a friend studying biochemistry at UCSB into hours of trial and error. After just five months, Harmon had his “aha!” moment last November, when he finalized an orange-oil-based, 100 percent biodegradable formula for Oil Slick. Just last month, his hard work won top prize in the SBCC Scheinfeld Center New Venture Challenge.

And take my word for it: After keeping a bottle in my truck for the past two months, I can say wholeheartedly that the stuff works great ​— ​and smells even better.

Oil Slick is on sale at J7 Surfboards, The Beach House, Play It Again Sports, and elsewhere. See

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