"It's just been a freaky thing for me. How I got involved was my mother and sister knew that I'd always had eczema problems pretty bad," said Jetta Thomas, her smooth, beige skin belying her revelation. "My sister sent me a tube of aloe vera jelly. The thing that really impressed me was it took the pain away immediately."

Eventually her old scars disappeared. With that testimony behind her, Thomas six months ago became the first Washington-area distributor for Ultimately Aloe, a line of organic beauty products manufactured by the Richline Cosmetics Co. in Zanesville, Ohio.

Today, Thomas, a 32-year-old black project director at the National Day Care Association, swears by Ultimately Aloe's purported wonders and the business opportunity it has provided for blacks trying to get into the cosmetics industry.

"Everything I've used in this product line works," Thomas claims, "but even better, everything sells."

Thomas was drafted into the company by her mother and sister, both distributors, last May when they asked her to hold a clinic in her upper Northwest home. She did, reluctantly.

Though extolling the virtues of the products she had been using, Thomas said she felt she would be unable to sell them through home sales. Six friends attended the home clinic. An hour later, they had spent $500, and Thomas' skepticism flew out the window. A week later she said she had sold another $1,700 in aloe vera products and decided to become a master distributor.

The two-year-old company is the brain child of Richard Barclay, a 39-year-old former cosmetics salesman. Barclay said he decided to develop a nearly pure brand of aloe vera cosmetics and market them to the black community, which was very familiar with the aloe vera plant.

The aloe vera is indigenous to Africa and has been touted by blacks for centuries as a wonderous medicinal plant, and aide in healing wounds, burns, erasing scars and beautifying the skin.

"He knew the aloe vera plant was something the black population knew about," Thomas said of Barclay. When Barclay founded the company, it was 90 percent black with an eye on black dollars. Today Thomas said, the firm is about 60 percent black, "as more whites have come in."

Barclay's marketing concept was simple: Allow distributors to proceed at their own pace and make the product affordable. Prices range from $2.75 for the shampoo to $39 for the face lift.

Investment fees also have been held down. Richline consultants charge a minimum $15 for a home clinic. Distributors pay $495 for a kit providing them with $800 worth of beauty products and sales aides, Thomas said. The clinic consultants then earn 25 percent of whatever they sell and distributors earn up to 60 percent.

As a distributor, Thomas said she retails between $1,000 and $4,000 a month, working 12 hours a week. In addition, she has nine distributors and four consultants working as subcontractors, who turn over between 10 percent and 25 percent of their proceeds to her.

Richline's marketing concept -- home sales only -- differs slightly from that of its giant competitors, for example, the minimum profit to the investor is 40 percent, the maximum is 50, according to local director Joanne Holman, and 11-year Mary Kay vet who earned $104,000 last year. All Mary Kay products are purchased directly from the main company and there are no distributors, she said.

As long as everyone along the line makes a profit, such marketing is not considered a pyramid setup, according to Sgt. William Harrison of the Metropolitan Police Depatment's check and fraud division. In a pyramid, only the person at the top makes any money.

Schoolteachers, accountants and attorneys have taken up sales of Ultimatley Aloe products, Thomas said. Her customers, who range from single professionals to cosmetology schools, are just as varied, she said. "This product appeals to anyone who has skin," she chuckles."I've sold just as many facelifts and body wraps to men as women. Men really like the face lift."