Women In Wellness: Denise Cartwright of CRUDE On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Always Be Flora-Focused — The skin barrier is teeming with natural colonies of bacteria and fungi which work directly with your immune system to regulate, clean and regenerate the skin. Your skin relies on its microbiome, or flora, but unfortunately that’s what we’re washing off our bodies each day when we use soapy cleansers. Don’t get me wrong, hand-washing (the whole 20 seconds!) is an integral part of basic hygiene as well as combating the spread of disease. But daily head-to-toe soap use is wreaking havoc on our bodies — and our biomes.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Denise Cartwright.
Now a Master Esthetician of 12+ years, Denise developed CRUDE in her kitchen in 2014 after an experiment with oil-cleansing cleared her acne breakouts. Within six months, she helped more people heal their acne using her oil-cleansing system than she had in six years using the industry’s most cutting-edge products and treatments. This reality got her questioning the foundations of our modern skincare protocols, and her research and experimentation led her to conceive and formulate CRUDE’s entire line of soapless, detergent-free, flora-friendly self care products.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
During my decade-long career as an esthetician, I became especially intrigued by inflammatory skin diseases like acne, rosacea, and eczema, and the conflicting science on the best way to treat them. Throughout much of my esthetics career, I personally experienced imbalanced, dry, patchy skin and regular acne breakouts, despite using some of the top skincare products available at the time. I started hearing about people using oil-cleansing to heal their acne, and decided to experiment with the method, despite it conflicting with what I had been taught in esthetics school. I was told oil was bad for the skin, that it should be stripped with harsh cleansers and exfoliants, and that oil-free products were superior. I was intrigued and desperate for healthy skin, so I washed my face with oil for a week, and it instantly improved my skin. I did a ton of ingredient research and perfected a system that kept my skin consistently clear, then started sharing it with my facial clients. One by one they wanted more, and it quickly made sense to create a brand and start a business.
I spent $30 on the ingredients for my first batch of oil cleansers, then kept reinvesting what I was making into larger and larger batches of product. Word spread quickly, and I helped more people heal their acne during those first six months than I had in the six years prior working as an esthetician. I continued to bootstrap the business, and CRUDE has now generated millions in revenue without any VC funding or large advertising expenditures.
In 2017, CRUDE launched the first truly soap- and detergent-free body wash available on the market. It received a lot of buzz as testimonials started to come out from customers who used it to heal their eczema and psoriasis, and surprisingly, their chronic bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
When I started CRUDE, I had a feeling the reason it was working so well for people had something to do with the skin microbiome. But nearly 9 years ago almost no one was talking about the skin microbiome, and the research was pretty limited. In 2021, our Wash was the first body wash (and baby wash) ever to be certified microbiome-friendly, passing the rigorous standards of MyMicrobiome, the world’s first lab to create a (much needed) standard of microbiome friendliness in personal care. It’s been fascinating to watch this research evolve and to start to see it becoming a standard in the beauty industry. This made sense to me intuitively nearly a decade ago, and I’m glad I followed that hunch and now get to be on the forefront of this movement and paradigm shift in skin and personal care.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started CRUDE I was really worried about everything being perfect before it could be seen, and overprotective of our branding and messaging. It was hard for me to release control and delegate, which left a lot of tasks that I wasn’t necessarily great at on my plate. This of course came from my own insecurities, an unrealistic view of perfection and an unhealthy need for validation. Therapy and self care are helping me work out the internal stuff, but since those early days in 2014, I’ve also seen how often my ‘perfect’ vision of something isn’t what actually performs or relates best to our audience. I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons and found a lot of freedom in learning to delegate, to trust my team, follow their vision and not over-edit or over-analyze things.
Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
CRUDE’s ultimate mission isn’t just about transforming our approach to inflammatory skin conditions, but our notions of cleanliness itself. Some of the very first major ad campaigns were led by soap companies with messaging that framed women and people of color ‘unclean’ and in need of correction. Countless ads depict everything from marital problems to job performance relating back to soap use with the promise that using the right product would improve their lives and their family’s futures. One of the other recurring themes in soap ads was the claim that soap was the ‘mark of civilization’ and that it was white people’s duty to enlighten and uplift colonized people of color through cleansing their bodies, quite literally washing them white. Those theories weren’t just used to sell soap but to justify colonialism, slavery, and eugenics. This level of propaganda has real world effects that stretch far beyond the health and beauty aisle. To this day we see advertisements framing light skin as preferable, pure, and morally correct. Afterall, cleanliness is next to godliness, right?
So, there is a real moralizing element to being ‘clean’ that has, obviously, no scientific base, and remains largely unaddressed in the skincare and beauty worlds. But these are the kinds of destructive attitudes that these billion dollar industries are founded on. They profit from fears and insecurities that they created and we are long past the point where enough is enough. It’s time to take stock of our personal values beyond what’s being sold to us and unpack a century of really damaging rhetoric.
That’s why we created our educational hub, SOUL, or the School of UnLearning. If something as ‘common sense’ as washing our bodies has all this weird baggage and misinformation around it, what else do we need to unlearn in order to connect with our bodies and each other in healthier, more honest ways? Through SOUL we’ve connected with a number of experts, activists, artists, and thought leaders who challenge us to dig deeper. With their guidance we’ve created a resource and space for these conversations while also building connections and expanding our communities through our event programming, the proceeds of which always benefit grassroots organizations supporting women and people of color and an amazing array of diverse, value-aligned content creators.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Eat More Fiber — The first step people usually take on their journey toward a healthy microbiome is to buy a probiotic supplement or fermented foods like yogurt or kimchi. While there are certainly benefits to consuming live bacteria, one of the best ways to support your gut microbiome is actually to just increase your fiber intake. Microbes feed on fiber, so this is a great way to keep them happy and healthy, while supporting the gut lining. When microbes are starved of fiber, they start to feed on the protective mucus lining of the gut, which can trigger inflammation and disease. Even occasional fiber deprivation in mice leads to a compromised gut lining, which gets thinner and weaker the less fiber they eat.
- Stop Over-Cleansing Your Skin — Just like your gut, your skin has a microbiome. The skin is teeming with living bacteria and fungi that work directly with your immune system to keep your skin and body healthy and in homeostasis — yet most of us wash off these crucial microbes, along with our skin’s natural moisture barrier, with a soap or detergent-based cleanser on a daily basis. Like the gut lining, the skin’s natural moisture barrier is intrinsically tied to the health of the skin and its microbiome. This naturally produced, oily shield protects the body from water loss and pathogenic bacteria, and holds essential moisture in the skin. So why do we strip this essential barrier and our flora from our skin with suds.
- Go Outside — A diverse microbiome is a resilient one — greater diversity of microorganisms is largely correlated with overall health and well-being. One of the best ways to expose yourself to a diverse array of bacteria is to get out of the house. Exposure to soil and a variety of natural environments can increase bacterial diversity and improve the immune system. People who live in urban environments with less biodiversity have a lower diversity of microbes, but access to more biodiverse areas such as green spaces and parks shows major biome benefits.
- Use More Oils — The outdated belief that oil is bad for our skin has led to an obsession with being “squeaky clean.” Most people in the United States wash with a sudsing, oil-removing soap or detergent-based cleanser at least once a day. This strips your skin of its naturally produced, oil-based “shield,” leaving it inflamed and unprotected and creating your reliance on synthetic moisturizers and creams to replace what was stripped. Once the skin’s protective barrier has been compromised, unwanted agents like allergens and irritants can penetrate the skin and aggravate symptoms associated with inflammatory diseases like acne and eczema. The right facial oil will help repair this protective barrier and help you lock in moisture.
- Always Be Flora-Focused — The skin barrier is teeming with natural colonies of bacteria and fungi which work directly with your immune system to regulate, clean and regenerate the skin. Your skin relies on its microbiome, or flora, but unfortunately that’s what we’re washing off our bodies each day when we use soapy cleansers. Don’t get me wrong, hand-washing (the whole 20 seconds!) is an integral part of basic hygiene as well as combating the spread of disease. But daily head-to-toe soap use is wreaking havoc on our bodies — and our biomes.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’d call it the ‘Rewilding’ and it would be focused on getting people reconnected to nature and repairing their microbiomes — both of which have shown amazing potential for improving and restoring physical and mental wellbeing.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1 — You don’t have to be an expert at everything. Hire experts!
2 — Take weekends off. Seriously.
3 — Don’t be afraid to delegate. Trust your team!
4 — Focus on long-term, sustainable growth over short-term gains.
5- Don’t let work consume you. Prioritize your relationships.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Sustainability and the environment are hugely important to CRUDE. Sustainable packaging and ingredients are super important in personal care, but I think we need to take it a step further — reducing waste by simply creating less waste. CRUDE’s line is intentionally small, knowing our multi-use products (including our soapless cleansers which double as moisturizers) mean less waste in our landfills and oceans. CRUDE also uses recyclable glass and aluminum jars and bottles and 100% FSC certified paper.
In 2021, I founded Save Our Great Salt Lake, a coalition focused on building awareness for the fast-shrinking lake and namesake of CRUDE’s hometown, Salt Lake City. The coalition recently held a virtual rally just before the 2022 legislative session began to make it loud and clear that Utah MUST prioritize water conservation and saving the Great Salt Lake ecosystem in 2022. You can watch the full rally HERE, where hundreds of people heard from speakers on the history of the lake and Utahns relationship to it, including Brad Parry, Vice Chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation and Terry Tempest Williams, an award-winning author and activist.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights!