The first thing I noticed about Carrie Gross, was how smooth and polished her skin looked. Even as she flashed us the widest, warmest smile, there was barely a trace of age lines. It was then that I decided, I’m not leaving till I make sense of this sorcery! Turns out, there is no skincare magic or secret ingredient here. Carrie doesn’t hesitate to credit her skin — and great skin in general — to using efficacious products with scientifically-proven ingredients. Which, is exactly what underpins Dr Dennis Gross Skincare (DGS), the cutting-edge cosmeceutical skincare brand she co-founded with her husband, Dr Dennis Gross.
We sat down for a candid, incredibly eye-opening conversation with Carrie about everything we did not know about skin, how to get the best out of Dr Dennis Gross Skincare products, her own skincare holy-grails and how she manages being CEO with #mumlife. (Psst: She also tells us the love story behind her and Dennis!)
(*The following interview has been edited for clarity and cohesion.)
Her Backstory: Moving To NYC & Meeting Dennis
1. Tell us more about your backstory and professional background!
I was born and raised in California and I grew up living an outdoor life with a lot of tennis and a lot of biking. Growing up I wasn’t as careful as I should have been with SPF. But in any case, I was pursuing a career in fashion and I was really eager to move to New York City. So I moved to New York City and I started — in my 30s — going to estheticians for skin treatments, because I noticed early signs of sun damage. And you know, when you’re in the fashion industry you never neglect your skin, your nails, your hair…you don’t neglect anything! So I was searching for efficacious treatments either at the spa, or something I could bring home.
2. How did you meet Dennis?
We actually lived in the same apartment building and we met at the elevator and he asked me to go out to dinner. I was like…that’s fresh! I ended up going out to dinner with him and the whole evening we spent talking about skin. And I was asking him so many questions because I thought the beauty guru was the esthetician, or beauty therapist. I thought dermatologists were treating more of pathology — skin concerns like acne, skin cancer and rashes. But he was telling me about what was happening in dermatology…the birth of cosmetic dermatology. At this point there was no botox, there were no injectables, but the first lasers were coming out and there were also these aggressive glycolic peels. [But] none of these treatments were really easy to tolerate, or something that really delivered on the promise of radiance.
In any case, I thought it was really fun to go out on a date with a handsome, smart guy and talk about skin. The conversation continued and we ended up getting married!
The Beginnings Of Dr Dennis Gross Skincare & The Revolutionary Alpha BetaⓇ Peel
1. How did Dr Dennis Gross Skincare begin?
I would bring products home to Dennis and show him products that were available at the beauty counter. There was nothing available that had any levels of active ingredients in them. They were very fragranced moisturisers and that was pretty much it. There was nothing that felt clinical and efficacious. So I kept thinking, Dennis, you’re so smart, you know cell biology. He’d work in a lab as a skin cancer researcher, he worked on boosting skin immunology and I really felt he would have a unique point of view when it comes to formulation.
So one day, I get a phone call from him and he says, you know I just made something in my office and I think you should come down and try it. So I jumped in the taxi, went to his office and he performed a clinical strength version of our Alpha BetaⓇ peel for me.
2. And how did that go?
It is still, to this day, the number one treatment in his practice. [After the treatment] I looked in the mirror and my skin was transformed. Immediately you banish dull, dehydrated skin, your pores look tighter, fine lines are softened, your skin actually looks more hydrated and really radiant. I had never in my life experienced anything that had an immediate benefit.
3. How did this clinical treatment become the Alpha BetaⓇ Daily Peel?
So I was hooked [on the treatment]! I would have to call his office and make an appointment. His wife has to call the office and make an appointment! At a certain point, I’m like, this is getting ridiculous. His practice was super busy because all the beauty editors were flocking to him. The Alpha BetaⓇ peel sort of exploded and became a cult treatment. It was hard to get an appointment, so I asked him if he could just bring the peel home and do it for me at home.
So that night he’s in my bathroom, giving me my treatment and it was a lightbulb moment for me. This is it, we need to create a clinical strength peel to use at home for beauty junkies everywhere and maybe make a version of it for estheticians. So we took his doctor’s strength formula and created an at-home version!
4. Tell us more about how to use the Alpha BetaⓇ Daily Peel!
This is done exactly the way he does it in his practice. In order to have a super effective peel that won’t irritate the skin and destroy the skin, you have to have two steps.
Step 1: Isolated active ingredients.
This is an acidic step, with low pH. There is a blend of acids, not just one acid, because a single mono-acid can be too aggressive. You apply this on clean, dry skin and you’re basically going to polish the skin. I like to tell my clients to buy a magnifying mirror and work on whatever it is you want to work on. It really brightens the skin, prevents the breakdown of collagen and also works to create an even skin tone. Many clients say they washed their face, double cleansed, but they do the peel on their face and there’s still dirt, debris and dead skin coming off!
You just take the pad, in circular motions, you can start on your face — your upper lip, chin — then your throat area and décolletage. Then whatever’s left, do the back of your hands. Because our hands get a lot of sun damage, and sometimes hands can be giveaways (so they say)! What Step 1 does, is it encourages the natural cell turnover that we want to have every single day. As we age, that process slows down. After you do Step 1, you wait 2 minutes so the active ingredients can do their magic.
Step 2: An alkaline step.
The skin has a natural pH of about 5.5 and keeping your skin pH in balance is very important for a healthy skin barrier. Step 1 is acidic and Step 2 is alkaline, so it brings a pH flux to the skin. It enhances radiance, enhances the penetration of the ingredients and also builds collagen. Step 2 is like a beauty serum, we have Resveratrol, Chamomile, Green Tea, Vitamin C…this is so full of soy-ingredients and everything you could possibly want to nourish and protect your skin. This is a great treatment to do in the morning because you’re protected from free radicals all throughout the day
5. Wow! I noticed that the Alpha Beta® Daily Peel doesn’t sting my skin at all — sometimes skincare with acid sting because I have eczema-prone skin.
Yes! Dennis’s non-negotiable philosophy is you never ever irritate the skin. So our products are always going to give you meaningful doses of active ingredients so you‘re accomplishing your skin goals. [Our formulations] are always balanced with soothing ingredients like aloe vera, oatmeal, kiwis, avocado, peptides…and we don’t use any fillers. All our products are designed from bottom up with no base, no filler.
6. What are fillers?
A lot of companies just take a base, like a white cream. They might add in a bit of Vitamin C or shake in a bit of something, but it’s all based on the same ingredients. Fillers are basically ingredients that have no benefit to the skin, they’re just creating a white emulsion. [At DGS] we formulate all of our products from scratch and each one is different from the next. They’re all completely different in terms of texture, delivery systems. Although, there are some consistent ingredients that Dennis really likes because there’s science behind [them]. There’s always a skin goal in mind when we create our products. It’s not always the case with other brands.
I think for a doctor who sees patients in his practice everyday, the goal for our company has always been to have an immediate change in your skin. For all of our products, you see something. When we formulate, Dennis might say: If I don’t see a benefit to the skin in 90 seconds, I have failed. It has to work in 90 seconds, then you’ll be motivated, you’ll use it consistently. And if you have a consistent regimen you’ll get your results. Beauty products don’t work if you use them once a week, you need to establish habits!
How Dr Dennis Gross Skincare Is Setting Itself Apart & Why It Matters
1. Tell us more about cosmeceutical skincare — what is it and how is it different?
Cosmeceuticals are treatments that have active ingredients in them. When I was a young girl growing up, my mum had moisturisers — they were products that you buy at the beauty counter — there were no active ingredients in them, whatsoever. One of the first beauty products to come out then was a moisturiser with Retinol in it. But it was in such a trace, trace amount that there was no way it would have a clinically significant benefit to the skin. Another thing about our products is that we do third party clinical studies and that’s definitely something you should look for when you’re buying a cosmeceutical product.
2. How are third party clinical studies different?
So, many studies done by brands are simply consumer perception. You might have 25 women and you send them home saying, use this product morning and night and we’re going to talk to you at day three, at day five, day seven…at two weeks. And the questions are like, how does your skin feel? It’s so subjective.
We use third party labs where they’re using instruments and clinical professional graders to judge the improvements in the skin. We did it for our pore serum, we do it for our masks…we’re holding ourselves to high standards when it comes to the results. Again, we want it to be immediate from day one, but we also want it to be cumulative. So by two weeks, or by four weeks, you’re really having reduced wrinkles, increased hydration etc. It’s really important to our story.
3. What is Dr Dennis Gross Skincare’s brand mission?
It goes back to delivering meaningful doses of active ingredients without ever harming the skin. We have clinically proven, scientifically proven ingredients, along with carefully designed delivery systems. If a product is going to sit on the surface of your skin, it’s not going to do anything. The whole goal is to get the product down into the skin, into the dermis and into the skin cells. We want to solve problems in a very unique way. We’re not a trendy brand, we never do copycat products. Everything has to be very innovative and unique to us.
4. Tell us more about Dr Dennis Gross Skincare’s new product, the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta® Pore Perfecting & Refining Serum.
The Alpha Beta® Pore Perfecting & Refining Serum came about because we were noticing that everybody on this planet hates their pores! Pores are very misunderstood, the anatomy of the pore is very complicated. What ends up happening is we over-scrub our pores or we use heavy makeup to cover them, or primers that make the pores clogged. A lot of people over-exfoliate and they don’t understand that the blackhead is not dirt.
We have 20,000 pores on our face and it’s 20,000 opportunities to get bacteria in there, then the pores become enlarged and inflamed. We wanted to come up with a way to cleanse the lining of the pore and then release the oil. You don’t want to be squeezing your pores at home because you can create inflammation. The oil [is what] becomes waxy and that is when you have a blackhead. It happens because of imbalances to the oil chemistry, improper product selection, from sweat and pollution…etc.
5. What is unique about the formulation of the Alpha Beta® Pore Perfecting & Refining Serum?
The most interesting [ingredient] is Monk Berry! Monk Berry is a herb and they use it in monasteries. The monks chew it because it controls their hormones (when they take their vow of celibacy). Dennis read about this ingredient and felt it could really help with hormonal oil production, because our hormones can throw our oil off-balance and create an excess of oil. This has worked beautifully to calm excess oil production. There are also hydrating ingredients in here and antioxidants to prevent collagen breakdown. Pores do look more enlarged because of sun damage and the loss of collagen. If you keep your collagen in tact, it keeps the pores just a little bit more tight.
6. What is the biggest skincare misconception that people have?
I definitely think that Singapore has a certain climate and a certain skin condition. You’re very fortunate because you do have more oil glands than somebody like myself. But it can actually lead to congested skin and the idea of treating pores is a big problem. A lot of people will cover [their pores] up and we really want to teach them about what’s going on with their skin — to not over-strip it with harsh cleansers and not over-wash. Over-washing can lead to excess oil production! It’s like you strip your skin and your skin says, OMG I’m dry I need to make more oil — it becomes a vicious cycle.
Other misconceptions…I think sometimes people don’t believe in the need for night treatments. They think, oh I have a moisturiser and it works for me, I’ll just stick with it. I think your skin really needs a balanced diet of different ingredients in the morning and at night.
Another misconception could be that if I’ve got wrinkles, there’s nothing I can do about it. If I’ve got skin problems, I give up. You should never give up, you can always, always improve your skin. You can also prevent ageing. And I do think people are starting to understand that. That to me is one of the most exciting trends, is that young girls are really starting with skincare and not makeup anymore.
On Being A Super CEO & Mum, All At Once
1. How do you balance taking Dr Dennis Gross Skincare to new heights with your own family commitments (particularly as a mother)?
So I have four children, two boys and two girls. Two have graduated and two are still in university. When they were younger, I would — every single night — come home and have a home cooked meal on the table. We would all sit together and talk about our day, no social media, no TV. I think family dinners are so important, I think that’s when everybody gets a chance to share what’s going on in their lives, talk about their day and have very meaningful conversations.
Now honestly, all that foundation has really served us so well as a family. We’re very close, we look forward to taking family vacations together. And always take a phone call. Yesterday we were in a Sephora meeting and my phone rang and I saw it was my daughter. So I texted her like, I’m in a meeting, do you really need me? And she said, yes mum, call me right now. So I stepped out of the meeting and called her — she was in hysterics, crying. I’m not going to not ever take those calls. I think being in the beauty industry, it’s a wonderful thing. Because most of us are women and everyone is really understanding.
2. Nonetheless, have you faced any challenges as a female business leader?
I think it’s fortunate, having a career in beauty and running our company. When I first started, at the very beginning, I was a little intimidated because I thought okay, they’re going to think I’m Dennis’s wife, that I don’t know anything about business and I’m not taking the company seriously. But I think I’ve proven and built a reputation. I want to be taken seriously. So when I introduce myself, I always say I’m CEO and Dennis is my husband. I don’t say I’m his wife!
And even though [Dennis] is my husband, we can talk about anything. He’s an incredible scientist, he’s an incredible doctor, he’s a loving father…but he’s not perfect. I’ll tell it like it is…and I don’t have thin skin. So if there’s a problem, I want to fix it. If there’s a situation, I’m going to learn from it. I feel like I’m really open and I’m absolutely, never defensive about anything. If I do a marketing campaign and one of my partners says something like, I don’t think the campaign was spot-on, I don’t think the consumers liked it. I’ll be like, let’s talk about it. I agree with you, let’s talk about it.
3. What is your mantra when it comes to building and leading a company?
I think having respect for my partners, whether it’s a PR agency, my merchants, or the spa directors I’m working with [is important]. We just have open dialogue. And I always like to start my conversations with, how’s your family? How’s everybody doing? It’s humanity, it’s not just business. Even with my team, we know what’s going on in each other’s lives.
I think honestly, sometimes when you sit around a table with a bunch of men in suits, it can be a little bit intimidating. We had a retail partner — it was a husband and wife team — the husband was absolutely flirting with some of the girls at the table and I just won’t tolerate it. I actually quit selling to that company. It was a pretty crazy situation. I really defend my team and protect them, in sort of a motherly way maybe? I also care very deeply about them achieving their career goals. This is not a vanity project, I want my team to have an incredible career path and achieve all of their career goals.
Revealing Her Own Skincare Regime
1. We’re curious what about your own skincare routine! Has it changed since you founded Dr Dennis Gross Skincare?
I was on a mission to find efficacious products and they just weren’t available. When we started our brand, we had just a small assortment of products — the Alpha Beta® Daily Peel, a cleanser, moisturiser, SPF… It’s my job to try everything that comes out and know what’s available out there; to know what consumers are purchasing, what they’re saying and what they like. In the course of testing, sometimes I find a product that I like that isn’t from our brand. If you went into my beauty closet, you’ll see a lot of other brands!
But honestly, right now, I have never been happier with my routine from our brand. It really has to do with the fact that we have families and franchises of ingredient stories like Vitamin C — we all need Vitamin C. We have Retinol, we have hyaluronic acid. I shop for my skincare based on ingredients, it’s like building a healthy, well-balanced diet. I’ve been building my regimen to include all those ingredients that are scientifically-proven to help my skin, to correct aging.
I’m definitely very regimented in the morning. I cleanse, I peel, then I use two eye products — a serum and a moisturiser. Then I use a serum and moisturiser on my face — sometimes I layer two serums. I like to read my skin, particularly if you’re travelling your skin changes. I have a magnifying mirror, I look at my skin and I want to make sure I’m getting enough hydration, that I’m properly cleansing and that I’m using my SPF properly. Then at night, I’m a little bit less regimented. I might just use a sheet mask, or a serum…or I might use a LED with a mask. Then I always treat my face, my neck, my décolletage, then put the extra products on my arms/hands.
2. What’s your favourite Dr Dennis Gross Skincare product?
It’s definitely going to be the Alpha Beta Peel! Partially because it does so much, it’s such a multitasker — all our products are multi-tasking. This is an exfoliating treatment that builds collagen and it’s so loaded [with skin-loving ingredients], that if I have to choose, I’ll choose this. I do however, have another favourite night time product — the Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight Serum. Do you know what Ferulic Acid is?
3. Unfortunately not, tell us more!
Ferulic Acid is…if you look around the planet, all over Singapore are these gorgeous trees that are lush and thriving in the heat. If you go to the Alps you’ll see pine trees thriving, if you go to the desert you’ll see cactuses. Every plant in the world has Ferulic Acid in it and it helps protect the leaves from the harsh environment. Dennis loves Ferulic acid and he loves to blend it with Retinol, because Retinol could potentially be irritating to certain skin types. By mixing these two, you’ll get your meaningful dose of Retinol but without the irritation because of Ferulic Acid. This is a serum but it’s an emulsion, so it’s really hydrating. Sometimes this is enough for me to use at night and I don’t need a moisturiser on top of it.
4. Some people consider their skincare routine as time to unwind. But you work in skincare all the time, do you have a favourite way to relax and recharge that’s not skincare-related?
Definitely! I’ve been doing yoga for 40 plus years! I started when I was a freshman in college and I found yoga to be something that was exactly what I was looking for, in order to unwind and shut-off your mind. It’s almost like a vacation when you go to your mat, when you have an hour/hour and a half where you’re really focusing on your breathing. I think just being able to recognise, tp check-in with your body physically — am I holding tension in my neck, or in my jaw? Yoga allows me to do that and that makes me very happy. When I travel I find the yoga studio and get the schedule before I arrive, then I book my classes. I’ll try all the new things like infrared saunas, cryotherapy, IV drips…I love trying new things and that keeps me excited.
I also love to cook, it’s very much like meditation to me. When I’m mixing organic vegetables and making something with a lot of love for my family, when I put it on the table and I see them smiling, sharing their day with me…that’s very relaxing to me.
A Pore-fect Pair: Introducing The Alpha Beta® Universal Daily Peel and Alpha Beta® Pore Perfecting & Refining Serum
It’s hard to resist the iconic Dr Dennis Gross Alpha BetaⓇ Universal Daily Peel (S$135), which has found itself on the HG list of top beauty editors and Hollywood celebrities alike. For all the right reasons — this fast-acting, two-step daily treatment delivers impressive clinical results at home. Powered by just the right dose of five AHAs/BHAs, antioxidants and vitamins, the daily peel is a multi-performer with immediate results; it cleanses, exfoliates, controls oil, smooths and hydrates.
Then, complement you daily peel with the new Dr Dennis Gross Alpha BetaⓇ Pore Perfecting & Refining Serum (S$99). The pore-perfecting formula features scientifically-backed ingredients like farnesol, adipic acid and prickly pear that effectively cleanses pores, while preventing new blackheads. The silicone-free complex promises instant results (as all of Dr Dennis Gross’s products do) in the form of smaller pores, reduced shine and a skin-blurring effect.
Meet poreless. Discover the Dr Dennis Gross Alpha BetaⓇ Universal Daily Peel and Pore Perfecting & Refining Serum in-store at Sephora and on sephora.sg.