Fans of Crystal Ruffo’s artistry don’t just appreciate it on a visual level. Instead, they rub her creations into their skin, savor their tropical fragrances and even lather them into pets’ fur.
That’s because Crystal’s artwork doesn’t consist of paintings, sketches or sculptures — it’s a unique type of “mixed media” composed of natural ingredients, fragrant essential oils, botanicals and ground-up minerals blended into tropical hues.
A friendly and outgoing blonde, Crystal is the artisan and owner of Purely Paradise Natural Bath Products. Her inviting emporium, located at 1108-A Duval St. in Key West, offers all-natural personal-care products that she handcrafts on site.
“Many artists work in the mediums of oils and watercolors; I work in the mediums of soaps and salts and bath products,” says Crystal, a longtime Key West resident who explored fiction writing and Web design before discovering her passion for “potions.”
At Purely Paradise, you’ll find a wide range of artisan wares including body and facial butters enriched with mango, scented shampoo with coconut oil and aloe vera, sea salt and sugar scrubs, revitalizing skin toner made with green tea, handcrafted sunburn relief products and even natural aluminum-free deodorants.
“We can create personalized facial products based on your skin type and what you’re looking for the product to do,” Crystal says. “I especially enjoy creating things for people with allergies — lotions and soaps that make their bodies feel good.”
But it’s not just people who benefit from her soothing proprietary formulas. Motivated by her dog Nicky’s skin and coat problems, Crystal developed a pet shampoo with goat’s milk, shea butter and essential oils to calm skin irritations.
“We use castor oil to make their coats shine but not be oily, and we use several different essential oils which naturally repel insects,” she reveals. “Several of the vets in town recommend our pet shampoos.”
(Nicky’s skin problems, by the way, are now completely gone and his coat is glossy and beautiful.)
Many customers at Purely Paradise favor the fragrant multicolored soaps, all crafted in whimsical shapes that communicate the spirit of the Keys.
You’ll discover palm trees, two-toned flip-flops that invariably evoke a smile, conch shells, cats inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s famed six-toed feline, roguish pirates, bare feet, manatees, parrots, dolphins and intricately “sculpted” mermaids with flowing hair.
Crystal takes particular pleasure in formulating and blending the unique colors that tint her soaps and lotions.
“None of our products are made with artificial coloring or dyes, so I create all of our colors by mixing ground-up minerals together — playing with the colors until I get the shade and hue I like,” she explains. “I try to stay very tropical with aquas for our water, a light ‘Key lime’ green, pinks and corals.”
Since its debut in 2010, Purely Paradise has become a gathering spot for locals and visitors drawn by its inviting atmosphere and personalized all-natural offerings. Nonstop tunes by Jimmy Buffett — Crystal’s favorite entertainer — provide a laid-back soundtrack while customers browse, sample lotions and creams, and watch her craft products behind a pastel-painted counter.
“I’ve done many things throughout my life, and many of them were very satisfying,” says the “artist in residence” with a characteristic smile. “But I think this is the most fun and the most self-satisfying adventure that I’ve ever undertaken.”