The Problem with Rodan & Fields + Alternative (Better) Products

You could say I’m not a huge fan of multi-level marketing (MLM) businesses as a whole. I know I could ruffle some feathers saying this, but I feel this way for many reasons.

  • Unethical practices like false income statements, improper employment contracts, misleading financial advice and poor customer and employee service.
  • Pressure to use immoral tactics to sustain recruitment rather than sell the products the business is supposed to be about.
  • The enormous likelihood that somebody entering the business (beyond the lucky very first few) will earn nothing or lose money.
  • The cloying, vomit-inducing “fake it till you make it” ethos, paired with an ‘us vs. them’ mentality and washed down with a nice helping of the sunk cost fallacy.

I could go on.

And when the business in question is to do with my favourite thing in the world (skin care, obviously) I get really mad.

The problem with Rodan & Fields specifically

I’ll start off by saying that I don’t actually have anything against the Rodan & Fields (R&F) skin care formulations themselves. They’re not innately dangerous or anything like that. From what I can tell, many of the products include active ingredients that I personally enjoy or can see the benefit in.

In terms of the company, I appreciate their focus on informing people on the basic importance of a skin care routine. Their packaging is appealing. They’re not the worst MLM in terms of compensation or business practices by far. They allow online shopping rather than forcing people to purchase only through distributors (but also, do distributors not worry that people will purchase online rather than through them, rendering them useless? anyway…).

I also don’t hold much against individual distributors of the product. I believe many are illusioned or under financial stress and have been preyed upon and sold a lie. As you rise in the ranks however, I think the claim of ignorance to the bad nature of the MLM model is harder to make as you see how recruitment is the focus of the business, not selling the products.

No, the reason why Rodan & Fields is in the line of fire today because, frankly, I am unhappy with the presence of MLMs in the health space, incredibly annoyed by the price of their offerings, and shocked by their approach to marketing and the implications it has on people’s understanding of skin care.

Rodan & Fields’ extortionate pricing

It grinds my gears that these fairly average Rodan & Fields products are priced as if they’re made of freakin’ gold. Let’s take a look at some examples of products from the Rodan & Fields website:

$104 for 50ml of 2.5% benzoyl peroxide anyone? How about a tiny eye cream for $64?

Individually, the product prices are inflated to encourage people to purchase a full routine to get some savings. If the prices of those products shocked you, check this out:

It’s not just the ‘revolutionary and hard hitting’ ingredients that are inflating the prices, either. Their RECHARGE set, a bare-bones routine aimed at young 20-somethings containing just a small cleanser, moisturiser and sunscreen, is $134.

If the ingredients are standard and the bottles are small, why is the price so high, you ask?

The first reason is the same as many luxury brands – to create an air of quality where there may not be one. And here I don’t believe there is.

Oh, and perhaps more pressingly they also have to support the network of ‘consultants’ who each pay commission to their uplines and fill the (very heavy) pockets of the company’s founding few. The very nature of paying commission to distributors means the companies are motivated to reduce production costs to as low as possible and jack up the sales prices to create significant profit margins.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with a luxury price point, until you consider the marketing that’s going along with it.

Rodan & Fields’ appeal to authority & questionable quality of recommendations

The R&F world is just so transparently sales-heavy.

The meaningless marketing buzzwords that appeal to emotion used names of the product lines goes against all my core values as a skin care education enthusiast. Seriously clinical words like ‘regimen’, ‘therapy’ and ‘cycle’ are clearly encouraged and litter their social profiles, websites, and distributor pages, making that girl who used to bully you in high school (and who definitely solely used St. Ives Apricot Scrub and had never worn sunscreen until 2 weeks ago) suddenly sound like a dermatologist who’s just come back from an international conference on anti-ageing technologies and has forgotten how to speak using normal words.

Here’s all the product ranges straight from their website just as an example:

Conflation of expertise grinds my gears. Just because the two women who created the business are celebrity dermatologists, does not mean the products are automatically good for you. I don’t care if a product is hand crafted by Jesus himself, it does NOT mean it will work for me. Tell me about why your products are better than the rest. Stop talking about the founders over and over again.

The nature of MLM means that most of the marketing copy and claims you see around the place for R&F are made by or interpreted and rewritten by people completely uneducated in skin care. By nature, people who are distributors of R&F are people who only started the skin care routine recently themselves. From what I’ve seen, many have never used a consistent skin care routine before. You could go buy any drugstore cleanser and a sunscreen and use it every day, and get 80% improvement just because you’re doing *something* to your skin for the first time, not necessarily because the products are magical. Distributors are encouraged to recommend and ‘prescribe’ one of a limited range of options to people based on little to no training, experience or evidence, often just through messaging or sending photos back and forth.

It doesn’t escape me that you could argue that I’m also a ‘non-professional’ providing skin care advice. That’s fair. But what’s important to note is that I’ve dedicated years and countless personal hours to researching skin, and I’m teaching you about how the skin works so you can figure out what you need yourself. I often give product suggestions for things I like but the reason why they work isn’t shrouded in mystery and patented product names (care to decode “3D3P Molecular Matrix”, anyone? ). I offer sources wherever possible and explain how things works as in-depth as I can.

If you’re curious to see what skin care myths you’ve believed and mistakes you’re been making, I have a whole guide dedicated to walk you through the basics of building a routine, and setting up good skin habits (no matter what products you use)!

Rodan & Fields’ generalised and groundless skin care claims

“You can only use R&F products exclusively with each other for best results” is another common assertion MLMers in my circle spout. Where this myth originally came from I don’t know, but many brands want to convince you that their products are designed to somehow sense each other’s presence and work synergistically. They’re not. That’s just to sell you on a full routine and make sure you keep coming back for fear of having to replace all your products again. Instead of empowering you to learn about how the skin works and all the product options out there, they are trying to keep you ignorant and make you wholly reliant on their invented regimens and the investments you’ve made in their products. Go back and read “extortionate pricing” above again to see the whole vicious cycle from a distance.

Clueless consumers are are being led to make poor choices for their skin, go entirely too overboard with a full retinol and active heavy routine, and just rely on testimony rather that their own research. They are guilted into thinking that paying a lot of money and using a lot of products means they are taking better care of themselves.

Rodan & Fields’ questionable distributor motivations

Unlike with company-driven advertising, there is little regulation to what distributor can or can’t share and how they must portray products and results, leading to a lot of freedom to bend the truth and show only sides of their lives and their skin that are flattering to the business, to promote people to purchase and “join their team”. Their goal is to sell you on as many products as possible and keep you using them as long as possible, regardless of whether R&F has a product that’s right for you.

Obviously manipulated and biased before and after photos are rife. Of course, if you are trying to sell the products you’re testing on yourself, you’ll be heavily motivated to skew the results for your own benefit (we’ll chat about this again in a minute) and even more likely to see improvement where there isn’t any thanks to the effect of confirmation bias. Want to make your own amazing skin transformation is 5 minutes? Go take a ‘before’ photo in a poorly lit area (overhead fluorescent bulbs best) with a neutral/frowned expression and eyebrows slightly raised. Then walk over to a window, face it directly, relax your expression and smile. Voila!

Many MLM consultants/distributors/team members/coaches use emotional manipulation tactics like pity to convince you that you are supporting a single mother with a “small business” and a dream, when really you are paying a premium to support the overall company and drive the salespeople further into debt. They are compelling because they are desperate. While you might feel like you are helping a small business person by buying through an MLM distributor, in reality you are fuelling their decision and helping them dig a deeper hole and put more on the line as they expand their investment, while they remain at risk of being suspended at any moment by the company and losing all their progress.

Why bother with all that?

I’m a true believer in the individual nature of skin care and creating a routine that brings in all the elements you need – regardless of brand.

I’m telling you now, there’s NOTHING in these products that can’t be found at the drugstore or online for cheaper. And you can rest easy knowing you’re not supporting an insane business model.

So, make the smart decision to keep far away from Rodan & Fields skin care and MLM companies.

But I can’t ignore that people enjoy Rodan & Fields skin care. And they do have some good products in the lineup. Or maybe you’ve already started your routine with them and are loving the results but want to move onto something more affordable and from a different company.

If you still need an awesome routine, you can get equally good or better results from dupes that aren’t extortionately expensive and that won’t support a predatory business practice.

Dupes for the most popular Rodan & Fields products

These are some of the products that, according to Rodan & Fields, are their bestsellers, and the non-MLM products with comparable ingredients/formulations that perform just as well:

Radiant Defense Perfecting Liquid

This is a tinted moisturiser/sheer oil-free foundation with SPF which is wankily referred to as a “dermacosmetic“. It appears to centre around a silicone-based formula and some peptides and antioxidant and conditioning plant extracts, but only has 6 shades – *cue sad horn noises*.

This is the ‘secret’ to many R&F transformation pictures you’ll see on your Facebook feed. As R&F market this as a quasi- skin care item, distributors will create a before and after photo, listing their cleaner, moisturiser and so on, and cap it off with this liquid listed as part of their regimen, but they’ll only be wearing this product in the ‘after’ photo and not the before. Thanks to the vague product name, you might think you’re just viewing a result of their skin care routine, but actually it’s a pre-makeup and post-makeup transformation. This obviously creates a false sense of improvement. You can’t tell what’s been done by the products and what’s been done by this cosmetic and changes in lighting (which are rampant among the distributor community).

Dupes for Rodan & Fields Radiant Defense Perfecting Liquid

IT Cosmetics CC+ Cream is a cult favourite for a reason, offering everything R&F does and more. Being higher spf, more affordable, and having a wider shade range are just a few of the good points, but otherwise it’s very comparable.

La Roche Posay Rosaliac Tinted Moisturiser can offer great coverage for red areas, with sensitivity in mind as it’s designed for use on rosacea-affected skin.

REDEFINE Intensive Renewing Serum

This product introduces retinaldehyde, which is nice as it’s a good ingredient for most people. There’s not much else to the product other than that, and at $102 USD that’s kind of insane. Yet again, we see deceptive and unnecessarily confusing practices as it doesn’t state what percentage of retinaldehyde is present. R&F also doesn’t seem to explain anywhere clearly how much you get in a jar, as the product its split into 60 little ‘capsules’ and just listed as such.

Dupes for Rodan & Fields REDEFINE Intensive Renewing Serum

If you like luxury, you can get much nicer retinol products for that price, like Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil.

If you like the idea of an anti-ageing serum but want affordability, it’s hard to beat The Ordinary, where you can get an equally great 1% Retinol serum for 1/8th of the cost.

Active Hydration Serum

$112 is INSANE for 30ml of a glycerin, silicone, ceramide and hyaluronic acid mix. This is not the place to be spending big bucks in your routine. It’s really just a basic hydrating lightweight moisturiser than could be replaced with any number of products. So much so that I can easily list 3 great replacements off the top of my head:

Dupes for Rodan & Fields Active Hydration Serum

Neutrogena Hydroboost Gel-Cream

Hada Labo Premium Gokujyun Lotion

Dr. Jart + Ceramidin Liquid Serum

Active Hydration Body Replenish

I’ve not got anything super bad to say about this body cream, other than it’s in a jar (which I kind of hate but companies continue to do). It’s made with glycerin, ceramides, oils and butters – nothing special. And especially not at that price.

Dupes for Rodan & Fields Active Hydration Body Replenish

If you can’t be torn from the jar packaging, CeraVe Moisturising Cream is also in a jar format and replicates R&F’s version very closely, with the exclusion of the heavier ingredients, making it a more lightweight alternative.

If you’re still after something richer in oils and butters, Gold Bond Ultimate Restoring Lotion is hard to miss as an incredible dupe for R&F’s Body Replenish. Better yet, it’s in a nice pump bottle. And of course the savings are nothing to scoff at, coming in yet again at 1/10th of the price of the original Rodan & Fields product.

Note that I skipped their complete ‘regimen’ collections and eye creams when duping as I don’t completely believe in this example approach to skin care. I think you should mix and match products from different brands as needed to suit your skin, not just follow as set routine, and that eye cream is moisturiser in a smaller jar at a higher price.

Final thoughts on Rodan & Fields skin care

Overall, I really recommend you give Rodan & Fields a miss. While I enjoy the popularisation of skin care, i don’t appreciate companies claiming monopoly over regimens and ingredients that aren’t special or unique to them, and using a poor business model to increase their profits while undervaluing their ’employees’. The price difference between what you get and what you’re paying is laughable, and definitely not worth the harassment of being sold to while you’re relaxing on Facebook at home. Save yourself the trouble!



  1. […] like I’ve said before in my posts tackling beauty myths and controversial products – like Rodan & Fields skin care, essential oils and african black soap – if Milk of Magnesia is a staple in your routine that […]

  2. I completely understand your concerns. I have them myself about the way many people portray things. But I can also say as someone who is actually “on the inside” as has been for 7+ years, has made a significant amount of STABLE income and who has a masters degree in mental health (aka wasn’t sold/tricked/manipulated) ….there really is so much you’re missing in terms of science, training and how the pay and business piece work. I honestly didn’t understand what you said about that because it’s inaccurate. And in terms of claims, RF has extremely strict guidelines that MOST follow. Sadly conclusions are often made off what newer wanna-be success stories post on social media compared to the actual success stories. I thought your examination was well thought out and written, but I’m curious what you would say with actual info and understanding.

    • Thanks for your comment – even though we disagree I appreciate the time you took to reply.
      I actually do have a very thorough understanding of the MLM business model, however I chose to leave the majority out of this post as it wasn’t the main focus. The MLM structure is only sustainable when there are constant new recruits purchasing the $45 “business portfolio”.
      In 2018, only 5% of consultants earned over $5000 in the entire year. 13% made between $1000-$5000, 28% made less than $1000, and 46% made nothing at all, or even potentially lost money. Skin care a service of which customers have a finite purchasing capacity. To illustrate this, commissions from recruitment make up 3 of the 5 possible revenue streams according to R&F. When the only way to make high profits is to expand your downline to access more commissions and rise up the purposefully confusing ranks, the business is recruitment and isn’t sustainable. When you earn on what your downline and their downline spends/sells, you have a vested interest in painting the company in a positive light. You’re also hiring your future competition, thinning out the possible customers able to purchase product. Which feeds the need for recruitment, and thus the cycle continues. There simply aren’t enough customers for all these people to keep selling and making a good income.
      The constant customer to salesperson conversion that MLMs enable isn’t great business practice for a company selling skin care, which ought to require a lot of expertise and reference to unbiased research. Someone only recently brought into the company pushing a single brand of product without much experience is reckless, and can lead to misleading advice – inadvertent or otherwise.
      I’d love to hear more about the specific restrictions surrounding what consultants can/cannot say about the products, or the depth of training materials, if you’re willing to provide any more information on that. I’m curious to compare this to what I’ve seen and heard myself coming from consultants.
      I could talk about this for ages – I’m glad you’ve personally had success and I don’t want to make out like the products are terrible or harmful, but I cannot see myself believing that the MLM model belongs in skin care. Unfortunately, purchasing R&F means supporting this model and I encourage people to find alternatives.

  3. Hi! Thank you for sharing! I found your article interesting! I’ve been a user of R + F for a few years, but recently I’ve needed to look for more affordable options for the Spotless regime! I get pretty confused with ingredients and quality of drugstore products- any recommendations? Thank you!

    • I’m glad my suggestions were helpful for you! it’s always worth looking at the ingredients of products you love and trying to compare and figure out what it is about it that makes your skin happy – then you can use that to guide you at the drugstore.

  4. […] people use this as a reason to use essential oils directly on their skin. Some companies (*cough* MLMs) come out with all sorts of outlandish claims – and there’s a bunch of reasons not to […]

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