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 information 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 disillusioned 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.
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 seem, 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 product 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’m teaching you about how the skin works so you can figure out what you need yourself, not selling you my products. 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. My advice is free. Do with it what you will.
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.