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Beautycounter Review: An MLM With Clean Ingredients?

Beautycounter Review: An MLM With Clean Ingredients?

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Read our Editorial Guidelines to learn more about what makes our site the premier resource for online health information.

Read our Editorial Guidelines to learn more about what makes our site the premier resource for online health information.

Beautycounter is a multi-level-marketing (MLM) cosmetics brand that positions itself as cleaner than the competition. The brand advertises that they restrict over 1,800 individual ingredients in their formulations, more than several countries.

In this article we’ll review the ingredients in Beautycounter’s most popular products, based on published medical research, to determine if the products are likely to be safe and effective for improving skin quality and reducing wrinkles.

Beautycounter Counter+ All Bright C Serum Review

Beautycounter’s most popular skincare product is called Counter+ All Bright C Serum, and is a topical serum which the brand claims has anti-aging effects. The company also claims this product can reduce the appearance of dark spots and brighten skin.

We believe the skin brightening claims are likely to be accurate, because the ingredient Vitamin C has been proven in a medical review published in a dermatological journal to have “skin-lightening” and “antiaging” properties. The study authors noted that the optimal range of Vitamin C concentration in skincare products was 10-20%, so the 10% in the Beautycounter serum is an effective dose.

All Bright C Serum also contains sodium hyaluronate, which is the sodium salt of hyaluronic acid, one of the most well-studied compounds for skin quality.

A clinical trial found hyaluronic acid to objectively improve skin quality. The researchers proved that the compound improved skin hydration, skin firmness and skin elasticity, and also decreased the appearance of lines and wrinkles around the eyes.

The serum contains turmeric root extract as another active ingredient which appears to be effective. An animal study evaluated the effects of topical turmeric extract on skin damage and hyperpigmentation due to UVB rays. The treatment reduced the visible signs of skin damage, likely due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nature.

Unfortunately, the serum also contains several additive ingredients we recommend avoiding out of an abundance of caution. 

One is preservative phenoxyethanol, because there are some medical studies raising questions about its toxicity, as we discussed at more length in our review of Olaplex, another cosmetics brand which uses this ingredient.

All Bright C Serum already contains weaker preservative ​​ethylhexylglycerin, which we find to be a safer choice, so we don’t understand why they included phenoxyethanol as well. Two separate preservatives in a small serum seems like overkill.

The formulation also contains fragrance ingredients citral, limonene, and linalool which are safe but we don’t recommend in topical formulations due to their documented sensitization potential. This means these ingredients are more likely than average to cause dermal irritation and allergy.

We don’t understand why a topical anti-aging formulation needs fragrance ingredients.

Overall we find Counter+ All Bright C Serum to be effectively formulated, with several ingredients proven to be effective for the stated skincare claims. We don’t recommend the product due to some of the additive ingredients, but it’s definitely better-formulated than many skincare products we’ve reviewed.

Beautycounter Countertime Tripeptide Radiance Serum Review

The second-best selling product on Beautycounter’s site is another anti-aging serum called Countertime Tripeptide Radiance Serum. The brand claims it can increase skin firmness and elasticity while reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

One of the main active ingredients in this serum is bakuchiol, which has impressive research backing its efficacy for minimizing aging. A clinical trial published in the British Journal of Dermatology compared bakuchiol to retinol, which is one of the most commonly-used and effective topical skincare ingredients.

The researchers found that bakuchiol was as effective as retinol at improving the appearance of photoaging (aged skin due to sun exposure), and had a better tolerability profile. The users of the retinol cream experienced more facial skin scaling and stinging than the bakuchiol cream users.

Another medical trial on a bakuchiol-based skin cream found that it increased skin moisture by 16%.

The Beautycounter serum contains an active ingredient called rhododendron ferrugineum leaf extract, and while there is one study suggesting it may have antibacterial properties, we can’t identify any studies suggesting this ingredient is effective for skin quality improvement.

Like the previous serum, Tripeptide Radiance Serum contains sodium hyaluronate, which we’ve previously proven to be one of the most effective skincare ingredients for topical serums.

The ingredient that gives the product its name, N-Prolyl Palmitoyl Tripeptide-56 Acetate, has been evaluated in an interesting medical study. The study authors found that this compound upregulated longevity genes which could improve skin. However this was a cell culture study, and not a study in humans, so the results are weaker.

We don’t believe this ingredient is harmful in any way, but we would require evidence of its efficacy in humans to consider it an effective ingredient inclusion.

None of the ingredients in Countertime Tripeptide Radiance Serum appear to pose safety or skin sensitization risks, so we would recommend this product over the All Bright C Serum. Notably, the tripeptide serum contains no preservatives or fragrances.

Beautycounter Sunscreen Review

One of the most popular products sold by Beautycounter is a sunscreen called Countersun Daily Sheer Defense for Face. It has an SPF value of 25, which is relatively low.

The Beautycounter sunscreen is a physical rather than a chemical sunscreen, which is beneficial to the health of users, as many active ingredients in chemical sunscreens such as oxybenzone can be endocrine-disrupting.

The active ingredient in Countersun Daily Sheer Defense is zinc oxide, which is proven to be an effective and safe option. The linked research review found that zinc oxide was effective at blocking UV rays, and that there was no absorption of zinc oxide nanoparticles into visible skin layers.

Vitamin E (tocopherol) is another effective ingredient in this sunscreen, which has been documented to provide photoprotective effects. This ingredient will work in synergy with zinc oxide to protect skin from UV damage.

While the formulation does contain the previously-referenced preservative phenoxyethanol, it’s one of the better sunscreen formulations we’ve reviewed. We wouldn’t necessarily recommend it due to the choice of preservative, but we do believe it’s likely to be effective in protecting skin from sun damage, and the benefits outweigh the risks compared to forgoing sunscreen.

Misleading Clinical Trial Claims

Beautycounter misleading clinical claims

On some of Beautycounter’s most popular product pages, including both of the serums reviewed in this article, the brand claims that the products are “clinically proven” to work.

In the citations section, there is no link to the full research and the brand simply states that the clinical claims are based on a “32-subject consumer perception study.”

This is not clinical research in any relevant sense of the term, and we find this to be misleading and unethical.

Legitimate clinical research is published in medical journals such as the ones cited in this article, and is subject to a rigorous review of data quality and study design. Put simply, there is much less bias involved in publishing a medical trial in a legitimate journal.

Having 32 people try your products (after probably sending them the products free of charge) and then having them self-report whether or not they liked the products, is not clinical research by any formal definition. It’s marketing, and unfortunately many cosmetics brands do this.

We find this to be extremely unethical because the average consumer can’t differentiate between clinical claims such as those published by Beautycounter, and those published by brands that actually publish clinical research in medical journals. 

We recommend avoiding brands that engage in this practice for ethical reasons; it’s much worse in our opinion than simply not making clinical claims at all.

Beautycounter Controversy

There has been some published controversy surrounding Beautycounter’s MLM status and the relatively low earnings of their “Consultants”.

Beautycounter publishes data on the income of their Consultants (we respect the transparency here), and their most recent report from fiscal year 2020 documented how the median total income in the first 6 months of joining was only $103, before expenses.

30% of Consultants earned zero income in 6 months, and only 2% of Consultants earned over $3,700. This is significantly less earnings than simply working a minimum wage job in any state for 6 months, and it's before expenses.

We don’t necessarily think it’s unethical for Beautycounter to have a marketing model that favors them over their Consultants, so long as they are transparent about how much they pay their Consultants (which it appears they are).

We would recommend against joining Beautycounter as a Consultant, since the percentage chance to make a legitimate income appears very low.

Beautycounter does not require Consultants to purchase their products which is a more ethical MLM model than many other MLM companies which do require inventory to be purchased, which adds significant risk to the partner.

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Beautycounter is an interesting brand. They’re probably the MLM brand with the best-formulated products that we’ve reviewed. All three of their top-selling products that we analyzed were likely to be effective based on the ingredients used.

The Countertime Tripeptide Radiance Serum is actually a product we would recommend, as it had effective ingredients and no questionable filler ingredients.

We disagree strongly with Beautycounter’s practice of making claims of clinical efficacy that don’t appear to be backed by legitimate scientific research, and we would recommend that they remove these claims from their site. Their products are effectively formulated and they don’t need this type of marketing, which we believe is deceptive, to sell their products.

Beautycounter’s referral/affiliate program has been the cause of some controversy due to the relatively low pay of partners, and we would recommend against joining as a Consultant for financial reasons.

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