Beautycounter Review: Is It Really Cleaner Skincare?

Beautycounter Review: Is It Really Cleaner Skincare?


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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, which is more than several countries.

But are Beautycounter's products really cleaner than competitors', or is this just a marketing claim? Do their products contain science-backed ingredients for reducing wrinkles and improving skin quality? And how do real users respond to Beautycounter products?

In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more as we review the ingredients in Beautycounter’s most popular products (their sunscreen and makeup) based on published medical research, to give our take on whether they're safe and effective. We'll also highlight a controversy related to the low earnings of Beautycounter Consultants, and share real user reviews of each product including live demos.

Beautycounter Sunscreen Review

Beautycounter Mineral Sunscreen Lotion ingredients

Beautycounter has two different best-selling sunscreens. Both are physical sunscreens, which is a healthier alternative in our opinion to chemical sunscreens that absorb into the bloodstream and often contain potentially endocrine-disrupting ingredients.

One of Beautycounter's best-selling sunscreens is called "Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion" (ingredients shown above) and the other is called "Daily Sheer Defense for Face."

The active ingredient in both sunscreens is zinc oxide, which was shown in a meta-study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science to be an effective and safe physical sunscreen ingredient. The study authors documented that zinc oxide was effective at blocking UV rays, and that there was no absorption of zinc oxide into the bloodstream. We consider this to be the safest and healthiest physical sunscreen ingredient.

Vitamin E (tocopherol) is another effective ingredient in this sunscreen, as it's been shown in a medical review to provide photoprotective effects, which means it can protect skin from UV damage.

Citrus limon (lemon) peel oil and Citrus aurantium (orange) peel oil are strange ingredient choices that we would recommend avoiding in sunscreen, as both may be phototoxic (which means they may enhance UV damage to skin) based on data from a 2010 medical study.

The Beautycounter sunscreen shown above also contains the preservative phenoxyethanol which we recommend avoiding. This ingredient has been shown to be toxic to human cells in a test tube study, as we referenced at more length in our review of StriVectin, another cosmetics brand.

Overall we consider Beautycounter sunscreen to be healthier than the majority of commercial sunscreens that are chemical sunscreens. We believe both Beautycounter sunscreens are likely to provide UV protection due to the effective active ingredient of zinc oxide, but we don't recommend either sunscreen due to the inclusion of questionable additive ingredients like phenoxyethanol. 

A YouTube creator named Katrice Taylor reviewed two Beautycounter physical sunscreens (including Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion), gave a live product demo and shared her thoughts on both products:

Beautycounter Controversy

There has been much 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, and these figures are 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 average income for Consultants appears to be 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.

A popular YouTube video published by a channel called "iilluminaughtii" highlighted some of the controversy around the brand, including the low earnings of Consultants. We've timestamped the video below to the mark where this video discusses Beautycounter Consultant earnings, and it's quite revealing in our opinion:

Beautycounter Makeup Review

Beautycounter sells makeup, and their most popular makeup product is their Skin Twin Featherweight Foundation, which has a surprisingly clean formulation.

Iron oxides are used as natural pigmentation ingredients, which is a safer choice in our opinion than artificial dyes.

Titanium dioxide is an effective UV blocker according to medical research, which makes it an effective and healthy ingredient for foundation, which is typically the last thing individuals put on their face before leaving the house.

Sodium hyaluronate is one of the most research-backed anti-wrinkle ingredients on the market, as we referenced in our Dermalogica reviews article.

We don't recommend this makeup product overall because it contains the preservative sodium benzoate, but we do consider it a significantly healthier option than most cosmetics on the market.

One of the most popular YouTube reviews of Beautycounter makeup comes from a creator called "Dani Smith" who published a video reviewing five of the brand's most popular makeup products including a live demo of each:

Questionable Clinical Trial Claims

Beautycounter misleading clinical claims

On some of Beautycounter’s most popular product pages, 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 just means that the brand (or a research firm) provided free product to consumers and asked them to rate their skin quality. This is not meaningful scientific research in any sense, and these results are worthless in our opinion due to the potential bias involved (people are inclined to rate free products well).

We recommend that consumers entirely disregard claims of clinical efficacy based on brand-funded trials, especially when the full research study isn't published.

The only clinical research that's meaningful in our opinion is research published in legitimate medical journals that are peer-reviewed. This is the gold standard of product research and this is the type of research we're citing on Illuminate Health when we evaluate ingredient claims. Most skincare brands (including Beautycounter) don't engage in this type of research.

Beautycounter Real Customer Reviews

Beautycounter is also sold on Amazon which is a more objective resource for customer reviews than a brand's website in our opinion. Their most-reviewed product is their Countertime Tetrapeptide Supreme Cream with 45 reviews.

This product has an "A" grade on Fakespot which is a software tool that detects potentially fake Amazon reviews. This is a good sign about the product and brand's legitimacy.

The top positive review from a verified purchaser is written by a user named "Katherine Y" who claims the product is effectively formulated and improved their skin:

"This facial cream has done wonders for my skin. I’ve been using it nightly for weeks to reduce fine lines around my eyes and mouth. According to the Environmental Working Group, the product has earned its highest rating for safety. The cream contains hyaluronic acid, among other skin-friendly ingredients, helping the skin retain moisture."

The top negative review comes from a user named "Buyer" who claims that too high of a dose can cause side effects:

"This cream did seem to work fine for a while, But I put on a very thick layer one night by mistake when I quickly applied it. And I was very sleepy and went to sleep the next day my eyes were totally swollen and bright red."

Our Skincare Recommendations

There are skincare products that contain ingredients proven in clinical trials to be effective for reducing wrinkles and improving skin quality generally.

Annie Mak Vitamin C Serum is our top skin cream pick because of its effective and clean formulation. It contains hyaluronic acid which was described as a "skin-rejuvenating biomedicine" in a medical review due to its ability to reduce wrinkles and signs of facial aging. We consider this to be the most powerful topical skincare ingredient. Most importantly, this serum is entirely free of questionable additives like preservatives or fragrance.

Interested consumers can check out Annie Mak Vitamin C Serum at this link.

HydraGlow is our top moisturizer pick. It features bakuchiol as an active ingredient which was described in a 2014 clinical trial as "clinically proven to have anti-aging effects." In the linked trial, topical bakuchiol reduced wrinkles, improved skin elasticity and firmness, and reduced photodamage (damage from UV rays). There are no questionable additive ingredients in this product.

Interested consumers can check out HydraGlow at this link.

The only oral supplement we recommend for skin quality improvement is Bulletproof Collagen Powder. Oral collagen supplementation was shown in a medical review published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology to improve visible signs of skin aging as well as improve skin elasticity and skin hydration. The only ingredient in Bulletproof collagen is collagen peptides sourced from grass-fed animals. We recommend a dose of 10 grams per day.

Interested consumers can check out Bulletproof Collagen Powder at this link.

Stay up-to-date on our research reviews

Conclusion

Beautycounter is arguably the most impressive MLM brand we've reviewed on Illuminate Health. Both of their products we reviewed (their sunscreen and makeup) were effectively formulated with a number of science-backed ingredients.

We didn't recommend either product due to questionable additive ingredients like preservatives, but the makeup in particular is significantly healthier and safer than the typical commercial makeup in our opinion.

Beautycounter also transparently publishes their consultant earnings which we commend the brand for and which is a more ethical model than most MLM companies that keep that information secret. While we don't recommend that individuals become Consultants for Beautycounter due to the relatively low pay, we cannot consider the brand unethical because they transparently publish the pay, so anyone signing up has the full set of information available to them.

The brand makes a number of claims of clinical efficacy but fails to publish the full study backing those claims. This is extremely common in the cosmetics industry and we find it unfortunate.

We hope that in the future more MLM businesses take Beautycounter's lead and transparently publish the average revenue information for their consultants.




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