Have you been contacted yet by your friendly neighbourhood Arbonne consultant? There are literally hundreds of thousands of mostly women, excitedly promoting Arbonne cosmetic products as Pure, Safe, and Beneficial but are they really? Can we trust the claims the company makes about their products and the messaging they are passing along to their consultants?
We all know an Arbonne Consultant, don't we?
This might have something to do with the fact that there are more than 250,000 Arbonne consultants worldwide. The number of reps that have any aesthetician training or nutritional training beyond the propaganda from the company that makes the products they are selling is unknown.
In 2013, I first wrote about Arbonne, asking a simple question: Is Arbonne as pure and safe as they claim to be? Now, in 2019, I am updating that original post to share the changes that have been made (not many), and what transpired since writing the article.
My main intentions in writing my original Arbonne Review was as follows:
- Help Arbonne Consultants and those who are contacted by them to know what's actually going on. I have come to believe that Arbonne Consultants, for the most part, have no idea what they're selling. They get their information from other consultants and it's the consumer paying the price – that is, paying a premium price for non-premium products that they believe are cleaner, purer and more natural than they are.
- Create Change: I wanted to get the attention of Arbonne in hopes that they might take my questions to heart and perhaps start actually making products that live up to their manifesto. At the very least, I wanted to show the importance of transparency and persuade them to share their ingredients without a consumer needing to contact the company or a consultant.
- Inspire You: To invite you, the consumers, to start asking important questions about the beauty care products you are using and the claims being made by the brands and – more often these days – by the consultants pushing them at their sales parties.
And what happened?
I do believe I achieved all three of those original goals. Allow me to explain more fully what transpired, what's changed, and what it means for you, the Arbonne consultant and potential consumer.
How Does The Arbonne Pyramid Work?
For those of you who don't have a neighbourhood Arbonne Consultant, Arbonne works much like Avon, or Mary Kay, Rodan & Fields, Young Living, DoTERRA, Usana, Juice Plus, or the old school Tupperware.
It's a multi-level, or what they refer to as "network marketing" company, and sometimes slanderously referred to as a pyramid scheme, where independent reps buy into the company (usually a 'start kit' that includes promotional materials) and then go out and promote and sell the products to friends and family, and hopefully get those friends and family to sign up as consultants too. The original rep will earn income not just from their own sales, but also earn commissions on the sales that their friends and family make.
Top sellers are rewarded with lavish gifts like cars, cruises and financial bonuses. It's an effective structure for a business, and is a great, self-empowering way for consultants to be in control of their careers, income and schedule. You know how I love that!
So what's the problem?
According to the Arbonne Canada website, "a typical Arbonne participant in Canada earned between $30-$250 in 2017 in bonuses and commissions." The reality, however, is that of their 250,000+ consultants, only 12% earn anything at all. So the reality is that there are some high earners, and most are non-earners and just heavy shoppers of the product. That fact that most consultants are more shoppers than sellers is fine for Arbonne. More money in their own genetically-modified-oil slick pockets.
And those pockets run deep – Arbonne brought in close to $600 million in sales in 2017.
For the cost of $79 plus a $30 annual renewal fee and anywhere from 35 to 50% off purchases, you get to be a consultant. That discount is important because quotas need to be met to maintain status, and so often Arbonne reps end up as their own best customers, making their purchases themselves. Anyone can be an Arbonne consultant, with absolutely no training needed at anytime.
When I asked the Arbonne consultant, who I interviewed for this piece, what training the consultants have in order to make recommendations for specific creams and lotions for skin conditions, or supplements for client's health needs, she said it is up to the consultant to get their education, beyond the company's own promotional materials and training. She compared it to asking an employee at a drug store to recommend a vitamin. You know how I feel about drug store supplements and untrained people recommending supplements.
It is the responsibility of consumers to become their own best expert, and ideally, that information should not be coming exclusively from the company's own promotional materials.
The Very False Claims Arbonne Makes ABOUT THEIR PRODUCTS
Many people are choosing Arbonne, because of the image the company promotes as being high-end, pure, safe and beneficial. The products are plant-based, gluten-free, cruelty-free and kosher. As it states on their website:
It’s not just what we put in our products that makes them superior. It’s what we choose to formulate without. We integrate the most beneficial botanical ingredients from nature with the principles of green chemistry — we craft products with integrity, expertise and innovation. And we do it responsibly, taking care of our earth at the same time.
This is well-crafted marketing copy that doesn't mean a thing as it relates to the actual quality of their overpriced products.
One might think from this description that the products really are quite pure. I might also ask you to name any skincare, or even supplement, that could not prove to be botanically based. Nearly everything in our world once came from plant or earth matter in some form or another. The other small catch is that from the sounds of it, all of their products are being tested by their own research labs, something pharmaceutical companies get in trouble for rather often. I went into my research thinking Arbonne was better than most, especially as they also highlight these key features:
Arbonne personal care products are formulated without:
- Animal products or animal by-products
- Formaldehyde donating preservatives
- Mineral Oil
Arbonne nutrition products are formulated without:
- Artificial colour
- Artificial flavours
- Artificial sweeteners
- Animal products
- Animal by-products
- Saturated fats
- Trans fats
Arbonne celebrates a very long list of 1,400 ingredients that are banned from their products on their "NOT ALLOWED List ™" (Yes, they have trademarked this). This might sound incredible and awesome to the average consumer. But what if some of those ingredients were things like almonds, hazelnuts, salt, pollen and monosodium glutamate (MSG)? Would it still be impressive?
Also found on that list:
- Alprazolam - sold under the name Xanax
- Barbiturates - a central nervous system suppressant
- Lorazepam - an anti-anxiety medication
- Diazepam - anti-anxiety and anti-seizure drug, more commonly known as Valium
Well, isn't that a relief to know that their face cream is free of nervous system suppressants. My question: how will I treat my anxious cheeks and depressed eyelids before bed if there's no valium or barbituates in my cold cream or toner?
As you know, I am not a fan of healthwashing and so don't take this stuff lightly. In the case of this onion, you peel back one layer and the whole thing is a rotten mess inside.
The Hunt For Arbonne Product Ingredients And Why Their Policy Has Changed
When I first researched their products in 2013, there was no way for you to get any information in terms of the ingredients of a product without physically holding the tube of self tanner/face cream in your hand and squinting at the long list of ingredients. The other option was to find a rep who could send you a PDF sheet of the ingredient list. Of course, if you reached out to an active Arbonne Consultant about a product, there's a good chance they'd follow up with Arbonne event invites, shlocky motivational memes, and celebrations of the milestone being met by consultants in their downline (network marketing for consultants you get commissions from), as they're instructed to do by the company.
I did call the company, but no one called me back.
I put a call out on Facebook and was flooded with comments and emails from people who knew consultants, but none readily came forward with ingredient information. Finally, ten days after I first went searching, I got a call from an Arbonne consultant who was willing to share, and proudly, information about the company and the products. I immediately loved her passion for what she was doing.
I shared my surprise at how tricky it was to get ingredient information on the products and was told it was due to the proprietary nature, to ensure other companies wouldn't copy formulas.
Most botanically based, pure and natural cosmetic companies, however, freely share and even highlight their ingredient lists with pride. Look at Living Libations*, Thera Wise, Green Beaver, and even Alba Botanicals all share their ingredients. All cosmetic companies now do.
My first question was about how pure the products are and I got the response that always makes me cringe: We use the purest ingredients we can, wherever possible.
'Wherever possible.' We see this a lot with organic food in restaurants. That stance allows for the opportunity to use whatever is the easiest, cheapest or most accessible, but still maintain their principles of being, say, vegan, and cholesterol-free (which, by the way, would have to go together as cholesterol is only ever found in animal-based products).
From what I can tell, Arbonne cartwheeled through the 'wherever possible' loophole.
As the consultant wrote to me following our conversation:
The motto we stand by is 'Pure, Safe, Beneficial.' We aim to use the purest ingredients possible, married with the safest of science to provide products that provide benefit to our clients. I know there is some confusion around whether Arbonne is "100% natural". This is not our claim. Arbonne wants to ensure that it provides the purest quality in skincare, health & wellness while maintaining safety. To do so, we combine ingredients and technology (like airless pumps to prevent oxidization which means we can use fewer preservatives) that are proven to be safe while doing the job required of the product.
Wait, they are not 100% natural? But the Arbonne manifesto declares it so, using words like green, pure, simple, natural and healthy. They say they are "Earth lovers and protectors", "Champions of wellness", "Forward-thinking", "Forward looking" and "Future-friendly". You know I love a good manifesto, but you do have to actually do what the manifesto says for it to hold merit.
The consultant went on to stress the importance that all of their products have gone through rigorous testing, all are FDA approved and all have a Drug Identification number (DIN). What she said to me was this: Wouldn't you rather know the products are tested and use ingredients that will keep the product stable and not go off, than stuff people just made up in their own kitchen?
A valid question and one certainly worth asking.
Many of you may agree, too. My personal stance on this is that if someone is making something in their own kitchen, then at least I know they are not using Polysorbate 20 and Butylene Glycol as the main ingredient in a body mist, hydrogenated olive oil stearyl esters in an eyeliner, dimethicone in a facial moisturizer, or HDI/trimethylol hexyllactone crosspolymer as an anti-caking agent in my make-up. You can bet my man is not using a cetyl ethylhexanoate-based aftershave lotion.
Arbonne's Attempts to Deal With Me
No one likes a squeaky wheel. Though Arbonne initially tried to ignore me, when my post started to gain traction and traffic (thanks in huge part to all the Arbonne Consultants sharing it with each other in outrage), a few very interesting things happened after my original post went up.
Connecting With Arbonne
With the uproar from the consultants who were in my social media circle, Arbonne contacted me – which was great as they had been very tough to get a hold of before my article became the top hit when you googled "Arbonne". I requested a recorded interview but was declined. I was hoping for an opportunity to ask my questions and share their responses with you directly.
I was told that I could submit written questions, which I did, and they were returned to me a few weeks later. It was clear the responses had gone through several rounds of vetting and what remained were cut/paste blocks of text from their website. I also learned that my blog post was used in their forum for how to manage negative propaganda, which I believe led to what happened next.
Being Used As An Example
One of the top search terms that brings people to my website is "Arbonne". It is the most popular post, statistically speaking, of the 1,500+ posts I have written. And so when you google "Arbonne", this post is the second or third link to come up.
Arbonne attempted to remedy this by creating a bunch of ghost sites. I don't know if this is the technical term, but they basically created a bunch of blank sites in an attempt to push my post down in the search results.
And it worked. Briefly.
But see how descriptions weren't even entered for those fake sites? They were found out and the results re-regulated themselves so my post remains near the top.
Then Change Happened: They Posted The Ingredients!
They couldn't silence what was becoming common rhetoric about Arbonne. At long last, when Arbonne couldn't get me or my post to go away, they did something awesome. They revamped their entire website and all of their branding to make the ingredients readily available in full on every product listed on their website.
Now, at least, consumers can decide for themselves – whether a product is something they'd want to use or consume based on the ingredients – without the need for a consultant or contact with the company.
The Ingredients In Arbonne: Are They Pure, Safe and Beneficial?
We received an email from a consultant letting us know that Arbonne had launched a brand new site. And with it came the words "transparency", "honesty", and "integrity" to describe their ingredients. On most product pages, you can now find a link to the complete ingredient list very easily. Thank you, Arbonne!
You can look up any Arbonne product you like and see what's actually in it. This means it's no longer up to a consultant or the company to tell you how pure, safe and beneficial their products are. You get to decide for yourself. That is mighty empowering. And then very quickly becomes kind of horrifying.
Arbonne has created a massive line of products that are free of animal-derived ingredients and are gluten-free. They cheerlead a lot for what's not in their products and seem to be better than most conventional products you'll find in a pharmacy or department store. And they have a loyal and enthusiastic tribe of (mostly) women selling their heart out.
Unfortunately, many of their formulations are not living up to their own green, simple, pure, natural, healthy, forward-thinking, planet-protecting manifesto.
Definition of 'Pure'
- Not mixed or adulterated with any other substance or material.
- Without any extraneous and unnecessary elements.
How pure are products that use upwards of 20 to 30 plant-derived ingredients, that are not in their whole or unadulterated form?
Similar to how healthier, is not the same as healthy, less toxic, and less harmful is not the same as pure, safe and beneficial. After all, someone who smokes less, still smokes.
The ingredient labels for each of their products are long – let's a have a look at a few.
Arbonne Product Review #1: RE9 Advanced Intensive Renewal Serum #813
The marketing copy that goes along with this product reads as follows: Advanced peptides, antioxidants and essential botanicals work synergistically within the formula to hold in moisture and help enhance the look of skin smoothness and firmness.
The ingredient following water is cyclopentasiloxane, a chemical classified by the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List as "expected to be toxic or harmful". The third ingredient, Polymethyl Mathacrylate, an acrylic polymer, often referred to more commonly as 'plastic'.
Arbonne Product Review #2: Energy Fizz Sticks - Green Apple
This product is marketed as a replacement for your morning coffee. As they state, "stir in a fizz stick to create a refreshing bubbly drink when you start to feel tired to temporarily help promote alertness." How does it do this? Simple, the same way coffee does – it uses caffeine. Here are the full ingredients.
You may look at this and think it's better than coffee because of all the added nutrients. The challenge is that there aren't enough of any of the added nutrients to make a difference. The 55mg of caffeine is about the equivalent of a half cup of coffee and the 100mg of ginseng barely adds a boost when most ginseng supplements come in at about 500mg for a single dose.
This product sells for $55 for 30 sticks, which is about $2.00 per cup of what is mostly citric acid and sugar. If you were so inclined, you could buy a full one pound bag of certified non-gmo citric acid for $12.00 on Amazon. The citric acid is what gives the fizz-factor. Add sugar to this, and you're easily getting 100 servings. You want the boost? 250 capsules of 500mg each of ginseng in the form of eleuthero is about $16.00. Don't waste your money on fizz stick garbage.
The Antioxidant and Immunity Booster is made up primarily of various juices from concentrate – making those sweetener sources very much fructose concentrates, similar to that of high fructose corn syrup. The eye makeup remover that can easily be replaced by pure coconut oil or jojoba oil contains nearly 20 ingredients including babassuamidopropyl betaine, an anti-static foam boosting cleansing agent that is not particularly harmful, but also not particularly necessary either.
The products all just seem very, very complicated when the solutions can actually be remarkably clean and simple.
I would very happily go on and on about the questionable products and the long list of ingredients, but I encourage you to do your own digging.
As I have said many times before, the ingredient label is the only thing you need to read when reviewing a product, whether it's a food or a cosmetic.
ARBONNE IS NOT Non-GMO Verified
Despite there being no listing on the website, many consultants continue to claim that Arbonne products are organic, which they are not. There is also the common misunderstanding that all Arbonne products are Non-GMO Project verified. They are not. However, Arbonne is doing a great job of making you think they are.
On their website you'll find the recognizable symbol accompanied by a misleading statement.
The above is listed with a lot of other labels including Certified Vegan, and Certified Kosher. However, that bit that I highlighted means that none of their cosmetic products are Non-GMO Project verified. Further, I clicked on about 20 different nutrition products and not one carried the Non-GMO Project verification symbol. (Side note: On every single one, sugar was either the first or second ingredient.)
One the main tenets of Arbonne is that they are safe, friendly and supportive to the planet. It is unclear by what guidelines they are making this claim.
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The Toxic Load From Arbonne and Other Cosmetics
Most of the chemicals we are exposed to daily were once plants that have been stripped down and refined to such an extreme as to evolve into a science-based synthetic chemical, also known as a drug.
Even abiding by their mission outlined above, Arbonne products contain such varied substances as hydrogenated castor oil, sunflower (latin name helianthus annuus), safflower (latin name carthamus tinctorius) that are not certified to be GMO-free.
The toxicity of a product is much greater when we consider the sum of its parts.
Suddenly, if using a selection of Arbonne skin-care and cosmetics products, plus their supplements, meal replacement shakes, and appetite suppressors, we are taking on a massively un-pure cocktail, of which the combined toxicity is not known, not tested and not harmless.
Arbonne's "unwavering commitment to pure, safe and beneficial products" has hit a blip and most certainly has wavered. Or perhaps Arbonne and I just define "pure, safe and beneficial" differently.
With what we now know about these 'science-made', 'botanically-derived' chemicals, we should know better than to keep using them, and companies need to know better than to keep telling us they are okay.
There is no need to continue using products that are the work of chemical engineering. Our beauty care products don't need to be made in chemistry labs.
My original intention for looking into all of this was just to be informed, so that when people asked, I knew for sure how I felt about the products based on facts.
Prior to gathering this information I thought that Arbonne would likely make a great transitional product, and would be a better, more health supportive, more natural option than what you would find in your local pharmacy or department store. This is why, most people switch to Arbonne – because they believe it to be a more natural option, whether Arbonne uses the word or not. Many of the products are better than a lot of what you'll find in comparable price points, but is better enough?
More pure, more safe, or more beneficial, is not the same as actually being pure safe and beneficial.
Moreover, there are loads of products available that aren't swimming in genetically modified, pesticide-laden oils and aren't as preservative heavy. Genetically modified crops require more chemicals to grow and sustain.
These chemicals affect the people who grow and harvest them, the communities that surround them, and wash into our waterways, affecting life in our rivers, streams and lakes all the way into the ocean causing rapidly growing 'dead zones'. In short, they disrupt our ecosystem and as part of this ecosystem, they also affect each of us – whether we use these products directly or not.
Arbonne has made great strides in improving the transparency and ease of access to the ingredients in their products, but as they continue to promote themselves as planet-protecting, pure and safe, I urge those of you who are consultants and customers to ask for more.
What This Means To The Cosmetic Industry
The cosmetic industry is a moolah making industry. The revenue of the U.S. cosmetic industry is estimated to amount to about 62.46 billion U.S. dollars in 2016. It definitely doesn't serve the big guys for us little guys to be using coconut oil as our moisturizer, diluted apple cider vinegar as a toner, or chocolate and avocados as our face masks. We want to look beautiful and in our culture, we believe products are going to be the answer. And we can't get enough.
Cosmetic Usage and Chemical Exposure Stats (via EWG.org)
- The average US woman uses 12 personal care products and/or cosmetics a day, containing 168 different chemicals.
- The average US man uses 6 products daily with 85 unique ingredients, on average.
- Almost 13,000 chemicals are used in cosmetics, and only about 10 percent have been evaluated for safety.
- Most cosmetic makers self regulate their own safety studies for FDA approval.
- 12.2 million adults – one of every 13 women and one of every 23 men – are exposed to ingredients that are known or probable human carcinogens every day through their use of personal care products.
- The top most common impurity ranked by number of people exposed is hydroquinone, which is a potential contaminant in products used daily by 94 percent of all women and 69 percent of all men.
- There are no studies done on the combination of the average exposure women are getting with their standard beauty routine (we're talking the cocktail of products).
- According to the Office of Cosmetics and Colors at the federal Food and Drug Administration, “…a cosmetic manufacturer may use almost any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient and market the product without an approval from FDA.”
Reading ingredient labels is the first step, for sure. But it's only one step. The ingredients of ingredients do not need to be labelled (on food or cosmetics). This is how, for example, Arbonne can get away with posting a cologne that has only three ingredients – alcohol, water and fragrance – fragrance being an ingredient that can contain as many as 3,000 different ingredients within it. Sometimes "ingredients" is another word for synthetic plant derivatives or chemicals.
The cosmetic industry is responding to customer questions and customer demands. We don't want lead and aluminum and other known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors in our beauty care. It should never have been there in the first place. Dramatic change is needed in the whole industry and it will start with consumers demanding it.
Thank You Arbonne Consultants!
Thank you for pushing Arbonne to post their ingredients and for helping them to lead the way on this front. This is no small achievement. Continue asking for the standards to be raised.
Arbonne is a major player in the cosmetic world. If they can ban GMO oils, and truly start caring for the planet, not by making their packaging recyclable, but by ensuring the ingredients they use are grown and produced in a sustainable way and are truly chemical-free from the soil to the bottle, that products are packaged using planet-friendly materials (from production to decomposition) and by continuing to evolve the products to include more pure and less scientifically manufactured ingredients, then they will really start to elevate both their products and you as leaders in the beauty industry.
I have nothing against Arbonne, or their consultants. I love that so many women are taking ownership over their lives, their businesses, their finances and setting themselves up for a life they love. That is UnDiet living through and through!
The challenge is that most of the information being circulated by Arbonne has been generated by the company itself and many consultants, understandably, trust it. Without having any prior education in cosmetology, aesthetics or nutrition, many consultants also don't know the questions they should be, or need to be asking of the brand they are representing.
With a global network of consultants, Arbonne is in a very powerful position to create new standards of purity and transparency.
The 250,000+ consultants are in a mighty powerful position to initiate amazing and powerful change in the cosmetic industry worldwide. That's a great place to be standing!
As we know, change happens from the ground up and it starts with each one of us.
Are You An Arbonne Consultant?
Start asking your company the very same questions and make sure you understand the answers, fully and completely to be able to inform yourselves and your customers who are trusting your expertise. Start calling for change, for transparency in the products, their ingredients and ensure they are truly as pure and beneficial as you are being told.
Choosing Your Cosmetics
I hope my questions have become your questions, and not just with Arbonne, but with anything and everything you are using on your body: from brushing your teeth, to your deodorant, to what you paint on your eyelashes, to what's in those tampons, what you use on your skin and what you use to colour your hair.
Every choice counts and if you want to check the true purity and safety of your products, this database has you covered. The database is not perfect but is the best we have to gauge an overview of our products. What I urge you to consider is not just the single products on their own, but the combination of all of the ingredients in all of the products that you use.
I urge you to consider the combination of all of the ingredients in all of the products that you use.
I know that on this front, my job is never done and as I keep digging, I will keep sharing with you what I learn and I appreciate what you continue to share with me.
There is now the option to choose sustainable, stable, chemical-free, GMO-free, non-allergenic, filler-free products. If this is what you are seeking, then it is your responsibility to make sure this is what you are getting – no matter where you are getting it from and who is selling it to you.
Please help share this important message so we can all do our part!
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