I admit it — I went to an Arbonne open house and despite myself, bought a couple of beauty products. And now, buyer’s remorse. Not because I don’t like the moisturizers (they’re OK, if on the expensive side), but because for the second time in my life, I knowingly participated in a multilevel marketing scheme with questionable practices. The first was Young Living — and I no longer buy that company’s essential oils after I (belatedly) researched founder Gary Young’s background (see also this article by Eva F. Briggs, M.D., and this white paper on Rain Drop Therapy). While I remain sceptical of many claims made by aromatherapy practitioners, I do continue to use some oils (from other sources) because I love the way they smell. I am just not under any illusions that the oils will help my GERD or my hyperlipidemia or make meaningful contributions to my immune system, and I certainly don’t feel the need to further enrich the coffers of a scam artist.
And then there is Arbonne International. I knew when I bought the moisturizers that I was paying for beautiful packaging and slick marketing materials, and that I was supporting a tightly-run multilevel marketing empire. I also knew that the products, like anything else from other cosmetic companies, were not necessarily going to be any better than a drugstore purchase; I had learned that much during my dermatology rotation. The cosmetics industry and the consumer play this game: they tell you how great their products are, and you suspend disbelief just long enough to hope that product X, Y, or Z (or preferably, all three in synergy) may in fact hold back or even reverse (!) time. I too play this game every now and then when, in a fit of deluded optimism, I buy creams that are supposed to reduce liver spots and other signs of aging. What disturbed me about Arbonne was the sales pitch at the second gathering I attended as a favor to a good friend. The consultant was not aggressive — she did not need to be, for we were a receptive audience and she was the perfect “face” for Arbonne: tall, gorgeous, and fit. But three things stood out from her presentation, and they offended my sense of fair play:
1. “Look what mineral oil does to your face!” This is followed by the demonstration of a saltine cracker hardening after immersion in mineral oil . . . . As if human skin were anything like a saltine cracker!
2. “Mineral oil is carcinogenic!” Well, yes, but the studies were for minimally processed mineral oil, not for food or cosmetic-grade mineral oil. Show me a good study.
3. “Other companies use guano — you know what guano is, right? — in their mascara!” I have not found guano as an ingredient in any of the major mascara brands, and needless to say, the Arbonne consultant did not have one of those “other” mascaras around to prove her point.
Meanwhile, I have two bottles of moisturizer that will probably do what they are supposed to do; pity they are from a company that seems to be somewhat ethically challenged. “Sunk cost,” DH would say.