Are Rodan & Fields as Clean as They Claim? Our Analysis
In an era where buzzwords like ‘clean’ and ‘sustainable’ echo through the corridors of the skincare industry, discerning the authentically eco-friendly from the merely greenwashing can feel like navigating a labyrinth.
Today we’ll be looking at Rodan & Fields, a company established in 2000 by two dermatologists, Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields. Both are esteemed in their field and are recognized for the formulation of the renowned acne medication Proactiv. Yet, their ambition didn’t stop there. The turn of the millennium saw them create Rodan & Fields, broadening their reach to address various skin issues.
The brand’s journey was marked by a significant milestone when Estée Lauder acquired it in 2003. However, the true resilience of its founders shone through when they reclaimed the company in 2008, reinvigorating it with a multi-level marketing (MLM) model. This controversial strategy relies heavily on consultants who purchase, promote, and sell the products.
Positioned under the banner of “life-changing skincare,” Rodan & Fields’ products claim to combine ease of application with scientific backing. They pledge visible results and emphasize the founders’ dermatology education at Stanford University, indicating a strong scientific foundation.
We aim to dig deep into Rodan & Fields to verify if their products live up to their clean and sustainable claims. Because in today’s world, a great brand isn’t just about effective products and good sales. It’s also about caring for our planet and human health. So, let’s find out if Rodan & Fields is truly a champion in skincare and sustainability.
At Better Goods, we rank brands on our three pillars: ingredients, sustainability, and animal welfare.
Brands are rated on the three pillars as follows:
This ranking is for the best of the best. Only exemplary brands will receive a ranking of best for any category.
This ranking is for brands that are typically quite good, but don’t go above and beyond like our best choices.
This ranking is for when we find something we find iffy. Not a good sign.
This ranking is reserved for the worst of the worst.
Ingredients (Rating: Avoid)
The brand shows transparency by providing a full list of ingredients for each product. Active ingredients are listed with each product and there is an option to click for a complete list. Rodan & Fields claims to be working on an ingredient glossary to give customers more information.
While reviewing Rodan & Fields’ current products, we found many hazardous ingredients we recommend avoiding.
Ingredients of Concern We Found in Rodan + Fields Products
- Fragrance – Present in most Rodan & Fields products. We do not suggest using products with fragrances.
- Butylphenyl methylpropional – A synthetic scent substance. In March 2022, the European Union banned butylphenyl methylpropional in all products because of its potential for reproductive toxicity and allergies. We do not recommend using products with this ingredient.
- Retinyl palmitate – A synthetic form of Vitamin A. Exposure to sunlight can cause retinols to decompose into harmful free radicals. A 2017 study suggested that topical retinyl palmitate can become carcinogenic when exposed to sunlight.
- Retinol – Another active derivative of Vitamin A. It has the potential to be harmful because it causes biochemical or cellular changes. These changes can lead to skin irritation and may cause cancer.
- Polyethylene Glycols (PEGs) – Used in cosmetics as emulsifiers, solvents, humectants, and viscosity modifiers. However, PEGs may be contaminated with carcinogenic substances, such as 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide.
- Phenoxyethanol – A preservative and antibacterial that can cause allergies and respiratory issues.
- Limonene, geraniol, and citral – Scent substances that can cause allergies.
- Chlorphenesin – A synthetic preservative that can cause allergies.
- Lecithin – Used as a humectant and emollient in cosmetics. It can also cause allergies. We recommend particular caution for those who have soy and egg allergies, because lecithin can derive from these ingredients.
- Kojic Acid – An organic compound. It’s often used for its skin brightening properties in cosmetics. It may cause allergic reactions and has moderate potential to cause cancer.
- Synthetic dyes – Have increased absorption risk and can be carcinogenic.
Sustainability (Rating: Iffy)
Rodan & Fields reveals its comprehensive sustainability practices on its website. In 2021, the company released an environmental, social, and governance report detailing its sustainability strategies and progress.
The report is 29 pages long and lists goals the company hopes to achieve by 2025 and its progress in 2021. Rodan & Fields’ CEO Dimitri Haloulos, states that the brand’s goal is to “build a more circular business model that reduces waste and provides sustainable, safe, and premium packaging for our customers.”
The brand implements a recycling program, which allows customers to return empty containers for free. Rodan & Fields partners with TerraCycle so customers in the United States, Canada, and Australia can recycle products. The company has expanded its efforts since 2021, and now works closely with returns offices and waste management suppliers. It sends product waste to recycling centers to be recycled into plastic that other companies can use.
Rodan & Fields also hopes to expand its refillable products. It currently has one refillable product, Total R+F Serum.
Regarding packaging, Rodan & Fields sees it as an ongoing process and continues to innovate shipping containers. The document states that 73% of packaging, besides the one refillable product, is recyclable. Its goal is to have 75% refillable or circular packaging by 2025. The company also pledges to increase the amount of post-consumer recycled plastics in products. Paper containers are recyclable and made with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper.
The brand uses synthetic mica that is ethically and sustainably sourced, according to Rodan & Fields.
Rodan & Fields divides its sustainability goals into three sectors: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI), environmental, and philanthropic. The brand implements DEI training and equal pay across genders.
The company uses a three-tiered approach to lower its carbon footprint. The first tier involves focus on greenhouse gasses emitted during production, manufacturing, and sales. In the second phase, the company focuses on reducing emissions. The third tier involves implementing strategies to offset carbon emissions.
Rodan & Fields gives examples of ways they’ve addressed these phases. The company implemented a hybrid work environment to counterbalance carbon emissions. It encourages remote meetings over travel when possible.
The brand has also accumulated renewable energy credits (RECs). RECs are intangible credits a company can buy to offset energy emissions. One REC is the equivalent of one megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity from a renewable energy source. Rodan & Fields claims its RECs investment “[secures] enough renewable power to offset our direct operations in North America.” The brand furthers its energy awareness by working to attain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications.
Rodan & Fields states that the company has reduced the amount of landfill waste by 6,939 cubic yards. It also has curbed energy emissions. The company works with Persefoni, a carbon accounting software company to assess its carbon footprint.
While some of Rodan & Fields’ sustainability practices seem sound, others are questionable. Several pages of the document appear to be propaganda to convince potential consultants to join.
Many statements in the sustainability document are vague. The brand claims, “As part of our commitment to responsible sourcing, we identify and address sensitive ingredients that pose a potentially higher risk to people and the environment.” Since we found many hazardous ingredients in Rodan & Fields’ current lineup, this claim can’t be supported. Some harmful ingredients can also be toxic to the environment, like retinal.
The company claims to have a Supplier Code of Conduct that all suppliers must adhere to regarding ethical business practices, human rights, and fair labor practices. Rodan & Fields states that 100% of suppliers have adhered to the code. However, earlier in the document, the company claims 70% of suppliers were “screened for social and environmental performance” in 2021.
Rodan & Fields works with an outside company, EcoVadis, to assess its sustainability across its supply chain. It was transparent about releasing its score from 2021, which was 53. However, EcoVadis assessed only about 25% of Rodan & Fields’ suppliers, so the score is from a small sampling.
Rodan & Fields focuses on sustainable methods to source ingredients. It collaborates with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to ensure ethical sourcing of palm oil. However, a 2020 study shows that RSPO has played a role in deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysian Borneo.
Animal Welfare (Rating: Avoid)
The company claims not to test products on animals. Instead, they follow “alternate in-lab test methods” with paid volunteers and staff. This language is murky and the lack of a simple explanation is troubling.
Rodan & Fields is not certified as a cruelty-free brand by a third-party source. Its procedures for animal testing are unclear. Rodan & Fields is not eligible to be considered for Cruelty-Free Kitty’s list because of its status as a Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) company.
Rodan & Fields admit their products are not vegan. The company listed 16 products that have animal-derived ingredients.
Final Brand Ratings
Our rating scale ranges from “Best” (for having the best practices) to “Avoid” (for having unacceptable practices). We rated Rodan & Fields as follows.
|Rodan & Fields provides a full list of ingredients for each product and claims to be working on an extensive product glossary. However, we found many potentially carcinogenic ingredients including fragrance, retinyl palmitate, retinal, polyethylene glycols (PEGS), kojic acid, ocimum basilicum extract, and synthetic dyes. Some synthetic scents like butylphenyl methylpropional can cause reproductive toxicity. Other ingredients like limonene, geraniol, citral, chlorphenesin, and lecithin may cause allergic reactions.
|Some of Rodan & Fields’ sustainability practices appear to be valid. The company works with TerraCycle to encourage customers to recycle products. It sends product waste to recycling centers to be repurposed. Rodan & Fields has one refillable product and most of its packaging is recyclable. It uses paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The company pledges to use more post-consumer recycled plastic. Its mica is synthetic and ethically sourced. Rodan & Fields purchases renewable energy credits to counterbalance its energy emissions. However, some initiatives are unsubstantiated or explained in misleading terms. The brand claims commitment to safe ingredient sourcing, yet many are potentially carcinogenic or harmful to the environment. Its EcoVadis score is misleading because only about 25% of suppliers were reviewed. Its partnership with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) may not be as symbiotic as it seems, as RSPO has been accused of contributing to deforestation in Malaysian Borneo and Indonesia.
|Rodan & Fields is not certified as a cruelty-free brand by any third-party reviewer, including Cruelty-Free Kitty. The brand claims to have “alternate in-lab test methods” with paid volunteers and staff, which is unclear.
Overall Rating: Avoid
Rodan & Fields is a skincare and haircare brand. It advertises an image of dermatological-tested products, rooted in scientific research, with before and after results.
The company invests in philanthropic causes. Rodan & Fields has donated over $15 million to non-profit organizations through the Prescription for Change Project. It has also pledged to empower young people and break down systemic barriers through the Youth Empowerment Fund.
However, Rodan & Fields notes that “Our partners implement programs in the communities where our employees and Independent Consultants are highly concentrated.” This statement makes it seem like the company is focusing on charitable prospects in places where they can recruit young consultants from low-income backgrounds or keep employees reliant on the company. Since it has a MLM business model and consultants must purchase products to join the program, this seems unethical.
Rodan & Fields leans heavily into sustainability initiatives, which mask harmful ingredients and vague cruelty-free practices. A company that takes most of the profits while making consultants purchase products cannot truly be considered “cruelty-free.”
The brand has also been involved in several controversies. In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent a warning letter to Rodan & Fields, citing misleading earnings claims.
In 2022, Rodan & Fields paid $38 million in damages to settle a lawsuit. Many customers complained of severe side effects from using Lash Boost serum. The serum contained isopropyl cloprostenate, which is a drug that can cause ocular side effects like cysts, inflammation, irritation, and macular edema This lawsuit further demonstrates Rodan & Fields’ lack of adherence to ingredient transparency regarding negative side effects.
Rodan & Fields did not hold up as well as other brands we’ve reviewed. For these reasons, Rodan & Fields receives a rating of Avoid.