You get what you pay for.
We all love a bargain— I've been known to scour outlet malls and thrift stores for great deals, and part of the joy of said great deals isn't just the product itself, but knowing it came at such an amazingly low price.
But what's the true cost of a bargain? You have to really examine why something inexpensive costs so little: Cheap clothing is often made in unethical working conditions, fast food is not that good for you, and inexpensive plastic stuff tends to fall apart.
Nowhere is this so acute as in the beauty industry. As a devotee of all-natural, green, clean, beauty, people often ask me why it's so expensive, and why I'm willing to pay more.
Simple—I know exactly what I'm getting and where it comes from.
The same way that I like to go to the farmer's market and talk to the people who planted, tended, and harvested my food whenever possible, I love how some of my most favorite natural skincare brand owners have made themselves available and completely transparent through the internet and Instagram.
Tata Harper has an "Open Lab and Traceability" program that shows exactly how her products are made, where the ingredients are grown, and why they are so valuable. You can see photos and videos of the farm and laboratory in Vermont, where everything is made, through Instagram and the company's website.
Beauty Heroes is a subscription service providing beautiful, in-depth interviews with product creators every month to really educate consumers on what, exactly, they're paying for.
And recently, three of my favorite hands-on, transparent, innovative brand founders have been talking openly and often on social media about why transparency matters, and why their products and ingredients are worth the price.
Josh Rosebrook is one. His Instagram posts have sparked a lot of conversation.
He explains, for example, with a drug-store moisturizer, "you might be applying a fatty acid barrier for your skin, which is good, but you're not accelerating the skin's healing ability and supporting the maximum potential benefit of the skin structure—because you're not using a concentrated, active, regenerating product."
His product line, Josh Rosebrook Skin and Hair Care, is famous for being effective, gentle, and for containing only the most necessary, most nurturing ingredients. My favorite example of this is his Nutrient Day Cream, SPF 30.
The ingredients are simple and pronounceable, yet it's complex and sophisticated enough that you see why you couldn't just whip it up in your own kitchen. Rosebrook is a real expert, and he works with a team of chemists and herbalists to make incredibly thoughtful products.
You pay a little bit more for them because they aren't mass-produced, they never cut corners, and every single ingredient is there for a reason.
"There are many costs that go into making a product available on the market and it's not easy producing high quality, organic products and making them available. Truly natural, high-quality, raw ingredients are much more expensive and more vulnerable to heat, light, and spoilage, giving them a shorter shelf life. Synthetic and conventional plant ingredients are much cheaper than whole, organic and wildcrafted ingredients," Rosebrook tells Spring.St.
"This is part of the value of a product, what you are purchasing in every bottle. Many, not all, small, organic, hand-crafted brands use the most expensive ingredients for cosmetics in the world.
"Organic ingredients can cost four or five times as much as those grown conventionally with toxic chemicals and when you are a small, independent beauty brand, it's easy for people to assume your company is larger than it is because they see it sold in many stores and available in other countries.
"Many times, like me, your company is still very small—especially compared to the mainstream mega beauty corporations. Most people tend to compare and contrast you against these huge corporations often."
Laurel Schaffer of Laurel Whole Plant Organics is another brand owner whose products are crafted with such extreme thought and care. She regularly uses Instagram to show her readers where the ingredients come from and why they cost what they do.
On her website, Schaffer explains why "organic" is important when it comes to ingredients.
"Organic plants have shown to have 40 percent more antioxidants than conventional plants. That's a powerful anti-aging tool right there! Not only is the way a plant is grown important in organic skincare, but it's even more telling about what happens to that ingredient after it's grown.
"It's possible an ingredient not listed as organic, on a label, is not organic only because of the chemical processing it endures before it's made into skin care. Who knows what those unknown solvents are, much less how they are affecting our skin."
Schaffer elaborated further when I asked her about how sourcing affects the quality of a product.
"Most cosmetic ingredients are grown overseas in a big business agriculture style, many even claiming to be organic, but without the same strict regulations as what we have here. Those ingredients are often very cheap, machine harvested as opposed to hand harvested, not harvested at ideal times for the potent plant medicine, and often years old before they are made into products," she said.
"Large-scale cosmetic botanical ingredients are pretty unsettling. Is poor quality sourcing going to harm anyone? No, likely not. However, quality sourcing and mindful farming practices absolutely determine how high antioxidant contents and nutritional values will be within those botanicals—which in turn means quality determines how effective a product will be."
But it's not only the transparency of ingredients that matters when trying to learn the value of a product. It's also honesty and openness about the costs and expenses of running a hand-made, small-batch company that matters.
May Lindstrom, founder and formulator of the eponymous (and amazing) indie brand, recently shared the backlash she's faced from customers and commenters on social media, after having increased her line's prices for the first time ever in the brand's seven-year history.
Prices went up 15 percent to cover the costs of Lindstrom's ultra-pure, ethically-sourced products. Less than the rise in inflation in the past seven years, as she pointed out in the comments section.
May got the outpouring of love and support from those who understand why her potions and balms are so expensive— they work, they're non-toxic and safe, and they're made from the best available ingredients.
To go further into transparency, May then posted a table of prices and various taxes and adjustments for international customers.
This kind of openness, be it about where ingredients come from or about how the brands keep the business going, is part of what builds a solid and loyal customer base.
So next time you're wondering why that dreamy organic lip polish you smear on your mouth in the shower costs so much, check in with the brand. Chances are, they'll have broken it down for you. And if not, it's the perfect opportunity to ask why.