RFLCT closed within days – what happened?
Founded by gamer and influencer Rachell “Valkyrae” Hofstetter alongside industry veterans Joanna Coles, former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, and Claudia Poccia, CEO and president of Gurwitch Products (which produces and markets Laura Mercier Cosmetics, among others), RFLCT has effectively shut down just two weeks after the brand’s initial launch on October 19. On October 30, the beauty brand posted a message on its Instagram and website that stated “RFLCT is no longer available.”
“Thank you to all who played important roles to conduct research, develop products, create a brand and serve as partners along our journey,” the statement read.
The beauty brand had all the makings of success: take a beloved influencer, bring in a team with experience, and voilà, you have the next Fenty Beauty for gamers.
Not so fast.
RFLCT’s untimely demise is proof that a celebrity name tied to a beauty brand does not always equate to success. In fact, one could argue that Valkyrae’s celebrity is what caused the brand to be scrutinized under a microscope for claims that other beauty brands have been profiting off of for years.
RFLCT was marketed as a skincare brand designed to “protect gamers from blue light glare.” The brand launched with five products, including a facial cleanser, moisturizer, gel treatment, lip moisture balm, and eye mask. All of which are marketed to be powered by “BLPF,” or Blue Light Prevention Factor, which the company claims blocks blue light.
Blue light is part of the natural electromagnetic energy spectrum. About one-third of all visible light is considered high-energy visible, or “blue,” light. Sunlight emits most of the blue light one receives, but small amounts of blue light also come from phones and other LED screens. In recent years, there has been some concern about the long-term effects of blue light screen exposure, especially when a screen is too close to the eyes.
Ulta Beauty started carrying the blue-light-blocking skincare brand RFLCT in stores and online on October 24 until the brand announced the news it would be shuttering indefinitely. In a statement to Glossy, a representative for the retailer said, “Ulta Beauty was the exclusive beauty retailer for RFLCT and did not hold relationships with any brand spokesperson(s).”
In the days since the news became public, the brand’s Instagram account has shuttered. How does an influencer-backed beauty brand with experienced execs at the helm fail so hard, so fast?
The gamer-to-beauty-influencer pipeline
Rachell “Valkyrae” Hofstetter is considered the biggest female gamer in the world. In a male-dominated industry, Valkyrae proves that gaming has no gender. Her streams have attracted 3.6 million Instagram followers and almost 3.6 million YouTube subscribers who are eager to support the 29-year-old influencer. When Valkyrae debuted her merch collection, the line generated $1 million in sales within 24-hours.
Her foray into the female-dominated beauty industry seemed like a no-brainer. Valkyrae was the obvious choice to bridge the gap between two very different billion-dollar industries: gaming and beauty. While beauty brands have tried to tap into the lucrative gaming market in the past (see the Tatcha and Glossier Animal Crossing collabs, or the MAC x Sims collection), influencer-backed partnerships have yet to pay off big.
Valkyrae spoke to Forbes about how RFLCT came into fruition, saying, “I was so fortunate to be introduced to a beauty industry veteran, Claudia Poccia. She is the CEO of Ideavation Labs who helped put my mission together in building a skincare collection that would reduce, defend and restore skin from blue light.”
Ideavation Labs is a brand incubator co-founded by Joanna and Claudia, former president at Avon, one of the oldest and most popular MLM (multi-level-marketing) companies in the world.
Soon after the brand launched on October 19, critics began condemning the brand as “snake oil,” and a scam devised to prey on the naivety of Valkyrae’s younger fans.
Beauty industry professionals were quick to point out that the available research on blue light skincare is thin, and doesn’t support RFLCT’s brand proposition that blue light is harmful for your skin. Internet trolls latched onto the expert’s varying opinions as the proof they needed to spew vitriol, attacking both Valkyrae and the RFLCT brand.
Valkyrae’s defense was that she believed her team, and she didn’t know any better to question them.
“I saw the research, I saw it with my own eyeballs, and I was really excited because I thought it was ground-breaking research,” Valkyrae said on a livestream.
She asked the RFLCT team to make the research public before the brand shuttered, but RFLCT denied the request, claiming that the information contained trade secrets.
“This whole time I was under the impression that all of that research and everything that I saw was going to be on the website,” Valkyrae said. “When RFLCT dropped, it was critical and crucial for there to be information, and there was nothing but a WebMD link.”
Flimsy evidence for blue light skincare
So, is blue light actually damaging your skin? Dermatologists, cosmetic chemists, and product development experts mostly agree that blue light skincare is largely a marketing ploy, and haven’t been shy about voicing their belief that blue light skincare is unnecessary in the wake of the controversy.
“You don’t need to protect your skin against blue light from screens,” says Dr. Wong. “Even with a big a** monitor, you would need days or months to get the same blue light as fifteen minutes of sun.”
Dr. Aegean Chan, a dermatologist based in Santa Barbara, California, agrees. “The actual risk of skin damage from blue light is very minimal,” she tells Very Good Light. “It’s hard enough getting people to use sunscreen to protect their skin from UV radiation, which is a known carcinogen. I don’t think blue light is a problem that needs to be addressed.”
“It’s the first rule of product innovation; create a product that solves a problem,” beauty formulation and packaging sales manager Allison Turquoise tells Very Good Light.
“Unfortunately, in the case of RFLCT, the brand inflated the problem of blue light damage so severely that it triggered a huge backlash from the online skincare community which contributed heavily to the brand’s early demise.”
Just because blue light skincare evidence is flimsy doesn’t mean that RFLCT’s products are a scam. Blue light skincare products contain antioxidants, which are purportedly used to “mop up the free radicals that the light causes in your skin,” according to Dr. Wong. The science surrounding this claim is cloudy, but antioxidants are well-known and well-studied skincare ingredients – just not for this particular use case.
“You probably already have antioxidants in your skincare already,” says Dr. Wong.
The misogyny element
RFLCT is hardly the first brand to hop on the blue light trend. Earlier this year, Florence by Mills, the line from actress Millie Bobby Brown, released a blue light collection, and another influencer-backed brand, Bad Habit from Emma Chamberlain, also claims that their products protect the skin from blue light.
So, why did Valkyrae get canceled for promoting blue light skincare while these and plenty of other products are still available to purchase from every major beauty retailer?
In a statement to The Washington Post given after the brand’s dissolution, Joanna blames misogyny.
“I am confident that if a male gamer had come up with RFLCT he would have been roundly applauded,” she says.
The gaming community is still overwhelmingly male, although people like Valkyrae are trying to change that and make gaming more inclusive. But as we know from attempts to make the beauty industry more inclusive, change is hard.
“I think the brand failed for two reasons: it was based on faulty science, and the video game community is misogynistic,” says Tony, AKA @capricorneum.skin, a skincare content creator, to Very Good Light.
“I’ve never seen a brand get canceled THAT fast and I have to wonder if that would’ve happened to a man. I know the video game community is full of fragile, toxic masculinity.”
The problem with cross-category influencer partnerships
In a YouTube video, influencer James Welsh argues that Valkyrae was taken advantage of by the Ideavation Labs co-founders who presented her with research that blue light skincare was both important and effective.
Valkyrae’s star status outside of the beauty industry is what made her such an attractive celebrity endorsement for the Ideavation Labs co-founders. The partnership had the potential to introduce a legion of new consumers into the booming skincare market – and make the new brand incubator millions.
But it was also Valkyrae’s inexperience in skincare product development that forced her to rely heavily on the knowledge and experience of Joanna and Claudia.
Leaked DMs between Valkyrae and Twitch streamer Ludwig reveals the influencer’s true feelings about the partnership in the wake of the controversy. Valkyrae says she “really messed up trusting [the people involved in RFLCT’s launch],” and admits that she should’ve looked into the research herself.
“I’m so dumb. I should have asked more questions, I just thought [the info] would be there.”
Very Good Light reached out to RFLCT to comment on the claims. The brand did not respond to our request.