Two years ago, April Gargiulo founded the beauty brand Vintner's Daughter because she couldn't find an all-natural skincare product that kept her troubled skin under control.
When she was young, she struggled with acne and dark spots; as she entered her thirties, those issues were aggravated by the onset of wrinkles. She has spent most of her life slathering onto her skin layers of chemical-laden creams chock-full of ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.
The idea of formulating her own product came to her when she was pregnant. As she thought about the baby growing in her womb, she became obsessed with the toxins in her home. She purchased pesticide-free vegetables at her local farmer's market. She sprayed surfaces with nontoxic cleaning products. After her child was born, she wrapped the little one in organic cotton swaddles.
But when it came to her skin, she discovered that many all-natural products on the market were not powerful enough for her. "The natural beauty industry seemed to be full of rainbows and unicorns," she says. "I needed products that would really address my issues."
Frustrated by her options, she decided to take a stab at creating her own serum. This wasn't such a crazy idea. Her family had long been in the business of making a natural product of their own: wine. Gargiulo was raised at her father's Napa Valley vineyard and had grown up observing the slow, laborious winemaking process. It involved carefully selecting the quality of grapes, waiting for the right time to harvest the crop, then fermenting the fruit for months—sometimes years—to ensure the end result had the right qualities.
She used these lessons to launch Vintner's Daughter. "Much of the beauty industry, probably inspired by fashion, is about creating new products fast," she says. "That's literally impossible to do in fine winemaking."
Vintner's Daughter only makes one product, the Active Botanical Serum, which is composed of 22 botanical and essential oils designed to target signs of aging, discoloration, and pimples. She spent two years perfecting it with a formulator with 25 years of experience in the beauty industry and a lab of experts in the field of natural ingredients. (Gargiulo declined to give the names of the formulator or the lab.) Together, they created a serum that does not contain parabens, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, or other harsh chemicals. There are no fillers, extracts, or powders—only whole plants and their essential oils. While many natural beauty products have one active ingredient, such as a key vitamin or a plant extract, Vintner's Daughter benefits from a wider range of potent elements. "We use nutrient-dense plants," Gargiulo says. "Each of the ingredients that we use have more than one correctional activity." The product went on sale in 2014; crucially, it seems to work. Gargiulo says it has cleared up her skin, and reviewers at Into the Gloss and Vogue have given it top marks.
The product does not come cheap: One 30 ml bottle costs $185 and will last between eight and 10 weeks. "We explain the pricing by describing how we don't use shortcuts or cheaper ingredients in the product, which all goes to making it that much more effective," Gargiulo says. Cap Beauty and Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop are among the retailers that sell it. A-list stars and their makeup artists have become big fans of Vintner's Daughter; Amy Schumer uses it before hitting the red carpet.
Gargiulo isn't the first to have spotted the gap in the natural beauty market. Gregg Renfrew, who founded the natural cosmetic company Beauty Counter in 2013, was shocked to discover that the beauty industry is not well regulated. The European Union has banned or restricted 1,300 ingredients, but the FDA in the U.S. has only banned 11. Beauty Counter is leading the charge to create beauty products that are safe, but it has also found that it takes a long time to come up with effective products that don't use any known toxins. It took them two years to create a mascara, for instance, which is double or triple the product development time at a typical beauty company. Given the time and energy required to make even one nontoxic, effective beauty product, Gargiulo believes that there is still plenty of room for new brands in the market.
Unlike the pharmaceutical industry, which can carry out extensive scientific studies that identify the effectiveness of an ingredient, companies like Beauty Counter and Vintner's Daughter just don't have the funds. They tend to test their products on smaller focus groups until they land on a product that works and then hope that customers trust them enough to give them a try.
I tested a sample of Vintner's Daughter for one week, incorporating it into my morning and evening beauty routine. My big bugaboo is dark spots on my skin, and I often use Retin-A to peel away layers of hyper-pigmentation. Vintner's Daughter appeared to offer similar results, but seemed far less harsh. It did not dry out my skin like my usual regimen does, but instead made it feel moisturized and supple. While it's impossible to draw conclusions from my anecdotal results, I will say that my skin has improved using the serum, although I'm not sure the effects justify the price tag—at least not for me. Amy Schumer might feel differently.