Last week, YouTube and online gaming sensation Valkyrae— real name Rachell Hofstetter— revealed the launch of her own skincare line, RFLCT.
Featuring five launch products, the brand targeted PC gamers and content creators, touting the entire range featured blue light protection to help consumers minimise their exposure and mitigate damage from heavy screen usage.
“My entire career depends on me being glued to a screen,” the 100 Thieves co-founder said in the launch video. “All of that screen time started to take a toll on my body and my skin.
“So I did something about it. Screen time is a part of our world, but the negative effects don’t have to be.”
While the initial drop exclusively featured skincare, several trademarks have been filed under the brand for other items such as phone cases and cosmetics cases.
What is blue light & why do we need “protection”?
“Blue light is also known as high-energy visible (HEV) light,” Emma Hobson, Director of Education for Dermalogica told Centennial Beauty in 2020. “[It] is visible light emitted in sunshine, that makes up on average between 25 and 30 percent of the light spectrum.”
The majority of blue light comes from the sun, however, it’s also emitted through the screens of our favourite electronic devices such as phones, laptops, and tablets.
It’s been suggested that this form of light can be damaging to our skin and eyes, potentially causing signs of pre-mature aging like pigmentation, fine lines, and wrinkles, similar to sun damage. This suggestion has created a buzz in recent years across the beauty industry, prompting several brands to launch products featuring “blue light protection” as the new must-have in anti-aging skincare.
The RFLCT launch was met with backlash
Valkyrae’s announcement sparked backlash from fans, particularly amongst the gaming community, who called the range a “scam” based on “pseudoscience” for claiming it could help protect skin from blue light.
Critics were quick to note that there is limited and unreliable research to substantiate claims that blue light causes any real harm to our skin— something Centennial Beauty also found when reviewing scientific studies on the topic.
“Public discourse has been characterized by a lack of knowledge and of scientific studies. But through our research activities, we’ve managed to prove that the amount of artificial blue light emitted during conventional use of electronic devices is nowhere near enough to trigger harmful skin effects,” explains Dr. Ludger Kolbe, Chief Scientist Photobiology at Beiersdorf who headed a 2021 research team that studied the effects of artificial blue light on the skin. “Compared to the emissions of the sun’s natural blue light, those of artificial blue light are virtually undetectable.”
Similarly, a 2018 meta-analysis supported by the Ionizing and Non-ionizing Radiation Protection Research Center and Shiraz University of Medical Sciences found that some researchers have reported that blue light “does not cause DNA damage or premature photo-aging” and note there are still “unknown aspects of the interaction between visible light and human tissues”. While the assessment found that there is evidence to suggest “at high level, exposure to blue-violet light can be associated with some adverse effects in human skin,” this seems to support Dr. Kolbe’s findings that electronic devices do not emit enough blue light to cause skin damage.
Despite how it’s been marketed, it seems RFLCT was aware of these inconclusive findings. The brand has skirted using definitive terminology around the effectiveness of their products in relation to blue light and even included a section on their website in the terms of service detailing that they are not responsible for any “inaccuracies or omissions that may relate to product descriptions”.
RFLCT co-founder responds to backlash
Following a tumultuous few days post-launch, Joanna Coles, former Hearst Magazines chief content officer and co-founder of Ideavation Labs that collaborated with Valkyrae on RFLCT, defended the brand in a statement to The Washington Post.
“On RFLCT’s homepage we include references to academic studies citing the impact of blue light on the skin,” she said. “Anyone with a computer should read these. It’s hard enough for young women to start a business in a male-dominated economy. I am confident that if a male gamer had come up with RFLCT he would have been roundly applauded.”
It’s important to note that only snippets of these academic studies are published on the RFLCT website, including the aforementioned 2018 metanalysis which found that blue light may be harmful to the skin at high levels. The RFLCT website does not quantify “high levels”.
Both fans and Valkyrae herself have mentioned that the website was initially published without “links to the studies or credits to the labs or people that work behind the scenes to make RFLCT happen”. Centennial Beauty cannot fact-check this claim.
Valkyrae addresses concerns around RFLCT
On October 21st, Valkyrae opened up about the RFLCT backlash in a since-deleted tweet. “I’ve been waiting to speak and to stream until after I see how the RFLCT website has been updated,” she wrote. “All the hate, the doubt, concerns and the criticism are all warranted and valid. I understand completely where you’re all coming from.”
Two days later, YouTube’s most popular female streamer took to livestream, claiming she, too, was skeptical of claims that skincare could provide blue light protection at first.
“I’ve been on YouTube for over a year and a half now, through UTA, which is the talent agency my manager works for,” Valkyrae said, referencing her exclusive switch from Twitch to YouTube streaming. “[Reps from Ideavation Labs] found me and they had a meeting with me and they said they really liked my brand, and they brought a bunch of products and samples and they asked me if there was something I was interested in, to make.”
She went on to say that she “saw the research” with her own eyes but explained that she was not involved in formulation. “I am not a chemist, I’ve never been to the lab in person, I’ve just seen the research.”
“They ran their own studies, their own research. This whole time, I was under the impression that all this research that I saw was going to be on the website. When RFLCT dropped, it was crucial for there to be research but all there was, was a WebMD link,” she continued before claiming that RFLCT’s research “can’t be publicised” out of fear that it could be stolen by other brands.
Valkyrae’s leaked Discord messages with Ludwig reveal Ulta’s investment in the brand
Now, leaked Discord messages between Valkyrae and streamer Ludwig reveal that American cosmetics conglomerate Ulta Beauty allegedly invested $4 million in RFLCT. The messages were leaked when fellow streamer Atrioc used Ludwig’s PC on October 27th and presumably streamed the entire screen, which included Ludwig’s open Discord chat.
Though it’s difficult to decipher, esports publication Dexerto cropped the messages and sharpened the focus for readability.
“Ulta invested $4 million so it’s like…why wouldn’t they make it legit? Why would a company like Ulta invest in something like this if they didn’t also believe the research,” Valkyrae wrote. “They just don’t understand how this RUINS my brand if the research isn’t public.”
The 29-year-old went on to call herself “so dumb” for not asking more questions.
“I’m just gunna embrace the scammer life, get out of the contract and admit I was an idiot”.
Valkyrae also revealed that “it’s looking like it’s possible” that she will be able to get out of her business agreement with Ideavation Labs and RFLCT because she apparently did not sign “one of the contracts”.
“We have been going back and [forth] with PR and lawyers for a statement and they are just trying to get me to say the dumbest shit like, ‘while I will still be using RFLCT products, I hope nothing but the best for this passionate team’,” she continued.
“I really messed up with trusting these people.
Days later, RFLCT quietly shut down operations.
“RFLCT is no longer available,” the website now reads. “Thank you to all who played important roles to conduct research, develop products, create a brand and serve as partners along our journey. While we believe in the formulations created, after further reflection, have decided to move forward on new paths, effectively terminating the RFLCT brand.”