Over the past 10 years as a beauty editor I’ve tried (on average) at least three products a week, making a total of, oh, about 1560. To say that the novelty and excitement wears thin at times is something an understatement. But… every now and then a product turns up that really blows my mind; it might be the packaging, the scent, the craftsmanship, the fact that it cleverly fills in a gap in the market or even that it’s just plain weird (snail slime, anyone?)
Variously described as “the face oil to end all face oils” (Into The Gloss), “incredible and “skin-changing” (InStyle) and “totally worth it” (Glamour US), Active Botanical Serum has attracted accolades from beauty editors, make-up artists, models and celebrities (yes, Gwyneth Paltrow is a fan) the world over. It is also, ahem, $AUD270 plus shipping.
Could it really be THAT good?
I was determined to find out.
When I got my hands on the serum, I was surprised at the simplicity of the packaging – and size. At $270 I imagined it to be more luxe-looking, and also bigger in order to last longer…as in, all year.
Although I was desperate to try it, I contacted Vintner’s Daughter founder April Gargiolo first to get the low-down on the serum and how to use it.
Gargiolo, who is, indeed, the daughter of a vintner, spent two years developing the serum after failing to get results from other products. She was also concerned by the chemicals in most serums. Having grown up around the winemaking industry in California’s Napa Valley, Gargiolo was happy to spend time perfecting the serum. “I know that short cuts will never be able to make the finest of anything, whether that be a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon or a bottle of Vintner’s Daughter,” she explains.
What sets Active Botanical Serum apart from other ‘clean oils’ on the market is the sheer number of active botanical ingredients it contains. (For those who are aren’t fluent in beauty speak, an “active botanical” is the purest, most natural form of a herb, root, flower or leaf, where, thanks to new scientific techniques, the most potent parts of the plant have been extracted, without having to add any additional ingredients.)
Active Botanical Serum contains 22 active botanical ingredients, including grape seed oil, lavender, lemon, avocado and carrot seed oil. (In comparison, Omorovicza’s Miracle Facial Oil has around nine and Eve Lom’s Radiance Face Oil has around seven.)
“Our whole-plant formulas are huge differentiators. It uniquely takes weeks, instead of hours, for us to produce Active Botanical Serum,” says Gargiolo, who has since released a second product Active Treatment Essence.
A canny marketing approach?
Part of the appeal of the serum is that the rave reviews, marketing and R&D are not the work of a big beauty brand (although there have been whispers about an acquisition. But Gargiulo firmly denies this). There’s no advertising, marketing or celebrity face (but an unendorsed Gwyneth Paltrow swears by it). Newby Hands, Global Beauty Director of NET-A-PORTER agrees, “when you have a small brand create a cult global success that everyone is talking about then it’s very intriguing to see what they do next.”
Did Gargiulo expect the success? “Absolutely not. We have gratefully grown by word of mouth. People have shared their results with their friends, sisters, mothers, boyfriends, husbands and co-workers. People have been stopped on the street to find out how they ‘got that glow’. I call it ‘G to G,’ or girlfriend to girlfriend growth.”
Clean beauty guru and Director of (the recently opened) ONDA Australia, Nicole Manning is a fan. She stocks the serum in store, and it’s used within ONDA’s heavenly True Radiance Facials. “It is one of the most versatile oils I have seen. What truly impresses me is the way it instantly calms inflammation and breakouts, while still being intensely hydrating.”
She retells the story of a client with red, sensitised skin testing it in store, then returning after lunch with her redness virtually eliminated. From anyone else I’d assume this is hyperbole but I’ve known Nicole for years.
On Gargiulo’s recommendation, I pared back my regular routine, as the serum is designed to replace (and reduce) standard skincare steps, and used Active Botanical Serum am and pm after cleansing and exfoliating – only adding eye cream and SPF.
I was pleasantly surprised by the lightweight yet decadent texture, not the mention the gorgeous floral smell – a mix of jasmine, rose and primrose. I follow Garguilo’s instructions to use a “push and press” method, and rub four to six drops into my palms (to activate the serum and evenly distribute it) then push the serum into my face, neck and décolletage.
I’m not sure if it was the twice daily ritual, the smell or the smugness of knowing that I was lathering what amounted to the world’s most expensive and exclusive raw smoothie onto my face but within 24 hours I was a convert.
Overnight – overnight! – my usual redness and sensitivity subsided, and within a couple of weeks it virtually vanished. My skin lapped it up. My monthly breakouts arrived on cue, but they were far less of an issue and cleared up very quickly. I almost had my pre-kids, well-rested, caffeine-free glow back. I felt dewy, fresh and like I’d been let in on a best kept skin secret.
Will I keep using it? Is it the ‘face oil to end all face oils?’
I’m not sure. As a beauty editor, I wouldn’t be doing my job probably if I gave up the quest to find the best and most brilliant skin solution, and while Vintner’s Daughter’s serum is excellent (particularly for hydration and reducing inflammation) it didn’t address all my particular skincare issues (such as fine lines and loss of elasticity).
And it is, after all, $270. So, while it is certainly one of the best products I’ve tried in a while, and I would recommend it, I’ll continue my hunt for the product that’s 100% perfect for me.
Having said that, I’m certainly not looking forward to my sample running out.