Forget Argan Oil: Carter+Jane Wants To Start A Prickly Pear Seed Oil Revolution
Susan Carter and Sara Jane promised each other that, if they ever found a Holy Grail skincare ingredient, one that was clean and effective, they’d quit their day jobs and create a company. In August, a decade after making that pact, the women officially launched Carter+Jane.
The brand started with two products, The Everything Oil and The Everything Oil Body, containing USDA-certified organic, sustainably-sourced, cold-pressed prickly pear seed oil. “We don’t think there’s anything more powerful in a plant-based oil,” says Jane. “There’s 150% more vitamin E in prickly pear seed oil than argan oil, and there are fatty acids, amino acids and vitamin K, which reduces darkness. The anti-inflammatory benefits of prickly pear seed oil are insane. It just does magical things.”
Carter, who lives in Washington D.C., was first introduced to prickly pear seed oil while visiting her husband’s family in Morocco. “When I go in the summer, it’s prickly pear season. My husband’s family brought them home one time for dessert. I ate one because they were saying it was the best thing, that it was so healthy for you, but I took a bite, and I could not eat it because it was full of seeds. It was like eating sand. I asked, ‘Why are you guys eating this? I don’t understand,’” she recounts. “They said, ‘Well, Susan, all the nutrients are in the seeds, that’s why it’s so healthy for you.’” Their prickly pear commendation was her light-bulb moment.
“I went out and I found prickly pear seed oil, and I started to play with it, and I brought it home for Sara,” continues Carter. It was the last of many, many skincare ingredients she sent to Jane, a Chicago resident and tough critic, to try. Carter says, “Sara always says something is the best thing for two weeks and, then, decides it’s not working and puts it in the closet.”
After three weeks of applying prickly pear seed oil, Jane declared her skin had never looked better. “I had really bad hypopigmentation, like white spots from old chemical peeling from years ago, and nothing worked. I tried bleach, I tried everything, toxic, bad things, nothing working,” she says. “When I started using this, it was like all of a sudden my breakouts weren’t happening anymore. The hypopigmentation was going away. My sunspots were going away.”
“We don’t think there’s anything more powerful in a plant-based oil,” says Jane. “There’s 150% more vitamin E in prickly pear seed oil than argan oil, and there are fatty acids, amino acids and vitamin K, which reduces darkness. The anti-inflammatory benefits of prickly pear seed oil are insane. It just does magical things.”
With the raw ingredient in hand, Jane and Carter began researching ways to enhance it. They drew inspiration from an unlikely source: Scotch drinkers. “You know how they’ll order a $700 glass of Scotch and, then, put a tiny bit of water in it to change the taste?” says Jane. “Well, we learned that a singular oil does the same thing when you add a tiny drop of something else.” Eventually, the pair landed on a combination of aloe, avocado oil and almond oil they coined the A3 Concentrate.
As the everything in the product name suggests, Carter+Jane face oil is meant to replace everything in customers’ existing routines from a serum to lip balm, or it can be used in addition to a skincare regimen. “It’s the only thing I use. I went from using 20 steps to this,” says Jane. “I use it as a cleanser, a serum, a moisturizer, everything. I even run the leftovers through my hair and on my cuticles.” The face oil is priced at $128 for a 1-oz. size.
The Everything Oil Body retails for $52 and is a less concentrated version of the face oil. “You don’t have to use a moisturizer and cellulite creams and fragrances, you can just use one product,” says Jane. “It took me 247 tries to get the smell right, but it’s a combination of neroli, sweet orange and bergamot and, to play with it, we added frankincense and ylang ylang. The combination is a little odd, but I realized on probably iteration 100 that those were the right oils. It was just finding the right balance of them.”
Prior to founding the company, Carter and Jane worked in sales and marketing, respectively, and they first met at beauty education company Pivot Point International. Despite their conventional beauty backgrounds, Jane insists they’ve introduced Carter+Jane unconventionally. Rather than seeking external capital, they put in $350,000 of their own money to get the company off the ground. “We’ve taken a little bit of a different approach that is more cost-intensive up front,” says Jane. “But it helps us stay true to our mission that we don’t want to ever harm the planet, people or pets along the way.”
“You’ll see prickly pear seed oil in products from other brands, but it’s usually in minute amounts because it’s so expensive to make.”
The brand controls its supply chain in Morocco, a move that isn’t cheap. “We went on a trip to find the right partner. We had meetings with all sorts of different suppliers, and I just didn’t have a good gut feeling for most of them,” says Carter. “I wasn’t sure that I was going be able to get the quality that I wanted after the first bottle. They weren’t people I wanted to break bread with and have drinks with.”
It wasn’t until she got lost heading to an appointment that she met her current supplier, a female-owned, family-run, certified-organic farm employing Berber women to harvest prickly pear seeds. “We got a good vibe from them, and we trust them. What they produce is always best quality, and we have similar values,” says Carter. “They’re good to their team and offer fair wages. Because the seeds are hand-sourced, the women can work at their leisure where they want to and be with their families.”
Hand-sourcing the seeds contributes to the lofty retail price of the oil. “You’ll see prickly pear seed oil in products from other brands, but it’s usually in minute amounts because it’s so expensive to make,” says Carter. The fact that Carter’s husband and his family are from Morocco helped the brand negotiate the best price. Unlike companies without ties to the country, Jane says, “We’ve been able to secure and source like a local.”
Carter+Jane is taking the slow-and-steady route to entering retail. The brand is currently carried at select stores, including Green Line Beauty, Shen Beauty, Northside Pharmacy and Bandier. Its website accounts for 90%. To date, the brand has yet to receive a return and is recording a 50% reorder rate.
“Our goal was never just to be an e-commerce business. We think touching, feeling and trying the product is really important and that, in beauty, brick-and-mortar is still so alive. It has always been our intention to find the right brick-and-mortar partners, but there are other options, too. QVC is another potential down the road.”
“Our goal was never just to be an e-commerce business,” says Jane. “We think touching, feeling and trying the product is really important and that, in beauty, brick-and-mortar is still so alive. It has always been our intention to find the right brick-and-mortar partners, but there are other options, too. QVC is another potential down the road.”
So, how does a company built on do-it-all products expand its range? It’s a question the founders think about a lot. “We’re never going to be a line that’s a hundred products,” says Jane. Carter chimes in, “It’ll be more like eight to 12.” The pair is developing a cleanser, and considering a hair oil and rollerball fragrance.
“We’re filling in blanks for things that need to be organic and that need to be super effective,” says Jane. She and Carter have also toyed with idea of incorporating other Moroccan rituals into the mix, but never at the expense of their brand’s star ingredient. Jane pronounces, “This is the start of the prickly pear seed revolution.”