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Fake Makeup and Counterfeit Cosmetics: Complete Guide (Updated 2024)

  • Post category:Makeup

Unfortunately, knockoff beauty products are here to stay, and it’s within all of our best interests to learn not only of the risks that they pose, but also how to spot them in a crowd. These products could pose real problems for your health — here’s what we know for sure about fake makeup and counterfeit cosmetics:

In this article we discuss the following:

What is Counterfeit Makeup?

Often referred to as knock off makeup, counterfeit makeup can be quantified as any mock or replica beauty product made to look, and even smell, like an existing cosmetic brand. These products go so far as to even mimic the packaging of the originals, making it extremely difficult to determine the authentic from the fake. 

set of crushed eyeshadows and blusher fake makeup

The boom in sales of fake cosmetics can be attributed to the emergence of e-commerce platforms and social media. These have given counterfeit salesmen the opportunity to reach a vast amount of consumers, all of whom are only too happy to come across branded makeup at a fraction of the usual retail price. 

Counterfeit Cosmetics Meaning 

Counterfeit cosmetics, or bootleg makeup, means that the market is no longer safe and regulated, as it would have been in the earlier years. Now, anyone can fall victim to the ill intentions of manufacturers looking to make a quick buck. 

For some, ignorance is bliss, and certain customers aren’t too bothered about the authenticity of the product, so long as it does and looks like the makeup it claims to. This is all good and well, however there are very real health risks that come from using counterfeit beauty products, and usually people only learn of them once it’s too late. 

Furthermore, condoning the existence of counterfeit cosmetics means that we are subtly dismantling the effort and the art that certain brands have worked decades to build. Creating quality makeup products doesn’t happen overnight; it’s hard, creative work, which is why certain brands have to sell at upmarket prices when they eventually hit the market. 

Counterfeit Cosmetics Statistics 

The making of cheap, replica makeup to be sold off at a fraction of the cost of the brand being copied, means that that brand’s profit margin is going to be directly affected for years to come. 

It is estimated that in 2020, the cosmetic and self care industries would have lost a collective total of $5.5 billion due to the sale of replica and counterfeit goods on the black market. This is a global statistic, with the United States responsible for the sale of roughly 20% of these products. 

Law enforcement departments work year round to try and bring these counterfeit brands under siege. Often, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fake makeup is confiscated from flea markets and bootleg stores. Of course, it is much harder to weigh in on the sellers who hide behind the safety of the Internet to do their business. 

Is Any Fake Makeup Safe? 

The only time a fake version of any makeup could be considered “safe”, would be if you DIY made it in the comfort of your own home. That way, you’d know exactly what ingredients were going into the product, and thus have a more accurate personal risk assessment from day one. 

Counterfeit beauty products bought on the blackmarket are never going to be safe for use, as they are totally void of the screening process and regulations that authentic brands have to go through before they are allowed to sell. 

Wearing fake makeup and counterfeit cosmetics can also be very dangerous to the health of your skin. Our skin has a delicate pH and bacterial balance which should not be disturbed says Ty Francis, acne expert at The Acne Alchemist.

When you purchase a fake piece of makeup, you’re essentially getting a lottery ticket filled with possibilities. Will you get an eye infection? How about an allergic reaction? Perhaps a long term dose of infertility is on the cards, instead. 

Fake makeup is a one way ticket to a health condition you’d probably have preferred to walk through life without experiencing. Customers have reported everything from swollen lips to chemical burns, with some individuals developing permanently high blood pressure due to long term exposure to counterfeit ingredients. 

What’s even more alarming are some of the conditions these fake products are made in. “Fake makeup products are usually created in filthy and unhygienic laboratories that don’t have the same sanitation and storage standards as regulated manufacturers. By using these products, you put yourself in danger,” says Hamna Amjad, Outreach Consultant at GunMade.

Counterfeit Cosmetics and the FDA 

It goes without saying that the FDA strongly condemns the purchase and usage of any fake branded cosmetics, no matter where you are in the world. 

According to the FDA, counterfeit makeup almost always contains harmful ingredients that are otherwise banned from regulated cosmetic production. More than this, they have found many fake cosmetics to contain contaminants that would have slipped into the formulas due to poor manufacturing conditions, as well as extensive use of unapproved color additives. 

Under FDA law, no cosmetic product may be misbranded, and any color additives must be pre-approved for use, or the brand must use colors from the FDA’s own laboratories. 

There are six critical approval processes that every cosmetic product goes through before it is allowed onto the retail market. Counterfeit cosmetics skip all six, putting themselves straight onto the shelves with no concern as to what happens thereafter. 

flat lay of eyeshadow palettes, foundation, lipsticks and makep brushes potentially fake makeup

Using Fake Makeup Once in Awhile: Is it ok? 

Theoretically speaking, most people won’t experience adverse reactions the first time they apply a counterfeit makeup product to their skin. Tingling or mild itching may be the full extent of the initial encounter, and it will likely subside after a few minutes, giving the illusion that the product is safe and wearable thereafter. 

In reality, the skin has undoubtedly detected a threat, and has done what it needed to in order to make you comfortable for the duration of the wear. The next time you apply the product, it is less likely that your skin will be able to negotiate the contact the same way. It’s now a recurring threat, and the cells are starting to become overwhelmed by the ingredients within. 

From here, it’s likely another use or two before the very real fake makeup dangers start manifesting as physical ailments. One can take this information as they choose, depending on how sensitive they feel their skin is likely to be to repeated chemical contact. 

How to Spot Fake Makeup

Fake Makeup vs Real 

Fake cosmetics can be impossible to spot, but it’s usually the smell of the product that gives it away when compared directly next to an authentic version. This is because different ingredients have likely been used to achieve the mock effect, which results in a similar overall product, but a scent that can rarely be mimicked. 

The problem with using smell to identify a counterfeit makeup product, is that you need to have an authentic version of the same cosmetic present, so that you can compare them to one another. This defeats the point of investing in a cheaper option to save money. 

For some cosmetics, it’s all in the packaging. For example, how to spot fake Too Faced makeup is dependent on analyzing the typography and spacing on the product in question. At first glance, fake Too Faced packaging looks exactly like the authentic counterparts, however when you take a closer look, you’ll see very subtle differences in font and even color. 

To make this kind of distinction, you don’t need the authentic product to be nearby, all you need is the ability to pull up the brand’s website, find the product in question, and start drawing comparisons via close inspection. 

If you suspect a piece of makeup to be fake, it’s always a good idea to pull up the brand’s original version on a computer screen, and start a close, investigative inspection. Remember, if something feels off, it probably is!

Does Amazon Sell Fake Beauty Products? 

The bottom line is that if being a retailer on an e-commerce site is open to the general public, there are almost always going to be counterfeit goods being sold. 

Like any other website, Amazon does indeed fuel the sale of millions of inauthentic cosmetics year after year. They provide the sales platform, monetary exchange service, and shipping for the counterfeit sale to be completed. 

That being said, Amazon does offer a very transparent feedback feature whereby any and all buyers can leave their commentary prior to receiving their purchase. If a product is fake, it won’t be long before someone publicly reports it as such, leaving a paper trail for further buyers to read. 

hand holding a tube of red lipstick

Is eBay Makeup Fake? 

Ebay is probably the mother of all fake cosmetic sales. Over the years, the platform has become totally saturated by products of inauthentic nature. We’re talking everything from fake makeup palettes to counterfeit perfumes, and even bootlegged cosmetic tools such as dermarollers. 

Like Amazon, Ebay also has a customer feedback feature in the form of reviews. This results in a reliability percentage that is visible on the profile of all retailers. Those who shop on Ebay often, know that if a retailer’s reliability percentage is lower than around 95%, they have been negligent with their sales somewhere along the way. 

The trouble is that most counterfeit makeup retailers simply upload new profiles the minute theirs is reported as being less than reliable. It’s a vicious cycle, one that easily traps unknowing consumers, but if you stay alert and questionable toward everything, you may be able to save yourself from being duped. 

Counterfeit Makeup Documentary

In 2019, Netflix released an original documentary series called ‘Broken’. The film explores the world of negligence and deceit that fuels the consumer’s market for a range of different products, including cosmetic fraud. 

If you’re looking to learn more about just how deep this ring of cons runs, we recommend giving this 4 episode exposé a few hours of your time. 

It’s a real eye opener to learn of where and how these markets are thriving, with us, the unassuming buyers, at the cornerstone of the fraudulent market. The show also provides valuable insight as the statistics surrounding the industry, which puts things into undeniable perspective. 

It’s a poignant exploration of consumer culture like we’ve not yet seen on television; this is one to watch if you’re feeling moved to know more about this dangerous and threatening market. 

Fake Makeup Brands

It’s likely that for every mainstream makeup brand, there exists a counterfeit replica somewhere on the market. The making of counterfeit products tends to happen when a specific brand reaches worldwide status, with renowned praise across social media. 

When this happens, counterfeit manufactures can rest assured that their production of replica, fake goods will undoubtedly pay off, as such a large percentage of consumers are now focused on the brand in question, and no doubt desiring to own any of the products. 

Small business cosmetics are never reproduced in counterfeit conditions; there is simply not enough of a prospect for monetary return for the producers.

We’ll break down a few of the most current brands that are struggling with counterfeit manufacturing and sales. It’s worth knowing about, especially if you’ve ever considered making an investment in one or more of them. Perhaps you even have existing products in your collection that may now need to be inspected for their authenticity. 

Fake Kylie Cosmetics 

It’s safe to say that when Kylie Cosmetics finally launched, it shook the planet in ways few could have predicted. The brand made Kylie Jenner a billionaire at just 21 years old, making her the world’s youngest billionaire. 

Seemingly overnight one could purchase knockoff renditions of all of her products, including fake Kylie lip kits. The majority of these products are sold online, with smaller quantities popping up at flea markets everywhere between the US and Asia. 

Fake Kylie makeup retails at around half the price of the original products, which is interesting because Kylie Cosmetics typically don’t retail anywhere near to what one would pay for MAC, Bobbi Brown, or alike elite brands. 

If you’re shopping for Kylie Cosmetics on Ebay or Amazon, keep a keen eye out for scammers. Many of them will go so far as to write “100% authentic” in the product description, to further deviate from the truth of the matter. 

Fake MAC Makeup 

MAC is a brand that has been with us since our schooldays. They were there when we needed our makeup done for the end of year dance, and they were there when we started growing our personal makeup collections as young adults. 

Counterfeit MAC makeup has plagued the market for years, and the brand has had their fair share of court cases fighting off this unwanted harassment. 

The best thing about MAC lipsticks is that you can easily spot the real from the fake, thanks to the unique manufacturing techniques used by the brand. MAC lipsticks are smooth all the way around, and do not have any kinds of manufacturing lines as though two lipstick halves were stuck together. It’s very expensive to manufacture lipsticks this way, so counterfeit producers don’t bother with it. 

Packaging fonts are also a big giveaway for these cosmetics. 

BB Cosmetics

side view of a black lipstick tube

BB stands for Best Beauty, and it’s a Korean based online store that offers worldwide shipping on a range of big brand cosmetics. 

BB doesn’t make any of their own cosmetics under this brand name, instead they play middle man in connecting you with the brands you know and love, before delivering them directly to your door. 

In recent years, there have been many rumors surrounding BB cosmetic fakes, as a few online reviews claimed that the site had sold them inauthentic products. It caused quite a stir, but as it turns out there was little truth to the matter and no similar claims have been made since. 

As far and purchasing authentic, quality cosmetics goes, BB is a fantastic platform to support. If anything, they’re keeping the legacy of authentic cosmetics alive through their unwavering integrity, ease-of-use, and worldwide accessibility. 

Fake Urban Decay

Urban Decay is another brand who has been climbing the ranks as one of the best global makeup brands for quite some time. Naturally, the counterfeit products were following close behind, and it seems that millions upon millions of their famous eyeshadow palettes have been reproduced on the black market. 

Fortunately, spotting the difference in these palettes is quite easy, all you need to do is pull up an image of the original product, either from the brand’s website, or via a general Google search. 

Counterfeit products are a major concern for this cosmetic brand, and they keep a close eye on just how many fake goods are being sold off via Amazon and eBay. When they have had an opportunity to take action against identified fake sellers, they’ve done so through the relevant authorities. 

Urban Decay recommends that all prospective customers shop via the brand website, or inshore at one of the many Urban Decay branches worldwide. 

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