Counterfeit Cosmetics: Pretty Evil

Image result for makeup meme

Like a lot of people obsessed with makeup and skincare, I love a good bargain. After all, this stuff ain’t cheap! As a matter of fact, I recently priced everything in my collection simply for my own info, and the total nearly made me sick to my stomach. (Seriously, I’m looking at good skin and great hair and a pretty face for the low, low price of a week-long Caribbean vacation for my whole family.) Now, I don’t pay full price for makeup unless I really, really have to. I wait for sales and buy through sites like HauteLook and use subscription services. I use credit card rewards for purchases. Even then… The price tag on enough body, skin, hair, and makeup products to fill the space underneath a bathroom sink, a couple of drawers, a five-drawer vanity, two organizers, and two very large carrying cases… Well, let’s just say that putting together this post has made me take a serious look at my life choices.

So with that in mind, it’s no wonder that counterfeits can look pretty darn tempting. Who wouldn’t want to pull a pretty new MAC lipstick out of their purse for all to see? Nobody knows but you, right? No harm done, right?

Well, as a matter of fact, you’d be wrong.  Hold on to your butts, because this is going to be a long one!

You really don’t want to put THAT on your face.

If you listen to nothing else I say, listen to this. No, LOOK at this:

Image result for counterfeit cosmetics lab

This little visual nugget from the Daily Mail is what popped up when I ran a Google image search for “counterfeit cosmetics lab,” and the stuff they make here will go on your skin, in your eyes, and even in your mouth. Notice the sanitation, or rather the lack thereof. Is it any wonder that counterfeit cosmetics have been known to contain such luxurious ingredients as urine, rat feces, bacteria, arsenic, and high levels of lead and mercury? Snail mucin beware! Rat poop is the new big game in town! (I’m only joking, by the way. Please don’t take that as a jab at snail mucin, my AB friends. Snails are lovely creatures, and their snot is a gift from Baby Jesus.)

Those fun little extras are just the tippity top of the excrement iceberg, and they’re just the ones we know about because Joe Fed was nice enough to test a few he confiscated. Tons of counterfeit cosmetics are floating around out there, and there’s no way that all of them have been tested, so they remain a mystery.

So how do you know whether or not you got a “good” counterfeit? You don’t, though the odds are in your favor much in the same way as they are for anyone selected to participate in the Hunger Games. Chances are, if your makeup is fake then it’s fishy. Counterfeiters are in this game to make a buck. They don’t give a whale’s tit whether or not it’s a quality product or what ingredients are going into it. It’s definitely not going to match the ingredients list on the packaging. What are you going to do? Return it for a refund? Good luck with that, tribute. Someone along the chain of sellers and buyers is going to eat that cost, and it sure as heck won’t be them. Meanwhile, that stuff you put on your face could leave you with results that are anything but pretty.

ISIS wins when you buy fakes.

That is unfortunately no joke. I joke a lot. This is not one of those jokes.

I know what you’re thinking… “But these companies make SO MUCH MONEY!!! Why should they make all the big bucks? Why not support the little guy?” Because for starters, that “little guy” could very well be raising money for a terrorist organization. No, really. As a matter of fact, various terror attacks across the world have been funded at least in part through the sale of counterfeits, whether it’s CDs, t-shirts, bags, or wallets. An attack on the World Trade Center during the early 90s was funded in part through counterfeit sales.

The possibilities don’t stop there. In fact, it gets worse. Human trafficking and child prostitution rings have also been known to sell cheap counterfeits at a higher price to bring in an extra few bucks. By that measure, giving your money to a big corporation doesn’t seem quite so bad.

Now, it’s perfectly possible that the guy at the end of the counterfeit rabbit hole you’ve jumped into is really a nice guy, but by purchasing a counterfeit item, you are by definition participating in a criminal act. How well, after all, can you trust someone who is literally a fraud?

“B-b-but those expensive brands make their stuff in China, too!”

That’s simply not true. Various cosmetics are made in various countries. Some are I’m sure made in China, though I’ll admit that within my collection those products were in the VAST minority, and I wear a lot of cheap drugstore products on most days. The $10 Jersey Shore lip balm that I got in my Ipsy bag and has since become my precious? It’s made in the USA, and that’s stamped loud and proud onto the label. Ditto for my Burt’s Bees tinted balm. Going through the contents of my last Sephora Play bag (which I need to get around to reviewing)… My UD Perversion mascara was made in Italy. My Caudalie eye cream was made in France. Ditto for the Lancome moisturizer and MUFE eyeshadow. The Sephora eye pencil was made in Germany, and my perfume sample is from right here in the USA.

My Korean and Japanese products both cheap and pricey come from, well, South Korea and Japan. Duh! My UD foundation was from Canada, but the Maybelline was from the USA. My L’Oreal Revitalift cream was made in the USA. Clairol Hair Food… USA! Garnier moisturizer… USA! Fresh skincare face oil… France! Shiseido eye serum… USA?!?! (Okay, I’ll admit that I knew this. I still thought it was funny.) Curel… Jergens… Sally Hansen… More Burt’s Bees… All of them were made in the USA.

You know, this was beginning to become a running theme that none of my personal care products were coming from third world countries, and to be honest I’m a little impressed by the industry for that.

For a while there I didn’t think I was going to find anything from China– until I got to my e.l.f. products. (By the way, now is the time for me to disclose that I am technically an e.l.f. cosmetics affiliate, though I likely will be dropping all of my affiliations soon until I get more traffic here. There’s really no point for now.) Those were literally the only products I own that come from China. Now, I don’t know how familiar you are with e.l.f. cosmetics, but I can assure you that they’re not exactly sitting at the Tom Ford price point, and in fact I’ll talk about them more in just a bit.

But let’s say that these other legit products WERE made in China. The key word here is “legally.” Yeah, I’m now going to have to look a little more closely into e.l.f.’s labor practices and see if it’s a company I want to continue to support. Like I said, this has been eye-opening. But that word “legally” carries with it a lot of weight. There are labor laws and trade laws that “legally” has to adhere to. There are safety regulations and testing processes that “legally” has to adhere to. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s more protection than I the consumer get from purchasing products that were made and sold “illegally.”

“But why should I pay gazillions of dollars for a quality product?”

You don’t. And chances are that a legal quality product can cost you less (and wear better) than an illegal knock-off. How is that possible?


A lot of people mix in the word “dupe” when discussing counterfeits, and it gets confusing, but please keep in mind that “dupe” and “counterfeit” are not the same thing. One is legal and safe. One is not. A “dupe” is simply finding a product made by another company that can give you the same results or close to the same results.

Whether it’s function, color, or packaging, chances are that whatever you’re looking for from an expensive brand is either now available or soon will be from a much cheaper brand. And don’t give me that “more expensive is better quality” bullshit. That’s simply not always true. In fact, it’s rarely true. (There are a few exceptions.) But you don’t get to have that argument right now anyway, because if you really cared about quality then you wouldn’t be buying a counterfeit product to begin with!

Fact: Many different designer and drugstore brands fall under the same parent company. As you’d expect, sometimes a product from a more expensive brand gets carried over in some way to one of the cheaper brands. Maybe the formula is just slightly different or they use cheaper ingredients. Maybe the packaging isn’t so luxe. But in the end, whether you’re purchasing Urban Decay or Armani or Revlon or NYX, you’re still purchasing a L’Oreal product. Color cosmetics from all brands get their pigments from the same handful of suppliers, the only real difference being the amount of pigment in the product. (Yeah, sometimes you have to swipe the brush a little more but you’ll still get the same color.)

Is it the color you like? You’ll be hard pressed to find a color that isn’t out there, and sites like Temptalia are wonderful for helping you find an e.l.f. lipstick that matches that Tom Ford shade you just HAVE to have. I don’t know about you guys, but when it comes to something I’m going to smear on my lips and inevitably lick at some point, I’d much rather pay $1-3 for a LEGAL and TESTED and SAFE product than pay $20 for hot pink rat poop mixed with a side of arsenic and human pee. That’s a $17 upcharge for the privilege of ingesting all those extras. But, you know, at least you’re not paying $53 for the real thing or paying $3 to be tortured into only flashing sleek black packaging that DOESN’T have “TF” stamped on the top while reapplying your makeup in front of the restroom attendant. That yummy, yummy rat poop is totally worth the extra money, am I right?

As long as the shade matches, nobody can tell if you spent $50 or $6 on a foundation. I’ve seriously lied through my teeth to fawning Sephora consultants that I was wearing a UD lipstick when in fact I got it at the local Dollar Tree. (I don’t typically wear my “good” makeup to Sephora because 9/10 times I’m there for help with a new makeup look anyway or to try a new product, and they’re just going to wipe it right off of me. I also do not walk into Sephora before I have to go anywhere unless those mascara vultures vow to put every eyelash back where they found it.)

So about packaging… Yeah, again I’m going to point to e.l.f. Take note:

That beautiful, sleek  and unassuming black packaging… Look familiar? No?

How about now?

Yep. It would seem that e.l.f.’s studio line makeup packaging was inspired by the look of NARS packaging! Better yet, that e.l.f makeup isn’t going to cost you upwards of $30-50, and it’s actually pretty damn good makeup. It’s also cheaper than your average fake NARS. It also hasn’t been peed in by some guy in his basement, so you know… BONUS!

I’d argue that you’ll also find some amazing formulas and products, but again… If you’re really considering buying fakes, you’re not concerned about formulas, so I won’t bother too much. I will say, however, that there are some simply wonderful products from cheap drugstore companies that I prefer even to the more expensive brands. Yes, that e.l.f. highlighter really is that good, and it’s only $1.

To be honest, I’ve neglected a project I started back when this blog was new– a project to cover both designer and lower cost options that I love. I’m really going to have to get on that.

So why do I bring this up NOW?

Well, I don’t know if you guys remember the whole Lippe Box situation, but I’ll link to my previous post on it. In a nutshell, a company was selling a subscription service through CrateJoy that promised $40 of designer lip products for the low, low price of $15 per month. The first box was even free, and folks oohed and ahhed over their shiny MAC and ABH lippies until someone pointed out that something was amiss. The packaging wasn’t right. The colors were off. Some of the lipsticks smelled funny, and some even had mold. Lippe Box wasn’t saying as much at the time, but it turned out that the products they were distributing were actually fakes.

The shit hit the fan over on /r/BeautyBoxes, and Lippe Box’s website soon started sporting a “disclaimer” that all but said they didn’t care if the products they were selling were fakes. Now, had this been a legitimate seller that made an honest mistake and had owned up to it, offered refunds, and promised to put things on hold while the restructure and find an affordable and legitimate supplier… Well, if that had happened, then folks likely would have sympathized for the most part, and you’d probably see Lippe Box as a still-thriving business. But that didn’t happen, and because of the magic of social media word of mouth, they were run out of Internet Town, and CrateJoy ended their partnership with them. They were never to be seen or heard from again– until now.

Yep. Lippe Box regrouped and rebranded– bigger, badder, and more unprofessional than ever. And this time they’re completely upfront about the fact that they’re selling fakes. In fact, they’re loud and proud about it. The “business” owner even posted to reddit to acknowledge it while also complaining about all the Internet mean girls calling her out for, you know, the illegal business she was running and scaring away potential customers. How dare those insignificant cyber bullies do such a thing! She later even commented further on Facebook, acknowledging that it was illegal and that she intended to keep doing it and stating that it was perfectly fine and safe and that she didn’t see anything wrong with it!

When faced with the fact that fakes can contain high amounts of lead in particular and that kids can get into Mommy’s makeup and play, the response was that well you shouldn’t let your kid play with your makeup. Seriously. This was the answer. And why, after all, couldn’t all the “haters” be more concerned with cops shooting unarmed black men instead of informing potential customers about her selling fake and potentially harmful products? Yes, this was (again) seriously a response.

It’s no biggie for them. They’ve “tested” the products on themselves, and you know, nobody that they know of has ever immediately dropped dead after applying a lipstick– yet.

Yes, I’m pissed off, because (pardon my Southern belle) it’s a big fucking deal when you’re proudly selling products that may contain large amounts of harmful substances to an unsuspecting public– which is why it’s an illegal practice that the government takes very seriously. People worry about things like lead, and rightly so.

This… This is the sort of “company” you’d want to do business with? You want to buy a product from someone who knows fuck all about how lead poisoning works and, even if she did know, cares fuck all about product safety? And for what? As I’ve pointed out, paying for a fake renders no actual savings, and it sure as hell doesn’t offer any better quality. If someone notices your packaging, they’re probably going to also notice that your lipstick smells like ammonia and looks like a fungus farm. You’re sure as heck not getting better service. Again pointing to my $1 e.l.f. products… I can purchase them at CVS or Target and return them, even opened, for a full refund or exchange– no questions asked. Even e.l.f.’s online customers service has been impeccable any time I’ve had an issue with something I’ve ordered from their website. So again… WHAT am I buying? WHAT here is worth my money?

Bottom line… The price of purchasing fakes might not be in a dollar amount, per se. But with everything else you’re trading off to buy them, you’ll find that they’re much more costly in the end.


2 thoughts on “Counterfeit Cosmetics: Pretty Evil

  1. This is why I wont order products from shady sites. I am terrified of getting fake stuff. You make some very good points and you have me thinking that I most certainly don’t want to go home and add up how much all my lotions and potions and all that cost. Yikes! And the subscription box having fakes? That enrages me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You should see their remarks about it. They’re loud and proud.

      Even respectable and honest seller can end up unwittingly selling fakes because their supplier might get duped by a wholesaler. Some counterfeiters will even present themselves as legit and sell fakes at the higher suggested retail price for the real thing, but my post was more about people who knowingly buy and sell fakes.

      Large chains like Sephora and Ulta get their products directly from the manufacturer, so that’s not an issue. Ebay and Amazon are going to be trickier, since they’re more a middle man. I don’t use ebay as much, but if you get a fake through Amazon Prime, you have all the protections of Amazon Prime. You get your money back, AND they will take it up with the seller for you. That’s the reason why Amazon Prime is still a main go-to for me for my K-beauty and J-beauty products.


Comments are closed.