Counterfeit Beauty Products: How to spot a fake

For the longest time I've been meaning to sit down and write an updated post on fake makeup. The reason for this is since I last wrote about the topic (back in 2011) the problem of fake beauty products has only increased; both in scale and how convincing products now are.

Not only do I have a real concern for consumers buying fake makeup unknowingly and then not being aware that it is fake when receiving it. But in the past year, I've been surprised at the number of consumers now knowingly purchasing fake makeup from both eBay and Alixepress due to the sophistication of replicated packaging. Side note - You only need to join a few eBay makeup lover groups on Facebook to see how popular fake makeup is. I can only put this down to the rise in cosmetics prices and how popular high-end makeup is via social media. It really is a big problem!

So today I thought I'd run through why counterfeit beauty products should be avoided, how to spot a fake before buying and how to spot fake cosmetics in the flesh! You will also see just how sophisticated these illegal operations have become and why you should never buy from Facebook Groups and unknown websites.

Why you should avoid using fake makeup
Along with funding criminal activity, countless laboratory tests on fake cosmetics such as eyeliner, mascara, lipgloss and foundation have been found to contain toxic levels of chemicals and harmful substances such as; arsenic, mercury and lead. All of these can cause allergic reactions, such as skin irritation, swelling, rashes and burns as well as leaving the consumer with longer term health problems. Counterfeit makeup is often produced in un-sanitised and unhygienic factories and there have been cases where rats’ droppings and urine have also been found in the cosmetics.

It's also important to be aware that products applied to the skin are absorbed into the blood stream and products used around the eye area can easily enter the eye causing an infection and even vision problems. Whether you unknowingly bought a fake and have since realised or buy fake makeup to save money it really is important to let these facts sink in and evaluate if it's worth the risk to your health.

Websites to be wary of 
It goes without saying that if you want to totally avoid accidentally buying fake makeup then it's best to buy your favourite makeup brands from known beauty websites or direct from the brand website. However, it's still possible to shop outside of these sites and use outlets and re-selling platforms such as eBay and Depop to snag yourself a bargain. eBay, however, does contain a lot of fake beauty products, mainly the larger brands such as MAC, Benefit, Too Faced, Kat Von D, theBalm and Anastasia Beverly Hills, even up to 80% of these items being sold on eBay can be fake! So if you do decide to buy makeup from eBay, although you can find genuine bargains, approach with caution. As for AliExpress I have yet to see any genuine branded cosmetics being sold on the platform so it's definitely one to avoid when it comes to buying makeup. If you are after a bargain check out Blog sales, and use discount codes or take advantage of sales on large websites such as ASOS Beauty, Feel Unique, Look Fantastic, Cult Beauty and Beauty Bay.

I also think it's important to mention that a new wave of Facebook selling pages are popping up solely selling counterfeit cosmetics. These are to be totally avoided as not only will you definitely be buying fake makeup but select criminal operations may use your payment details to replicate your identity or attempt to use your source of payment to take further money or make false purchases on your behalf.

How to spot fake makeup online 
Although counterfeit makeup packaging has become more sophisticated, listing selling fake makeup on eBay are often easy to spot. The main signs are high sold/product available numbers (i.e it's not a single product listing but the seller selling hundreds), a china based address even when stating UK Seller, lack of correct spelling and grammar, stock images and a large volume of other branded makeup products in high volumes being sold. Also checking negative feedback is important as if the products being sold are fake more than likely the seller with have unhappy customers pointing out that the items being sold are fake.

The price is also a giveaway. If the price is too good to be true it probably is. Big websites do sometimes sell past season makeup for a fraction of the price but never newer releases from the past year. If a product is new and being sold for less than half the retail price then be suspicious!

How to spot fake makeup packaging 
Here is where it gets tricky because in the last few years counterfeit products even offered at low prices have become very convincing. I'm talking replicating hologram packaging and labels, including a batch code (taken from authentic products) and bar codes and paying great detail to make the packaging look exactly like the genuine article. All can be seen above!

However, there are still telltale signs from just the packaging alone, which vary from product to product, some being more obvious than others. Below are a few fake makeup products I  bought for the purpose of this blog post that show the types of details you need to be looking out for.

theBalm Mary-Lou Manizer Highlighter 

1. Fake Makeup Sign: Printing Quality & Colour Difference 
Although printing quality is a lot more sophisticated in the realms of counterfeit products these days, tones and printing sharpness can still be off. Here I have both the genuine theBalm Mary-Lou Highlighter and a counterfeit, of course if you bought the fake product by mistake you wouldn't necessarily have the real product to compare it against but for this post I felt it was useful. However, a comparison can also be done by looking at zoomed in images of the product on trusted beauty websites, such as Feel Unique, Look Fantastic, Debenhams and ASOS Beauty or even taking the product to the brand's beauty counter. Although the packaging is well executed on the fake product (shown above) on comparison the tones are totally different, with the biggest difference seen in the colour of the hair - the genuine being quite a dark blonde and the fake being a bright brassy blonde. Although a subtle difference when compared you can see clear differences in printing tones. 

Too Faced Chocolate Bar Eyeshadow Palette 

2. Fake Makeup Sign: Lack of smaller details
Counterfeit products generally miss smaller details that are on the genuine product. Again you need to look closely! This may be a different hinge, a larger compact or in the case of this Too Faced Chocolate Bar Palette the detail in the font on the front on the palette. When quickly glanced at you won't spot a difference but looking closer and you will see that the subtle etched detail is missing from the fake product.

Anastasia Beverly Hills Moon Child Glow Kit 

3. Fake Makeup Sign: Badly finished packaging
This is probably the easiest to spot mistake when it comes to the packaging of fake goods. The finish generally isn't spot on. This may be how makeup pans sit in the palette, how the edges of cardboard products are finished off or just messy looking edges with glue showing. Here the fake Moon Child Glow Kit from Anastasia Beverly Hills looks pretty flawless, even including the holographic finish, however the magnetic strips underneath the packaging show through quite visibly and it's clear to see they haven't been cut straight. With a brand like ABH this just wouldn't be the case so it's a clear sign the palette is fake. 

How to spot fake makeup products 

1. The Smell 
Over all other signs mentioned so far your nose is generally the biggest indicator of fake cosmetics! Why? Because for the most part they stink! Unlike genuine makeup products which will be fragrance-free or have a pleasant smell, fake products will smell of chemicals! Some of the worse fake products will smell strong even on opening the packaging, were as others when smelt will have a chemical linger to them. This comes from strong untested chemicals used in the fake products and the fact that the products are stored in poor conditions.

2. The Product formula/pigmentation 
Although fake product do look pretty convincing they without a doubt do not compare when it comes to the product inside. Powder products are generally chalky and drier and pigmentation is comparably not as good as you can see above from my swatch comparisons. As for liquid products they won't apply as well, wear quicker on the skin and separate/go off much quicker. 

What to do if you've bought fake makeup unknowingly 

If you've recently bought a fake makeup item from eBay and you are sure it is fake then you can request a refund from the seller. The seller will generally offer a full or half refund without having to return the product. However, the seller may request the product to be returned as should provide a label for this. If the seller doesn't reply within a set period then eBay will step in and decide the outcome, which should generally be a full refund. You can also report the seller or leave negative feedback should you wish to. 

If you have unknowingly purchased fake makeup from a makeup stall car boot sale there isn't much you can do, other than informing the manager of the site of the stallholder. If you have bought what you think is counterfeit makeup from a website, then contacting the customer service department before returning the product is the best way to go. It is unlikely to happen but most websites will want to know your concerns and look further into it.

Although purchasing fake makeup is a personal choice I would recommend with the use of untested ingredients and poor factor conditions it is best to stay clear of such products and either opt for dupes or save up for the genuine product. 

Fee xo. 

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