Is Your Makeup the Real Deal? A Guide to Spotting Counterfeit Beauty Products

Counterfeit Makeup - Lead
Photo: Getty Images

The counterfeit market isn't limited to just handbags and designer clothing anymore—much to our dismay, knockoff makeup and fragrance sales have been on the rise. Though websites like eBay and Amazon do their best to regulate the sales of fake products, counterfeits by MAC, Urban Decay, Benefit, and Estée Lauder, among other luxury brands, tend to slip through the cracks. Not only are you buying a bootleg product, but you also expose yourself to some serious health risks. Rather than a healing blend of aloe and vitamin E, many knockoff goods contain beyond-harmful ingredients like cyanide, arsenic, rat poison, urine, and lead that definitely shouldn't be in your household, much less your makeup. Over in the UK, luckily, police in London have already begun to crack down on counterfeit makeup sales, and with their Wake Up—Don't Fake Up! campaign, are urging consumers to be suspicious of counterfeits, and to shop only at brand-approved retailers. Because there are a few really good fakes out there, we put together four ways to tell if the product you bought at a discount price is a dud.

Note the Pricing

Of course, you should always buy your products from one of the brand's licensed retailers, but we admit—a good sale is pretty hard for us to resist. If the sale is a little too good to be true, however, it probably is. Most brands will regulate pricing on their products, meaning that $5 Chanel mascara likely isn't the real deal. Also, knockoff products are often sold in bulk, so be wary before buying a massive case of Dior foundations at a drugstore price. "Brand name, especially luxury brands, have similar price point everywhere you look," says makeup artist Min Min Ma. "If the deal is too good to be true, I’d think twice before buying," she confirms.

Check the Label

Counterfeit products will often have uneven fonts, misspelled words, inconsistent patterns, and incorrect shade names printed on the label and leaflets, so make sure to cross-check the item with the one on the brand's official website. If your product features a "peel-to-reveal" stickers, which can be peeled back to show the full ingredient list, that's a sign it's genuine.

Pay Attention to the Packaging

If you previously purchased a lipstick or eyeliner from the brand in question, line the items up side-by-side to compare their exteriors. Fake products are housed in lower-quality plastic or metal casings, often paired with ill-fitting mirrors and sponge-tipped applicators. The name of the shade should be printed on a sticker as opposed to the box. Products that don't quite fit into the box as they should, as well as boxes with exposed pieces of cardboard, are other indicators that you may have picked up a phony.

VIDEO: 5 Effective Serums for Under $25

Swatch the Color Before Using

Just like low-quality packaging, a seemingly cheaper formula is a telltale sign of a counterfeit cosmetic. Fake eyeshadows, blushes, lipsticks, and powders typically have a chalkier or thinner consistency than the real counterparts. Then, take a whiff of the product. Unless they're unscented, many genuine products will have a signature fragrance—for example, the pleasing vanilla aroma of MAC's lipsticks. At the very least, the makeup should smell like makeup, so toss any items that have overly-chemical notes, as well as perfumes with off-color liquid or medicinal-scented elements.

Be Mindful Where You're Shopping

Some third-party sites do get authorizations to sell specific brands, but if the listing seems unusual (the price is strangely low, the packaging is unusual, or you're just not sure), go with your gut and stick to a different retailer. "Instead, I’d go to department stores (Barney’s, Saks) or specialty stores (Sephora, Space NK) for brand name products or directly from the brands’ own websites," says Min Min Ma. "Payments through PayPal or American Express also protect the consumers in case of fraudulent transactions."

Related Articles