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  • Writer's pictureLindsey Nelson

The Culture of Counterfeit Cosmetics

The Counterfeit Culture of Cosmetics

I am an affiliate, and I may earn a commission on the sale of these products if you decide to purchase them.

The public's affinity for luxury cosmetics is no secret. I have been obsessed with makeup, specifically eyeshadow, for years.

Back in 2007, I was a loyal follower of MakeupbyTiffanyD, a YouTuber who grew her loyal fan base with vlogs of her makeup tutorials, hauls, and fashion advice.

If Tiffany tried a new eyeshadow, I was heading to MAC cosmetics to purchase it.

Tiffany was the influencer who introduced me to Sigma Beauty's makeup brushes.

If you are not familiar with Sigma Beauty, I highly recommend that you check them out! 

The Counterfeit Culture of Cosmetics

The influence of YouTubers, TikTok, and any online makeup Guru drives the demand for the latest cosmetics, causing many people to open their wallets.

But what happens when the supply can't meet up with the demand?

The price jumps for the products, or the cosmetic brand adds the infamous "out of stock" label to their website. 

It's disappointing to see that your favorite lip-plumping kit is out of stock.

All of your friends were able to get the lip kit before it went out of stock, and you're the only one feeling the FOMO.

In your manic pursuit to find the item online, you start to go down the rabbit hole, and before you know it, you're on a sketchy website that has the item you've been hunting for!

The best part about this hour-long hunt is that this website, although it may seem questionable, has the lip kit in stock and for a much cheaper price! SCORE!

You whip out your credit card and click add to cart!

You can barely contain your excitement when your new cosmetic product arrives at your door a week later.

At first glance, the new lip-plumping kit looks exactly like the one your friends have in every way, so when your lips swell up to an unnatural size, you're completely shocked and equally terrified!

Through tear-filled eyes, you log onto the sketchy website to find a customer service number.

You come across a few negative customer reviews where others have shared their experience with this same lip kit.

That's when you see the gut-wrenching words "fake," "counterfeit," and "allergic reaction."

It is in that moment you feel, in the pit of your stomach, that you've been scammed.

This, my friends, is how the culture of counterfeit cosmetics begins. 

If you're the one who sits in the stylist chair or if you ARE the hair stylist, you are going to want to pay attention to this!


Now that we have social media influencers raving about products, the increase in luxury cosmetics continues to increase as well.

A product's virality piques the interest of overseas companies, all with one goal in mind: profit!

Profit is the money a business makes after all its expenses are paid.

If a business cuts its costs, then it's left with higher profit margins.

These sly companies see dollar signs when a cosmetic product goes viral on TikTok or when a beauty guru places their stamp of approval on the product.

It's even better if the product becomes scarce, driving up the demand.

The idea of the product becoming hard to find is exactly what these overseas companies want.

They see the demand. They make a cheap duplicate or dupe, and they sell it for pennies on the dollar.

This replica looks almost exactly like the real product except for one main thing: the ingredients.

A lot of times, the buyer does not know that they are buying a counterfeit item.  


These foreign companies do not follow the same safety guidelines and restrictions as U.S. or European-based companies.

They often use non-regulated ingredients in order to cut costs.

In the Netflix docuseries Broken, we learn that these counterfeit companies attempt to smuggle millions of dollars in fake cosmetics across the American border every year.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection seize thousands of packages of counterfeit cosmetics in an attempt to protect American consumers' health

You see, a counterfeit handbag doesn't raise health concerns like counterfeit cosmetics do for the simple fact that consumers are not applying a fake designer handbag to their lips, eyes, or face.

They just wear the handbag on their shoulder or arm.

But when counterfeit cosmetics contain lead, animal feces, and sometimes chemicals not typically found in cosmetics, it raises a huge public safety concern.

Kathryn De Vries of The Current goes on to say, "When applied to the skin, these unsafe ingredients expose consumers to long-term health problems such as infections, rashes, and in some cases can cause cancer."


While you can find these illegal vendors on the streets of Los Angeles and New York, you can also find them online—sites like Temu, eBay, Facebook, and Amazon all have the potential to sell counterfeit cosmetics.

Being able to spot a fake is getting harder and harder as counterfeit manufacturers are getting very good at creating nearly identical duplicates.

Here are my tips on how to avoid being scammed by one of these counterfeit companies.

  • Only buy cosmetics from a reputable source. 

A reputable company like your local salon or spa, Sephora, Ulta, department stores, or the brand itself is the best way to avoid buying a fake product. 

  • If you're going to shop on Amazon, look out for these signs that the seller may be a fake. 

-The price is a fraction of the original cost.

Luxury haircare and skincare rarely go on sale, and if they do, it may be 10%- 15%, not half the price.

If you see an item with a significantly reduced price, then it is likely fake, expired, or possibly damaged.

-Check the seller details and manufacturer. Pay attention to where a product is coming from.

Is it being distributed from Amazon or a 3rd party seller? Try to steer clear of items that are not fulfilled by Amazon.

-The seller has poor reviews. An unhappy customer will definitely share a negative review of a product. Be sure to read the one-star reviews and not just the five-star reviews.

-The seller doesn't have a return policy.


If you are going to buy salon-quality hair products from Amazon, check out the Premium Beauty section.

Amazon Premium Beauty "is a curated selection of high-end, luxury beauty products that are available exclusively on Amazon.

The category includes a wide range of products from skincare and makeup to haircare and fragrance."

  • Avoid the temptation of buying from a Facebook group or Marketplace

counterfeit cosmetic product
Can you spot the counterfeit product?

Facebook "deal" groups have been popular for some time now.

The group's moderator sells a variety of products, all for a sweet price.

You might see a deal on knock-off designer handbags, clothing, and shoes.

I'm not going to lie. I've bought some LuLu legging dupes before, but I knew they were fake.

Sometimes, the deal is on a cosmetic that looks exactly like the real product.

These products are not authentic, and you may be okay with that, but are you alright with a contaminated product? Probably not.

I created this side-by-side comparison photo to show you the similar counterfeit cosmetics look to the real cosmetics eye shadow palette.

Notice the top palette, which is fake, has a dull finish to its snakeskin cover.

It also has a different eyeshadow brush Vs the real product, which is on the bottom.

The eyeshadow colors are totally off compared to the authentic colors from the real palette.

The top photo was taken from a private Facebook group that sells deals, while the other photo was taken directly from the brand's website.

This is simply to show you how close the counterfeit businesses are to the real product.


Product diversion is when an unauthorized seller sells a product either online or in-store.

Sellers are able to buy cases of hair products that either have outdated packaging, the product is expired, or the ingredients have been altered.

These big box retailers slap their barcode labels on the side; they are able to jack up the price and throw it on the shelf.

If you have ever bought your favorite hair product from a place other than a salon, and the product's texture was clumpy, it had a funny smell, or it did not perform the way it did before, then it may have expired or been tampered with.

You may have seen your favorite salon shampoo on the shelf of a discount store for a cheaper price.

No matter which place you find these products, if you did not find them on the shelf at your local salon, then you run the risk of buying an expired hair product.

Yes, hair products DO expire!

Authorized retailers, such as local salons, do not sell expired hair products.

Product expiration symbol
Product expiration symbol

Typically, an expiration symbol that looks like a small jar or container is on the bottle's backside of the hair product.

The symbol will have some numbers (12m, 18m, 24m). Those numbers indicate how many months you can use the product after opening it.

These labels are printed directly on the bottle and not on a peel-off sticker.


Simple! Be a smart buyer and only buy hair products or skincare from your local salon or an authorized retailer.

That way, you know you're buying the real deal.

I like high-quality cosmetics and clothing as much as the next girl.

I have a collection of Chanel perfume, Nike AirMax and my makeup collection may reach upwards of a couple grand.

You can also say that I have a slight obsession with hair products and hair tools but hey!

It's part of my job!

I started Cosmetology school because I wanted to be a makeup artist, but I changed my mind once I was introduced to hair.

Buyers should be smart with their money and try not to get scammed by illegal cosmetic companies.

You work hard for your money, and you deserve to spend it on what you want.

Just don't be fooled into thinking something is too good to be true.

Did you like this article? Leave me a comment below and tell me what you think!

Hey friend!

Lindsey Nelson blog for cosmetologists
Lindsey Nelson

My name is Lindsey, and I have been a hairstylist for nearly twenty years, and I am a beauty blogger.

I love to educate my readers not only on how to build a beauty business but also teach them the current trends and the latest news in the beauty industry.

I have honest reviews on hair products, hair tools, and cosmetics and I give you my honest opinion.

I've been in the industry for a while now, so I'd like to say I know a thing or two!

If you found this article valuable, I'd appreciate it if you would share it with someone who would find it as valuable as you do!

Like or leave me a comment!


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