Harriet: Replicas are not bargains

I see a lot of knock-off makeup being sold on Walk in Wardrobe and places like that, and what confuses me is that a lot of people don’t seem too worried about paying $40 for a fake Naked palette, or $15 for a fake MAC lipstick. Obviously people can spend their money however they want but that’s a fair amount of money for something that’s not what it’s pretending to be. I thought I’d look into the whole thing a bit.

L-R Morange, Vegas Volt, Ravishing, Nicki 2

To my mind, the biggest problem with imitation products is that the manufacturer doesn’t owe you anything. When you buy from MAC or Urban Decay or whoever, their brand’s reputation depends on the product being both high quality and safe. Developing a product doesn’t just mean getting the colour and consistency right – brands spend a lot of money making sure their formulas aren’t going to irritate your skin. Someone making a product that’s meant to look like that of an established brand isn’t taking this risk, as the name they’re associated with is not their own. When you’re putting something on your skin, by your eyes and mouth, safety is a very real concern. Not to be too alarmist, but here Lauren Curtis tells a story about someone going blind in one eye from a fake Benefit mascara. It just isn’t worth the risk.

Alongside concerns about safety is the question of animal testing. I do my best not to buy from companies that test on animals, though of course that becomes a bit trickier when you start thinking about parent companies. With replicas, there is absolutely no way of knowing how the product was tested, and so you may well be funding animal testing. I remember reading in Marie Claire a few years ago that counterfeit designer bags often fund some extremely sketchy groups, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if makeup was the same. Replica makeup is business, but it’s also crime. I know that I don’t feel comfortable giving money to people who are ripping off the real manufacturers of a product.

The best way to make sure you’re buying an authentic product is to get it from a registered retailer. MAC in particular are very concerned with their brand integrity, and because of that the only place you’re going to find legit MAC product is in one of their stores or counters. When ilovebeauty started selling MAC, Morgan and I were both pretty skeptical about its authenticity and so she wrote to MAC asking for a bit of clarification. Here’s their response (click to embiggen):

As a brand, they’re not happy with sites like ilovebeauty and nzsale selling products that may or may not be authentic. I’d have to wonder where these companies are sourcing their stock, as the MAC website states that they don’t do wholesale outside of their company. MAC has a really strong brand identity, which means they don’t discount (other than for Pro members) and they destroy their end-of-line stock rather than sell it on. They manufacture almost entirely in Canada, though my Mineralise Skinfinish is marked Made in Italy. Italy isn’t China though, so any discount stock that is meant to have been procured at a factory in China is guaranteed to be fake. The company actively solicits information about possible counterfeiting, so I think it’s fair to say that if you’re not buying from MAC, you’re not getting the real deal. The same goes for other commonly counterfeited brands like Urban Decay – buy from Sephora, buy from the company’s own website, buy from Nordstrom, buy from BeautyBay.  Look for big names and check that they’re registered sellers. Each brand will have a list of their retailers available on their website. More generally, look for a well-designed website, as this indicates a level of professionalism which should correspond with legit products. Absolutely nothing you buy from aliexpress is going to be authentic. Sorry.

If you’re buying secondhand, it’s a bit more complicated again. Nicola May of Blush Baby is also the admin of Walk in Wardrobe – Authentic Cosmetics and if you’re in New Zealand that’s a great place to find some reasonably priced authentic products. Nicola runs a pretty tight ship, and I’ve never seen anyone selling fakes on her page. If you’re buying from trademe or another auction site, look for sellers with good feedback and lots of pictures. You want to be able to examine the item from as many angles as possible. Something I do personally is only ever buy from a seller who seems to be an independent person having a clear out, rather than someone with a number of the same product. That might be overly cautious, but I feel suspicious of someone with heaps of the same thing to sell. Why did they get them all? It just seems sketchy to me.

Your best defence when buying from a non-registered seller is a very detailed knowledge of what it should look like. In comparisons between real and fake products, the difference in quality is uniformly huge. Here the fake Naked2 has half full pans, flimsy packaging and chalky shadows. This blogger noticed that the fake MAC lipstick she looked at had a weird plastic-y smell, and again that the quality wasn’t up to scratch. I’ve always been really careful about buying legit products, but here that’s a bit of a pain as I don’t have any fakes to show comparisons with! The biggest things to look out for though, are smell, appearance of the product, quality of the packaging, and serial numbers.

Here you will see my Naked2. The typeface stands out a little from the body of the case, and it’s satisfyingly heavy in your hand. It clicks shut securely, its joins are tidy, and in general it feels like a well made, quality product.

Once it’s open you can see that the shadows are all uniformly full, and the mirror is clear and not distorted. This is as far back as the lid goes, and it will stay there if it’s set flat on a surface. The brush is excellent and the bristles are soft and not blown out.

A little closer up and you can see that NAKED2 is printed on the brush handle, and the font of the colour names. Often the differences between legit and counterfeit product will be really minor, so it’s important to pay really close attention. This fake Naked Skin packaging has gotten it very nearly right, and apart from the lack of sticker on the bottom of the bottle, I think I’d find it pretty hard to pick. Counterfeiters are getting pretty sneaky these days.

Here’s the back of my Naked2. I’ve included this to show you where the batch number should be – mine says A296. If the palette you’re looking at doesn’t have one, it’s not real Urban Decay.

MAC lipsticks have all their product information printed on the base of the tube. In the middle you’ll have the formula (Cremesheen, Amplified, or whatever) and the name of the colour itself (Morange, Ravishing, etc). Underneath this is the batch number, the last number of which corresponds to the year it was made. For example, my tube of Heroine is from batch A13 because it was made this year. Morange, in the photo above, is from batch B62 because it was made in 2012. The second post in this thread explains more about what the batch numbers mean. The full text around the edge of the sticker reads “MAKE-UP ART COSMETICS TORONTO LONDON WIK 3BO MADE IN CANADA M2LP.” These last four letters vary – my Creme Cup says MCF3 – but the rest of it should be exactly the same, or you’re not looking at a real MAC lipstick.

The other site to keep in mind is Check Cosmetics, which as the name suggests, lets you check the expiry dates of products based on their batch codes. This is important, as discount retailers will often sell expired stock at a lower price, having purchased it very very cheaply themselves, Morgan saw a foundation at a cosmetics sale today that she remembers being discontinued in 2008, and it was still for sale. I really, really do not want to rub five year old gunk into my face. If that foundation was human, it could probably write its own name and read simple sentences. Not into it.

Overall I would say that if something feels too good to be true, it is. Authentic mid and high end cosmetics aren’t cheap, and are rarely discounted.  A better bet than counterfeit goods is just buying from more affordable brands. Drugstore cosmetics have really upped their quality in the last few years, so cheap doesn’t have to mean a sub-par product. NYX do heaps of fantastic items, and they are completely cruelty free. Jordana Best Lash is one of the best mascaras I’ve ever used, and you can literally buy it from the $2 shop. The Bourjois Healthy Mix Serum foundation is out of stock on ASOS right now, but it’s one of my absolute favourite foundations and it’s $23.  I completely understand wanting nicer things than you can possibly afford – I’ve been studying and working minimum wage for the past four years – but the way to deal with that isn’t to buy fakes. Telling the difference can be tricky, but it’s worth it to not waste money on who knows what.

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  • Great post! I completely agree. With brands like Mac, Nars (anyone else who gets copied) you are paying for quality and premium products. There’s a reason these products are rarely discounted. So if you’re buying from these brands at the ever-popular makeup sales or on dodgy websites then you put yourself at risk. Rimmel is another great brand for drugstore products too and Bourjois!

    S x

    • Totally, there’s just no reason to buy counterfeit when more affordable brands are doing so well now! The Rimmel BB cream is really really great, I just bought a backup when ASOS had that 20% off beauty and it was I think $7. So good.

      Glad you enjoyed x

  • Love this post. I was stupid and sucked in when grabone had their mystery mac bag for $50. I was so disappointed with all the products and thought poorly of mac. Now that I own real mac, I am 100% sure the grabone products are fake and am kicking myself that I wasted $50 on that. Never again.

    • Ugh what a bummer! So irresponsible of sellers. Did you ever hit them up about it?

      • I never bothered. Some many girls said they were real and went into mac stores but I am highly doubtful of it. Moral of the story, if its too good too be true then it probably is.

  • Amelia

    I recently bought Revlon foundation from NZsale.co.nz I thought the website looked reliable and now I’m not so sure. I haven’t received the foundation yet but I have legitimate Revlon foundation which I could compare it to. I’m just wondering what is your opinion on Strawberrynet.com ?

    • Yeah hard to say with Revlon, I don’t even know if it gets counterfeited because it’s relatively affordable in the States.

      I have heard such mixed reviews about strawberrynet! It looks dicey to me but I’ve looked at perfumes bought off there and they seem legit. There’s a Bvlgari one on there I want and it’s only $58…but yeah I don’t know if I want to take the risk.

    • To throw in my two cents, I know people have received fake MAC from there before, but I think most of the time their products are just deadstock, so they’re old and discontinued lines that regular retailers won’t stock anymore. That’s probably the case with NZsale too!

  • Claire

    Great post! Tangentially, have you been able to source the Bourjois healthy mix serum elsewhere?

    • I actually got my other bottle when a friend went to London so I’m not too sure. Could always do a boots/superdrug youshop order? They have a UK service now too!