There is a proliferation of cheap makeup lines the border on counterfeit cosmetics available on Wish and Ali Express that, in the photos almost look like mainstream, professional ranges, such as those you’d find in Mecca or Sephora.
Like any product, there is a perception that cosmetic products, especially makeup items, made in China are cheap and therefore inferior. But does “Made in PRC” (People’s Republic of China) or “Made In China” make up deserve this reputation? The counterfeit cosmetics trade certainly does.
China has extremely strict laws for European beauty ranges, so any of the brands you commonly see on Aliexpress and Alibaba must, in theory, adhere to these laws and regulations. I’ve had lipglosses produced in China from a reputable manufacturer that I heavily vetted and it was a fraction of the cost of an Australian company with smaller minimum order quantities, and since it was a giveaway I couldn’t afford to go anywhere else.
Aliexpress has endeavoured to stamped out blatant plagiarism, and brands like Beauty Glazed, Focallure, UCANBE, Maria Ayora, Anmor Beauty, Maange and O.TWO.O (there are lots more) offer “replica” or “inspired by” versions of cult products, and from my experience, are loosely comparable, with cheaper packaging. The colours are pigmented but vary widely from the original. In one case, though, I found, the replica was easier to use than the original.
Counterfeit cosmetics: “Inspired by” and “replica”?
I don’t have a problem with a brand almost copying a product. It happens in fashion all the time. Not everyone can afford couture, some of us go to places like Zara or Top Shop who offer more affordable, loose versions of catwalk originals. I do have a problem when it is produced by a dodgy, dirty lab with cheap ingredients that aren’t regulated.
Take the case of Michael Kors. His bags are inspired by all the top line handbags, yet are still quality and are still costly, but they are nowhere near the original design. He changes just enough not to plagiarise, but we all know where the idea is from. I personally would rather buy an original design from a lesser-known brand, that carry a Michael Kors that is an expensive replica.
On sites like AliExpress there are key makeup brands selling very similar products to cult products, and while the brands don’t mention the original inspiration, but it’s easy to spot. They are not pretending to be the product, they are offering a cheaper option for those to whom the original is price prohibitive.
The Chinese branded product is made in a regulated factory (or else Alibaba would not allow them to be sold as they have clamped down on fakes and are also subject to export regulations) and are also must follow rigid testing requirements and a very strict list of banned ingredients, and the high level of licensing and regulations to be licensed with the CFDA Ithe Chinese regulatory board for beauty products).
As far as I can tell from my knowledge of the FDA and the TGA here in Australia, and what I have read, the guidelines are similar, apart from the animal testing component. Any product being sold in China, must have been tested on animals, but products being exported and not sold in China do not have this requirement.
This means that products from the known larger brands coming out of China would be strictly regulated and licensed to produce cosmetics on any scale, out in the open. Or so one would hope.
Counterfeit Makeup and Skin Care
I recently purchased some products on AliExpress, that were branded as Fenty By Rhianna. Now I know that this is a fake. But there are many people that would take the site at it’s word. AliExpress is very strict about counterfeit products. The product could not be more different in quality from the real deal. The palette below is supposed to be encased in a holographic palette cover, with a foil stamped logo and the colours inside are glittery and duochrome in the real thing. What I got was this:
As you can see from the above, the fake shadow pans are approximately the correct colours when you open the palette, but when you scratch a little deeper they are different colours. The quality of colour and richness of pigment just isn’t there and I have no idea of the ingredients because they have copied the Fenty ingredient list. The fake is all crooked and frankly I am scared to put these on my face because I don’t know what the fakes have put into the eye shadows.
Safety Issues with Counterfeit Cosmetics
Because counterfeit cosmetics are made in underground labs, there is little to no regulation or safety. It’s just impossible to police the market is so widespread.
According to Mashable:
“Mercury, lead, arsenic, cyanide and even human urine and rat droppings are often found in counterfeit cosmetics made in China. The level of toxins in some of these products have led to severe allergic reactions including skin rashes and burns, disfigurement and long-term health problems such as high blood pressure and infertility.“Mashable
Because counterfeit products are clandestine and therefore cannot be regulated, there is every chance they contain banned, harmful metals and contaminants. I don’t know who has produced this, because all the information on the box is fake. The palette was $17 in AliExpress which is a case of ‘too good to be true’, but it is still $17 that I wish I hadn’t spent.
AliExpress Returns Policy
Luckily for me, Aliexpress has a returns policy for counterfeit products. I’ve also noticed that the product, since I put in the complaint, has been removed from Aliexpress. There are still fakes, but not from that seller. New sellers pop up each day. I reported it and got my money back. But it was a good exercise in buying fakes.
Ebay Is Also Rife With Counterfeit Cosmetics
As far at the fakes that appear on sites like eBay, you can tell they are fakes because they are significantly cheaper and look too good to be true, and they really are. The difference between a replica or “inspired by” and a fake/counterfeit product is that the fake is pretending to be the real deal, and thus must be clandestine in order to produce and import in any quantity. Like drugs, counterfeit cosmetics are made for the sole purpose of tricking customers and don’t care about brand reputation, loyalty or returning customer. Once they have the consumer’s money that’s it. And that’s the concern I have for fakes. There’s also a tonne of counterfeit cosmetics on Facebook, which tries to police it, but it is so prevalent, it’s difficult to stop,
As long as they look the same to an untrained eye, what’s the harm?
Like fake bags, fake cosmetics are part of a larger problem. Any counterfeiting operation, including fake make up, is different from branded but replica or inspired-by products. Counterfeit makeup cannot be regulated because they are illegal and fly under the radar of Chinese licensing authorities for exporting.
Is it worth taking a risk to have a fake?
The manufacturing process may be compromised, poor hygiene and safety within the lab is also a danger. Ingredient listings are probably fake (with cheap fillers being used, similarly to drugs, to pad out the products, as can the packaging, and the regulation of ingredients, hygiene and safety as well banned substances. All this could present issues with consumer’s health and safety.
If It Looks Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is
So next time you are on eBay and you spot the Jaclyn Hill Morphe Palette for $12 with free shipping, when the original is around $80, ask yourself why and how?
Why Pay More For Known Brands?
If you see the same colours and similar packaging, but not purporting to be the real deal, at $12 with free shipping the why and how is simple. People love the palette, the palette is cheap to produce, but the Chinese brand isn’t paying for advertising, PR and marketing, giveaways, the Influencer collaboration fees, testers, health and safety compliance in reputable labs and a million other things that retail cosmetic brand have to pay for.
A palette copying a famous name product, by an unknown company, is not like Zara, Michael Kors or Top Shop. Most are poor quality, unregulated versions, loosely designed to look like the real thing, but scratch the surface and the pigments are different, you just don’t know what you are putting on your skin. The ingredient lists are often just scanned from the original product, some even say made in USA or Europe.
I hope this is useful when deciding whether to buy “inspired by” (dupes) makeup made in China under and Chinese brand name, or whether you choose out and out fakes on eBay.