Fake Makeup: Why (And How) To Avoid Counterfeit Cosmetics

how to avoid fake makeup
9 min reading time

We all know about fake designer handbags, but makeup dupes are plaguing the beauty industry at an alarming rate with harmful implications. While they can cost a fraction of real ones, read on to find out why it’s not a great idea to buy fake-up. 

With an estimated market value of $140 billion worldwide, the cosmetics industry is making a lot of bank. When there’s this much potential, a knockoff sub-industry is bound to trail hot on its heels. There are plenty of reasons not to buy fake products, such as health risks and supporting counterfeiters, but popular makeup brands are still being duped. And unfortunately, the worst part is that people still buy it. Big named products – especially ones that have reached worldwide status – are the most common options to fake, due to the high demand for them.

Counterfeit makeup has been the bane of the beauty market’s existence for a long time, and its presence is still stronger than ever. The bigger the brand, the more of its knockoff counterparts will emerge. Names like MAC, Kylie Cosmetics, and Urban Decay are popular ones to fake, with many unauthorized sellers carrying their dupes. In fact, MAC has their very own division in the company just to specifically fight off fraud.

Beauty products are designed to make you feel good – inside and out. The last thing you want is to use fake makeup that can lead to skin problems and to feel bad about purchasing from an unlawful business. To avoid any of the above, it’s helpful to get acquainted with the dark underbelly of the industry, from how it gets produced to spotting a fake from the real deal.

How Counterfeit Makeup Exists

In 2020, the cosmetics industry was estimated to have lost a total of $5.5 billion due to sales of replica and counterfeit goods on the black market. That’s an impactful loss considering how much brands in this space are able make on a yearly basis. E-commerce has its fair share of advantages, but the ease of transactions online drives the popularity of purchasing counterfeits. On top of that, some women value owning certain products from luxury brands just for the name it carries, even if it means buying a knockoff.   

Legitimate makeup brands oversee and regulate their cosmetics before releasing them to the public, but sham companies won’t. In the US, the FDA doesn’t even have the authority to preapprove products prior to hitting the shelves. These are also the reasons how this sub-industry thrives without getting caught. When there is little to no regulation, it’s up to the consumers to ensure they’re not buying counterfeit cosmetics through thorough research.

How To Spot Fake Makeup 

While the point of fake products is to look exactly like the real thing, most of them can fail to pass the test. Here are the key things to look out for if you suspect the product that you purchased is a dupe.


A product’s packaging is the most obvious and first point of contact when exposing its authenticity. If you’ve previously bought the same product from the brand, you can play a game of spot the difference to see if everything lines up exactly the same. If you haven’t, you can always compare it to an image from their official website. Stay away from the product if the stickers or labels use a different font. 

Color can also differ, however some products can come up with ‘limited edition’ versions, which means the same product can come in a slightly different design. If this is the case, double check the authenticity on the manufacturer’s website or in a major famous retail store. Lastly, avoid it if it doesn’t even include a full ingredient list somewhere on the packaging!


The next thing you can determine if a product is counterfeit, is its weight. Counterfeiters tend not to bother using high-quality materials if it means that they can cut costs, which results in flimsy and lightweight products. For instance, this blogger was able to tell that her They’re Real Benefit mascara was a dupe, as it felt light and insubstantial. However, take this tip with a grain of salt, as there are products that are meant to be light. This could be clearer to spot if you’ve bought the product before, but you can read some reviews online or compare it to an in-store product if you’re not sure. 


Counterfeit makeup, whether it’s eyeshadow, mascara, blushes or lipstick, are almost always made up of cheaper formulas. This is quite easy to tell if you have a general idea on how a good quality product should feel like. To do this, swatch the product on a small patch of skin before using it fully. This process allows you to test for potential reactions from the product and you can also feel for its consistency. For instance, eyeshadows can feel chalkier and thinner. It also pays to give it a good whiff, too – nuances of an overly chemical scent are a bad sign. 

A good example is MAC lipsticks, as fake ones are easy to spot due to their unique manufacturing: the real lipsticks are smooth all the way around, rather than having two lipstick halves stuck together. This technique is costly to do and counterfeiters won’t mimic this. 


It’s no secret that we all love a good sale, which is how we can sometimes get into these sticky situations of buying counterfeit products. Just remember that more of the luxury brands often have their products at a similar price point everywhere you look. A good point of reference are legit retail stores like Sephora or Ulta. If the prices differ greatly from their prices, you may want to thoroughly check their authenticity. 

If you were able to find a very good deal, it’s probably best to listen to your conscience as it’s probably too good to be true. There isn’t a discount or sale that’s worth giving you trouble!

Dangers of Using Fake Makeup

Apart from supporting counterfeit products, you are also exposing yourself to some health risks. Fake makeup can contain dangerous chemicals to replicate the real deal at a low cost. These products can contain lead, arsenic, mercury and other unknown substances that can lead to serious issues. 

Not only do they cause skin problems, but many of these bootleg operations produce their makeup in unsanitary conditions, which means the products are full of unwanted bacteria. The combination of these can give you rashes, infections, and permanent scarring. Additionally, reactions won’t show up instantly and can take days, which means you can be applying dangerous makeup without even realizing.  

How To Buy Makeup Online Safely 

With the exception of markets and the like, it’s more likely that you’ll be purchasing a fake makeup product online. Unless you’re shopping from major retail locations, it can be trickier to avoid fakes from marketplace sites like eBay or Amazon. 

Here are a few tips on how to get the real deal. 

  • Grammatically incorrect ads. When the ad has a scarily amount of spelling mistakes or grammatical errors, it’s a clear sign to be extra careful. It’s possible that the person who created the ad was time-poor and wasn’t able to spellcheck, but if the ad reads like it doesn’t make much sense, you may want to think twice about purchasing from them. 
  • Unexplainable price discount. Does the seller mention anything about why they’re selling a real product for much less? If there’s no real good reason for its low price, it’s an indication that it’s fake. If you know that the product is being sold at a similar price elsewhere, make sure to ask the seller about their magical price. 
  • Genuine is key. If you see the word ‘genuine’ anywhere on the ad, you could be in luck. But, it’s very easy to lie online and claiming something as genuine doesn’t necessarily mean it’s legit. However, if it does say that it is – and it actually isn’t when you receive the product – you would be entitled to receive a refund from most site policies if the product was not as described.
  • Positive feedback. Like with most purchases online, reading through reviews is important. If the seller has mostly positive feedback – around 95% and above – then you could be dealing with a real product. If they’ve sold fake goods in the past, the chances of someone leaving an honest review about it are high. 
  • Do some research. Before checking out, do a little digging on the product you’re interested in. Compare the photos from the ad with official images from the brand’s website, check ingredients list, as well as prices from other seller and stores. When you know all there is to know about the makeup you want, there’ll be no fooling you.
  • Don’t judge by its photos. Make sure you’ve seen exactly what it is you’re going to buy. You’ll feel more confident with your purchase when you’ve seen real images rather than stock images from the brand’s website. This is especially important for secondhand or lightly used products, as the seller must disclose any faults.   

Final Thoughts

At this moment, fake makeup will still continue to exist as long as real makeup is still being produced. It’s tough to stop it in its tracks, but consumers are at the heart of the solution. When the demand for counterfeit makeup is eliminated, then supply will be addressed. An easy way to do this is to always buy from authorized sellers, no matter how tempting a sale might be. Don’t encourage purchasing from dodgy retailers and this small act can help phase out their products.

While brands are doing their part in protecting their products from being counterfeited by copyright and trademark rights, consumers have a big role to play in either diminishing or exacerbating the issue. It might be cool to have a sold-out, yet fake, Kylie Lip Kit in your purse, but purchasing real makeup at their real prices will seem like the better option compared to sky-rocketing doctor bills for treating bad reactions. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to determine what’s more important: your skin or the name printed on your makeup?

Download our free swap guide.
A cheatsheet of 50+ clean alternatives for your whole house. 
Thank you for subscribing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *