Here at Bob Cut, it’s clear that we love makeup. I mean we just did our Big Beauty Edit, if you haven’t noticed. (Living under a rock much?)
If you’re like most people, you’ve bought some makeup off Amazon. The obsession with Prime is hella real. But maybe that isn’t all too smart—a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that some products on Amazon were found to be counterfeit. Among the products they tested, they found that some cosmetics contained toxic chemicals dangerous to consumers. How scary is that? It made us give our makeup stash some major side-eye.
So get to the bottom of this, we went to Kelly McCarthy, partner at Sideman & Bancroft, an intellectual property and brand protection firm based in San Francisco. They partner with major beauty brands like Fenty Beauty and Kat Von D Beauty to protect consumers from counterfeit products. We asked them our most pressing questions, and they laid down their expertise on what you really need to know about counterfeit products. Here at the top six things you need to know about counterfeit cosmetics.
1. The top counterfeit products are things that you use every day.
The GAO report found a variety of products that were counterfeit—cosmetics, chargers, and mugs—oh my! Wizard of Oz references aside, this is serious business.
Kelly McCarthy of Sideman and Bancroft said, “I don't think there is a limit of types of counterfeit products one can find on Amazon and the other marketplaces, but household products, sporting goods, personal care products, and personal electronics/power products are definitely some of the top categories.”
2. Beauty products are high up on that counterfeits list
Sadly, the beauty industry is ripe with counterfeits—we all know that you have to shell out a pretty penny for our favorite goods. It’s best to just suck it up and be sure you’re buying what you intended, though.
“Customers like the prices of the fake products and the convenience of buying them from the online marketplaces. High-quality cosmetics have high-quality ingredients so someone wants a lip gloss that retails for $35 and they find it online for $15, that is a big plus,” said McCarthy. “However, authentic products are rarely available at that deep of a discount so when you find products at too good to be true prices, 99.9% of the time, that’s what they are.”
3. Okay, does this really matter? I’m just trying to save a little money…
We feel you. It’s always exciting when you find a bargain of your fave foundation or eyeliner. But you should just steer clear and be sure you’re really getting what you think you are. “Counterfeit products can often be physically harmful, they present significant health and safety risks,” said McCarthy. Um, yikes. Maybe skipping my fourth large iced coffee of the day is a better way to save some long green. I’d rather have my face intact, thank you very much.
4. And to up the ante, it doesn’t stop at beauty products
“Outside of cosmetics, counterfeit products can be found in cars, airplanes and other mission-critical products,”said McCarthy. “It is not a small problem and every successful sale of a counterfeit product erodes the trust that consumers have in specific brands and the market in general.”
Well, that’s really terrifying. And just where does all that money from counterfeit sales go?
“The counterfeit market fuels organized crime and terrorist organizations. Counterfeit manufacturers often exploit the poor in the most impoverished countries in the world by engaging in child labor and human trafficking practices,” McCarthy told Bob Cut. “Modern, ethical consumers should be very concerned with where their money is going and what it is being used to fund.”
We couldn’t have said it any better. Part of being a good consumer is to try to purchase ethically made and sourced products if you can—it’s important to know what you’re buying and where it’s coming from. We’re not trying to preach here, we’re all in the same boat. Most of us are a bit guilty of not giving too much thought about where things come from. It’s something we should all make more of a conscious effort to be improve in our shopping habits in general, no?
5. Okay, so how do I avoid all this counterfeit product?
McCarthy says there are a few easy ways to do this. You should avoid third-party or unauthorized retailers. To be super sure, you should contact the company and find out who they’re authorized retailers are. If you want a foolproof method, you should shop directly through the brand or go old-school and head to a store. It’s not as easy as hitting checkout on your cart, but it’s worth the extra effort.
6. Shouldn’t the companies themselves try and stop this?
So this is frustrating, we know. It’s concerning to hear that we all could have been so easily duped into buying something counterfeit. But, worry not, because the companies are trying to fix this ASAP. But, these types of things take some time, since the undertaking is so large.
“These brands devote significant resources to protecting their reputation and keeping their customers safe,”explained McCarthy. “It is a huge job, one that largely falls on the brands' shoulders to educate the consumer and also to find and remove counterfeits.”
“These companies are regularly patrolling online marketplaces and filing thousands of individual takedown requests, they work with the US customs office to seize counterfeits entering the country and they track and target individual counterfeiters in the US and the manufacturing source countries in Asia and elsewhere,” he added. “Most brands will have information available on their websites about authorized sellers and how to best find authentic products.”
With an industry so large, it’s really difficult to be 100% sure that every counterfeit product has been eliminated. Companies are doing the best they can, but as online shopping grows more and more vast, it’s up to us as consumers to be vigilant and ensure that what we’re buying is actually what we’ve intended. Shop safe, y’all.
Sanica Apte is a writer and a news and politics junkie living in the Bay Area. A former Bostonian and Florida-native, she got her start in the creative world on Boston University's student-run TV station, producing an Emmy award-winning news show called On That Point. Previous to that, Sanica interned for PBS Boston and NBC Boston. In her spare time, she's a full-time cat lover and is slowly eating her way through all the good food the Bay Area has to offer.