How to avoid wasting your money on fake makeup

“Ma’am, ito po bago, Naked 5. Authentic po. Three hundred lang.”

My vanity had a space reserved for a Naked palette when this happened and my mother knew it. She excitedly pulled me aside and asked if I wanted one. I smiled at the vendor as I steered my mom away from the stall. “Fake ‘yun, Ma. Hanggang Naked 3 pa lang ang meron.” As her expression turned into a look of horror, I realized that many others who aren’t all that familiar with makeup can easily fall prey to the growing number of “Class AA” sellers that show up both online and in every tiangge.

I frequent so many online stores and bazaars that this line no longer surprises me. Be it the eighth Naked palette or the non-existent Anastasia Beverly Hills Paddle brush, these sketchy merchants now also claim to have “newer” items compared to what’s actually being offered by the brand. And it’s scary because if you’re new to the makeup world or unaware of what a brand’s offerings actually are, you can be taken advantage of and end up with a bunch of questionable products.

The core issue

Makeup can be quite expensive, especially if you’re springing for international cult favorites. As advertisements and social media drive up the hype for these products, people get curious to try the trend themselves. Only a few can actually afford to spend on every new shiny thing they spot their favorite celebs wearing though, so if you’re on a tight budget and eager to get yourself that product, it’s understandable to be tempted by an exact replica that’s priced only 5% of the original.

Counterfeiting is an illegal activity so we do strongly advise against patronizing these products and sellers. Though you’re not likely to get into legal trouble for buying these goods, you endanger your own health and shortchange the economy by not supporting legal businesses. If you’re buying online and unsure if the product you want is legit, here are a few things that you should watch out for.

Check the seller

I love the ease that online shopping gives: I can shop at any time, compare prices, check for reviews, and don’t have to deal with the traffic going to the mall, long lines at the cashier, or pushy sales personnel. On the flipside, shady sellers can easily concoct comments of “satisfied” buyers and it’s pretty hard to tell if they’re lying behind their computer screens. They can steal photos of the real products of other websites, and spin stories about how a relative has just come home from abroad or how someone they know works near where the products are manufactured and bought the overruns.

No one is doing a quality check on these goods and since they can take shortcuts on the production, they can be cheaply produced using subpar or even toxic ingredients that can harm the end users. A legit seller wouldn’t chance ruining their reputation by sending potentially dangerous products to their customers. One bad experience, shared on social media, can undo their hard work. Stick to buying from sellers with verified positive feedback or online stores with established reputations.

Learn the lingo

While there are shops that clearly state their products as fakes, some deliberately mislead people with buzz words. Some of the most popular terms include:

  • US-authentic
  • Singapore-authentic
  • Hong Kong-authentic
  • Factory overrun
  • Class A
  • Triple-A Grade Replica
  • Factory wholesale

A brand would NOT issue country-specific versions of their products so cross that off your list. And if the manufacturers are making so many “overruns” that claim to simply be mislabeled or slightly damaged, the makeup brand would probably stop working with that company for making so many mistakes! And there’s certainly no way they’d allow for these rejects to be sold on the market in competition with the original product. Both the brand and its manufacturer would lose money in the long run.

Some products are sold with no other description besides “100% authentic” and there’s simply no way for the seller to actually prove this, short of having the brand itself vet the items. Other sellers offer special “promos” such as a set of two Kylie lip kits, an Anastasia brow pomade, and a MAC foundation for only P500. If their products are truly the real thing, why would they be selling them for just a teeny tiny fraction of how much it actually costs?

Pre-ordering is another common practice that I see in online makeup stores and it can also be another marketing ploy for unsuspecting buyers. This is even more tricky as buyers have no guarantee that their orders will actually arrive, or that the products that they do receive are the real deal.

Protect yourself by researching on the product you want as thoroughly as possible, and avoiding items that make questionable claims. Don’t get swayed by the extremely cheap prices of these promos. As for pre-ordering, it’s better (and safer) to simply gather your friends' orders and compile them as a single order so you can save on shipping! There are services like Shipping Cart and Johnny Air that can provide you a US address where the retailer can ship the products, then have the service ship to the PH.

Listen to your gut

I’ve sold a lot of my makeup on OLX, Instagram and even Shopee, so I have encountered numerous buyers sending me messages like, “Is this authentic?” and “Where was this item purchased?” Although they can sound a bit rude (especially ones that are curt and don’t bother with a “Hello” or “Thank you”), messaging the seller for additional info is good practice for anybody who’s buying online. Ask about anything that can help you ensure the authenticity of the item but be nice about it. Reading on FDA advisories on cosmetics may also be of help as they update on new counterfeit items that are flocking the market. When in doubt, follow this rule: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Many beauty gurus can often tell the fakes apart from the real ones and share their tips about spotting the differences but it gets harder and harder as the copycats improve on their counterfeiting skills. Additionally, some sellers actually do price their products close to the real ones, which makes it easier for the buyer to believe they are authentic. If that's the case, we recommend just buying from the store of the official distributor instead to be 100% sure you're getting the real thing. What's a few hundred bucks for your peace of mind?

Should you still end up receiving a counterfeit item after all the precautions you took, contact the seller immediately. They may not have been aware that their items were fakes, and should offer to at least refund your money. As for the fake product itself, skip giving these a try! Better to be safe than to have to pay for the possible consequences afterwards.

Do you buy cosmetics from online stores? How do you avoid buying fakes? 

PS Just to clarify, the header image contains only authentic cosmetics. These products are the most commonly counterfeited ones though.