Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ask OutInAPout:
Is it OK to Buy Makeup on eBay?

Ever hear the saying "If it's too good to be true, it probably is"? I have a feeling someone's voice was naggingly repeating this in the back of my friend Erin's mind for a while before she messaged me on Facebook the other day.

Her question:
Hey there! I wanted to ask you for a long time about buying cosmetics on eBay. Do you know anything about it? I've been buying my foundation there for a year now as I only pay $25 there vs the $60 in store. Do you know if that is a bad practice? Like if I am buying expired cosmetics or possibly even stolen? Is that something people in the industry talk about?

I'm just curious and wondered if you had any perspective on it as a professional. :)

My Answer:
Well, eBay cosmetics are tricky. Believe it or not, there are actually people out there who put time and money into manufacturing knock-offs of popular beauty products. In fact, in 2007 cosmetic giant L'Oreal (the parent company that owns, among many others, Lancome, Shu Uemura, Ralph Lauren Fragrance, and Giorgio Armani Beauty) filed suit against eBay for allowing so many counterfeit sales. Another brand popular with counterfeiters is MAC. Take a peek at an item I found just today on the site:
This listing is asking $65 for 120 MAC shadows. This would be a great deal- if the shadows were authentic. Which they're not. The first clue? MAC doesn't even make a product like this! The second tip-off? A search for "120 Palette" (sans the word MAC) produces results for literally thousands of these palettes- priced as low as $3.99! In this case, the "MAC" version is virtually the same product- it's a widely available, but custom-printed, wholesale palette. Not a bad product, BTW (I have one myself) but the fake "MAC" version is overpriced and made to deceive.

So how can you tell real from fake? There are tons of clues, but counterfeiters are getting trickier by the second, so of course, the only way to know for sure that your product is authentic is by shopping in the brand's own retail outlets. Beware of anything labeled "limited edition" unless your familiar enough with the brand to know if it is truly an item that the line produced. Pay attention to packaging also; often with fakes, the font is slightly off, or the printing is spaced oddly. If the boxes in the store are matte black and the ones on eBay are shiny, they're likely fakes. Of course, if the box isn't included at all, that can be another tip-off. Make sure you check out the seller as well. Look at other items the person is selling- if one seems fake, chances are good they all are. Also, be sure to read the seller's detailed feedback, instead of just looking at the number- the seller that listed the counterfeit MAC palette shown above had 100% positive feedback, but several buyers noted that the product was not authentic MAC.

Another trick to be aware of is the sample size scam, which is a double edged sword. Of course, not all sample size jars are labeled clearly- so pay attention to make sure you're getting what you pay for. Know the amount that comes in the full sized product, and do the math to make sure you're still getting a deal. The friend that asked me this question was wondering about a specific mineral powder foundation that usually comes in a pressed form. When I checked the eBay listings for the foundation, I saw a lot of "sample" size jars for sale in loose powder form, which presents another red-flag. While these could well be authentic (and would have been a good deal if they were) I myself wouldn't trust it. Frankly, it would be entirely too simple to fill sample jars with cheap loose mineral pigment, or worse- who knows what.

Speaking of "who knows what"- if you've used both versions of a product (one you know is authentic, and one you got on eBay) and they perform the same, then is it really a big deal if it's not the real McCoy? Well, maybe. One benefit to buying authentic product is the transparency in ingredients- you basically know that something you buy from the store (or an accredited online retailer) is safe to put on your face. The danger of fakes- even the ones that look and feel identical to the real product, is that you simply don't know what's in it. Products in US and EU retail markets are rigorously tested for safety, but eBay presents a loophole for fakes that aren't tested and could possibly include harmful ingredients.

So, getting past all of this...let's say it's full size product you've found, that you're reasonably sure its authentic. I'd say that unfortunately, you very well may be buying stolen goods. I worked in the retail beauty arena for a long time, and this is an issue that companies are keenly aware of. Professional shoplifters can wipe thousands of dollars of merchandise off of a shelf in literally in a minute or two- I've seen it happen. When you see a "too good to be true" deal on eBay, ask yourself how the seller could have come by the product so cheaply by honest means. The highest employee discount I've ever heard of in the beauty industry is 60%, and that's just one company- most are only 20-40%. If an item is selling for less on eBay than an employee pays with their discount, chances are, something dishonest is going on.

As far as buying old or expired product on eBay, that's also pretty high likelihood. I've seen skin care and makeup lines for sale on eBay that I know for a fact have been out of production for 3-5 years. In some cases, this may not be much of an issue. Powder based items like eye shadows, powder blush and face powder have almost infinite shelf lives, so old age isn't really a problem. However, emollient based products like moisturizers, foundations, and lipsticks will become rancid in time- expiration dates for such products usually range from 1-3 years, depending on the formulation.

I do feel like I should mention that, in a few cases, buying cosmetics on eBay is the way to go. Some increasingly popular lines, like Ben Nye and Kryolan, do sell through independent retailers. Often the easiest way for these sellers to set up an internet portal is to open an eBay shop. In this situation, eBay is often a cost-effective way of getting a hold of product that may not be widely available in your area. Likewise, if you've become hooked on a brand from another country that isn't available in the US, you may be able to access it through eBay. Keep in mind, foreign products can be counterfeit too, so all of the above rules apply. Also know that there are ingredients used in other countries that may not be deemed safe for use in America (my rule of thumb is that EU is OK- their regulations are generally stricter than ours).

So, when it comes down to it, there are good deals to be had out there, but in most cases- sad but true- if it seems too good to be true, then YES, it probably is. Have any of you bought eBay beauty before? Leave me a comment below with your experiences- we'd all love to hear! As always, if you have a question for me, press the "CLICK HERE to contact me" at the top right side of the page, leave it in the comments, or contact me on Formspring anytime!


RetroUrbanRainbow said...

It is dangerous! When I was a teenager I thought I was buying MAC off eBay, and now I just shake my head at myself. It's so fake!

misscelestia said...

Surprisingly, this is something I've never really considered, which I guess goes to show I always believe in people being honest (of which I know better). Informative post, for sure, and I will proceed with significantly more caution in the future. Great read!

Stephine said...

I've looked at some of the online cosmetics on Ebay and I'd just rather pay full price from the legit website knowing what I'm getting is real. There are just way too many scammers out there and it's pretty sad that most people don't realize that they are paying 'a cheaper price' for something that isn't even the true product.

SilhouetteScreams said...

I never thought about comparing employee discounts with the sales prices on ebay :O great idea.

Sometimes if I'm reallllllly bored I'll go through and report some of those obviously fake 120/88 'MAC' palette listings. But then I wonder if I should even bother, because it's not my fault people are too stupid to do some research.

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