For many of us, beauty, especially makeup, is more than just a passing interest. Mine is deeply rooted in both memory and tradition. From a corner bench, I watched my mother’s daily ritual of primping, captivated by shiny lipstick tubes and fluffy brushes. For me, beauty is a key part of what it means to be female, and never once have I considered it a chore, an obligation, or a means to pretend I am something I am not. It was, and still is, a pleasure I give myself without reservation or apology.

As the years have passed, and my budget has grown, I’ve ventured into the land of high end cosmetics, if only to see if there really is a difference. But that quest comes with a price tag. A steep one at that, so I look for bargains just like everyone else. But growing up in Southern California has made me hyper-aware of one distasteful aspect of the beauty industry: counterfeiting. And with a thriving outdoor market culture, finding bogus beauty doesn’t take a lot of effort or investigative skill…and, hence, the allure of “buying in” instead of “buying smart.”

A Thriving Business – Counterfeit makeup is big business. Consider The Estée Lauder Companies, which own Aveda, Bobbi Brown, Clinique, Estée Lauder, La Mer, M.A.C., and Tom Ford Beauty among others. In 2016, “governments made more than 1,500 seizures of fake Estée Lauder products, totaling more than 2.8 million items, most of them M.A.C. makeup.” And the financial loss isn’t the only factor. With easy access to review sites, consumers can post reviews, both glowing and scathing, and those negative reviews (often the result of getting duped) substantially damage a brand’s reputation. But what about the consumer with the bogus product? How bad can knock-offs really be?

Serious Big-Time Bad Ingredients – Look on eBay, and you’ll find popular brand name makeup (M.A.C., Kylie Cosmetics, Too Faced, Anastasia Beverly Hills, etc.) for pennies on the dollar. We’d all like to think that these sellers have an in with someone in the industry and are selflessly working to clear inventory while giving us all a great deal. Well…the old adage is true: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” And since we’re talking about our faces (which inevitably absorb anything we put on them), ingredients matter. According to an FBI report, “Phony cosmetics often contain things such as arsenic, beryllium, and cadmium (all known carcinogens) along with high levels of aluminum and dangerous levels of bacteria. Some of these products have caused conditions like acne, psoriasis, rashes, and eye infections.” No one should sacrifice their personal well-being for a bargain blush.

Shopping Safe Means Shopping Smart – The simplest way to avoid a counterfeit item is to buy directly from the brand itself. We all love Sephora, which is a reputable authorized retailer and a safe source, but brands often offer better sales directly to their loyal customers, so sign up for their emails and newsletters to stay in the bargain loop. Beyond that, follow these tips from the FBI:

  • Check that price tag. Unscrupulous sellers will often mark prices slightly lower to give the appearance of authenticity. And if the price is WILDLY less, close your wallet.
  • Scrutinize the packaging. If the lettering looks off or the package color deviates from the norm, walk away.
  • Be wary of limited edition labeling…especially if your favorite brand doesn’t typically have limited offerings (or collaborations).

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Being brand loyal means being informed. Occasionally, we all buy something that doesn’t work out, which is one final reason to shop in reputable locations that also have a solid return policy. You only have one face. Don’t risk injuring it for the sake of a bargain.

[Article first appeared in The Beo Club app. Reprinted with permission.]