PSA: Don’t buy skincare on Amazon

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You may already know about the beauty industry’s growing problem with counterfeit products. Last year, police seized $700,000 worth of counterfeit beauty products in Los Angeles, some of which were found to contain animal waste.

Poop. There was poop in the lipstick.

According to this eye-opening article, “A 2015 report released by the London police department found traces of arsenic, mercury, lead, and rat feces in fake beauty products they’d seized.”

Like me, you may have assumed that these fakes were relatively easy to spot. Just don’t go for random, back-alley sellers offering massive discounts, and you can happily enjoy your poop-free lipstick.

Unfortunately, it’s much, much harder to discern fakes than just avoiding back alleys.

A question that’s often asked on Reddit’s SkincareAddiction subreddit is how to know if a product sold on Amazon is legit. The answer is often to look for the blue Prime checkmark. If it’s Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA), it must be the genuine article, since Amazon is putting its stamp of approval on it.

That’s not how FBA works. That checkmark just means it will get to you in two days; it says nothing about the authenticity of the product. FBA operates warehouses all over the world, where third-party sellers can store their goods for Amazon to ship out directly. This allows Amazon to meet that two-day shipping timeline, by ensuring they have stock nearby, no matter where you’re ordering from.

What truly shocked me is that this stock is not separated by seller. Every unit with the same SKU is stored together, regardless of where it came from, and Amazon just grabs whatever’s at the top of the bin. When a counterfeiter sends its fake ABC Brand Lotion to an FBA warehouse, it gets thrown in with the stock that was sent direct from ABC Brand. That means that you could buy the exact same listing on Amazon twice, and get one real and one fake.

Even buying from Amazon Prime, for the exact same price as the brand’s website, from a listing with thousands of positive reviews, which you’ve bought a hundred times before without a problem, you could still get a counterfeit product.

Ready for the study that really turned my stomach? In 2018, the US Government Accountability Office undertook a study on counterfeit goods. They purchased a variety of branded, seemingly-authentic products from the top e-commerce websites: Amazon, Walmart.com, Sears Marketplace, Newegg, and eBay. Among their purchases were 13 Urban Decay products, which they brought to UD for verification. All 13 were counterfeit.

This issue is not limited to Amazon. Any selling platform that allows third-party sellers is at risk. eBay, Walmart.com, pretty much anything with the word “marketplace” in the title. Discount stores like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s also often sell counterfeit products.

So how do I avoid counterfeits, you may wonder?

Buy from authorized retailers only. Buying directly from the brand is always safe. You can also google “[BRAND NAME] authorized retailers” for a list of places the brand partners with to sell verified merchandise (for example, Sephora or Nordstrom).

It’s one thing to buy a phone case through Amazon. It’s another to buy anything you’re putting on your skin or in your body. So please, when it comes to skincare: authorized retailers only. Because I want to keep your face poop-free.

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