What each cosmetic company would like to sell you is an extremely unique product that is special to their brands. Except, in this day and age, this is virtually impossible. There are only so many certified labs offering their formulation services to companies. If you have been aware of the beauty industry for a while, you may have heard speculation on whether or not some high-end products were identical to their cheaper alternatives. While it can be hard to definitively say for sure that some makeup brands are misleading, it should also be known that the land of dupes is not really so black and white. Sometimes, it really is worth it to get the “real deal”…and sometimes, you might want to save that extra buck.
You may have heard of dupes here and there. In fact, there are whole websites dedicated to scouting dupes for popular, high-end brands. A dupe in the beauty industry is referred to as a product that has a similar formulation, color, or effect as another product also on the market, and usually the price point is a major point of difference between the two.
While a cheaper alternative is not necessary to declare a product as a “dupe” to another, it is often why someone may be searching for the “dupe” of a highly coveted product in the first place. Which leads me to…
Check Out 2021 Year In Review Major Beauty Brand Acquisitions >
Depotting Your Makeup Like a Pro w/ Grishan Roof (under the cover of makeup brands) >
Sometimes you want the luxury or higher cost product simply because you do… because of how it makes you feel when you open it, or look at it, or display it.
Anyone who knows me knows that I splurge on certain things and save on others. However, counterfeits are illegal and are a violation of intellectual property.
Please understand that dupes (in the context of this blog) are not counterfeits. Dupes are just more affordable products that do a similar job or offer a similar look than a more high end brand. However, there are a lot of copycats. Copycats infringe on the trademarks, copyrights, and of course, the hard work others have poured into the industry.
I always try to avoid shopping for dupes that are known knock-offs, mostly from larger brands knocking off smaller ones (I’m looking at you Kylie Cosmetics, Anastasia Beverly Hills, Zucca).
There is NO reason for you to go into debt or charge $60 foundation or a $45 palette to your credit card when you do not have the financial means or security to pay for those items. There are always alternatives and thanks to the Internet, you can easily find a more economical solution to your makeup woes with a simple search.
With the right tools and techniques, you can make drugstore makeup look like a million bucks!
Grab my Essential Tools For Makeup Guide here >
The final word on this? Budget. Stop reloading your Starbucks card. Pack your own lunch. I guarantee that you will NOT be disappointed when you do decide to splurge on that coveted un-dupeable makeup item. Trust me and thank me later.
You may look at major retailers like Sephora and long for the Chanel’s, the YSL’s, Diors, all the luxury beauty products that make it seem so easy to spend $40 for a single tube of lip balm. But in reality, the $40 lipstick may share many of the same ingredients as the $4 one — and if you’re willing to put in the work, you can find a great deal.
Quick Knowledge Check: It is no secret that mega cosmetic conglomerates own multiple brands, ranging from drug-store to luxury. Unless you purchase from very particular indie brands (and even that isn’t completely original), you most likely buy from one of these companies:
What does Maybelline, NYX, Urban Decay, Lancome, YSL, and Giorgio Armani have in common? Despite all being sold at a variety of different price points, they are all under the parent company, L’Oreal Paris.
While it is not necessarily correct to say that all of these brands have the same product wrapped in different packaging…It isn’t necessarily far-fetched to notice some similarities. After all, how many completely unique lipglosses can one company create? In the beauty industry, it is true that people do generally have brand loyalty. If you try one thing and end up enjoying its application, you’re more likely to buy whole collections. Many people do have comfort brands that they know they can rely on, or at the very least find comfort in brands that have name-power. Sometimes the prestige of the label is what you are paying for, much like when you buy from Hermes or Louis Vuitton, even though the red-bottomed shoe isn’t really that much different aesthetically than any pair of stilettos (aside from the power that red-bottom may contain).
It is incredibly difficult to justify spending over $20 on a product that essentially is of the same quality as a $5 one, just without the frills, fluff, and packaging. On top of that, if you followed my spring cleaning blog post, then you should know that there are many products that are simply not shelf-stable for a long time. Many products expire in 3 to 6 months! While one may think that dupes are just for cheap people, I truly think it is simply a shift in consumer mindset:
It’s no wonder why the L’Oreal Lumi foundation is such a popular dupe for the Giorgio Armani… they are in the same brand family. Also, Estee Lauder and MAC foundations are cult favorites of makeup artists and have strikingly similar characteristics. Interestingly, Revlon ColorStay is the widely-known dupe for MAC foundation. Not in the same brand family. Just saying.
What I’m getting at is to know your brand connection! First your budget should dictate what you buy, not the price of a particular item. Knowing who is who and what is what it a big part of whether or not you buy a dupe. But, it’s important to keep in mind that the business of makeup is always changing. Companies are constantly being bought and sold, so you will want to do your own research.
For example, I did not know until I wrote this post that Cle de Peau (a celeb fave foundation and concealer) fell under Shiseido. Do I want to spend $100+ on Cle de Peau foundation or concealer? Heck no! But guess what, I love NARS concealers. Coincidence? I think not.
Maybe, just maybe I should look into even more economical Bare Minerals concealers to see if maybe they share the same manufacturing plant and/or ingredients as NARS and/or Cle de Peau. I’m not trying to say that BareMinerals is a dupe of the highly coveted and on my lust list Cle de Peau, but it is interesting that BareMinerals ingredients are posted directly on their website but Cle de Peau’s ingredients aren’t.
I’ve been such a long-time Sephora, Ulta, Neiman Marcus, and Nordy shopper that it’s difficult to remember sometimes that I need to expand my horizons. So many of the brands that I’ve grown to love have been absorbed or bought out by larger cosmetics companies, and, well, a lot of these brands are just not the same as they used to be. MAC is one of them, so is Urban Decay, Laura Mercier, and Smashbox. They are still great but not AS great as before they “sold out.”
Brands that I’m lusting over are:
Many of these smaller brands are cruelty free, vegan, and super pigmented. Because they are smaller and lesser known, products tend to sell out and be restocked frequently. Chances are, if you try them, you’ll love them… so long as they don’t sell out (both literally & figuratively).
Also, check your favorite drugstores for new brands. I know a lot of them are now carrying Korean makeup and skincare brands, and I even found a Girlaktic lip stain ($26) at a Rite-Aid when I still lived in Cali and it’s amazing!
Eugenia Weston is the queen of brows and founder of Senna Cosmetics. As a matter of fact, Anastasia of ABH was a long-time client of Eugenia’s. I had the great honor of interviewing Eugenia Weston in a two part interview on the podcast (check out part 1 here) and really learned more about how her famous brow products (a staple in pro kits) really transformed an entire ‘brow’ movement!
Passion products are always the brand’s best — until of course they sell out (the brand that is) and the products get reformulated. So dig in a learn about why brands were founded and stick with what put them on the map. You’ll never go wrong and likely not be disappointed!
Pretty packaging is just that. Pretty. It doesn’t mean that the actual product performs better. After all, proper application and quality tools are 90% of it. The product itself is probably about 10%.
My mom once purchased the L’Oreal Nudes Palette (sound familiar, Urban Decay Naked Palette lovers?) because she didn’t have time to get to a MAC store (which is her usual go-to). I was able to create a gorgeous smoky eye look for NYE with that palette because she had the right tools.
Tools don’t have to be expensive, etiher. As a pro MUA, my finger is my greatest tool… but you can find great brushes from Real Techniques and Bdellium, which are two brands that carry high-quality, pro-kit staples that are priced quite a bit lower than department store brushes.
Remember… don’t buy what you don’t need. Just because you love the branding or marketing of a product does NOT mean you need to own it. I know, it sounds super simple but marketing can be verrrrry convincing. I’m often distracted by shiny new product launches. I remember one time I bought the Tartlette Matte Palette and the Smashbox matte palette, even though they were ultimately the same thing.
Now, this is all alleged and many of the dupes I will describe may have some slight differences, but perhaps not too discernable from the desired or targetted product.
Skinceuticals C E Ferulic Serum $120+ vs. Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster $60
La Mer Moisturizing Cream $1500 vs. German Nivea Moisturizer $5
Kylie Lip Kits $30 vs. Colorpop Liquid lipsticks $8
Fenty Beauty lip glosses $20 vs. Maybelline Lifter Gloss $8
Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation $45 vs. L’Oreal Paris’ True Match Lumi $14
Too Faced Better Than Sex Mascara $22 vs. L’Oreal Paris’ Lash Paradise $10
Clinique’s Black Honey Almost Lipstick $25 vs. elf cosmetic’s Hydrating Core Lip Shine in Ecstatic $6
Charlotte Tilbury’s Airbrush Flawless Finish Setting Powder $25 vs. no. 7’s Lift and Luminate Triple Action Translucent Finishing Powder $13
A perfume brand called Dossier sells popular designer perfumes for a fraction of the cost (such as YSL Black Opium, Viktor&Rolf’s Flower Bomb, Lancome’s La Vie Est Belle, Tom Ford’s Tabacco Vanille)
Don’t you ever wish you can un-learn something? For me, I wish I could go back to the days of not knowing the many, many makeup brands that fall under large brand umbrellas. Things can get a little dicey for me from an ethical perspective. Even when I buy my food, I try to buy local food and avoid food items produced by or owned by large multinational corporations (MNCs). I want to avoid GMOs & added sugars. I also avoid shopping at Walmart for ethical reasons but they carry Milani and I love their blushes and bronzers. Ugh!
If you are like me and you try your best to avoid MNCs, you know how big of a struggle it can be. Like, did you know that sooo many popular makeup brands fall under the L’Oreal umbrella, which is 30% owned by Nestle. Yeah, that Nestle.
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P.S. If you asked me a beauty question, if I don't immediately know the answer, I must thoroughly research every question I receive, and sometimes do not have an immediate answer or I need clarity on unlisted ingredients in certain beauty products, sometimes getting a clear answer takes up to 3 weeks... have patience, it'll be worth it!
Beauty is about perception, not about make-up. I think the beginning of all beauty is knowing and liking oneself. You can't put on make-up, or dress yourself, or do you hair with any sort of fun or joy if you're doing it from a position of correction.