Knockoff Makeup: High Risk, Low Price

Mercedes Leyh and Tiana Mohebi / January 16, 2020

Sephora carries most major high end makeup brands in North America.
(Scott Ableman / Flickr)


In the beauty world, high end makeup is all the buzz. This includes some of the biggest internationally-known brands, like YSL, Dior, Too Faced and MACConsumers, primarily younger women, have a deep love for high end makeup… but not the high price that comes with it. This is where knockoffs come in – counterfeit versions of high end makeup in nearly-identical packaging, generally made in China and sold for a fraction of the price.

A $55 Anastasia Beverly Hills eyeshadow palette being sold online for just eight dollars? Sounds great! However, there is a dangerous reason why knockoff manufacturers are able to sell these products for so cheap. Potentially harmful filler ingredients like paint thinner, Mercury and Lead are commonly used to create the knockoff formulas. Suddenly, killer price has a different meaning.

Major high-end makeup brand Anastasia Beverly Hill (ABH)’s Modern Renaissance eyeshadow palette is one of the most popular products – both the real and fake versions. Below, you can see how closely replicated the fake ABH palette (right) is compared to the real thing (left).


Many consumers unknowingly buy knockoff makeup thinking they’re getting the real deal. Others are somewhat aware of the risks, and their decision depends on how often they intend on using the product. Take makeup consumer Alexis Danielson, for example. She purchased a knockoff MAC lipstick for about three dollars online, adding it to her collection of real MAC lipsticks, which retail for $24. Danielson said that before making the purchase, she had heard a little bit about how knockoffs have the potential to be unsafe/unregulated but didn’t think much of it.

“I knew the ingredients would be different, obviously, because it’s a knockoff, but I thought because I would only be wearing it for maybe one, two, three times for a couple hours, I wasn’t too worried about it having a negative effect.” – Alexis Danielson, Makeup Consumer

Danielson said she hasn’t worn the knockoff lipstick out of the house even once since it came in the mail. At first glance, it can be hard to tell the real MAC lipstick from the fake; both have the same shimmery black packaging and iconic silver writing along the cap. However, when taking a deeper look, Danielson said the quality of the product is what gives it away.

Left/Top: Real MAC Lipstick
Right/Bottom: Fake MAC Lipstick
(Tiana Mohebi / BCIT News)

Swatching the lipsticks on her wrist, she described the consistency of the knockoff as “chalky”. Putting the two shades side-by-side definitely puts things into perspective. The knockoff is a cheap version of a deeper burgundy colour “Verve”, while the real one, “Kinda Sexy”, is a medium pink tone. However, comparing the two on Danielson’s wrist, “Verve” seems more transparent than “Kinda Sexy”, despite how much darker it appears in the tube. A perfect example of ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’!

Real v.s. Fake MAC Lipstick

Consistency of the product

Danielson said the shade doesn’t apply the same way it looks in the tube. She said MAC Lipsticks are generally creamy and glide easily. The knockoff lipstick, on the other hand, she described as patchy and chalky when swatched or worn on the lips.

Weight of the packaging

Holding both lipstick tubes in her hand, Danielson said the real MAC lipstick has more weight to it compared to the knockoff. An instant giveaway!

Quality of the packaging

Danielson described the knockoff product’s packaging as “flimsy”, especially compared to the real MAC lipstick, which she said is solid and secure. She also mentioned the real product’s cap is sturdier and stays on, while the knockoff’s cap often falls off.

Fonts used

One major difference between her two lipsticks is that the fonts that showing the shade names on the bottom of the lipsticks aren’t consistent. The knockoff’s letters appears to be a lot thicker than that of the real version.