Here at Byrdie HQ, our jaws may or may not have collectively dropped as we watched the recent viral videos featuring Chinese YouTubers counterfeiting makeup. Yep—counterfeit makeup production taking place on the internet, out in the open, and right before our eyes. (Aka not in some below-ground sweat house conducive to most bigtime counterfeiting rings.) Sure, it was completely shocking to see such a taboo black-market industry so effortlessly showcased, but we also had trouble stomaching the YouTubers' adamant claims that the products they produce (blatant knockoffs of lipsticks, lip glosses, and cushion compacts à la brands like Dior, MAC, Givenchy, YSL, and Chanel) are just as hygienic and top-tier quality-wise as the originals.
Our response: Um, pardon?
After all, it was just last September we reported on the problematic repercussions of the beauty black market, speaking directly to affected parties like Amazon and even Gregg Marrazzo, senior vice president and deputy general counsel of Estée Lauder Companies. (Think must-have brands like MAC, Becca, Tom Ford, GlamGlow, Too Faced, and La Mer.) And while, yes, brands are obviously none too thrilled with illegitimate manufacturers mass producing dupes of their most high-demand products, there are plenty of other serious consequences, such as sanitation and ingredient quality.
So when Jing Daily's recent article pointed out that the vloggers in question boast their own makeup products as 100% safe and just as good as the real stuff, we understandably took pause.
"We are giving back the quality and price that you deserve," one of the vloggers said when a reporter from Jing Daily approached her as a customer. According to the source, the vlogger defended herself by claiming that the majority of money consumers spend on designer makeup products is sunk into branding—and not the actual quality they promise. (For the record, Marrazzo warned us last year to be wary of this exact counterargument.) In fact, the vlogger claimed her products to be so safe that she showed the reporter photos of her own children applying the products to their faces.
So how much do these vlogger dupes run for? Essentially, four tubes of the counterfeited lipstick are comparable to one of the original. (As found by Beijing Youth Daily, a search on popular e-commerce platforms reveals that the basic ingredients needed to produce six lipsticks—like toner, flavor, white beeswax, and sweet almond oil—only costs about 18.9 RMB.)
"Many vendors on live-streaming channels steer away from acknowledging the counterfeiting, focusing instead on the natural ingredients they use," Jing Daily reports. (A strategy, which, in our humble opinion as beauty editors, feels like a manipulative diversion tactic.)
"They describe their items as 'edible', 'made purely from plants', and 'safe for pregnant women to use' in the captions of their videos," Jing Daily continues. "They claim that by putting up videos of how their products are made, they are establishing their credibility." Which, when you consider the prevalence of natural and organic ingredients in Asian makeup and skincare industries, is a smart move. Then combine that value with the younger generation's demand for ultra-luxe products at a more feasible price point and the system is pretty ingenious—if not incredibly flawed in terms of reputability.
In fact, the website confirms that according to Lin Lin, an independent director of the China International Beauty Expo, 70% of Chinese mainland buyers looked for organic beauty products last year, an 8.9% increase from 2016. A statistic that while telling, may not describe the country's younger shoppers, however. For instance, the Jing Daily article also linked to an interesting HKTDC research survey from 2016 that showed older Chinese women as being attracted to "natural/organic/herbal ingredients" and "high-tech/biotech products," while younger Chinese consumers veer far more "price sensitive" and instead rely more heavily on "word-of-mouth" testament than ingredient quality when making a product purchase.
That being said, the claim that the products being created in the YouTube videos are 100% safe is incredibly problematic and almost unthinkable considering how stringent and hard to attain organic certifications are within the industry—certifications and tests that counterfeiters obviously aren't held privy to. The writing on the wall: These vloggers can say whatever they like about the product they're producing at home, but their claims are completely void of validity. Even if they're giving us a sneak peek into the process.
So yes, while these viral videos are admittedly fascinating to watch, would we ever encourage the practice? Or give you a green light for shopping? Not in a million years.