Cheap M.A.C, NARS and Benefit… too good to be true?

On Monday the 22nd of April, I was featured in the Australian Financial Review discussing my thoughts on the current Estee Lauder vs Target court case. If you are not aware of the case, in August 2012 Target advertised that they were selling M.A.C products, despite the fact that they are not an authorised reseller of M.A.C through M.A.C Australia, or their parent company, Estee Lauder.

I spoke to the cosmetics buyer at Target the day the catalogue came out, and she stated to me that these were legitimate M.A.C products sourced from an overseas supplier. This is known as Grey Market or Parallel Importing, and is perfectly legal.

Estee Lauder conducted laboratory testing of these products and found them to be apparently counterfeit, containing ingredients not used in genuine M.A.C products. The sale of counterfeit product is illegal.

What is the Grey Market?

Grey Market, otherwise known as Parallel Importing, is the practice of obtaining products from a source other than the authorised distributor of a brand, and offering them for resale. While sometimes frowned upon, this practice is perfectly legal, in the spirit of fair trade.

What are some of the issues with purchasing Grey Market products?

The most obvious issue with Grey Market products is quality control. Cosmetics have a use-by date, and there is no way to know the age of a product being sold through a non-authorised retailer.  There is also no way to know the storage conditions that product has been subjected to in it’s lifetime – and the storage conditions can greatly affect the life and performance of a makeup product. As an example, I have seen limited edition M.A.C products from collections more than 3 years old being sold through non-authorised retailers in the last month. With skincare, or products containing active ingredients the problem can be much worse. The active ingredient may have deteriorated to the point that it is no longer effective, or worse, it may have become toxic and potentially harmful.

If you have a bad experience (whether it’s as minor as a poorly performing product, or as serious as permanent vision loss) with products purchased through Grey Market distributors you have no real protection. The brand will accept no liability for these products as the product was not in their control.

Frequently Counterfeited Brands

Please excuse the grubby state of the makeup in the picture – these are all products obtained by me, through authorised channels… and as you can see by the state of the packaging, they are well loved.

The darker and more serious issue with Grey Market cosmetics is the possibility of counterfeit products. When you purchase your cosmetic products through a non-authorised retailer, you have no way to verify the authenticity of that product. It may seem strange, but counterfeit makeup is a huge issue, and a multi-billion dollar business.

When it comes to counterfeit makeup products, there is literally no way to know what ingredients are in the product you’re purchasing and using. I was able to find reports of counterfeit mascara containing dangerous levels of arsenic, eyeliner containing 46 times the permitted levels of copper, making it unsafe for use on eyes,  and blusher containing dangerous levels of bacteria. The brands that appear to be most frequently counterfeited are M.A.C, NARS and Benefit.

If that’s not bad enough, the counterfeit industry is said to have very strong ties to both organised crime and child labour. For this reason, as well as the reasons I have listed above, I have made a personal choice to not knowingly purchase Grey Market products.

It’s getting harder to know if you’re buying from an authorised retailer.

In the past, it has been fairly easy to guess if a retailer is an authorised reseller. If you purchase branded beauty products from The Reject Shop (an Australian dollar store) it’s fairly safe to assume it’s a parallel import. If you purchase anything from StrawberryNet, you can almost guarantee it’s grey market. If you purchase your beauty products from the markets or from eBay, I’m telling you now, it’s NOT from an authorised reseller.

As big brands in Australia get on board the Grey Market bandwagon, it can be harder and harder to know who is authorised to sell what. Target Australia was in hot water for selling M.A.C, and Priceline Australia is not an authorised distributor of some of the perfumes they sell. The only real way to confirm if a retailer is authorised is to check with the brand directly.

I don’t want to purchase Grey Market products. Who can I buy from?

I can only share my own beliefs and opinions about retailers here.

For “Drugstore Brands” I shop at

But wait! Don’t Target and Priceline both sell parallel imports? Yes, they do, however I understand them to be authorised resellers of brands including Revlon, L’Oreal Paris, Maybelline NY, Rimmel, Cover Girl, Max Factor, Bourjois, Essence, Australis and in the case of Priceline, Face of Australia and Physicians Formula, and I continue to shop there.

For “High End” brands, I shop at:

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Have you been stung by Grey Market products before? What did you buy and how did you know it was “not quite right”? Let me know in the comments.

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