Black Market Beauty

The billion-dollar black-market makeup industry sneaks into unknowing consumers’ hands, causing permanent damage


Photo courtesy Los Angeles Police Department

Police in Los Angeles have raided several hundred thousand dollars worth of counterfeit cosmetics that could potentially harm consumers

Leah Chandler, Variety Editor

Everyone wants a good deal, but in the case of cosmetics, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic have been found in dupes of famous companies like NARS, Urban Decay, and Kylie Cosmetics. Consumers can never be too cautious because frauds have even been known to reuse old packaging and make their “makeup” look very convincing. These products are made with money in mind and can be deadly to users.  

In 2019, Netflix released an episode in the docuseries Broken about this problem and what authorities were trying to do to mitigate it. According to researchers from the show, the black-market makeup industry is worth about $5.4 billion and keeps growing despite strict attempts to stop it. Routine inspections are done on all imports. People apprehended for selling these dangerous dupes face criminal charges. However, as these products keep getting caught, the formulas are constantly being improved which is making it even harder for consumers to keep safe.  

To make their knock-off Kylie Lip Kit have a matching consistency, one black-market company used superglue. Khue Nong, a woman interviewed on the documentary, had her lips glued shut after using the dupe she purchased on popular shopping site, eBay.  

“I got a Kylie Lip Kit from eBay for $20 or $30 bucks. I thought I got a good deal… I put it on and after a couple minutes I couldn’t separate my lips.” Nong said.  

Private investigator involved with catching black-market sellers in California, Kris Buckner advises consumers to use the three P’s, packaging, place, and price, when buying cosmetics. If products have any distortions in the packaging, are being sold at a cheap price, or at a questionable place, it’s best to avoid them. 

Corrine Bowden (12) learned about this issue after the rise in the big beauty company, Morphe. 

“The palettes were relatively expensive and in high demand, thus the market for cheaper and more convenient dupes exploded. I’ve heard horror stories of people ending up in the hospital, which is probably due to some of the unlisted and unregulated ingredients,” Bowden said. 

These products might not cause internal damage, but they can cause bacteria to get in the skin resulting in more severe acne breakouts. This issue with products is also far more common. While not as extreme in some cases, stores that don’t specialize in makeup sell discounted products that have already expired.  

Alyssa Vu (12) carefully checks what makeup she buys and is cautious about where she gets her products from. 

I try hard to stray from drug store makeup because some of that stuff is resale and can be expired,” Vu said. “Same thing goes for places like Marshall’s and Ross, they resale the makeup and skin care products even if they are past the expiration date which is terrible for the skin and even worse because it goes near your eyes.”