The Complicated Case Of Beauty Dupes

We asked the experts if beauty dupes are as bad as fashion knockoffs

The problem of fashion knockoffs is one the industry has been dealing with for some time now. Indie artists and designers are constantly having their works ripped off by mass-market retailers, high-profile labels are accused of copying legendary designers of the past, and runway designers have been knocked off by fast fashion brands since the birth of fast fashion. And, uh, many of us (including myself) carried counterfeit handbags from Canal Street in middle school.

The media and fashion-lovers alike have become pretty quick to call out brands when these sorts of things happen, launching entire social media campaigns to boycott the offenders, and usually getting the copied products off the market.But, at the same time, many people who would never buy a knockoff handbag have become obsessed with another form of imitation: the beauty dupe, aka the cheaper version of a cult-favorite (and usually much more expensive) product.

Our obsession with beauty dupes (or duplicates) has been around for some time—skin-care giants like Deciem have made their names (and fortunes) off the concept. But is the celebration of the beauty dupe akin to praising Forever 21 for knocking off Gucci? Is praising a cheap drugstore brand for being like a pricier independent skin-care line like celebrating the Urban Outfitters version of an Etsy designer's handbag? According to makeup artists and beauty enthusiasts, not exactly.

“Makeup is more of the tool you use to get the effect,” says makeup artist Tony Tulve. “It would almost be like calling out everyone who uses black jersey in their collections. Yes, some brands come up with innovations, but a lot of it is just a reimagining of the wheel: same product, different name, etc. I feel like what’s done with the actual material is the more important part, instead of how the material is presented to you.”

Makeup artist Clara Rae also agrees:

I don’t think it’s wrong in any way. I think when fashion brands knock off independent designers and artists it’s wrong because they do it to monetize on someone else’s vision or creation. I think they do it to take an easy way out and are quick to jump on an opportunity for popularity or a quick buck. However, I don’t think it’s the same in the beauty industry. Given the kinds of products popular right now, there are brands that have been around making the same product for over 60 years at half the price. However, there isn’t the same stigma or competition about that the way the fashion industry does. The brands that have been around for so long aren’t necessarily trying to compete with luxury brands.

Unlike a label knocking off an artist's or designer’s vision or style, dupes aren’t necessarily copying a brand’s aesthetic, but are simply recreating a color or product type. “Sometimes, as a working artist or even as a makeup enthusiast, it’s more about the color or product than the actual brand,” says Tulve. “Sometimes that specific product isn’t available in your market, or you need to find a version of the item that fits in with your morals or your bank account. So, finding that one thing that completes your makeup bag is the more important thing—the luxury brands will always be there.”

Rae goes on to explain that, when it comes to high-end or luxury products, a lot of the time (though not all), you’re paying for the name and the packaging over the actual formula. Therefore, dupes make beauty more accessible to everyone. “So why not celebrate a product that will give you the same results for less money?” she asks. “Because of the different tiers of makeup brands with similar products and formulas, everyone has the same opportunity to create a look they desire, not just someone that can afford high-end products.”

Considering just how important beauty can be in terms of self-expression and self-confidence, the more people it reaches, the better. Not everyone can afford the products that their favorite influencers or vloggers are using. Therefore, the beauty dupe is something to be embraced. “Beauty is such a wide spectrum that should be accessible to anyone and everyone,” says Tulve. “Makeup is just a small facet on how we present ourselves to the world, so why should it break the bank? Having knockoffs allow for a more attainable way to play with trends and play with our own image.”

Of course, if you’re going to opt for the cheaper alternative, make sure you’re actually buying the cheap alternative and not a bootleg product. “Bootleg makeup is dangerous and isn’t regulated the same way makeup in a department store or drug store is,” warns Tulve. Uh yeah, like, it might contain feces.