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Discover the Warning Signs of a Bad Beauty Dupe

Look for these red flags when shopping online for cheaper alternatives to beloved beauty products.


Photo: Shutterstock

TikToks tagged #dupe have accumulated more than 549 million views worldwide, and interest in the trend continues to grow. The demographic that shows the biggest demand for dupes , or duplicates, is Gen Zers, aged 18 to 24, accounting for 45 percent of this interest, followed by those aged 25 to 34 (26 percent of interest). 

While sharing affordable alternatives or knock-off versions of luxury products was previously limited to designer handbags and high-end makeup products, it’s since expanded to cover drinkware, clothing items, appliances, and even supplements. This has prompted a surge of sellers promoting unregulated or dodgy dupes on marketplaces like the TikTok shop. According to YouGov, one in 10 Americans use TikTok multiple times a day, so sellers know many users are looking for a beauty bargain. 

But according to retail experts at trading platform SD Bullion, this can lead to more vulnerable consumers being sold an unsafe product by a seller looking to capitalize on the rising demand for dupes, especially if they purchase without checking the product listing. 

This is especially important when purchasing through the TikTok shop, as the marketplace says, “sellers are responsible for ensuring that the product description contains all product information required by applicable laws and regulations, including product safety.”

This puts the responsibility of listing product details accurately on the seller. While they can be penalized for a false display of information, this doesn’t cover info they choose to omit—for example, a harmful ingredient or calling something a “dupe” without any verification. 

In fact, currently, many products in the TikTok shop that are tagged #dupe are misleading consumers, as makeup products appear in the homeware category, and sellers can apply any hashtag or category to their listing that they please. With this in mind, users tempted to purchase a dupe or knock-off beauty product online from a fast-paced app may forget to do their due diligence and check what they’re really buying. 

“Social media marketplaces have fostered an environment where app users can purchase a product in less than a minute, meaning that they’re less likely to take the time to read a product description or consult customer reviews,” says an expert from SD Bullion. “This is especially true on visual platforms like Instagram and TikTok, where a paid content creator can promote the product in a quick video, which users then treat as a reputable review. However, it’s essential to check the product listings for beauty items, especially if you’re purchasing something in a different country, as there can be ingredients in there that are harmful or that aren’t authorized for sale in your region. You can also be easily swayed to buy something that claims it’s a dupe for something else. But don’t just take their word for it, see what others have said and whether the connection has been drawn anywhere else.” 

How can consumers avoid purchasing a harmful beauty product? SD Bullion has detailed the key warning signs you need to look for when shopping on social media: 

  • No ingredient list or allergen warning. All reputable beauty products should have a list of their ingredients clearly marked on the packaging and a section highlighting potential allergens (such as pollen, milk, and eggs). If there’s no list, it’s a clear indication that a product might not be safe, as they’re not being transparent about it. 
  • Missing or falsified labels and logos. Even the cheapest dupe products could have been replicated by sellers looking to jump on the trend, so consult labels in as much detail as possible before going through with a sale. Labels should include important information like usage instructions and expiration date; any alterations are a red flag. 
  • A too-good-to-be true price. While the whole point of dupe products is that they’re more affordable than their luxury alternatives, they’re not designed to be dirt cheap. Use your common sense when shopping for a product. For example, if you haven’t seen a trending dupe for less than $6, any cheaper than this is likely a fake or a scam. 
  • Over-the-top and unrealistic claims. Beauty products make it easier for sellers to over-inflate their benefits to attract customers, as they know you’re purchasing them to look or feel a certain way. Pay attention to how many claims are associated with a dupe and whether they differ from the original product’s claims. 
  • Lacking contact or seller information. This goes for any retail experience, but don’t buy from them if you can’t find any contact information, reviews, in-depth product descriptions, or customer support associated with a seller. They are likely scammers who avoid leaving a paper trail for disgruntled customers to follow. 
About The Author

Julie is the co-founder of Well Defined and a longtime influencer and advocate in the wellness world. Along with her work at Well Defined, she is an executive recruiter and marketing specialist for Hutchinson Consulting. She is also a consultant and content strategist for numerous wellness brands. She is the former editor-in-chief and publisher of American Spa and was named a 2019 Folio Top Woman in Media in the Industry Trailblazers category and a 2018 winner of ISPA’s Innovate Award. She is also a seasoned journalist, specializing in spa, travel, health, fitness, wellness, sustainability, and beauty. She has been published in Departures,, E! Online,, Insider’s Guide to Spas, Luxury Travel Advisor, Marin Magazine, Ocean Home, Smart Meetings, Spa Asia, and Travel Agent.