Have you seen what Amazon is doing in the skincare industry lately?
Sales of skincare and beauty products on Amazon have exploded.
According to CNBC’s All-America Economic Survey, more than 75 percent of US online consumers shop on Amazon most of the time.
But it can be hard to tell where the products are coming from when you order them through Amazon, and what you’ll get.
We’ve all heard about fake labels, diluted formulas, and counterfeit products.
Keep reading! I’m going to let you know how you can tell if the products you purchase on Amazon are fake or not.
Even if you’ve just been tempted to start purchasing skincare on the site, a lot of my readers have unanswered questions.
I’ve been selling my products on Amazon for a while now, and I want to share everything I’ve learned with you!
Let’s take a closer look at how the skincare and beauty landscapes have changed on Amazon in just a few short years, and what it looks like right now.
And, if you read this entire article, I’ll also cover the illegal (and very dangerous) levels of mercury that were found in beauty products purchased on Amazon.
As always, beauties, I want you to make informed decisions when it comes to your skin, and Amazon is a nearly unavoidable part of that picture now.
While Amazon is undoubtedly convenient, helpful, and useful, I want to teach you how to use it safely!
Are your favorite products on Amazon the same as they are in-store? Can you really find reputable brands there? Will you get what you pay for? And how is this affecting you, the skincare buff?
Let’s find out.
1. The Best Internet Marketer Wins
Essentially, Amazon cares about sales and how marketing is being done – not necessarily product or ingredient quality.
Unfortunately, many of the popular beauty brands you’re buying on Amazon are from some guy on a computer who knows nothing about skincare – NOT from a licensed esthetician, qualified formulator, or even doctor.
Oz Naturals is a great example of a skincare brand that has succeeded on Amazon.
Founded in 2013, the best-selling brand is a leader in e-commerce.
According to a press release from September 2014, Oz Naturals was the top-selling skincare brand on Amazon, and most of their products were number one in their respective categories.
How did they do it?
Oz Natural’s authorized resellers are limited.
Additionally, their marketing strategy from the start has been to aggressively focus on digital marketing, and it’s paid off.
The company is now expanding into the Asian market through Amazon.
Credit: Oz Naturals Amazon Storefront
Some companies seem to benefit from successful marketing strategies on Amazon despite questionable ingredients.
A brand called First Botany Cosmeceuticals whose products are sold on Amazon by “Luxor Investments” has one mud mask with over 4,000 reviews.
Meanwhile, a brief investigation into their ingredients brings troubling results.
Some of the masks have no ingredients list to be found anywhere on the listing, while one mask, the “French Green Mud Mask,” shows organic alcohol as the second ingredient.
Organic is great; alcohol on your skin is not.
Another frustrating trend that’s been occurring is that people are using Alibaba.com (the Amazon of China) to buy poor quality beauty and skincare products from China, then sending them directly to Amazon without testing them on their own skin.
They just simply take the manufacturer’s word for it and start selling the product – the customers are their test dummies.
If enough negative reviews and complaints are left, the seller will just simply start over.
Manufacturers in China don’t always make ingredients clear, and it can be really hard to verify if the ingredients they claim are actually in the products.
A quick Google search will reveal TONS of articles about how to make money by importing products from China and selling them on Amazon.
John Frigo, an Alibaba buyer and Amazon seller, said the following about then-popular fidget spinners:
“There is not much difference in those products, and some of them may come from the same Chinese manufacturer,” Frigo said. “What sets you apart is how you do the marketing.”
While Amazon does make packages delivered by third-party sellers have labels listing sellers’ info, manufacturers can stick private labels on the boxes….without the seller testing the products.
2. You Can Be Your Own Detective
One top-selling item on Amazon in skincare, for instance, is from the brand Aztec Secret.
It’s a calcium bentonite clay mask that’s gotten plenty of media attention over the last couple of years but was completely unheard of until it arrived on Amazon.
It’s even been the subject of some mystery.
The product has almost 13,000 reviews at the moment.
Say you were browsing Amazon for a new clay mask to try and came across the brand.
There are plenty of reviews, but you don’t recall ever seeing it in stores.
If you’re unsure about purchasing, you can do research to find out if a brand is big ONLY on Amazon or not, and how long a brand has really been around.
This really depends on your preferences – some customers are totally comfortable with buying skincare brands that are big on Amazon but are unheard of elsewhere.
Step 1 – Are there ANY estheticians, doctors, or anyone with skincare experience formulating the products???
Step 2 – Check out the Average Customer Review and the Amazon Best Sellers Rank.
These numbers will tell you how a specific product ranks overall on Amazon.
Do the high or low-ranking numbers make sense?
Below is an example of what appears on my Clear Collagen Peel-Off Masque page, so you know what to look for!
Step 3 – Check the brand’s website. Does it look like a legitimate brand or an afterthought? Are there customer reviews on the site?
Step 4 – Find out how long the brand has been around by checking the creation date.
If it is 5 years or less, I would use caution! (Although, alanamitchell.com is less than 5 years old, and that is a legitimate site).
I recommend entering the brand’s URL into this website: www.whois.net
Here is ours as an example!
Step 5 – Look at the product label and packaging. Does it look high or low quality? Does the copy make sense?
Step 6 – Type the brand’s website into www.alexa.com/siteinfo and check its rank in the United States.
If it is over 50,000, beware of that, too!
Step 7 – Check to see if their website lists any retail stores where the brand can be purchased.
Step 8 – Check the brand’s background and story – does it seem genuine?
Step 9 – Find out the owner(s) name(s) and look them up on LinkedIn. Are they apart of a venture capitalist group? Are they estheticians or doctors?
Step 10 – Do some Googling about the brand and try to find them on social media.
Some brands may look legitimate and may have zero indication that they are overseas, so doing due diligence is important!
Step 11 – If the shipping time is over 2 weeks, it is probably coming directly from China or overseas, yikes!
3. Buyers Beware (of Faux and Fakes)
Are there fakes on Amazon? And, should you be careful?
Should that deter you from buying there when it comes to skincare?
As someone who uses the platform to sell my own skincare line, I would definitely say no.
Don’t worry. I’m not telling you to take a risk.
The good news is that you have to be approved to even sell skincare and beauty products as they’re in a restricted category.
However, a brand’s challenge is to control what happens to their products once they reach distributors and retailers.
That tends to be where the product leaks happen, and products can land in the wrong hands.
For the mega brands, that’s a huge job that can include spy-like private investigators and invisible ink that marks products to make them easier to track.
Even before Amazon was the force that it is now, back in 2008, Estée Lauder Companies created a 24-person anti-counterfeit unit to track down and hold unauthorized sellers accountable.
As I said, it’s a big job.
For you, however, it won’t be that hard.
The way Amazon really enforces it is their return policy and the standards for the seller.
If you suspect your product is fake, you can return it and contact Amazon.
They will give you a full refund and will force the seller to prove authenticity.
4. Fake Brands CAN Cheat the System
Outright scam selling, where scam artists set up shop and collect payments without ever delivering any real product, can be a huge problem.
E-commerce intelligence firm Marketplace Pulse set up a website to track fraudulent sellers on Amazon, wherein the last month they detected 490 NEW scam sellers.
Some of these sellers have over 6,000 negative reviews, which means, according to the firm, “likely over 10,000 customers didn’t get the products they were expecting.”
And that was just from one seller.
An entire mini-industry has popped up to help companies deal with the threats that bought reviews and fake sellers pose to the profits of legitimate businesses who sell on Amazon and to spot fake reviews, like the app Fakespot.
Some companies have lost their rankings within their sales category, and rankings translate to sales, due to unethical sellers buying reviews in exchange for products or cash.
Meanwhile, Amazon’s own “Vine Reviews” program has been controversial as well.
With this program, Amazon invites highly ranked reviewers to join.
Once they become official Vine Reviewers, Amazon provides free product in exchange for reviews on the site.
Some believe these reviews are biased due to being incentivized.
Whether or not that is true, the program certainly allows Amazon to increase the reviews of some products over others.
Unfortunately, for now, the platform just isn’t set up to deter unethical behavior, and it’s not always a friend to the small, honest, committed businesses who value their relationship with customers.
5. Amazon is Making Your Voice Heard…Well, Kind of
The good news is that Amazon gives you, the consumer, a voice in the industry and a direct link to many of your favorite brands!
Think the decision-makers behind those brands aren’t watching and listening to reviews and customer feedback left on Amazon?
A lot of behind-the-scenes planning and data gathering is going on.
Decisions are made about everything, from what product to release, what words to include in the name and on the packaging, and what ingredients to include or avoid based on customer feedback and rankings.
As an industry insider, I’ve seen huge growth over the last five years.
They may not have cornered the market yet, but they’ve definitely grabbed some of it.
Skincare companies that haven’t embraced Amazon haven’t grown that much, and the companies that ARE on Amazon have flourished.
Some of the top-selling beauty brands on Amazon at the moment (this changes constantly) are:
- TruSkin Naturals
- Viva Naturals
- L’Oreal’s CeraVe
- Lilyana Naturals
- Burt’s Bees
- Johnson & Johnson’s Neutrogena
Notice anything about the names? Brands with “naturals” in the title are hot.
As to that last bullet point – 30% of online shoppers were already starting their research on Amazon (instead of Google) way back in 2012!
At the moment, Amazon has somewhere around 197 million unique monthly visitors.
For me, the decision was a no-brainer.
I wanted to be accessible to my customers who were already shopping there, and I began listing my products on Amazon last year.
Sadly, those reasons I just listed are the exact same reasons dealers in counterfeit products are drawn to Amazon, but more on that later!
6. Amazon Brings Luxury to Your Doorstep
Amazon’s relationship with luxury beauty started back in 2013 when it launched its own Luxury Beauty Store stocked with brands like Nars, Oribe, Burberry, and Jimmy Choo.
Those brands, like all the others, want to show up in product searches and take advantage of the advertising that an Amazon presence provides.
As mentioned earlier, sales on Amazon that fell under the category “Luxury Skincare” saw a 76% jump in just one year.
A number like that is bound to get the attention of CEOs everywhere.
So, in 2019 and beyond, expect to see an increase in the number of luxury skincare brands becoming available there.
Skincare by Alana brands that are available on Amazon luxury include:
- June Jacobs
My bet is that there are very few brands in the world that can afford to turn down a platform with well over 300 million customers.
Another development on the luxury front relates to Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods.
What this means to you, the skincare enthusiast, is that all of Whole Foods branded beauty products are now available on Amazon where prices are likely lower.
And a rumored partnership between Amazon and Violet Grey may bring even more luxury products on board.
Of course, it’s critical if you’re shopping luxury on Amazon to do a little due diligence and make sure you’re buying the real thing and not a fake.
7. Amazon Brings You Brands You’ve Otherwise Never Heard of
Have you ever wondered where in the world some of the brands that sell like hotcakes on Amazon came from, and how they do so well?
It’s actually easy for private labels to sell on the site.
B2B manufacturers that create formulas and packaging that can be marketed by beauty brands without anyone knowing they didn’t do it themselves.
It is SO easy for anyone to make a skincare product, as shown here.
All you have to do is pay, and the rest is taken care of.
Also, Amazon’s algorithms reign – they allow the site to recommend products based on your previous purchases or searches, or based on purchases others have made that are similar to yours.
While some big-name brands end up hiring one or more employees exclusively dedicated to dealing with Amazon, some of these otherwise unknown brands dedicate all of their time and energy from the get-go to “working the system” that Amazon has going.
As a result, they’re able to rise up through the ranks quickly and consistently and outsell the others.
Let’s go back to Aztec Secret with their 13,000 reviews.
By comparison, Neutrogena’s makeup remover, also in the top 10, has 1,300 reviews.
Neutrogena, with its incredible brand awareness and the advertising power of mega-conglomerate Johnson & Johnson behind it, clearly isn’t playing the same game that Aztec Secret is playing.
And, Amazon has been known to co-create, if not completely create, brands that go on to sell on their site.
Skincare brand Reflekt is just one example of an Amazon collaboration which resulted in a new brand.
And, last year, Amazon revealed its Indie Beauty category.
These brands will definitely see an increase in visibility due to Amazon’s massive customer base.
Plus, in a way, the brands are taking control before unauthorized sellers can strike first.
In so many ways, Amazon has created its own (not-so) little world.
8. Convenience Comes at a Cost to Others
It’s a bit of a two-edged sword in skincare at the moment.
Amazon does make it easy for us as consumers to try new brands and find what we’re looking for quickly, which is awesome!
But, meanwhile, this means the day spas and estheticians who get to know their customers and have a stake in putting your skincare needs and your interests first, are taking a big hit when it comes to sales.
It’s hard for small businesses and brands to win online.
When you search categories such as “face cleanser,” “lip balm,” or “eye cream” on Amazon, “sponsored” posts will appear first.
Brands pay for sponsorship to be at the top, or Amazon owns the brand that appears at the top. This means profit for them.
Fact: The truly most popular products do NOT say “sponsored;” they appear below.
You have to scroll to find the truly popular sellers.
Particular high-selling products will have an orange sticker indicating a “Best Seller.”
There can be multiple best sellers under a category such as “eye cream.”
You’ll also see an “Amazon’s Choice” sticker on one product.
“Amazon’s Choice” are new and experimental products.
For example, when you search “face cleanser” and find Amazon’s Choice, a lot of people buy that particular face cleanser.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s the most popular or the best.
When you regularly visit an esthetician, they become familiar with your skin’s needs and can recommend specific products that will target your concerns.
If you want convenience and affordability, next time you visit your esthetician, ask them if they can match the Amazon price instead of walking out the door and ordering on your phone!
The benefit of buying from your esthetician:
- You don’t have to wait for shipping
- You can rest assured you’re buying a real product
- You’re supporting a small business individual
How this plays out in the future is yet to be seen, but my hope is that the personal touch, shared values, and community you get from businesses built on these real relationships will prevail.
As a business owner myself, I’m all for supporting small businesses!
A New Development: Dangerous Levels of Mercury Found in Some Skincare Products Purchased on Amazon
Very recently, 51 environmental and public health groups called out Amazon and eBay to “stop marketing illegal mercury-laden cosmetics.”
The Mercury Policy Project had purchased and tested skincare products from both sites and found that some products had 30,000 times the legal limit of mercury.
Products that are made here in the U.S. should NOT contain unsafe levels of mercury as the FDA banned the use of it in most cosmetics at levels higher than 1 part per million in 1973.
However, it is nearly impossible for U.S. and global agencies to fully monitor the sales of skincare products containing mercury.
Mercury is sometimes used as a preservative and an active ingredient in skin-lightening and anti-aging products because it is inexpensive and can work quickly.
However, it is incredibly dangerous at high levels; mercury can cause poisoning and toxicity to organs.
I’m sure you’re wondering how you can avoid this scary ingredient when purchasing skincare products on Amazon!
Step 1 – Purchase products you know are made in the U.S. Do your research before purchasing an Amazon-only brand, or avoid altogether.
Step 2 – Research the ingredients in the product before purchasing and read the label! If you have any questions, I recommend consulting your esthetician or dermatologist. A search engine can quickly come in handy when trying to understanding that ingredient you can’t pronounce. Sometimes the scientific term for a basic ingredient can seem complicated; a perfect example of this is salt (“sodium chloride”).
Step 3 – Look out for ingredients with the following names: Hg, mercuric iodide, mercurous chloride, quicksilver. If you see any of these on the label, do not use! They are just other words for mercury.
Step 4- Look for safer alternatives. For example, if you’re looking to lighten the appearance of your skin, here are some great and safe ingredients: licorice extract, azelaic acid, willow bark extract, vitamin C, glycolic acid, and coenzyme Q10, to name a few.
From baby food to mattresses to skincare, today’s consumers are researching everything before they buy.
It makes perfect sense: You have a world of information in your pockets, and you’re using it to make informed buying choices.
I see myself as an advocate for clarity in skincare, and I’m serious about access to the info you need to make healthy and safe choices about what you put on your skin.
After reading this article, you’re more familiar with what’s actually going on behind the scenes.
When it comes down to it, skincare has gone where the shoppers are, and that’s Amazon.
Amazon brought a great deal of change to the world of retail, and some of the same technology that has made this possible is now accessible across e-commerce platforms.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Amazon beauty products fake?
Not all of them! I highly recommend doing your research and using my recommendations in the article to avoid buying fake or counterfeit beauty products on Amazon.
What to buy on Amazon beauty?
Thousands of makeup, skincare, and beauty products are available on Amazon beauty, from both well-known and indie brands! You can save yourself a trip to Target and buy your usual products from the comfort of your couch, or you can try something new.
What is Amazon Luxury Beauty?
The Amazon Luxury Beauty category offers high-end makeup, skincare, and beauty brands that are typically available at high-end department stores.
I learned a lot of this info firsthand as I was setting up my storefront on Amazon.
There’s so much more to it than I initially realized!
Having a presence on the giant retail platform is becoming a necessity.
There are even rumors going around that Amazon may purchase Target, Sears, or Kohl’s.
Amazon’s nearly 4.5% share (and growing) of sales in the U.S. beauty industry has changed the way skincare brands do business.
What that means to you, the consumer, is that you have a collective voice that is driving trends and decision-making in all corners of this industry.
And, the reality is that with over 300 million shoppers and millions of sellers, it’s a bit of a flea-market environment where money rules.
While I’m all for convenience, ask your esthetician about their product pricing next time you stop by!
Share your thoughts or questions in the comments. I love to hear from you! Do you shop for skincare on Amazon regularly? What are the pros and cons you’ve experienced so far?