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What Is a Dupe? Are They Worth It? Are They Ethical?

~| 6 minute read |~

The word dupe is a verb which means to be deceived or tricked. That doesn’t sound like something we’d want yet we hear the term thrown all around the beauty community. In this context, they are talking about a cheaper product that can be compared to a more expensive product. But is it really that simple? And is “duping” ethical?

When one product dupes another brand’s product, it’s normally in one of two categories. At the end of this post, we’ll discuss blatant ripoffs.

Color(s) (but not necessarily formula)

This is the most common form of duping. Here’s an example: A beautiful lux product is launched, the hype around it is palatable, it’s gorgeous on all the models, but not everyone can afford it. In steps a lower price range company who launches their own product in a similar shade. There’s no way of knowing for sure whether their inspiration came from the lux brand or if they saw a bird flying outside their window with wings just that color. Plus there are only so many colors that can be made! To account for that price difference, you are most likely not going to be getting the same quality of product as with the higher priced item. That may be reflected in a less effective product and/or cheaper packaging.

There is something special about putting on a high end product but if you can get the same effect on a smaller budget and you want to, go for it!

Formula (but not necessarily shade range)

I find this form of duping in base products more than lips or eyes. It costs exponentially more money to produce a foundation in 40 shades than it does to create the same foundation in 4 shades. The formula may be very similar, but because of budgets not every company can offer 20, 30, 40, 50, or 60 shades. Does it make me scratch my head when a brand offers 15 shades of beige and only 3 darker tones? Yeah, it should be a gradual transition from light to dark to maximize the chance of someone finding their match. But if you can only do 10 shades, do the best you can.

Very rarely will these products be marketed as duping a more expensive product. I’ve found it’s more likely they are being made in the same factory but the companies have different contracts based on their numbers.

Inspired theme

A perfect example of this was when Urban Decay launched their first Naked palette in 2010. Neutral eyeshadow palettes were rare until that palette stepped on the scene. It was such a hit that nearly every company followed suit by launching a neutral eyeshadow palette. One item inspired a trend wave that is still reaching shore today. In the last couple years, warm toned eyeshadow palettes became the new wave. Right now, intensely bright colors are the things that are selling!

But this expands beyond colors. A couple years ago matte, highly-contoured skin was the coveted look. Now, the winds have changed and dewy bronzed skin is the new aesthetic everyone wants. This may not be considering duping as much as trends setting off a domino effect in the industry. Sometimes you can single out an idea that started the chain reaction (as in the Naked palette) but sometimes it’s a simple as supply and demand.

Direct Ripoffs

Now, I don’t have a problem if you get inspired by a collection of well curated shades or even the design of someone else’s packaging, but when you take an entire launch and rip it off bit by bit, my eyebrows go up. As long as you have a certain amount of distinctions between your product and the product you’re ripping off, it’s not illegal but that doesn’t make it ethical. Those distinctions could be changing one word in the name, the hue of a color in your label, and a handful of other miniscule adaptations like that and you have a product that will make someone do a double take on your product and possibly even buy it thinking it was the original. You’re letting someone else spend the money on research and development, design, and marketing, and riding the coattails of their popularity to make a buck. It’s flattering but deceptive. Does that mean all ripoff dupes are bad quality? I’d say no (or else we’d never buy them). But they aren’t all good either. You have to decide for yourself if you’re comfortable supporting that brand or if it’s just beauty products and you’re out for the best possible bargain. I personally have never boycotted a brand but I’m very open to the conversation.

I love the beauty industry but I also realize it’s a business. Brands need to make money to pay their bills, hire their staff, create product, then get it into our hands. I love high end and I love drugstore. My collection is a hodgepodge of both. I don’t think anyone should feel guilty for enjoying something with a higher price tag or feel ashamed because they use something from the drugstore. I think it’s amazing we can find great products at all price points and personally, I love the hunt of finding comparable products for myself and my clients.

Thanks for tuning into another weekly blog post in 2019! See you next week.