Real vs. Fake Are We Getting a Real Salon-Worthy Product Discount or Cheaper Substitutes?

Real vs. Fake
Are We Getting a Real Salon-Worthy Product Discount or Cheaper Substitutes?

What most of you may not know is that, other than my love of hair and makeup, I am also a polish-holic! I know that salon products sold in grocery and drug stores are often imitations or different in some distinguishable way from the real deal. Still, the other day, I found an Essie Color that I loved at my salon, so when it chipped and I spotted it at CVS for a cheap price, I figured 'why not?' It looked identical to a real Essie bottle and was a little cheaper than at the saloon, too, so I thought I may have landed a polish steal. But after taking it home, I realized some slight differences between this Essie bottle and my previous one from the salon. The differences had to do with a slight size and ink change, and at first I thought that it might just be me and my skeptical ways as an insider…

But I am not alone in noticing fakes. An article by GreenEyesPinkNails showed that last month, a fellow polish-holic suffered the same fate of a false-looking Essie polish when she ordered from her online retailer. The differences between the Essie bottle in the salon and the one that both of us received were different in small ways that she states best. For more, read her Fake Essie Polishes blog entry.

The way the Essie bottle at CVS is different this time around:

    •    The paint on the front, (white vs. transparent), look different.
    •    The content of the bottle is 13.5ml instead of the regular 15ml.
    •    The labels are written in black (just like the old formula bottles), not in blue (like the new formula bottles).
    •    There is no phone number to call in case of questions/comments on the bottles, whereas the original bottles purchased in a salon always provide a phone number.

Alas, these differences prove the existence of imitation products throughout the industry, and this includes a hair-care favorite: Paul Mitchell. But a cool fact about Paul Mitchell that separates them from many big brands is that  a company policy states that a distributor will be charged $100 per bottle for any product that they find out is not contracted by them.

But most brands just don't publicly worry about it, as it is a little-talked about fact that most manufacturers don't guarantee their hair products unless consumers purchase them from "authorized realizers,' according to Jay Wilson, a reporter in her article 'What's in the bottle?"

It's true, almost any hair care or product brand that you can think of is sold in an imitation form at some grocery or retail stores: Redken, Bed Head, Matrix, Chi, Wella, Garnier and many, many, more.

The alarming thing about imitation products is not just the massive quantity of fakes on the market, but also that there is such a big a grey market that  it makes imitations legal in a sense. The missing piece here is accountability on the distributor's part. In normal business, the brand manufacturer of a brand contracts with a distributor. The distributor, in a grey market, breaks an agreement secretly, making a deal with another manufacturer to make an imitation product, not overseen by the original brand manufacturer. Then these inferior and imitation products get sold into stores. This is called diversion. It makes money for the distributor but costs consumers…

So, while Paul Mitchell fines products that aren't imitations when they find out about them, what about the ones that they don't catch?  Paul Mitchell products are notoriously inconsistent when bought from discount retailers like Target. Consumer dissatisfaction with products that are fakes is clear in forums like Read eye-opening complaints about diverted products and think twice before buying an imitation.

Your best bet: a salon shopping trip, every time. Then I can also recommend products right on the spot. Curious: have you noticed an imitation product recently? Let me know in the comments!

– Christine

7 thoughts on “Real vs. Fake Are We Getting a Real Salon-Worthy Product Discount or Cheaper Substitutes?”

  1. I've been wondering the same thing! So are the Essie bottles at drugstores (the bottles with white writing) fake??? I haven't purchased any with the white writing and I have been sticking to the bottles with the molding of Essie right in/on the bottle. Should I steer clear of the ones at Walmart/CVS/etc w the white??

  2. In the case of Essie and several other brands, Target has a license to sell. The product sold in the big box retailers is made specifically for them. In other words the brand, in this case Essie, had formula changes in order to meet the store's price point. Do you remember when Bath & Body Works picked up so many  brand labels? I use to buy Murad skin products from salons but it was so much easier to get it at the mall. Difference: same ingredients; however, my lotion was now watery!!! Again, the brand was getting itself to a lower price point for mass consumption. 
    I realize some of the places were indeed selling counterfeits, but in Target's case this isn't what's happening. 

  3. Actually they aren't so much "fakes" as inferior. Loreal bought Essie and the bottles sold in drugstores are being made more "water" and the colors slightly different. So while the ones in drugstoresare  techically still Essie, they're definitely not the salon-quality Essie that we're all used to.

  4. Some insider. Most people who are polishaholics know that the salons and stores like CVS carry different Essie bottles. They are not fakes. Way to spread false rumors.

  5. I am a manager of a salon that carries essie. Lo real bought Essie and started selling it in non salon places. The less professional Essie's have white writing, they are not fake.

  6. Surfing around I found this article and this is one of the most misleading things I have ever seen. Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, and Target are licensed to sell Essie. The bottles are slightly different, but the product is not fake. To say it is is just spreading unnecessary rumors.
    I have both drugstore and salon Essie, and both are wonderful polishes. I'm sorry you're too stuck up to ever set foot into a drugstore and would rather spread lies to discredit them.  That simply leaves the rest of the polish to the polishaholics.

  7. I was wondering why my Target Essie's had different style labels than my salon supply ones, and came here. This post is too alarmist!
    I have 9 bottles purchased at a salon supply store (my cosmetologist friend takes me), and between them lots have the differences you mentioned. For example, all the pale pinks I have are in 15ml bottles, as well as the base and top coats (including one from Target), but the more "fun" colors are all in 13.5ml (they are mostly seasonal editions, and only one is from Target). Among the salon supply ones, most have bottom labels printed in blue, but a couple are in black (and one is a very recent seasonal!). ALL of my colors have the "essie" engraved bottles (two sides), but the target ones also have a third side with the white label sticker. None of my top or basecoats have the glass logo bottles, however. So I think there is not much to be read into these inconsistencies. 
    Learning that when I see essie in the store though, it is licensed to Loreal, does affect where I want to buy it. The salon supply store is only $4 a bottle anyway, so it is great to know that it is most likely a superior formula!

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