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Grey Area: The Dangers of Buying Cut-Priced Cosmetics

Everyone loves a bargain, but at what cost? Discount cosmetics and fragrances may seem like a great deal at the time, but what do you really know about them — where do they come from? Why are they so cheap? And most importantly, are they even what they say they are? The selling of goods, often at a heavily reduced price and outside registered channels of distribution, is referred to as the grey market. And as you can imagine, or may have experienced, the fragrance world is ripe for the picking when it comes to the grey market.

Because of the nature of grey marketing, it's impossible to track just how many perfumes are sold through unauthorised distribution channels each year, but a quick Google search of your favourite fragrance will likely throw up thousands of sites advertising it at discount prices. So what's so bad about a cut-price perfume? According to Erica Moore, Fragrance Evaluator at Fragrances of the World, "The biggest problem with grey market fragrance is that you can't always tell how old the stock is and if it has been correctly stored. This could cause it to 'go off' sooner." So that "brand new" perfume could be well past its sell-by date.

Keep reading . . .Kate Morris, Founder of Adore Beauty, which is an authorised online stockist of brands such as Lancôme, Clarins, Benefit and OPI, says that as well as substandard stock, a huge problem is what to do if you have a bad or allergic reaction to a product: "The manufacturer won't be able to help you as their guarantees only apply to products purchased through official outlets." Alice Hampton, Estée Lauder's Communications Manager in Australia agrees: "When you buy grey market products you are not protected by the cosmetics company or brand if the product is faulty, expired, if you develop any type of reaction or if the products never arrive." Not sounding like such a bargain after all now, is it?

So how can you tell the difference between authorised and grey market goods? Well this is where it gets a little tricky. Grey market goods aren't necessarily counterfeits or fake, so they often look exactly the same as the real deal. Erica, Kate and Alice all recommend contacting the brand directly if you're unsure whether a shop or site is legit or not. As Kate says, "Most brands will list their official stockists (such as department stores) on their own sites, or will be able to recommend an online stockist." Also look at the price: "If there is a significant difference in price [from RRP to what the site is offering] be wary," says Erica. Kate echoes this: "If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is." Other things to be wary of, according to Kate: "No brand logos displayed; a seemingly random selection of a brand's products; products being sold unboxed; outdated packaging; tester labels; or discontinued lines that you know aren't available anymore."

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