Don’t get scammed by diverted beauty products

Confession time: I’ve bought diverted products in a moment of despiration and I KNOW better! A couple years ago, I realized that I didn’t have enough foundation to last through an upcoming trip. Because of my poor planning, I didn’t have time to run to the store that carried the brand, and there wasn’t enough time to have it shipped directly from an authorized retailer. I caved to the temptation: I ordered it on Amazon Prime for 1 day shipping. My foundation arrived and I immediately realized it wasn’t quite right. The label didn’t match the original label. Instead of the shade being printed on the bottle, it was attached with a crooked sticker. It was orange. I’d been fooled. Not only was I out the money for a fake bottle of foundation, I was still out of foundation for my trip.

What does it mean if a product is “diverted?”

Diverted products are not sold through authorized channels. Many people think of shampoo and conditioner, but this is common with skincare and cosmetics too. Some lines are intended only for sale by licensed professionals or authorized distributors. Products sold outside of these channels are likely to be expired, diluted, adulterated, have not been properly stored, and are definitely not gauranteed by the manufacturer. Sometimes, these products contain dangerous additives or ingredients that are not on the label, so you can’t be certain a diverted product doesn’t contain ingredients you are allergic to.

How to spot a diverted product:

If you see a salon or spa brand, or any exclusive cosmetic or personal care product at a drug store, grocery store, or discount clothing and home goods store, chances are it is diverted. This In-Style article offers helpful tips for spotting diverted items, including looking for inconsistencies in the labels or packaging, covering bar codes to make them harder to track (look for bar code stickers or markered out bar codes), and prices that seem significantly lower.

This bottle of hair spray has a telltale sign of diversion: A sticker over the real barcode. Note how old the product and sticker are. This was on the shelves at a Des Moines grocery store today.

Am I getting a better deal at a big box store? 

Many professional quality hair and skincare lines dictate the prices that their authorized distributors can charge. No authorized licensed professionals or distributors are allowed to charge less. Ironically enough, many diverted products cost as much as, or more than, a guaranteed product sold from a legitimate distributor, and you truly can’t know what you’re buying if it isn’t from an authorized retailer.

This bottle of Redken Shampoo sells for $15.99 from an authorized salon, but was on the shelf at a local grocery store with a sticker over the real bar code today for $19.99.

Professional skincare lines like Rhonda Allison, our exclusive skincare line, are only available through licensed estheticians or dermatologists. According to Rhonda Allison:

“Consumers need to be aware that if they purchase from an institution such as eBay or Amazon, their product may be diluted, expired, or counterfeit. Such product may not be safe to use or perform as tested and Rhonda Allison will not take responsibility for the purchaser’s dissatisfaction…these products are considered “diverted” and constitute a high risk to the consumer.”

A quick check of Amazon showed a few Rhonda Allison products, and almost all of these diverted products were priced higher than our products! Some appear to be bottles that are either older designs or not “quite right.”  For example, I found a bottle of Rhonda Allison’s Drops of Essence today on Amazon selling for nearly $50 more than we sell it at East Village Spa. Our product is guaranteed to be exactly what it says, comes with expert advice, and we’ll happily ship it to our clients!

Diverted and seriously overpriced product on Amazon.

If diversion is so bad, how are stores getting away with it?

According to Consumer Affairs, the illegality comes from people within the supply chain diverting the products to stores like big box or online retailers, which is a breach of their contract. For example, if a distributor unethically sells their products, including those that are expired, damaged, or used, to a big box store, they are breaching their contract with the manufacturer. Some individuals sell stolen goods. The products then go to a warehouse where the products bar codes are destroyed or covered to make them hard to track. When a big box store buys diverted products from these unethical operators, this is not illegal, but it is unethical because the retailer cannot guarantee the authenticity or safety of the products.

The only way to reduce this practice, short of passing legislation making it illegal for retailers to purchase unauthorized products, is to educate consumers about product diversion and encourage consumers to purchase directly from their salon, spa, or wellness professionals. This is the only way to guarantee that you are getting what you pay for, and more often than not, you’ll end up saving money. Plus, you will be supporting small business owners instead of online or big box retailers engaging in unethical practices without concern for your health.

Think you got a steal on your favorite brand at a big box store?

I was home visiting my mom for Thanksgiving last week and she shared with me that her hair felt gross after using the “new” bottle of salon brand shampoo she bought at the grocery store.  Her hair felt like it was coated in baby oil.

I grabbed the bottle and explained diversion, the practice of big box retailers selling salon products that have been funneled through the “gray market” that are either expired, counterfeit, or stolen.  And guess what…this is not illegal!  So long as the products state “guaranteed only when sold by a professional” you have to do the research yourself and make sure you are getting real products!

A telltale sign is that the bar code printed onto your bottle has been covered with a sticker, including another bar code.  People who make money by diverting products often wait until the bar code expires or cover it up to avoid being caught.  Mom and I then played product “CSI” in her bathroom and looked for other tell-tale signs of diversion.

Two of the products we found at mom's house with telltale signs that they were diverted.
Two of the products we found at mom’s house with telltale signs that they were diverted.

One interesting thing is that I explained to my mom that the cost from the grocery store products was about the same as the product that her hair stylist was selling.  People THINK they are getting a great deal when they see a product they perceive as expensive in the salon in a grocery store, but in actuality, it is likely to be close in price, or even less, than your salon or spa professional would sell the product.  And you would be supporting a professional you have a relationship with instead of chain stores  and unethical people.

Mom ended up throwing out several full bottles of product that LOOKED like what her stylist sold but worked nothing like them.  She has vowed to purchase only in salons, even if the convenience and perceived deal in grocery stores was tempting.  She said she knew something was wrong with how horrible her hair felt and I was all too happy to share the info!

Diversion isn’t just about hair products.  If you purchase salon or professional quality nail products from unauthorized distributors, you are also at risk for getting counterfeit products.  CND Shellac is only authorized to be used by licensed nail technicians and cosmetologists but we know that some clients purchase what they THINK is Shellac online and are excited to try applying it themselves at home (trickier than you might think!).  This is an alarming article about counterfeit Shellac.  Completely not worth the price  when you don’t know what you’re getting and it is unfortunate that these diverted products tarnish the reputation of great brands by masquerading in similar bottles but performing poorly.

This 2008 article by Consumer Affairs gives more information about Diversion and this news report from 2013 shows that nothing much has changed since 2008 AND that typically diverted products sell for more than you would pay in a salon because they have to change hands so many times to hit drugstore/grocery/big box shelves!

The best bet is to trust your licensed spa and salon professional and question items that don’t seem like they belong in a big box store and don’t be fooled into thinking that because something is in a discount store that you are getting a deal!

We are an authorized distributor for all of our brands, and our employees have great training on the lines, ingredients, and how to use each product.
We are an authorized distributor for all of our brands, and our employees have great training on the lines, ingredients, and how to use each product.