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Dupe Culture in the Beauty Industry

What is Duping?

Duping is the action of creating or marketing a product to be similar to another, usually more expensive product. Given the growth in platforms such as TikTok, it has been easier than ever for consumers to discover dupes of their favourite beauty products. This is even more attractive in times of cost of living as many consumers are scrutinising every penny spent.


‘Skincare Dupes’ has 169.7m views on TikTok. Fragrance dupes are similarly prevalent with influencers such as ‘Paul the Fragrance Influencer’ having over 5.5m views on his content comparing fragrances to more expensive leading brands.


The reality is that ‘duping’ has been around much longer than TikTok suggests. Formulation chemists often request a product or texture benchmark, which is essentially what you want to copy. In my buying days we were under strict instructions to use words such as ‘inspired by’ or ‘homage to’ rather than ‘me too’ or ‘copy’ for risk of legal implications. 

Duping in Beauty Overall

Part of the reason that we’ve seen growth in ‘dupe culture’ on platforms such as TikTok is that it is much easier for influencers to speak about brands than ever. Historically, brands were unable to overtly publicise duping for fear of legal implications. It is much easier if an influencer is making this link rather than the brand, however, it’s always difficult to know how much of that content has been organically observed by the influencer or suggested by the brand.


The retail landscape is changing too. Dupeshop is an e-commerce platform that compares a range of beauty products to their more affordable counterparts having tested products versus the product that it is duping. From make-up to skincare and home fragrance, Dupeshop has grown rapidly and amassed a strong social media following.

Duping in Fragrance

The fragrance category has recently experienced increased amounts of activity regarding duping. A category historically dominated by prestige and mystery; the price point of leading fragrances makes it an obvious choice for challenger brands to look at alternatives. Some people may be surprised that there are machines that exist in fragrance houses which use Gas Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry (GC–MS) to detect the exact ingredients used to make a specific fragrance, hence taking the science and guess work away from matching a fragrance.

On top of fragrance influencers, who are more prevalent than ever, we have also seen a growth in retailer platforms such as ‘Noted Aromas’, an online marketplace that specifically retails fragrance dupes. Similarly, Eden Perfume exists in Brighton, UK and offers an experiential bricks-and-mortar experience.

Noted Aromas

Given the price differential, it is unusual for fragrance dupes to hold a comparable long-lasting effect as their more expensive counterparts. This could be due to lower inclusion levels of fragrance as well as lower quality of raw materials. Top notes and overall scent can be matched very similarly. This like for like offer on scent profile excludes complex packaging and high budget marketing which is a huge contributor to the price positioning of legacy brands, hence the ability to under charge.

Duping in Formulated Products

Duping in formulated products follows the same principles. The key difference is that formulated products are usually matched by looking at key ingredients in a product and following a trial and error approach to match textures.


In the UK, brands such as Lidl, Aldi, Primark and Revolution beauty have a huge range of dupe products, however as aforementioned, duping is apparent across the whole industry. Major brand houses such as L’Oréal and Unilever share technology amongst their brands franchises so it could be likely that higher positioned brands such as Skinceuticals are using the same technology as lower positioned brands such as La Roche Posay.

Duping in Cosmetics

Cosmetics is another key category for duping. E.L.F is one of the most successful duping cosmetics brands. E.L.F avoids using overtly similar packaging and instead focuses on formulation similarities. Many of their products have gone viral on social media for these similarities to more expensive brands. The first and most famous product that they duped was their Mineral Infused Face primer, which “drew inspiration” from Smashbox’s Photo Finish primer. They retailed for $10 and $42, respectively. Since then, they have ‘duped’ brands including Charlotte Tilbury, Milk Makeup, Dior, Smashbox, Benefit, Laneige, Supergoop, Tarte and Anastasia Beverly Hills. E.LF publicly listed in the USA in 2016 and has experienced rapid growth since then.


Is Duping Legal?

The legal rules are around duping are not black and white. Historically, there was a perception that seven points of difference were sufficient to ensure that a product is not deemed to be copying or ‘duping’ another. In UK law, the tort of passing off ‘protects the honest trader from damage to his goodwill caused by a third party’s misrepresentation’.  This becomes subjective as legal parties are forced to each define the definition of goodwill and often a range of aspects will be taken into consideration such as where the product is selling and how the dupe is indeed profiting from this.


It is difficult to answer the question of whether a consumer shopping one of the duping brands is purchasing the products because they think it is the leading brand, are influenced by the duped brand or are in fact, just buying the duped products because they like the presentation of it (which was ultimately influenced by the duped products IP).

There are ways that brands can protect themselves from overt duping. Charlotte Tilbury was successful in winning a law case versus Aldi regarding the similarities of it’s Filmstar Bronze and Glow Palette. This was due to a deemed breach of copywrite. For copyright protection, a work must be ‘original i.e. it must not be a copy of a pre-existing work and it must involve independent skill or labour’. In this instance, Charlotte Tilbury had tooled the palette and designed decoration themselves. This puts the focus on having adequate registered trademarks in place which can be costly, particularly on a global level. In this instance a passing off claim was raised by The Charlotte Tilbury team originally but then dropped, illustrating the subjectivity of this law. Full trademark protection can be expensive for emerging brands who do not have the legal expertise or budget of larger brands.

Aside from the legal considerations, the bigger question on duping is is it morally correct?

The short answer is no.

However, I believe that there is slightly different moral code if the ‘dupee’ is a small independent brands versus a major player

NB: The Red Tree are experts in the beauty industry; for legal matters, please seek official legal advice.

What’s Next for Duping?

Duping is not going to go away. Based on the reasons discussed, we’re only going to see more of this activity and consumer demand continue. Beauty brands that are leaning into duping in a large way already have strong legal teams who are solely responsible for maximising the closeness and creativity in imitating products, whilst staying within the rules and this will continue.


Legally, I expect there to be closer views of formulation imitation and brands looking at more sophisticated ways to both protect and dupe each other.

Thank you to Fiona Glen for your invaluable insights.

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