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Deceptive makeup packaging: Are you getting less than what you expected?

Posted at 3:26 PM, Aug 22, 2018

Companies are using some pretty sneaky tactics to make you think you're getting more than you actually are when it comes to buying things like cosmetics.

But are they breaking rules?

U.S. consumers spent $86 billion in 2017 on cosmetic products.  

Makeup enthusiast Alex Langer says she’s never really paid close attention to the amount of product inside the fancy cosmetic bottles.

"Unless you're a mathematician, you don't know what that really is," says Langer.

The NOW’s investigative team looked at some popular brands and found some tricky packaging that seems misleading. (Disclaimer: we are not mathematicians)

"I think that there is an ethical issue with trying to convey that there is more in that package than there really is," says marketing expert Darrin Duber-Smith.

The NOW looked at two different oils from Olay products. One actually had more product than the other. The company is using what marketers refer to as "downsizing," which started a decade ago.

"You can make your package thicker, and that way it holds less stuff,” explains Duber-Smith. “You can put a false bottom or a thicker bottom at the bottom…you can fill it, not all the way to the top."

Another product from e.l.f. looked as if it was full of product, but when you start unscrewing things and pulling if apart, you learn quickly that looks are very deceiving.

"Competitors have to kind of have larger packages in order to convey the perception that there's more and more product in there," explains Duber-Smith.

Companies, however, cannot lie about the amount on the product’s label. The companies are required to be precise about what’s included on labels and the product amount is included.

"We have labeling requirements,” explains Duber-Smith. “We have regulatory agencies that do oversee these things."

Packaging can change your perception dramatically. Each bottle of foundation we looked at differed in design, but the amount in the bottles were the same.

"I would agree completely that it's very misleading to consumers,” Duber-Smith says. “And my feeling is that if your intent is to deceive you have an ethical issue."

So before you purchase your next beauty product, pay attention and make sure you are checking the labels; don't be deceived by pretty packaging.