What's the Deal with All Those Knockoff Makeup Brushes on eBay?

For every trending makeup brush, there's a "dupe" on eBay for much, much less.
Publish date:
August 31, 2016
mac, makeup brushes, real techniques, artis brushes, ebay, Sigma Beauty, knockoffs

There are so many makeup brush brands on the market now that it's overwhelming and hard to know where to start, especially if you're new to using them. Not only that, on top of the standard brushes we're getting vegan brushes, battery-powered brushes, and toothbrush-y brushes that can cost upwards of $30 per brush. And while we might assume that more expensive = higher quality, the proliferation of drugstore dupes for every expensive beauty favourite shows that quality can be found at a lower price, too.

No price is lower (arguably) than what sets of knockoff makeup brushes are listed for on eBay.

You might recognise these because they look remarkably similar to Sigma's Essential kabuki series that was all the rage on YouTube a few years ago. And it turns out that for every trending makeup brush, there's a "dupe" on eBay for much, much less.

Real Techniques, for example:

The MAC 217:

And those toothbrush-y Artis brushes:

I think we're all on the same page about the risks and questionable ethics of fake makeup (like those definitely real Naked 4 palettes that pop up in markets) and gray market salon products. But where do knockoff makeup brushes fall on the ethical spectrum?

First of all, as tools, there are no ingredient lists to be falsified like is sometimes the case with replica products coming, largely, from Chinese sellers. That being said, they're still coming in contact with the skin, and there is a risk of the fibres and glue used not being approved for cosmetic use.

I would never buy a counterfeit product purporting to be from a legitimate brand, and I know that some of the "MAC" or "Bobbi Brown" brush sets on eBay aren't the real thing. But what if they're only modeled after the popular brands?

This doesn't seem much different than what drugstore brands do. Take Makeup Revolution's style of imitating Too Faced's palettes, for example, or the plethora of sponges that look awfully similar to Beautyblenders available since they blew up in popularity. The companies behind the originals in cases like these spent a long time on research and development — an investment of time and money that the imitators don't have to make. It's the beauty industry's equivalent of fast fashion, and it raises the same questions. Do you want to give your money to a company who put in the effort to develop a new product, or a company who's capitalising on the latest beauty trend with minimal effort? Are you buying these brushes to fill a need, or because everyone has them?

These are questions you probably don't want to get too far into as a beauty lover or you will have an existential crisis and freak out about all the plastic you're consuming and pledge to live packaging-free for the rest of your life (I always wondered how people did this successfully, but not enough to buy one of their books). They're still important to consider, though, and I think everyone benefits from being a conscious consumer.

All that aside, you probably want to know what the cheap eBay brushes are like.

I bought a set of Jessup brushes from eBay at the beginning of 2015, so I've gotten to know them pretty well. They were entirely adequate — that is, until they started falling apart. While I don't expect a cheap brush to last forever, I've had my Real Techniques brushes for significantly longer and they're still going strong. It seems as though the construction of the brushes — perhaps the glue — is substandard.

Just recently I bought a set of the toothbrush-looking brushes, primarily out of curiosity about the mechanism (which is why I didn't drop the up-to-$75 for a single brush for the "real thing"). Beggars can't be choosers, however, and this set feels as cheap as it costs. Most notably, the brushes squeak and creak as I use them.

On top of that, they're just not well made. There are fibres shedding and sticking out all over the place. You can tell they've been churned out in response to a market trend. They're fine for the price, I suppose, but they're nothing against the Artis or MAC brushes they're imitating.

They satisfied my curiosity, given these side-handled brushes aren't available in store anywhere for me to check out, but they've been relegated far down the list of brushes that I reach for when doing my makeup.

Lastly, let me leave you with a side-by-side comparison of an eBay blending brush ("very similar to the popular MAC 217") and the real MAC 217.

I don't know exactly what my position is, on these brushes and dupes in general. Where is the line between getting a bargain and supporting shitty business practices? All I can say is that, from my experience with these knock-off makeup brushes, I won't be leaping to buy more from eBay.

  • Have you ever bought knockoff makeup brushes from eBay?
  • Do you have any of the brushes these knockoffs are based on?