After last week’s Beauty Q&A about Idol Lash and it’s ingredients (here), I have received an overwhelming “YUCK!” response from a lot of you.
So this week, I thought I would come back and hit it from a higher level, with this comprehensive consumer guide: How to avoid getting scammed when buying an eyelash enhancer.
Let’s start this week off with some serious tea, fam.
This is literally the most in-depth industry overview you are ever going to read. You will walk away from this article being seriously knowledgable not just about lash enhancers, but also about the FDA, cosmetic ingredients, the FCC, and legal/ethical online advertising.
You’re going to be so informed + educated at the end of this article. SCAMMERS BEWARE! The truth is about to be revealed.
How to Avoid Getting Scammed When Choosing An Eyelash Enhancer
Honestly, I could name this “how to avoid getting scammed when buying a product” period. The tips inside don’t just extend to lash enhancers, but to all products sold in stores and online. This guide is all about how to become an informed and educated consumer, with some very lash enhancer specific tips.
I have been in the lash enhancer game for over 3 years and have pretty much seen it all. So many people ask me “Does WINK really work?” OF COURSE it works! I created WINK because NOTHING worked for me and I didn’t want to take the eye color-changing risks associated with prescription lash enhancers. WINK’s formulation was created based on 35+ year old peer-reviewed, journal-published science (source), which I further confirmed in an independent test in 2013 with 12 individuals.
So why do people ask me “Does WINK really work?” It’s because they’ve been fooled before! They’ve wasted their money on products that simply don’t work. Now, three years later I know the ins and outs of the lash enhancer market—and I’m spilling all my secrets today so you don’t have to waste another dollar or another minute on products that simply don’t work.
I have been very open about the research behind WINK, and as for lash enhancers–what works, what doesn’t (here’s a whole blog on the science and research). Whether you use my formulation or DIY, I don’t care; I just don’t stand for companies fooling their customers just to make a quick buck. And let me be clear: a lot of lash enhancer companies are operating in very grey areas with their marketing.
..let me be clear: a lot of lash enhancer companies are operating in very grey areas with their marketing.
So today I have compiled everything you need to know to guarantee longer, fuller lashes and to help you kick the farce lash enhancers to the curb—before you even both to buy them.
Tip #1: Check the Ingredients—for Efficacy
Before I dive into any nitty gritty details, I’ll hit the obvious: before you buy a lash enhancer, make sure that the ingredients are proven to work.
“FDA Approval” and Product Safety
A LOT of customers ask me if WINK is “FDA approved”. Let’s get some clarity on FDA approval: WINK falls under the category of a cosmetic product. It doesn’t contain any drugs and doesn’t perform any drug-like tasks. All other lash enhancers short of prescription products—which are literally a drug, and have to be approved as one, and are sold and regulated as such—are not drugs, and do not contain any regulated or drug-like ingredients (short of a few OTC lash enhancer doping incidents in 2011—oops!), and therefore are not able to be approved by the FDA. The best we can do as a cosmetic manufacturer is follow the FDA guidelines for cosmetic labeling and packaging (which are extensive, mind you) and we have the ability to voluntarily submit to the FDA.
..The FDA has specifically called manufacturer Allergan out…for understating [side effects] in its advertising.
So if you’re looking for absolute efficacy, turn to a drug like Latisse. But if you choose to do so, I would also advise you to read the full list of side effects, which the FDA has specifically called manufacturer Allergan out on in 2009, for both omitting and understating such side effects in its advertising and consumer education materials (see the FDA regulatory warning letter here). Understand the risks that come with this FDA-approved lash-grower.
Non-Prescription Lash Enhancer Efficacy
If you’re looking for a non-prescription lash enhancer without the side effects, you’ll need to chose one that is high ingredients proven to work for growing hair. Choose one that is highly concentrated in:
If the formula isn’t VERY highly concentrated in one or the other, ditch it. If sulfur is the main ingredient, let me know how it smells! That’s the only thing holding me back right now is the thought of sulfur (which smells like sewer, and is highly concentrated in onions) near my eyes. I haven’t seen one yet on the market with sulfur as the main lash-growing ingredient, but due how it’s been popularized recently in the media, it’s bound to happe soon!
Also, just because the main ingredient is one of those listed above, with peer-reviewed, journal-published research backing it’s efficacy, still does not guarantee that it will work for you. Our body chemistry, diets, history and genes are all a bit different.
Just because the main ingredient is one of those listed above, with peer-reviewed, journal-published research backing it’s efficacy, still does not guarantee that it will work for you.
Any serum that’s tries to do EVERYTHING without choosing which lash-growing path it’s going down is a bum product, in my opinion. You’re only putting so much product on each night; you can’t risk it being watered-down. Each person has a different reason for madarosis, so the chances of A, B or C working depending on what you’re trying to achieve and why you’re lacking lashes. Here’s a break down on which is the best to choose here.
About Ingredient Stacking in Lash Enhancers:
I really got onto Idol lash’s case about this, but what you will see a lot of companies do is stack their ingredient deck to confuse the consumer. Throw in a little honey here, kelp there, some feel-good-superfood-of-the-month thing here.. Oh it’s infuriating.
This happens for two reasons: first, there’s no patenting your formulation unless it contains a new chemical or a new way to derive a chemical. So, like Coca Cola, the beauty industry thrives on trade secrets. A great way to protect what’s really working in your formulation is by throwing it in among a slew of other good-sounding things, so you’re hiding what’s really working and in what concentration.
Companies want you to give up, to stay uneducated, and to keep paying for the fact that the company knows cosmetic chemistry better than you do.
Second, companies want to keep the consumer confused. There’s so many chemicals it’s tough to know what’s going on in your lash enhancer. Companies want you to give up, to stay uneducated, and to keep paying for the fact that the company knows cosmetic chemistry better than you do. If you don’t know what you’re paying for, you have no basis to know why you’re paying the amount you are.
So ingredient-stacking is a big no-no in my opinion, but it’s very, very common.
Tip #2: Check the ingredients – for Safety
Now that you’ve determined what the main ingredient is in your non-drug lash enhancer, and whether or not it will work, let’s figure out whether or not it will be safe.
The best and most streamlined way to do this without a PhD in Chemistry is to check the EWG website. Again, the FDA does not regulate cosmetics beyond the labeling guidelines and the banned ingredient list.
Whether or not a product can be legally sold and the morality of whether or not certain ingredients should go into a cosmetic formulation are two totally different—and unrelated—things.
Unfortunately, the FDA’s banned ingredient list is not nearly extensive as Canada or the EU’s, and doesn’t completely cover it all; again, let me repeat: the FDA will NOT save you. Whether or not a product can be legally sold and the morality of whether or not certain ingredients should go into a cosmetic formulation are two totally different—and unrelated—things. Do yourself a favor and be an educated consumer—or at the very least use great tools created by awesome companies working to create educated consumers—to protect yourself from future harm to your health.
As for checking ingredient safety with EWG’s SkinDeep database (here), it’s pretty simple. If the product you’re checking isn’t already in their database, you can copy and paste ingredients into their site in the search bar, and they will give you a safety score, as well as some other information about the ingredients, their use, efficacy and safety. Plus, this tool is great if you can’t pick a peptide out of the lineup; they’ll do it for you! Go EWG!
Tip #3: Research the Company History
Wow. There are a lot of sketchy things that have gone on in the lash enhancer industry since it started booming in 2008. If you’re wondering about the reputability of the company you’re thinking of buying from, here’s the questions I ask:
– Who’s the founder? Are they anywhere to be seen?
– Do they have any FDA warning letters?
– Does the company have a website? (Some Amazon sellers don’t!)
– Where are the customer or blogger reviews?
– How was the product developed?
– Where is the product manufactured?
Why am I asking all these questions? Because beyond the 2011 scandal with lash enhancer-doping – a whole faceless non-prescription lash enhancer market has cropped up on Amazon alone.
2011 Lash-Enhancer Doping Scandal
A lot of companies were—and still are—producing their lash enhancers in China, whether they were laced with the main ingredient of prescription products and/or some companies were buying lash enhancer OEM/wholesale from China, and had no idea what was actually inside the products they were buying, because my guess is they failed to perform a chemical analysis and formally get a certificate of analysis for the formulation. They simply bought it from them in the bottles already, had their logo printed on it, and began selling as soon as it arrived at their door.
Faceless Lash Enhancer Companies
These faceless lash enhancer companies are competing solely on Amazon, with the SEO they’ve garnered there, and are raking in $3.000 – $5,000/day on lash enhancers that they didn’t even create, but solely purchase from China and redistribute with their brand name on it. Faceless lash enhancer companies have no real website–and therefore have almost no legal liability for their marketing claim on Amazon. The have very little legal liability for class action lawsuits given that only Amazon is selling them as a 3rd-party, and the original companies don’t even sell their own lash enhancers on their own sites.
Faceless lash enhancer companies have no real website–and therefore have virtually no legal liability for their marketing claims on Amazon.
Will one of these products work? Maybe! Refer to steps 1 and 2 first.
But what worries me, beyond the fact that these are private-label products from China, where—and I should know from living and manufacturing products there—factories have very little quality control standards and will do anything for a buck, including dope formulations (like we’ve not only already seen in this industry, but have also seen in the supplement industry), but also that these companies are stacking and stacking and stacking their reviews with fake reviews from companies in China and review sites. Amazon ranks products very highly based on reviews from customers. If all the reviews are fake or from sites where people were paid to leave reviews (aka also fake), what good is that?!
Yes, Amazon has been cracking down recently on this practice, but as far as I know they’re not retroactively deleting past reviews. This has been going on for years.
I’m going to come back to this—and my own experience and mistakes—in the next section.
But as for these faceless lash enhancer companies, they simply don’t care about their customers.
- Why do they exist? For one reason: to make money—quick.
- What do they do if you have a problem? Nothing.
- Why are they selling only on Amazon? To avoid being held responsible for product claims made on their company website, especially if and when their products don’t work.
Which leads me to my next point…
Tip #4: Read Real Customer Reviews
Read customer reviews like it’s no tomorrow. Yes, everyone’s body chemistry is different, so this is a very tough way to decide whether or not a non-prescription lash enhancer is going to work for you, because honestly? We all have different body chemistry and past histories.
From my experience, if you can find about a 70% success rate from REAL customers, then it’s a go.
How to spot contra reviews + fake reviews
I already hit on fake Amazon reviews a bit, but I’m going to start off this section with my own anecdotal experience as a small business owner, with contra reviews:
A contra review is when you give away free or deeply discounted product in exchange for an unbiased review.
A supposedly safe and ethical way to garner contra reviews quickly is to offer your discounted product to reviewers through a 3rd party Amazon Reviewer site—in fact, Amazon just launched their own program recently called Amazon Vine for this exact purpose–to help new sellers get product in reviewers hands to generate some much-needed feedback.
We were asked to participate recently, as members of Amazon’s Launchpad program for Starups and I declined. Why? Because I have participated in a program like this before outside of Amazon, hoping for some real feedback, and what did I get? Garbage. Some people barely opening the product and leaving 5 star reviews. People not trying it at all and copying others’ comments and leaving 1 star reviews. In the end, my star-rating was exactly the same as it was before I started, so no harm no foul I suppose, except for all the deeply discounted product I gave away.
Actually, in the end, I felt better that our average product score on Amazon didn’t change. Nobody should be misled. I just didn’t receive the REAL, genuine reviews that I was offered through a 3rd party testing app, and I won’t do it again for that reason. I told reviewers “don’t leave a review for 8 weeks, until you’ve used all the product”, yet I had reviews 3-5 days after shipment.
So yes, you will find sketchy looking reviews even on our WINK amazon page! But don’t let that stop you from reading and figuring out how to determine the real reviews. Take my mistake and use it as a lesson in determining what’s real and what’s fake in this crazy SEO-driven world.
Fake reviews are rampant. I have friends in China that write fake Amazon reviews for a living.
Contra reviews can get out of hand, but thankfully they are easy to spot, thanks to the FCC. Every contra review should end with “I was given a discount in exchange for her honest and unbiased review”–or something along those lines. Some product pages have built up their entire Amazon store on contra reviews. That’s their decision, and it’s your responsibility to determine how genuine these contra reviews are.
Fake reviews — on the other hand — are harder to spot, and truthfully.. are rampant. I have friends in China that write fake Amazon reviews for a living. They get about $0.16 – $0.32 per review, and Amazon accepts these as totally real reviews… for now. They’ll get smarter. But in the mean time, read further and don’t automatically accept 4 stars or 5 stars an as absolute consumer-driven, meritocratic truth.
“Verified Purchase” reviews on Amazon are real comments by people who actually bought the product–with one caveat.
“Verified Purchase” reviews on Amazon are real comments by people who actually bought the product–with one caveat. I could not buy WINK and leave a review. Neither could my mom, dad, boyfriend or grandparents; Amazon is pretty smart about knowing when people are “close” to the product or its creator (thanks data mining!). However, I know from my experience and from talking to friends with stores in other highly competitive categories–competitors CAN and WILL buy their competitors products and leave fake 1 star reviews. Go figure.
Update: Amazon has since changed their contra review policy. Now you can have a LIMITED number of contra reviews and/or work through their Vine program (which they are in charge of). This changes the game once again for all Amazon vendors. For those on the right side of the line, Hallelujah! What a great update.
Paid reviews – They’re not ALL bad
Paid review are not necessarily bad or untrue. Sometimes bloggers or vloggers team up with brands to review their products—on a contra basis or paid basis. These reviews are not necessarily untrue, but they’re also not necessarily as critical as they could be.
First of all, anytime a content creator is being paid for a review, it is required by the FCC that the creator disclose that it is an advertisement, verbally or with #ad, thanks to this 2016 customer-protection lawsuit with fashion bloggers + Lord & Taylors. This disclosure is even required on those contra-basis Amazon reviews I referred to earlier (thank god!). Here’s an example of one of WINK’s contra-basis reviews, below:
The review is decent. 4 out of 5 stars. It seems like the reviewer actually tried the product and gave it a few weeks to work before leaving a review. Most importantly, she disclosed at the end that she was given a discount in exchange for her honest and unbiased review. This is really, really important! This allows you to decide for yourself whether or not you want to take this review seriously. It’s usually the last line of any review given by a contra exchange reviewer.
I’m not going to call out any specific products or manufacturers with loads of contra reviews, but they are typically the top 3-5 performers in any highly competitive category. Go forth and decipher, informed consumers! And thank you, FCC.
In 2016, every brand and content creator is aware that advertisements must be disclosed. The creators who know what they’re doing disclose them gracefully and their fans are fine with it. The important piece to take away here is that everyone is aware and educated about what an ad looks like versus an organic placement. You can then decipher for yourself how genuine the review is; it typically depends on the authenticity of the creator plugging the product.
Tip #5: Avoid These Other Common Scams
If the lash enhancer you’re eyeing has made it this far, great! Here’s a few more things that you need to check before clicking the buy button.
Fake Sites / Site Stacking
In addition to stacking Amazon pages with fake or paid customer reviews, another common practice among eyelash enhancer manufacturers is not just to create fake website reviews on their website, but to creat fake websites entirely—fake websites stacked with glowing reviews, before and afters—all without the company’s name behind it. Such sites give the appearance of being a legitimate website that is really enthusiastic about the product at hand, but most bear the markings of a fake website.
So how can you spot a fake review site? Here’s the top tell-tale signs:
- Glowing reviews only – no negative reviews or mention of any negative aspects of the product. I mean, c’mon! Everyone has an opinion.
- No listed author, author biography, or contact information beyond a contact form. If there’s no author, no “about us” page and no contact information (or just a form with no contact email), it’s for sure a fake. Who puts in the time to create an entire review website without taking any credit or giving any information as to where the review is coming from? Nobody. Blogs are real work. People like taking credit where credit is due,
- There’s only 1 product or 1 category of product reviewed on the site. To throw people off the “fake site” scent, some of these websites were smart enough to include a “top 5 lash enhancers” or make blogs about different enhancers that they’ve tried. Again, refer to #1 and #2. There could be a site dedicated to reviewing lash enhancers only,–that’s entirely plausible—but not without major credit or at least some negative reviews. It’s most likely that this site was created
- The content is light. If there’s not much content on the site, run away. Blogs need history to be legitimate. A lot of blogs that aren’t legit were created 10-12 years ago, and rank high on Google just because of the time they’ve been sitting online. Hopefully legitimate blogs (like my own) will take these top Google spots over in the next few years, with legitimate, relevant content.
If you still can’t figure it out – feel free to gut check a site with me by emailing me the URL. I’d be happy to dig deeper into it with some advanced techniques to find more information that would be relevant to the site’s legitimacy, like who the site owner is, who hosts the site, length of time the blog has been live, etc.
“FDA-approved” or “FDA-compliant” claims
Here we go with the FDA again. People love to lean on the FDA for advice. The FDA is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a government agency—it can’t move that fast, and it has many more important things to do than regulate the marketing claims of lash enhancers.
While the FDA sets guidelines for how we should label cosmetics, it doesn’t approve cosmetics. It allows us to voluntarily submit our cosmetic products to prove that our ingredients and listings are FDA-compliant, but that’s it.
The only FDA-approved lash enhancer is Latisse, because Latisse is a drug, and the FDA regulates and approves drugs.
The only FDA-approved lash enhancer is Latisse, because Latisse is a drug, and the FDA regulates and approves drugs. Anyone claiming anything else is full of it. WINK is FDA-compliant—that is, quite literally, compliant with FDA standards for cosmetic ingredients and labeling—but I won’t be advertising it widely as such, because it’s neither a 510k (medical device) or drug, and I don’t want to mislead customers into thinking that WINK is a drug.
Money Back Guarantees
A money back guarantee in itself is not a scam. It’s a truly legitimate form of a return policy. Sephora effectively has a money back guarantee, by allowing you to return an item at anytime, regardless of how much you’ve used it, as long as you have your receipt.
WINK has a money back guarantee, and I’m happy to extend it: I know that WINK won’t work for everyone, but I want to give everyone ample time to try it (the time limit for claiming the guarantee is 90 days, for a 60 day supply of WINK). Additionally, WINK came on the market in 2013 – a good 6 years after lash enhancers really took off in the market. I knew the product worked, but needed a way to assuage customer’s fears that WINK was just another bum product.
What you need to avoid like the plague are money back guarantees with less than a 60 day guarantee period—the least amount of time you need to guarantee some efficacy.
One big issue that arises with a money back guarantee is that the expensive cost of acquiring a customer just got even more expensive, when you’re guaranteeing that they’ll enjoy the product or you’ll refund their money. So money-back guarantee products usually cost a bit more: that’s our cost of doing business and the risk/comfort you’re taking as a customer. It’s like buying a refundable vs. non-refundable flight ticket.
What you need to avoid like the plague are money back guarantees with less than a 60 day guarantee period —the least amount of time you need to guarantee some efficacy. A few weeks ago, I remember seeing a new lash product, which said FREE + SHIPs FREE + try it! But they gave you 2 weeks to try the product for free before you are charged a metric butt-ton for this lash enhancer ($120+). First of all, you’d get charged before you had much more than 10 days to try the product—and the lash growth cycle is 8-12 weeks. If you can’t get through most or all of a growth cycle before you need to make a decision about a product , the money back guarantee is complete and utter BS.
Conclusion: How to Pick the Best Lash Enhancer (or least avoid the bums!)
If you’ve made it this far—Congratulations! You’ve maintained a laudable attention span in this social media-drive, soundbyte digital age.
If your lash enhancer has made it this far in the list, awesome. Go, buy it!
Whether it’s ours or another company’s, honestly I don’t care. I just want to give you a big high five for being an educated consumer and not wasting your money. You should feel proud for increasing your arsenal of weapons against false and misleading advertising techniques—because they’re everywhere!
As always, if you have any questions about products, ingredients, or efficacy, feel free to shoot me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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