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Nothing feels as good as that just-washed feeling after you leave the salon—that's why so many of us end up buying shampoo and conditioner from our stylists. But no matter how much you love your salon shampoo, chances are you don’t want to visit your salon to re-purchase it when you run out. It can be tempting to restock on Amazon or run to the convenience store around the corner, but be careful: if you do, you're at risk of buying counterfeit products instead of standby favorites.
Paul Mitchell bottles warn: “Guaranteed only when sold by a professional hairdresser.” All of Redken’s advertising states: "Genuine products guaranteed only in salons." And the label on Matrix products explicitly states: “For sale only in professional beauty salons.” And yet, you can find these salon brands on the shelves of your local drugstore. What gives?
Why you should never buy salon products at the drugstore
“We don’t sell our products directly to grocery stores, drugstores or discount stores, and our e-commerce presence is very limited and select,” says Vikki Bresnahan, director of brand protection at John Paul Mitchell Systems. “If you purchase our products outside of a professional salon, these items may be old, stolen, or counterfeit and are diverted, or grey market.”
When salon quality beauty products appear outside of verified salons, it’s an example of an industry-wide problem known as diversion. There is an entire industry dedicated to obtaining exclusive goods to make them available to the mass market—and it’s big business, says Bresnahan.
To obtain the products, companies go to extreme lengths: theft, liquidation, fraud, or breach of distribution contract. In some cases, companies actually solicit salons to buy products and pay a premium (20-30 percent) over salon cost, usually in cash, she explains. They then resell them to drugstores and the like in attempt to offer "brand names" at a lesser quality.
Redken warns that “diverted products can be counterfeit, diluted formulas, or old, expired formulas that may not be safe to use … if you buy our products in a supermarket, drugstore or any other outlet other than an authorized salon, spa or authorized salon related website, we cannot guarantee that it is an authentic Redken product that will perform as tested.”
The risk of buying counterfeit salon products
When these diverted products finally land in customers' hands, common complaints range from physical characteristics—a change in fragrance or a product that seems thin and watered down—to performance issues, says Bresnahan. These problems not only lead to immediate customer dissatisfaction, but they also damage the brand's reputation in the long run. “When customers buy diverted products that leave them unhappy with its performance and the results, customers have a false impression about our brands in general.”
“It’s also likely that consumers will pay more for these diverted products than they would if they bought from an authorized salon,” says Bresnahan. “The prices in the mass market are anywhere from $0.50 to $5.00 per bottle higher than salon pricing; in some cases, we have seen product that is more than double the price.”
So where can you safely buy salon-quality products?
Purchasing salon products outside of an official retailer is never recommended since there is no way to guarantee their origin. Luckily, some manufacturers—including Paul Mitchell—have started their own verified programs with Amazon, so you can easily get your favorite high-end products with the ease of Prime shipping.
"More than 100,000 brands are enrolled in Brand Registry," says Maxine Tagay at Amazon."This means brands can ensure their information is accurate and customers can make confident, informed purchasing decisions on Amazon." But according to Bresnahan, prior to July 2018, all of the Paul Mitchell products on Amazon were unauthorized.
So how do you differentiate the unscrupulous sellers from the real deal? To ensure you’re getting legitimate products, it’s important to do your due diligence—don’t purchase salon-only products at stores like CVS or Target. And when shopping online, only purchase from verified sellers—Paul Mitchell’s own website and their verified landing page on Amazon.
Additionally, you have some protection when you're shopping on Amazon. "Customers are always protected by our A-to-z Guarantee, whether they make a purchase from Amazon or a third-party seller," says Tagay. "If the product doesn’t arrive or isn’t as advertised, customers can contact our customer support for a full refund of their order."
If you’re not sure whether you’ve landed at an authorized seller’s page, read reviews (look for any red flags, including notes about scent, consistency, and effectiveness), check expiration dates, and contact the brand with any specific questions. And be wary of deals that seem too good to be true—unfortunately, they just might be.