Buyer Beware: Your Salon Products Might Be Fake (How to Spot Gray Market Products)

Buyer Beware: Your Salon Products Might Be Fake (How to Spot Gray Market Products)

As seen on Black Girl with Long Hair. This article is a joint piece crafted by myself and Elle of Quest for the Perfect Curl.

When salon brands state their products aren’t guaranteed to be authentic unless purchased from an authorized retailer, I thought that they were simply placing emphasis on their exclusivity and turning us off to getting those products at a discount. To be honest, I didn’t care. I don’t buy products from random eBay sellers, so it never occurred to me to be worried if my products were authentic or not.
Hair Care Product Diversion
However, Redken describes diversion as the following: “Diversion is when products are sold in “unauthorized” places. For example, all genuine Redken products are sold exclusively in salons. But you might come across a few bottles in your local supermarket, drugstore, online or at a discounter. Salon professional products you find outside of a salon are considered to be “diverted.””
Buyer Beware: Your Salon Products Might Be Fake (How to Spot Gray Market Products)

Most major online retailers, chain pharmacies, big box, and grocery stores are not authorized to carry salon products, period. I know, it seems like they would be legit (especially stores like Target), but they're not. In fact, many of these companies practice the act of diversion to get around the whole "unauthorized" thing. They purchase salon products (think Paul Mitchell, Redken, Big Sexy Hair, Matrix, Kenra, Mizani) from a legitimate distributor, then store the products in a warehouse for years until the products expire and the bar codes cannot be tracked. 
 Once the products have "disappeared" from the books of the distributor, the products have new barcode labels slapped on them, are re-bottled (in packaging that looks only marginally different from the original), diluted, blended with alcohol, and any number of unregulated and potentially harmful practices. Once the products hit the store shelves, they are either greatly reduced to move quickly, or inflated in price to make it worth the retailer's while to go through the process of diversion. Sometimes, retailers will sell the diverted product directly as-is --easily told by the outdated packaging (like this TIGI Catwalk product I spotted at Target):

Buyer Beware: Your Salon Products Might Be Fake (How to Spot Gray Market Products)
BRUH....TIGI Catwalk Curls Rock Amplifier has been in a black pump tube since 2013... The proof is right here.
Diversion in the Online Marketplace
You may or may not be familiar with an online retailer named, “Stock N’ Go.” I was excited to see this site because they sell every salon and drugstore hair product (hello, Ecostyler, and even Jane Carter) you would ever want at a heavily discounted price, depending on the quantity you purchase. And when I say heavily discounted, I mean 50% off or more. For instance, the Tigi Catwalk Oatmeal and Honey is available for $8.78 (opposed to $15-$20). And even though I question whether this conditioner still exists, that price is pretty darn tempting. But at the same time, it’s probably not worth getting old or watered down products. (For the record, Lavish Curls isn’t even on the Curls website anymore.)

The Real Problem with Gray Market Products
Beside the fact that diversion is inherently shady and unregulated, it poses a real risk to consumers. Products are formulated with specific preservatives, and even the strongest ones can only hold up for so long (especially in extreme temperatures that occur in some warehouses). Of particular concern are products that contain formaldehyde releasing (or donor) preservatives, that are designed to release over time. The longer they sit, the more they release, and the more potentially toxic they become. And for those products that don't contain the stronger preservatives, the ingredients in them will expire and render the product essentially ineffective. Gray market products are a literal waste of your time and hard earned money.

Buyer Beware: Your Salon Products Might Be Fake (How to Spot Gray Market Products)
Go down 6 lines and read the text in bold.
What You Can Do
So, what does this mean for us as consumers? Essentially, #staywoke. Be informed. I'm not saying you have to locate the nearest Paul Mitchell or Aveda salon and purchase exclusively from them, but that's one way to guarantee the veracity of your products. If you have a favorite salon product that you purchased from the salon or an authorized retailer, commit what it looks, feels, and smells like to memory. That way, if you find yourself purchasing it somewhere else, you can check what you know against what's on the shelf. Stores that also have salons like Ulta are authorized retailers, and also have online disclosures about their supply chain transparency.

I didn't realize how prevalent gray market practices were among big box stores and smaller beauty supply stores, until I was browsing in Target and stumbled upon these products:

Buyer Beware: Your Salon Products Might Be Fake (How to Spot Gray Market Products)
Gray Market Paul Mitchell
Have you come across any gray market products or used them before? What was your experience? Share this article with a friend or family member so they won't make the same mistake!