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Tracy E. Robey

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Faked (Nars) Orgasms and the Rise of Makeup Dupes

Recently, dupe culture has skyrocketed. But are they worth it?

That is Orgasm. That is Orgasm!" exclaimed YouTuber Atlantis Fae the moment she swatched Sleek MakeUP’s Blush in Rose Gold. Temptalia’s Christine Mielke agrees, "Sleek's Rose Gold is like Orgasm on steroids — bright, shimmery, and super affordable." A true dupe has been crowned.


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It’s a find worth shouting about given the difficulties in identifying a perfect dupe — short for duplicate — for Nars’ Orgasm Blush, which has been one of the best-selling beauty products in the world for over a decade. Not every dupe hunter is so fortunate.

Beauty forum users will tell you that, despite being touted regularly in publications and Pinterest posts as a dupe, Milani Baked Blush in Luminoso is nothing like Orgasm. "The Internet lied to us, everyone," writes blogger Brutally Honest Beauty of the duplicitous dupe. A commenter named coriander steps in: "I don't think the internet lied so much as it became confused" by blushes with very similar names made by Milani; the true dupe had been discontinued.

Google searches for makeup dupes have surged to their highest levels ever in 2016. Profiles of the @dupethat Instagram swatch comparison account have appeared in more than one mainstream publication. Pinterest seemingly serves up miles of graphics that pair prestige cosmetics with their more affordable supposed matches. In response, YouTubers in the last few months have tested Pinterest’s claims while continuing to produce half-face high-end, low-end reviews and tutorials along with standard dupe comparisons.

Search for makeup dupes since 2004

"Dupe" most commonly refers to products "of similar color/finish" as those made by prestige brands, "but with a cheaper price tag" wrote Temptalia’s Mielke via email. But dupe hunting isn’t just about trying to find drugstore matches for popular products. She says that the quest for dupes can be inspired by wanting a similar product with a more pleasing scent, preferring to buy from another brand, looking for a similar color in a beloved formulation, wanting a more matte or shimmery finish, and trying to purchase products similar to those that were limited edition, discontinued, or not available in one’s own country.

For other makeup fans, it’s about the joy of the hunt itself and the opportunity to explore new types of products. Nouveau Cheap’s Gianna compares dupe hunting in the past — before Instagram-famous makeup brands appeared on the scene — to "going on a treasure hunt and striking gold." She recalls "finding a dupe for a very popular high-end eyeshadow at the drugstore for about one tenth the price, and I felt like I was queen of the universe when I posted about it" because it was not only a color match, but also "the texture and longevity were not worlds apart from the original." These days, she uses dupes to explore colors and skincare products outside of her comfort zone. "Why spend $32 on an electric blue eyeshadow that I may only wear for one season, when I can get a very similar feel with a drugstore shadow for $5?" she wrote via email. After successfully testing the dupe and liking it, she says she would then consider investing in the prestige original product.

Those hunting for Orgasm will be happy to hear that there are many ways to get off with a close match these days.

The concept of dupes appears to have emerged over a decade ago in online community discussions seeking to recreate discontinued fragrances. Among the earliest mentions of "dupe" still findable on the internet took place in a forum called The Soap Dish, frequented by soap makers. One commenter in 2002 asked how to duplicate a commercial scent that had been discontinued and they were referred to companies that copy lost scents. Down the chain "duplicate" is shortened to "dupe" and the term is used again two years later in an unrelated post on the forum. "Dupe" appears to have made the jump to online makeup communities in the last years of Aughts, dropped in makeup blog comments and forums seemingly fully formed, requiring no explanation or switching between "dupe" and "duplicate" for the meaning to be clear.

As makeup fans found with the spurious Milani Luminoso non-dupe, the hunt can be disappointing, expensive, and disillusioning. Nicola Haste, one half of YouTube’s Pixiwoo, warns in a video about drugstore dupes, sometimes "you buy [a supposed dupe] that’s slightly cheaper and it just doesn’t quite do the same thing." She advises dupe hunters to test potential dupes before buying them "because if you waste your money repetitively" by buying lower-priced false dupes it will add up and "you could have just bought [the product being duped] in the first place."

Those hunting for Orgasm will be happy to hear that there are many ways to get off with a close match these days.

Within a few years of "dupe" appearing on makeup forums, some beauty bloggers applied rigorous criteria to testing and declaring dupes. In 2010, Mielke of Temptalia founded the blog’s Dupe List, which now has more than 75,000 known dupes. It started as a Google Sheet, but has since morphed into a web application with images of paired dupe swatches and a sophisticated match rating system. On YouTube, Emily Eddington of emilynoel83 has earned accolades since her first dupe video in 2010 due to comparing both the color and formula of makeup.

In recent years, more advanced cameras and cheap lighting kits have transformed dupe discourse by allowing a greater number of bloggers, vloggers, and Instagrammers to present clearer, more true-to-life images that pair the original with the dupe. If one compares a video that appears to have been recorded using a webcam in 2009, the earliest Orgasm dupe video I could locate, to a July 2016 upload, the change in technology and swatch presentation is staggering, and it mirrors the development of how makeup fans discuss and share dupes. On Instagram, accounts such as dupes_de, vanedb, letsmakeuptonight, and the aforementioned dupethat regularly post dupe swatches that allow one to instantly compare colors.

Yet technological advances don’t completely explain why dupe mania is peaking and why perfect dupes for certain products are now so easy to find. Nouveau Cheap’s Gianna suspects that it’s a case of "‘Instagram beauty brands’ (brands that have seen a meteoric rise to popularity almost exclusively through Instagram)" duping "other brands' shades — specifically when it comes to liquid lipsticks." Liquid lipsticks have been around since at least Covergirl's Outlast, but it took Stila and then Kat Von D launching them to the prestige market a few years ago to set off a liquid lip craze that resulted in frequent sell outs of popular shades.

"There are only so many colors in the rainbow, right?"

While Gianna says that it’s unclear if the duping is intentional or not — "there are only so many colors in the rainbow, right?" she writes — "if you do a search for #dupe or #lipstickdupe on Instagram you will see hundreds, if not thousands, of swatch comparisons of various brands' liquid lipsticks, many of which are brands that became famous almost exclusively due to Instagram marketing." While most brands don’t themselves directly compare their products and shades to those of competitors, some do, such as when Marlena of Makeup Geek called her brand’s Romance Blush "similar to Nars Orgasm, but better."

Recent controversies have taken fans inside the business of makeup, demonstrating that certain Sephora, Kat Von D, and Jeffree Star products are all made in the same factory. Google searches for "liquid lipstick" began to take off about 13 months ago, which means that most traditional beauty brands haven’t had time to develop liquid lipsticks — matte liquid lipsticks in particular — in response to demand. Companies such as Seed Beauty, which manufactures both ColourPop and Kylie Cosmetics, aim to bring new products to market very quickly via Instagram and YouTube marketing. With the ability to quickly create new products in labs and factories used by traditional makeup brands and perhaps a genuine desire to improve on a coveted original, scrappy Instabrands have most of the tools they need to create dupes — whether they set out to do so or not.

Despite the thrill of finding a dupe, Gianna says, "If you have to use two primers, a jumbo pencil, and set it with setting spray, is it really worth it to try and mimic the original [product]?" Sometimes you can’t beat a real Orgasm.

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