Are Miss A's Dollar Beauty Products Too Good To Be True?

If Fyre Fest taught us anything, it's that you can't trust everything you see online — no matter how much hype it's getting. A silk dress that's only $15 is more likely 90% polyester. An organic farm-to-table restaurant hawking $6 lunch deals on Seamless could very well be operating out of someone's living room. And a makeup brand that sells everything for just $1 sounds like a rash waiting to happen.
But online retailer Miss A is out to challenge that assumption. The website, which initially sold accessories and affordable beauty brands like E.L.F., NYX, and L.A. colors, now also offers its own line of AOA makeup and skin-care products — for just $1 each. Yes: Uno. Yee. Un. In a world where a single lipstick or face cream could set you back $50, that number alone caught the attention of thousands of people across YouTube, Reddit, and Instagram. But for the skeptics, it also begged the question: Is it too good to be true?
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"I wanted to create a brand of really good, quality makeup at a price point everyone can afford," Miss A's founder Jean Baik tells us. "But the hardest part in the beginning — and even now — is that consumers don't believe it's real. They doubt the ingredients of the products and how they are manufactured."
She's not wrong: For every influencer, editor, or beauty fan endorsing Miss A, there is someone else challenging its quality and manufacturing practices. So what's actually going on with this budget beauty player? Turns out, the reality is a lot more complicated than you might think.

The hardest part in the beginning — and even now — is that consumers don't believe it's real. They doubt the quality of the products and how they are manufactured.

Jean Baik, founder of Miss A
What's Really Behind That $1 Price Tag
Charging one dollar for any beauty product is pretty damn impressive. But how is it possible? For starters, the brand doesn't take out any money in advertising, which accounts for a large percentage in beauty product margins. With an Instagram following of 163K, most of its consumer base comes from word-of-mouth on social media.
Then, there's how and where it's manufactured. Baik says she employs 40 different overseas factories — including ones in South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, and China — that all specialize in different products and formulas. "The labor cost in the U.S. is much higher than anywhere else in the world, which obviously affects the price," Baik says. "The ingredients and containers are the same overseas, but since the cost of living is lower, brands can produce at a lower cost."
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With that explanation comes more speculation from those who understand how low prices can impact labor practices. "My concern, at such a cheap selling price, is what they are paying their workers," says cosmetic chemist Joseph Cincotta, PhD, who is unaffiliated with the brand. "I cannot make a formula in the U.S. or Europe and sell it for $1. Their labor cost must be incredibly low, which means they may be taking advantage of poor people working in the manufacturing facility."
Baik says that all factory employees are paid fairly according to each country's wage regulations, but because she declined to provide the list of manufacturers associated with the brand for confidentiality purposes, we were unable to verify the validity of that claim. Even with country wage regulations, though, there's still room for harm.
The International Labor Organization reports that nearly 9.5 million people work in "slave-like conditions" in Asia, citing below-living wages, long working hours, suppression of trade unions, and discrimination. Third-party groups like the Fair Labor Association and Worker Rights Consortium have worked to improve factory conditions, but monitoring systems have proven to be notoriously difficult, not to mention expensive, to enforce. (The ILO puts the cost at $1,500 to $3,000 per audit.) A rep for Miss A tells us that all factories it works with undergo yearly checks, and that the brand outsources labor inspection companies from each individual country to ensure the conditions and standards meet regulations.
The lack of transparency on where, exactly, the products are made also raises another question: Are they really cruelty-free? The company claims its products are, but some countries listed above do test cosmetics on animals. In the case of China, for example, brands can choose to evade compulsory animal testing if the product is not directly sold in the country, with one exception: Hong Kong. So without a formal list of manufacturers, it's impossible for us to independently verify if Miss A falls within those guidelines.
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Safety Matters
While there's a stream of unanswered questions on the company's ethical practices, its products do check out from a safety standpoint. The company only uses FDA-approved ingredients, the entirety of which we cross-checked with a handful of chemists. Ginger King, cosmetic chemist for Grace Kingdom Beauty, says that the basic ingredients may not be luxe, but they won't cause harm. Most of them are comparable to what you'd find in other budget brands, including ColourPop and Wet N Wild.
"All these formulas contain very commonly used ingredients that are globally acceptable," Cincotta adds. "The ingredients they are using are commodities in our industry and sold for $1-2 a pound. They are not using any expensive actives — like extracts, peptides, antioxidants — but the ingredients they are using are pure, and there is no issue I know of with regard to potential dangers."
But just because the products are safe doesn't necessarily mean they are good or high quality. On social media, people have described the hundreds of available AOA skus as hit-or-miss — or, more widely, "You get what you pay for." When Miss A sent me samples to try, I had similar thoughts: The brushes were really nice, with densely-packed bristles and little fallout; the liquid lipstick felt a little dry, but lasted through breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and the concealer didn't cover a thing. The quality, in my experience, was inconsistent — but I wouldn't label anything as truly "bad."
This lack of consistency that others and I noticed might go back to the fact that all the products are sourced from different factories, so there is no uniformity in the ingredients or how they are used. "In terms of quality and the advancement of machinery, Korea and Japan tend to have better ones," claims King, who's seen it first-hand during visits to those countries and at trade shows.
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Bottom Line
When there are thousands of beauty brands competing for customers, the only way to truly stand out is to offer something no one else can. For Miss A, that's the cheapest lipsticks, foundations, and shadows on the market. "The best feedback we always receive is that customers were skeptical at first but after trying out the products, they are truly surprised at the quality and pigmentation," Baik says. "We have a ton of loyal customers who constantly repurchase from us and are always on the look out for the latest AOA products."
Still, without being able to independently verify where, exactly, Miss A products are made or at what cost, it does beg the question: How much is 100% transparency in the beauty industry really worth? And, perhaps more importantly, will brands be willing to pay up?

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