Lime Crime’s Instagram is loaded with praise for the vivid neon yellow, fuchsia, and electric blue makeup. The brand’s image is all unicorns and rainbows, but after we interviewed numerous customers, we found that the brand’s identity has become less about sparkle and more about their business practices. Buying and using cosmetics from the independent brand have caused problems for some beauty fanatics, we found when we began investigating in July of this year. Sephora, Urban Outfitters, and Nasty Gal have all sold the brand’s bold products, but the company has a dodgy track record with the internet beauty community. Think derogatory comments linked to the founder— musician Doe Deere, (legal name, Xenia Vorotova,) who started the company in 2008— a warning from the FDA, and the dubiously late response to the alleged credit card fraud their customers endured. Now you’re firmly in the Lime Crime zone.
The customers with whom we spoke said they agree with the litany of complaints you’ll find in anonymous makeup forums where people go to air grievances. The way things at Lime Crime are going these days, you’d think someone mapped out the ultimate blueprint for alienating everyone with an internet connection. With Lime Crime, you can start anywhere in their history and the fault lines emerge. One messy situation leads to another. Most recently, customers have complained about the ingredients.
FDA slapped Lime Crime with a warning letter on July 29th of this year for listing the ingredient ferric ferrocyanide on their lip products. (The FDA approves of the ingredient for products applied externally but not on your lips, which they do not consider external.) FDA spokesperson Megan McSeveney told us that they received six complaints in two months about Lime Crime products, “which is why we investigated further.”
While cause and effect can be tricky to confirm, Ashlee Larche, of Port Henry, New York says when she tried Lime Crime’s Cashmere lipstick, she had a strong reaction. “My lips got really super super itchy around the bottom and around the cupid’s bow. I thought it was just a one-time thing, but then I started seeing similar reactions.”
Lime Crime stated this was a labeling error. We reached out to a Lime Crime spokesperson who told us “the results of the FDA-approved and required testing validating Lime Crime’s labeling error claim have been submitted to the FDA.” The FDA spokesperson told us, “if they do not contain these ingredients, the products are misbranded and therefore also prohibited in interstate commerce.”
UPDATE: Although we reached out to the Lime Crime spokesperson numerous times before the publication of this story , they have asked, and we have agreed, to add this further response. “We received a letter from the FDA, dated November 13th, stating that they have completed their evaluation and based on their evaluations, Lime Crime has addressed the violation in their warning letter – which was to correct the labeling error. The matter has been corrected, the products being sold are labeled correctly and the case is closed.”
Even though Lime Crime billed itself as vegan, the products were not legitimately vegan in the eyes of some customers because they included beeswax. Lime Crime issued a statement saying that the founder personally oversaw that the beeswax was replaced with a synthetic wax in 2012.
So many complaints of Doe Deere’s responses were popping up that Nicola Page of Glasgow, Scotland, started documenting issues with the company, including this one.
“It was absolutely an edit,” Page said. “Speaking to many vegans, I know the whole ‘is beeswax vegan?’ argument is a complex one, but Lime Crime advertised as vegan without the addendum of noting the beeswax ingredient in an equal way.”
Lime Crime is currently approved by Leaping Bunny, which certifies companies that sell non-animal tested cosmetic and household products that meet their criteria. This checks out.
But Larche, who says she experienced itchy lips, alleged that trusting the Lime Crime label is no longer possible. “The packaging on their products isn’t accurate,” Larche said. “They claim it’s cruelty-free, and it’s clearly not when people have reactions to beeswax, which has been on their labels for awhile.”
ALLEGED FRAUDULENT CHARGES
A neon matte lipstick from Lime Crime is $20 and it’s $38 for an eye shadow palette, but the true cost of buying just one item at Lime Crime can be exponential for some, according to the customers with whom we spoke. Intrigued by the bright rainbow of colors, it’s often the young people who have paid a price.
Caitlyn Renae, 23, of Columbus, Ohio, was working two jobs as a senior at the Columbus College of Art in Ohio when, in the middle of class in February, she realized her checking account was drained. “I had the biggest pit in my stomach. It was scary not knowing where it went,” she said.
Once she got down to her own research, she stumbled on a Reddit thread where every last person claimed they had fallen victim to similar charges. They all had one thing in common: they bought the same creamy Lime Crime cashmere velveteen lipstick that Renae bought from the brand’s web site. “I found out it was Lime Crime, and I’m 100% positive that’s what happened,” she said. “I felt very violated and unsafe knowing a company whose products I really liked would abuse my personal information that way.”
A company called NCSOFT, which appeared as “DRI” on her statement reversed the charges over e-mail only three days after she noticed that her balance plummeted to zero.
When it comes to buying Lime Crime, stories continually similar to Renae’s seem to abound.
The law firm Abington Cole + Ellery is currently evaluating a class action investigation regarding the data breach. Cornelius Dukelow is one of the attorneys who would be representing an undisclosed number of plaintiffs in the possible lawsuit against Lime Crime. The suit is not yet filed, but Dukelow said the claims will likely be related to negligence, breach of implied contracts, and failure to notify customers in accordance with security breach notification statutes. “They didn’t follow those statutes as required,” he said.
He noted that a small breach like this one poses a more dangerous threat to the public.
“It appears that the payment systems for Lime Crime were compromised for a period of time and the credit card payment card data used on Lime Crime was accessed in a breach,” Dukelow said. “It’s not terribly dissimilar from some of the other data breaches at Home Depot, Target, and various others. It’s just not as large of a breach, which is oftentimes more dangerous because it doesn’t get media attention so people aren’t necessarily put on notice.”
We reached out to Lime Crime for comment on these various allegations, and they directed us to their site, which says as follows: “Our website was targeted by a group of hackers who installed malicous [malicious] software on our servers. Upon confirming the presence of hackers’ malware, we immediately took action by removing it and moving our website to a new, secure platform. Potentially affected customers were notified by both, mail and email within 1 week, and offered 1 year of Free Credit Monitoring services.”
LACK OF TRANSPARENCY
Renae, who had purchased the Cashmere lipstick, said it wasn’t within one week for her. “I received a letter in the mail several weeks after the charges from Lime Crime offering free credit monitoring after the issue, but the deadline to claim the monitoring had long passed by the time I received the letter,” Renae said.
UPDATE: Lime Crime disputes this telling us in a statement offered after the story was published: “the deadline has NOT passed and all affected customers in the United States are still able and encouraged to enroll for Free Credit Monitoring, which will remain available until February 2016.”
According to the various people with whom we spoke, Lime Crime belatedly addressed this breach in March 2015 with inappropriately cartoonish happy imagery after people had been reporting fraudulent charges connected to Lime Crime purchases, they say, since October 2014.
Originally, the company released information about the breach, as it seems companies are apparently legally required to do, but they did it in social media posts that appear to have been deleted. Currently, a letter from Doe Deere on Lime Crime’s site details their security measures, and directs affected customers to their banks or PayPal. According to their customer care page, Lime Crime has partnered with Trustwave, which offers data protection security services to businesses.
In their statement, Lime Crime said that the site was closed to further investigate the problem, but according to the customers with whom we spoke, that wasn’t nearly enough. Lime Crime did e-mail an explanation after they informed followers of the cyber crime on social media, but not everyone we talked to says they got it.
Even though Larche was a Lime Crime subscriber, she said she never received an e-mail regarding the breach.
Larche noticed Lime Crime customers were reporting suspicious charges in October of last year. “People would order one thing and be charged double and find mysterious amounts of money missing from their account,” Larche said. “It was all handled disgustingly and irresponsibly. They ignored any warnings calling for them to upgrade their systems.”
Messy moves like this have led beauty vloggers to strongly advise followers to steer clear of Lime Crime’s products. Kat Wilson, of Melbourne, Australia, is one of them.
“A lot of people have been affected by the hacking of the website, a lot of people, like me, have just been offended by their behavior, and Lime Crime has been very active with deleting negative comments and blocking people on their social media, which flames the fire,” she said.
From following Lime Crime’s debris-filled path, she also noticed the majority of the people affected by the breach were only just starting to establish credit because they were young.
“Most people who were verbal about the credit card fraud seemed to be younger people who really couldn’t afford this happening to them. They place an order for one or two lipsticks and then end up in crippling debt,” Wilson said.
Lime Crime’s founder, Doe Deere, isn’t just the modestly recognizable face the brand uses for promotional materials and events. Over the years, as the brand’s fan base ballooned, it appears Doe Deere has been a highly visible social media presence. For some, her active role has damaged their perception of the brand. A drama-accumulating snowball of unsubstantiated blog posts allege that the founder’s comments on Instagram and Tumblr have been overwhelmingly nasty. However mood-killing the Lime Crime alleged personalized sass might be, it’s an altogether different letdown for some makeup fans who look to Doe Deere as a fashion icon.
Numerous customers with whom we spoke claim the brand’s founder says something offensive, erases it, then doubles back for more. Wilson believes Lime Crime’s founder attacked the customers on social media who complained about the way the company responded to the breach.
She said: “In true Doe Deere fashion, she lashed out and blamed the customers for taking the risk. She then deleted her comments, any negative comments made by customers and blocked people from Lime Crime social media. This period of time was very messy, there were many posts put up and shortly deleted and a lot of comments made by the company and Doe Deere that that were later deleted.”
One response that stands out was the that Doe Deere allegedly said, “I’MNODISNEY,” in response to complaints about her conduct.
“You read in comments made by her calling people stupid for not liking her products or that she doesn’t want poor people buying them because that’s not who they’re for,” Renae said.
Addressing this, the Lime Crime spokesperson directed us to the myths and facts page of their site. It states: “Below quote, as well as other quotes of similar nature floating around on the internet, are 100% FAKE. These words were never spoken, nor posted anywhere online by Doe Deere.”
Larche is one of the bloggers who says she has been blocked from Lime Crime’s Twitter and Instagram after she posted a video in May of this year describing negative Lime Crime experiences.
“Doe continuously sock puppets her fans. She will go on social media web sites and make accounts and act as someone who likes the company, and call them idiots and imbeciles,” Larche claims.
Page produced screen shots of what appears to show Doe Deere snapping back at a customer’s question about the company’s business practices with this response: “babe educate yourself on facts and leave me alone, k?” with a link to Lime Crime’s site. Page went through her records and talked about how in April of last year, a customer, Mary Jane Yen, wrote in the comments of Lime Crime that not all Lime Crime is vegan, despite their claim. According to Page, Doe Deere’s response was “no I didn’t know and I created it #dumbass.”
“It was definitely her. There are so many screen caps of that one floating about,” Page said.
Again, the brand insists these quotes are fake.
Originally, Page was a fan of the brand, and was part of Lime Crime’s e-mail list “CandyFuture” where people talked about “glamour, happiness, and unicorns.” Membership badge holding fans were encouraged to support the brand and “spread glee.” She recalled an e-mail from Lime Crime requesting that members comment on the beauty blog Temptalia’s negative review of the products to say the review was wrong.
Page is one of the bloggers who Doe Deere’s lawyer contacted threatening a defamation suit. Page responded asking, in so many words, “What do you feel is defamation?” No answer. According to Page, they never pursued litigation. (Lime Crime sued Michelle Jascynski of Doe Deere Lies for copyright.)
NO QUALITY CONTROL?
According to some customers, when you order the same Lime Crime lipstick as your friend, you might get completely different products.
“A year ago I noticed customers a lot of their shades would be completely different than the shades advertised. They were just really poorly made,” Larche said.
Renae echoed the discrepancy: “I’ve had some friends purchase stuff before me and their product looked totally different than mine. Mine was lighter or theirs was patchy compared to my particular product.”
The Lime Crime spokesperson did not address these particular claims.
THE NEW CUSTOMER BASE
So who is buying up all the glittery powders? Even with the endless flood of negative experiences with the brand, possible consequences haven’t stopped people from buying Lime Crime. Cautionary tales haven’t killed all the adoration for the founder either, particularly among young people, for whatever reason. But one thing’s clear. Regardless of how much fun their bright neon lipstick looks, Lime Crime has a real perception problem.