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 RunwayRiot interviewed several customers, we found that it’s less about sparkle and more about questionable business practices. Buying and using cosmetics from the indie brand have caused major problems for beauty fantatics, RunwayRiot found when we began investigating in July of this year. Sephora, Urban Outfitters, and Nasty Gal have all carried the brand’s bold products, but the company has a dodgy track record with the internet beauty community. Think falsely representing ingredients, cruel comments linked to the founder— musician Doe Deere (legal name, Xenia Vorotova) who started the company in 2008— possibly harmful side effects, and a dubiously late response to the credit card fraud their customers went through. Now you’re firmly in the Lime Crime zone.
Lime Crime is not as much criminal as it is disastrous. Customers tell us that the lengthy list of complaints you’ll find in anonymous makeup forum hives where people go to air grievances from enduring abuse on the internet to itchy lips are all true. The way they conduct business, 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. And then there’s the way they try to erase damning evidence so that all traces of their questionable code of conduct disappear, except for screen shots of possibly real comments. The brand’s founder reportedly says something offensive, erases it, then doubles back for more. Ultimately, Lime Crime has not covered its muddy tracks.
A neon matte lipstick 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. Intrigued by the brightly colorful 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.
And so she raced to the bank where she was assured they’d investigate the charges. Once she got down to her own research, she stumbled on a Reddit thread where every last person noticed they had fallen victim to charges like hers, and they had one thing in common — they all bought the same creamy Lime Crime cashmere velveteen lipstick 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 used the name “DRI” reversed the charges over e-mail only three days after she noticed that her balance plummeted to zero. A rare happy ending.
Others had their credit card information stolen months before she found out she had, and they still hadn’t gotten their money back and now drown under debt, she said. When it comes to buying Lime Crime, stories continually similar to Renae’s abound.
Cornelius Dukelow is one of the attorneys who will be representing the plaintiffs (reportedly more than 200 people,) and the class in a class action lawsuit by the firm Abbington Cole and Ellery, which is not yet filed. 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, speaking over the phone to RunwayRiot. “It’s not terribly dissimilar from some of the other data breach 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.”
LACK OF TRANSPARENCY
Lime Crime belatedly addressed this breach of their SSL site in March 2015, with inappropriately cartoonish happy imagery after people had been reporting fraudulent charges connected to Lime Crime purchases since October 2014. The company released a statement, as companies are legally required to do, but they did it in now deleted social media posts. Lime Crime did e-mail an explanation after they informed followers of the cyber crime on Instagram, but not everyone we talked to got it. Currently, 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 nothing about the way they addressed it was above board, according to customers.
“It seemed as though they weren’t taking responsibility. They were pointing fingers at other people and as a company, I feel like they should have taken initiative a lot sooner,” Renae said. “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 only buys from sites that offer payment through Paypal now. “I guess I’m smarter about who I purchase from.”
Messy moves like this and other issues have led beauty vloggers to strongly advise everyone to steer clear of Lime Crime’s products. Kat Wilson, 29 of Melbourne, Australia decided to stop buying Lime Crime makeup once they pulled their products out of Australian stores where she lives.
“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 who fell victim to the internet breach fiasco after buying one eyeshadow 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.
Ashlee Larche of 24, Port Henry, New York 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. These people are robbing people blindly,” Larche said. “It was all handled disgustingly and irresponsibly. They ignored any warnings calling for them to upgrade their systems.”
Even though Larche subscribed to Lime Crime via e-mail, she said she never received an e-mail regarding the breach.
Of the way the company addressed the breach in the comment section on social media, Wilson believes Lime Crime continued its grand tradition.
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.”
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, Doe Deere’s involvement has been total. It appears she has remained a highly visible voice corresponding with people, and responding quickly to the brand’s followers. For some, her active role has permanently damaged the “makeup for unicorns” brand’s reputation. A drama-accumulating snowball of unsubstantiated blog posts allege that the founder’s comments on Instagram and Tumblr have been overwhelmingly malicious. 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.
“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.
One response that stands out was the allegation that Doe Deere said “it’s your fault for buying a $16 lipstick,” in response to complaints about the breach.
Wilson says that sounded like Doe Deere.
“Lime Crime has since come out to say that this response was fake, but after hearing many stories over the years of how Doe Deere has bullied bloggers who post bad reviews of her products, I do believe that she wrote that comment. Comments like this is what makes me really mad as a consumer and has finalized my thoughts on the brand.”
Reports of Doe Deere’s phantom comments are so common that people who know the history avoid taking the fluorescent nail polishes for a spin. Bloggers suspect that their misguided social media outreach has suffered because the founder no longer has the money to pay people to attack negative commenters.
“They are disrespectful to their customers, and they take them for granted. I will never support a brand that has that attitude because customers are what make a brand successful, and customers should be treated with respect,” Wilson said.
Larche is one of the bloggers who has been blocked from Lime Crime’s social media. After she posted a video in May of this year describing negative Lime Crime experiences, she couldn’t view Lime Crime’s Instagram and Twitter anymore.
“Doe continuously sock puppets her fans. She will go on social media web sites make accounts act as someone who likes the company, and call them idiots imbeciles,” Larche said.
Larche said that around that time, Doe Deere announced that she was making the web site invite-only. Some bloggers say code of conduct like this qualifies as cyberbullying.
“If she has the audacity to say these insanely rude things and attacks people complaining about her company, it is cyberbullying definitely, a thousand percent. She was bragging about her wealth and how she was more wealthier than us anyway. It’s utterly disgusting to refer to the people who have made her who she is today as idiots and imbeciles,” she said. “She is relentless. Quite frankly, I don’t know how she’s gotten away with it.”
So many complaints of Doe Deere’s responses were popping up that Nicola Page of Glasgow, Scotland, started documenting problems with the company by following Lime Crime and Doe Deere’s social media, even though she is blocked from all channels with the exception of their Facebook page.
Page produced screen shots of what appears to show Doe Deere snapping back at a customer’s question about the company’s questionable business practices with this response: “babe educate yourself on facts and leave me alone, k? with a link to the myths and lies” 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,” she said. Page said the founder’s answer to complaints about her comments, was “#I’mNoDisney.” And did Doe Deere ever apologize for dressing up as Hitler for Halloween? Page produced a screen shot of Doe Deere saying “Obvs Google it,” but people said they could not track down an apology.
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 influential 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. (Lime Crime has followed through with litigation against other bloggers who have published negative reviews of the brand. Lime Crime sued Doe Deere Lies, Michelle Jascynski, for damages to her reputation.)
Page says Doe Deere has reached out to her multiple times for assistance, asking her to write posts to provide her version of events, but Page declined. When Deere asked Page to assist her in finding an anonymous commenter, Page obliged.
We were able to speak generally to a media director representing the founder about customer experiences. The director told us Doe Deere’s schedule was packed, adding “thanks so much for doing your journalistic due diligence. Please consider the myths and facts page Doe’s statement on those topics.” 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.”
Defenders are occasional.
“It seems there are a lot of fluff pieces and positive spins on Lime Crime in particular on Xenia as well,” Page said.
Page would like to see the company improve, and is committed to reflecting only what serves public interest. “I’ve even had to verify when Lime Crime and or Xenia was telling the truth because so many people automatically disbelieve them at this point,” she said. She added that the majority of Lime Crime’s employees address customers politely. “Xenia on the other hand can be quite dismissive and rude, such as threatening to block people for their ‘tone’ and shutting down questions on her personal Instagram account by giving out the personal account of an employee and deleting people’s comment to ‘maintain integrity of their social media,” she said.
Courtney Nawara, 37 of Tampa, Florida of the beauty and lifestyle blog Phyrra is friends with Aurelio Voltaire Hernández, the musician behind the band Voltaire. Doe Deere attended Hernandez’s wedding, and Hernández would often tell Nawara that Xenia was a good person who deserved a shot. Her response: “too much drama.”
She said: “I felt bad because he’s one of my favorite musicians, and it made me so uncomfortable. He said she was this wonderful person, but that wasn’t the person I knew her to be. After harassing those bloggers, I don’t think they [Lime Crime] deserve a second chance.”
Nawara says threatening comments often match Doe Deere’s writing style on her Blogozine. Nawara was turned off by how they handled cultural appropriation backlash that their in 2012 palette attracted. Lime Crime reintroduced this product with the catchy announcement “whether you like it or not.” “They have had their fans ‘glitter mob’ people for negative reviews – like Xenia asked her followers to harass Christine from Temptalia.”
NO QUALITY CONTROL
Order the same Lime Crime lipstick as your friend, and you can’t expect your pouts to match.
“A year ago that I noticed customers a lot of their shades they 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 mine. Mine was lighter or theirs was patchy compared to my particular product.”
SOMETHING’S ROTTEN WITH 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 extrenal.) The FDA told RunwayRiot that they received six complaints in two months about the products, “which is why we investigated further.”
The warning read, “Specifically, according to your product label, Velvetines Liquid Matte Lipstick (red velvet) contains ferric ferrocyanide and ultramarines, which are only permitted for use in coloring externally applied cosmetics…” Lime Crime stated they simply misbranded these products. According to a Lime Crime spokesperson, the results of the FDA-approved and required testing validating Lime Crime’s labeling error claim have been submitted to the FDA. “If they do not contain these ingredients, the products are misbranded and therefore also prohibited in interstate commerce,” an FDA spokesperson told RunwayRiot. Lime Crime did not release an official statement, but did discuss it on social media.
Some customers possibly suffer in a more obvious way than others. When Larche tried Lime Crime’s Cashmere lippy, she had a strong reaction. “My lips got really super super itchy around the bottom and around the cupid’s bow,” she said. “I thought it was just a one-time thing, but then I started seeing similar reactions.”
According to Larche, another customer she connected with had a different experience with the poisonberry lip balm, saying it made her lips turn purple (without the pigment.)
Even though Lime Crime billed itself as vegan, what kept it from being legitimately vegan in the eyes of their customers was the inclusion of beeswax. Some people in the beauty community acknowledge the vegan joke with an eye roll. In a statement, Lime Crime informed people that the founder personally oversaw that the beeswax was replaced with a synthetic wax in 2010.
“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.”
“She’s had a lot of problems with people calling out her out on changing her labeling. I personally don’t put any stock on what she says her products are made of,” Nawara said.
This loss of faith was the case for Larche. “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. It’s just one of the lies they were caught in the middle of.”
Lime Crime is currently certified by Leaping Bunny, which certifies companies that sell non-animal tested cosmetic and household products that meet their criteria. This checks out.
THE NEW CUSTOMER BASE
So who is buying up all the glittery powders?
According to Wilson, Lime Crime targets young customers who don’t know the allegations or refuse to believe them.
“The people who are pro Lime Crime are generally the basic customer who doesn’t know about the hacking problem or the reputation of Doe Deere,” Wilson said. “There are also people who idolize Doe Deere and will defend all her actions, or at least until they are affected personally.”
Lime Crime can continue to draw from a new younger fan base even if they can’t retain customers who have got Lime Crime’s number, according to Nawara. “She [the founder] is constantly giving out stuff people on Instagram and sending out products for people on YouTube to review who don’t know the drama or anything behind the brand. The whole Lime Crime thing is just sad,” Nawara said. “Xenia had been swindling people, and she thinks a sucker is born every minute.”