Sixty-eight percent of Americans currently take supplements, and more and more options are showing up online by the day. With their eye-catching packaging and Instagram pages, it can be tough to distinguish the quality brands from the gimmicks—or even the straight-up counterfeit. Case and point: Amazon took some heat this past summer after warning its customers they’d potentially purchased fake supplements from one of its third-party sellers.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to spot a knockoff.
The main reason counterfeit supplements can make it to online marketplaces like Amazon has to do with how the supplement industry is regulated.
“The FDA has to approve over-the-counter and prescription drugs before they can be sold,” explains Brian Tanzer, M.S., C.N.S., Manager of Scientific Affairs for The Vitamin Shoppe. “Dietary supplements and foods, meanwhile, don’t have to be approved beforehand.”
That’s not to say that supplements aren’t regulated at all, however. “Manufacturers are required to follow ‘good manufacturing practices’ and test all of the materials they use,” Tanzer says. Additionally, reputable companies test their finished products to ensure stability. The Vitamin Shoppe brands, for instance, are put through 320 rigorous quality assurance steps, and ingredient purity and potency are verified by independent, third-party labs.
The FDA randomly inspects manufacturer facilities and tests products. But without a regular process in place, counterfeit products, questionable formulas, and illegitimate brands might pop up online before getting caught.
Red Flags That A Supplement Is Sketchy
Next time you hit up Amazon (or Ebay) to shop for supplements, look out for a couple of warning signs.
First: “Beware any seller or storefront on these online marketplaces that only has a few reviews,” says Tamara Pircz, The Vitamin Shoppe’s Senior Director of e-Commerce. “They either haven’t been up and running long or just aren’t trustworthy.”
Check out The Vitamin Shoppe’s Storefront on Amazon.
You can also catch a few red flags when looking at the product information. “If a supplement is labeled ‘repackaged’ or ‘opened’ instead of ‘new,’ that’s a huge warning sign,” Pircz says.
Then, look at the images of the product package itself. “You should see a ‘lot number’ (which batch the supplement came from), an expiration date, and contact information for the company,” Tanzer says. These details show that a company is doing its manufacturing due diligence and holding themselves accountable to their customers.
How To Find Quality Supplements Online
To ensure the supplements you’re ordering are authentic, stick to making online purchases from reputable retailers. They have contracts in place with third-party brands to ensure proper manufacturing processes are followed.
On product labels, look for certifications or seals that can further back up a product’s quality. Certifications like USDA Organic, NSF Certified for Sport®, and Informed Choice, for example, all show that a product’s quality has been vetted, says Tanzer.
Some brands, like The Vitamin Shoppe’s family of brands, also sport a Quality Promise seal to reinforce their dedication to providing products that are tested, trusted, and guaranteed. “All of our products come with a 30-day money-back guarantee,” Tanzer says. “That’s how confident we are in their quality.”
Another sign of a trustworthy supplement: You can easily contact the brand for more information. “Take CBD, which is so popular right now,” says Tanzer. “You should be able to reach out to the company for documentation of the testing they’ve done.” Reputable companies won’t make you work too hard for it!
Shopping For The Vitamin Shoppe Brand Products On Amazon And Beyond
You don’t have to give up your Amazon habit in order to buy quality supplements from The Vitamin Shoppe brands. In addition to The Vitamin Shoppe’s official website (vitaminshoppe.com), these products are also sold online legitimately through Amazon, Walmart, and Ebay.
To get started, head to your go-to online marketplace and search for ‘The Vitamin Shoppe’ and whatever supplement you’re looking for.
Once you click into a product, scroll down to make sure it says ‘sold by The Vitamin Shoppe.’ “This tells you that the product is actually coming from us,” says Pircz. (On Amazon, you’ll see ‘sold by The Vitamin Shoppe and fulfilled by Amazon.’) Otherwise, it might be a product someone bought from the store or website and is reselling—or a counterfeit product.
When you click on ‘The Vitamin Shoppe’ in that seller information, ratings and reviews will pop up. (The Vitamin Shoppe has five stars and more than 200,000 ratings on Amazon right now—a good sign.)
Don’t see ‘sold by The Vitamin Shoppe’ anywhere? Scroll down to see if you can browse ‘Other Sellers’ for the product you’re looking at. If ‘The Vitamin Shoppe’ isn’t an option, abort mission, says Pircz.
Finally, look through the product images for further proof that you’re checking out a real, trustworthy product—the Quality Promise seal.
From there, you’re good to go!