Pink Truth and Mary Kay on ABC’s 20/20

pinktruth_on_2020Tune in to 20/20 on ABC on Friday October 2  for a story on the truth behind Mary Kay’s multi-level marketing “opportunity.” MLM is not a business opportunity, it’s a clever scam that has been made to look like a business. Host Rebecca Jarvis takes a look at long-time multi-level predator Mary Kay Cosmetics. Those on the side of MLM say you can make “unlimited” money on your own terms, while those who are on the opposite side have found that 99% of distributors actually lose money.

Over 9 years ago, I started the website “Pink Truth” to help educate consumers about the truth behind Mary Kay Inc. Four long-time Pink Truth members were interviewed at length for they story. They were all sales directors, and therefore part of the “top 2% of Mary Kay.” These women are part of the Mary Kay Cosmetics success story. Or are they? The truth is that the majority of the sales directors are barely making a minimum wage living, while some of them are actually losing money.

This story digs into the Mary Kay con that has been crafted and refined for over 50 years. Please take the time to watch this story. And if you have any friends or family involved in multi-level marketing, please encourage them to watch too.


  1. John Galt

    My cousin lost over $40,000 trying to make her Mary Kay “business” work. She never earned anything towards a retirement plan or had health insurance or got time off for a paid vacation. She did manage to lose her husband and the rest of her family though.

  2. Tom Cole

    Anyone who starts a business – MLM or otherwise – and doesn’t do the required business plan and research to have a path to success will probably fail.

    So – how many of these ‘poor souls’ did the required homework? How many of them wanted to actually work? Why don’t you do a story on those who started another business like subway or a corner market and then failed because they didn’t do their homework first? I have no sympathy for those who fail when they attempt to start a business, then cry that it failed because they themselves were bad at business to begin with.

  3. Tracy Coenen

    Tom – The whole point is that Mary Kay is NOT a business. It is an elaborate scam. MLM is nothing but a pyramid scheme in which almost everyone will lose money The women on the couch were all in Mary Kay for years and made it to the “top 2% of the company.” They were “successful” by the company’s definition. They didn’t fail because they were bad at business. They failed because it’s not a business. You heard the woman say that the money she made was on the backs of other women… she “made” money because hundreds of women below her lost money in a scheme they had almost no chance of winning at.

  4. Laura Rahn

    WHY would anyone choose to lose money on a venture with a 90% buy back??
    WHO is crazy enough to invest THOUSANDS in something and either to sell it or not choose to return it??

    If I buy a gym membership and don’t lose 20-50lbs … Is the gym a scam?!

    If I get a college degree and can’t land a job in my field making $100,000 was college a scam?

    We’d all me a lot better off is we each embraced our opportunities and supported each other instead of spreading lies and whining about other people …

    Seems like a whole lot of sour grapes by women who are living in a victim mentality than responsible journalism …

    Is this the same network trashing nurses as a scam too???
    Women bashing by other women

  5. Tracy Coenen

    Laura – It may SEEM like sour grapes to you, but it is not. The problem is that Mary Kay is not a business. 99% of people lose money in MLM. That’s not a business, that’s a scam. And there are all sorts of costs that go into this scam that you can’t get your money back on, so the “90% buyback” sounds a lot greater than it is.

    No, college, nursing, gym memberships, etc. are not scams. The reason they are not scams is because if you follow the instructions, you are very likely to get the results. In MLM, there is no such probability. Even if you do everything “right,” you still have a 99% chance of losing money. MLM is even worse than a craps table in Las Vegas!

    And speaking of “women bashing women”… isn’t that exactly what YOU have done in your comment?

  6. ExMKHusband


    The 90% refund is a lie, a scam because it leaves out a lot of details. Only on products bought within the last year, shipping costs have to be paid, etc. The actual refund is much less than 90%.

    Woman who ship product back are cutting their losses, they still lost a lot of money.

    Gyms are not scams automatically, they can be a scam if they promise a certain amount of weight loss while leaving out the details like following a diet, exercising on a regular basis, etc.,

    A lot of colleges can be thought as scams, for example a lot of law schools talk about the percentage of their students working after 6 months while leaving out the fact that this is across all types of jobs, not just ones related to the legal profession.

    The biggest thing to remember is that Mary Kay is a scam; this fact does not change even if there are other things out there that are scams.

  7. Sue

    MLM is an opportunity and has no guarantee. Just like any JOB, gym membership, college education… Pink Truth…..You are angry about something way back and will need to deal with it before your last breath. I really feel sorry for you being so passionately miserable that you feel you have to pull people in with you…if husband’s left their Mary Kay wives they would have any way. You don’t have to have alot of inventory to do Mary Kay or other MLM opportunities because you have websites. Mary Kay is More Than Just Inventory. Or you wouldn’t bash MLM and call them scams.
    You obviously believe in working for someone else and making them money. I know thousands of people that work jobs that don’t have health benefits or vacation days or sick days. Does that mean those employers are scams. Do I have a right to boast to the whole world that those employers are a scam? NO. You should be ashamed if yourself.
    ExMKHusband. A Gym membership could be $30 to $100 a year for as long as you have it and that doesn’t include your gas each day you go or the attire you bought to wear. There is no guarantee!!!!! And you don’t get ANY money back. So in one year $12,000 + gone and you didn’t get it back or make any money… Wow Seriously people. Get A Life!!!!!

  8. Spider

    Yes so many true stories. Coming soon. Time for some changes in the industry. 21 day free trial period. Free website. No fee until it works. Still get paid on all online retail sales with no sign up fee. Evaluate the business before you commit financially too make sure it is viable and working for you. Earn commissions during the trial period. No personal monthly autoship requirements. All qualifications for bonuses should elect a person choose to upgrade from affiliate to Independent distributor are only activated by online customers sales and acquired customers not by recruiting others to join the business. Or remain an affiliate never recruit a single person and still earn 20% commission on all personal online retail sales.

  9. Marley

    So there is this Mary Kay Independent Consultant (claims to be a Director) in my neighborhood. I told her I don’t deal with MLM companies, and she said, “Mary Kay is not MLM. We are Direct Sales.” Huh? Anyway, she comes up with one marketing strategy after another, all seemingly innocent with the appearance of wanting to help other women while all the while drumming up sales of Mary Kay. Mary Kay must be suggesting such tactics because I don’t think she is clever enough to dream them up herself. She posts these “opportunities” in our local neighborhood social media network which is under the umbrella of “Nextdoor” social media for neighborhoods. You are not supposed to be self-promoting on “Nextdoor” but you can post things for sale under “Classifieds” and her posts are always under “Classifieds”…including her most recent deceiving post.

    Her most recent scam. There is a retirement community in our neighborhood that houses 95 residents. We live in the most affluent County in our State. She starts up a “fundraiser” called “Adopt a Grandparent” for Christmas. A fundraiser? Neither Mary Kay nor this retirement community is a non-profit. In order to participate in this “Adopt-A-Grandparent fundraiser” is donate $20 to her and she will order “body lotion & lip balm gift set” from Mary Kay and deliver them (in your name) to the retirement community. She gives this sob story that the elderly are often forgotten at Christmas and for many of these residents the only gift they will receive this year is the one they “donate” through “Adopt a Grandparent”. Did I mention that we are in the most affluent County in the State? You have to have a large sum of money to get into this retirement community.

    So I went to the Mary Kay website to see that the suggested retail price of the “body lotion & lip balm gift set” is $18. I did the math in my head…95 people giving her $20 equals $1900. Let me just assume that the additional $2 was to cover shipping?? She buys the product from MK using her Director’s discount, and pockets the profit.

    Very clever marketing scheme, but very deceiving to those suckers who fell for it. So this Mary Kay Director is NOT really “donating” anything herself nor is Mary Kay. This Director is padding her numbers ($) for greater future discounts for herself, is generating MK sales profits for herself (and MK) all under the guise of hosting a tear-jerking fundraiser for the elderly. It’s sickening.

  10. Of all the schemes out there I have been least annoyed by Mary Kay. I actually like some of their products, but have seen a few friends fail at growing a business. I was recruited somewhat (it’s amazing how much people want to befriend you when they want to make money off of you) and therefore attended a meeting of salespeople. They only parrot the information their director tells them. I am a scientist and know when they describe their products, the Consultant rarely knows anything she is saying. They have been told why they are different than a pyramid scheme, so they describe the Direct sales thing. They describe the difference by saying that directors make bonuses based on the performance of the consultants under them, but the bonus is not taken out of what the consultant makes. I don’t know enough about the nuances of the law to know if the business set up is just skirting the law but I assume it is trying to. They also tell the consultants that all their own makeup purchases are tax deductible since they wear the makeup in order to promote the product.
    The consultants also have no training on makeup application. I know some consultants who have taken some classes on their own, but I also know consultants who never wore makeup until they started selling it and their lack of knowledge shows in the sales presentations.
    Anyway, I buy the products that I like but I would never join the company. Of all the purchases from MLM/Direct Sales companies, I am most satisfied with the products from Mary Kay.

  11. Anon e mouse

    Just attended a meeting last night for joining a company called transamerica financial services which is part of the world financial group.the person who invited me said I could make a career out of helping people. That statement plus other key words I’ve heard before from others trying to get me to join their business so I can have more time to go fishing with my kids or some similar kind of bait. I knew already what was up.
    While in the meeting once I was finally told the name of the company I Googled it. One of the first sites that came up was Wikipedia which stated in the first sentence that they were a multi level marketing company based in John’s creek. A woman at the meeting straight up asked the presenter if it was an MLM. he told her no, something about them being regulated, and that they just use that business model but the realm MLM mlm companies are Apple and Cisco..and then encouraged everyone to have integrity and be honest and trustworthy. I was then brought into an office and introduced to a man at a desk who told me I could join their Company for $100. They said it was fine if I just wanted to learn about financial strategies just for mY own personal knowledge and to manage my own financial investments. But if I wAnted to go the business route I could and make all this money. Somehow judging by the encouragement and hype for people to recruit more associated so they can get promoted to marketing director and senior marketing director and eventually CEO, I have a feeling that the classes will continue to focus on trying to get you to follow the system rather than just understand the way investments work.

  12. Amazed

    I have to admit that I have busted out laughing a few times while reading these comments. I guess most of the people commenting think that everyone should just get a bunch of college degrees and get a “real job”! All this bashing that I’m seeing is so contradictory. You wanna say that Mary Kay is a scam and is not a business because these independent consultants are selling products for a profit. So I guess Walmart, Ulta, Target, and pretty much all retailers are running scams and are not businesses since they buy their products from companies at a discount and hire employees to sell the products to the customers while paying the employees a meager wage.

  13. Tracy Coenen

    Amazed – If consultants were profiting, there wouldn’t be any problem. Unfortunately, more than 99% of people who participate in MLM actually LOSE money. That’s the whole point here…. you have almost NO chance of turning a profit in an MLM, which means that it’s not a business opportunity, it’s a scam.

  14. Joy Anders

    Anon E Mouse,

    I’m a 23 recent grad and I just came from a Mary Kay “lunch and learn” aka recruiting session in Dunwoody and was told that I could sign up and start their 3 week sales training right then if I gave them my personal info (with social security number) and paid $100 for the starter kit. Curiously, their consultant agreement form had NO fine print on it, which made me really skeptical since it never clearly stated what you were actually agreeing to. And I was told I could come to a Monday night seminar on digital media marketing for free with no sign up too. I’m considering going to the seminar, just to see what sort of new digital marketing info I can learn, but after reading more and more about MLM, I’m a lot less likely to go for it.

    The women in the session seemed to be nice and cheery and promoted the “I make six figures a year and only work 30 hours/week” lifestyle and they seemed to be selling the unlimited income potential bit really hard. I’ve read on blogs though that MK reps have to reportedly buy the newest products, even though the session reps said that you don’t even need to host an MK party, you can direct people to your specific MK sub-site online where they can buy product and you still profit. I asked what makes MK different from buying makeup at Ulta and Sephora and the only answer I got was that MK empowers women and doesn’t test on animals like Estée Lauder (I wasn’t asking about Estée Lauder ladies, I was asking about physical makeup STORES like Ulta where you can test out some products personally).

    Anyway, just thought you’d be interested to know there’s another Atlantan who’s skeptical of these too good to be true sounding “opportunities.” I thought it was especially sick how all the other 22-24 year olds in my recruiting session signed up immediately and I was the only one who decided to sleep on the idea for a weekend and do research on what the company is actually like and what people really experience working as consultants (MK calls them directors) for MK.

  15. I have a friend who sells MK and she is THE most annoying person on Facebook I have ever seen. Almost every post is MK. Even if they aren’t MK, the hashtags that follow her posts are MK. Pyramid scheme or not, I don’t know, but I do know MK seems to control every aspect of her life. It consumes her. When most people leave their job for the day, that’s just what they do….they leave their job and go home. This woman is 24/7 MK. But yet only “works a small amount of time.” Hell, she spends 5 hours a day updating her status about MK crap! If you are pro MK, is this something you do also???? Cause if it is, you’re annoying the hell outta your friends so stop!!! Very cultish if you ask me. I would much rather work 8 hours a day, leave my job and go home. Seems like you can’t do that in MK. I also think they look at every breathing woman the know or pass by as a sale!!! Greed!!!!!

  16. TMS

    money is made in recruiting. commission is earned by your recruits’ inventory orders. no one cares what you sell….it’s what you buy from the company that makes all the difference.and those cars are not free….there’s a lease or product order quota that has to be met. you don’t earn the actual car like some free gift.

  17. Katie

    A few girls I went to HS with do Mary Kay now and I honestly feel bad for them. One of them has a husband who cannot provide, and they have 2 kids. She “promotes” MK every day on facebook. At first, I was really annoyed by it, and now I just feel so sorry for her.

  18. Marv

    What’s really sad is people using success percentages to rationalize if MLMs are legit. Yet those same people fail to recognize the same percentages apply to life. Less than 1% of of people on this planet are truly wealthy, but yet we have no problem working for those 1%ers or legitimizing their industry. What percent of the workers at traditional companies will ever become the owner, ceo or wealthy from working at those companies? Less then .000001%. What percent of those workers will build an income stream that will give them time and money to go after their true dreams without taking out a loan? An even worse percentage.

    Do many people fail in MLMs? Yes!!!! But do traditional businesses also fail? Yes! Same percentages. But what we should be asking is why are people flocking to these opportunities despite that 99% failure rate?

    People like myself would rather die trying to obtain my dreams than work a 9 to 5 knowing in the back of my mind It’ll never afford me a lifestyle I want. I simply decided not obtaining what I wanted in life was not an option. All I needed to know is if it was possible. If those 1%ers could do it, then why not me?

    Instead of knocking those Mary Kay reps, or the MLM industry, why not try to understand why people are doing what they are doing. Many are doing it to get a residual income to spend more time with their family. To pursue a life long dream of being independent. To bring in an additional income to pay off bills. To do something. Anything, that can give them time freedom. They see themselves as that 1% that’ll make it. And I applaud them for going after their dreams, instead of settling or letting reports like this kill their dream.

    So for those doubters out there, ask yourself a question. Can what you’re doing right now afford you the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of, and the time freedom to enjoy it? If you’re honest with yourself, and if you don’t have residual income in your life, 99% percent of you will say no. And to me, the lie you can’t be in that 1% is a scam.

  19. Tracy Coenen

    Marv – I’m afraid you’re using a false comparison to support your idea that it’s okay that 99% of people lose money in MLM. It doesn’t matter that 1% of people are wealth and 99% are not.

    What matters is that in real jobs, 100% of people make money. They get a paycheck for their work. In MLM, 99% are guaranteed to lose money. The 1% who “make money” only do so off the backs of the losers…. with money being transferred up the pyramid for no actual value transfer.

    The “dream” in MLM is a false promise sold to people like you.

  20. CC

    My colleague was in an MLM. Every day he spent eight hours trying to line his pockets with my money on the boss’s time. He got caught stealing from the company the second time (to replace what he was spending to maintain his inventory) and was fired. Yeah, he was rolling in dough..the boss’s.

  21. Regina

    I was invited to a “party” last night, as soon as I showed up I knew I was stuck in a very uncomfortable situation for the next hour. Mary Kay. Ugh. Left as soon as possible. Although I wish I could’ve stood up and educated all these women on some basic economics. It’s such a freak show.

  22. Ariel

    This is not a business! Period.
    Stay away from it, I did exactly what they told me to do and losthe 5 years of my life. MOM’S please don’t fall into the lie you can work from home IT IS NOT TRUE! Eventually you will have to make parties and meet more people they call it warm chattering! You will have to go to others people homes , go to meetings, go to “educate ” your self , and as soon as you realized you are away from your children, some times more time that if you were in regular job. AND ! when you make a sale pray that your customer is not allergic to the product which is very common.
    It was my decision, I did it because I believe in all the lies I was told, I lost money, but most of all I lost those years.
    I have to say I learned to be more confident, but don’t waste years and money on that. if you want to increase your self esteem go and enroll on a course about it, or buy books, it’s is one thousand times cheaper than to be at this company. No reason for bad comments to me please, only I know what I had to face to get out from this scam.

  23. Ridiculous..

    I’ve seen the Adopt a Grandparent scam done here in Indianapolis, IN every year and it makes my blood boil. Nothing about this is fundraising. It’s purely for the consultant/directors numbers and profit. They’ll say it’s clever and creative business strategy and gloat and snap and cheer every Tuesday night at their meetings wrapped in tacky dollar store pink boas about how they’re all about integrity. Everything about this company is tacky and fake.

  24. Carol B Higgins

    My immediate upline called me in tears one day about 10 years ago, begging to “lend her” some money so she could “save” her business. I had just lost my father and was pretty down so I foolishly let her use my personal credit card to purchase her merchandise. She charged $5000 on my card – and I stupidly never kept records or sent her an IOU letter so I could be assured of getting re-paid. She continues as a prominent MK consultant to this day and I have given up ever getting that money back. I have heard rumors that she has done this to other consultants as well in the past. BIG LIAR. She works in the Columbus Ohio area –

  25. Bertha

    This is so sad, so to be clear what it is your current occupation since you left MK. Your bashing shows you are not happy with your current job. People can fail in anything no matter what it is. You are right some people in MK are losing money but MK is still a business.coz it requires buying and selling. It’s not MK fault that you keep putting money in products when you are not selling. A business person should compare income and expenditure every month and find ways to increase sales. Every other business you can lose money if you don’t manage business properly. Get real and get a life.

  26. Tracy Coenen

    Bertha – Almost EVERYONE loses money in MLM. It is not a business, it is a scam. Those involved in MLM are not business people. They are victims of a grand scam.

    What is my current occupation? Forensic accountant. Rather successful at it too! 🙂

  27. The main flaw with MLMs is that by recruiting others, you are creating more competition for yourself. There are thousands of Mary Kay consultants in my city. It’s a saturated market. Also, the pink cars they give to consultants? Those aren’t free cars. It’s a leased car and you can only drive it while your sales are at a certain level. Of course, you have an option to buy it, but it’s still not a free car.

  28. Alia

    I didn’t do my homework and I got into mk and now I’m in 1800 of debt, thank God not much, but did have a actual job that is my actual bread and butter not something I would give up over makeup But I did have fun, but once I was being pushed to order a 600 whole sell for the 3rd time I had to slow it down, I’m just not that good, I love the women and the products but I guess I’m not passionate enough.

  29. DA

    It is a business. It’s not an MLM. Please learn the marketing plan and also learn how a true MLM is structured. The people who don’t make money are the people who are not selling the product. A consultant retains 50% of the retail price. How is that not profit? If you are running your business irresponsibly, then you will lose money. Period.

  30. Sue Becker

    NO it is not a scam! Lol. I see a lot of gossip on here and heresay. I raised 3 daughters off MK,and did it for 16 yrs. You earn what you want too out your dedication,time n effort you put into your business.I loved the upbeat positive atmosphere,setting my own hours,being my own boss,helping so many women in so many ways,pampering women after a stressful day and making friendships! It is a lot of work,but it never seemed like work! Give it a try,use common sense if people are bad mouthing it etc cause they will. Don’t put yourself out on a limb with huge inventory if u can’t do it! Yes,people do purchase more when on hand,if you dont have a delivery to make it does make it simpler. But,you don’t need to have 1000s of inventory on your shelf! Yes,you will come across pushy people,set your boundaries,it’s your business! Go out n have some fun and make a positive impact on all you meet! If you dont like it,well you gained an experience and hopefully some good from it!!! No matter what you do in life,do it with passion,have fun n stay away from Negative Nellies n gossip!

  31. Tracy Coenen

    The truth is not negative, except when it is. The truth is that more than 99% of people lose money in MLM. Most sales directors in Mary Kay are making $1,000 per month. It is almost impossible to support yourself with MK. If you are one of the very few who do support themselves with MK, it is only because hundreds of people below you are losing money. That’s not a business, that’s a scam.


    I’m not erring on the side of Mary Kay, nor am I trying to bash anyone, but, if I know going in that I don’t have a customer base, regardless of being told ‘the product sells itself”, “you can make continuous income without having to do any work”, “the diamond ring could be yours if you recruit others ” etc, etc, then I consider myself a damn fool for purchasing inventory to begin with. And if I choose to recruit, obviously, they won’t be selling anything, either….If I go to a car dealership and get ripped off in my purchase, will I scream that it’s their fault..? I have been in that situation and when I realized what a mistake I made, I blamed myself…nobody else. Car salesmen work for companies who provide the vehicles, the salesman makes a commission off the sale and the remainder goes to the dealership. Mary Kay is not anybody’s personal business… consultants are purchasing products at wholesale to sell to consumers….if there’s no screaming demand for Mary Kay, which can be found out by simple research, then it’s plain obvious you won’t make any money. I don’t see any ‘truth’ being hidden anywhere.

  33. Tracy Coenen

    Christine – If the car dealership lies to you, then it absolutely IS their fault. Mary Kay has been so successful because their reps lie all the time about the money made and all sorts of specifics about the opportunity. It is difficult to find out the truth about this scam. Let’s not blame the victim here.

  34. JR

    A few weeks ago, I got lied by a MK director who approached to me with the “good intention” of helping me succeed after a nasty divorce. I have a cousin who wanted to join and this director asked me to pay only $38 to reactivate myself with Mk, and that I would have my cousin under me. I paid, she sends me a congratulations message and tells me that I was in and that my cousin was under me, she texts my cousin with the same text letting her know that she was part of my team. My cousin was never under me, instead the director put her under hers, and then tells me that I need to buy $200 and that then she was to send MK a letter saying that she made a mistake and for them to change my cousin under me. I called MK and they said that the information was incorrect, and I didn’t needed to buy $200 in order to have my cousin under my team. Now my cousin brought a friend of hers, but she hasn’t bought the “$200 activation kit”… there for this director looked the new lady’s info, called her and set a meeting behind my cousin’s back….guess how it will end! Total scam, tried it three times and they only want you to spend money so they can get paid and for you to get paid you need to screw somebody else’s life. Parasites life!

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