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Stealing beauty: Cosmetics top list of swiped goods

When magazine headlines shout "steal this look!" — some women are taking that literally.

Turns out, cosmetics top the nation's list of shoplifted items.

"Health and beauty care items" accounted for 20 percent of all items stolen from supermarkets in 2008, according to the most recent survey from the Food Marketing Institute.

Are vain people more likely to be criminals? Or do criminals just want to look hot in their mug shots?

More likely, it's that slipping beauty products into a purse is more doable — and worthwhile —than, say, ripping off a 12-pack of toilet paper.

Just last month, Caroline Giuliani — the 21-year-old daughter of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani — was caught swiping $100 worth of beauty products from a Manhattan Sephora. The Harvard senior must complete one day of community service to pay for her beauty-stealing binge. And although we don't know what Giuliani stole from the high-end beauty shop, experts say shoplifters are just as discerning as consumers when it comes to what they take.

"Consumers gravitate toward certain items, and so do the criminals," says Joseph LaRocca, a senior advisor for the National Retail Federation. Among the top shoplifted items are pricey hair care brands like Pureology and Bumble and Bumble, according to the group.

Also among the most stolen items: Oil of Olay's Regenerist line of anti-aging products, LaRocca says. "We hear that over and over again; it's one of the top targeted items," LaRocca says.

That's surely in part because of the attention the Regenerist line received after an American Consumer Union review of the drugstore line found that it outperformed much more expensive brands such as La Prairie Cellular, which sells a 1.7-oz. anti-aging cream for nearly $580.

Highly shoplifted items like the Oil of Olay skin care line are increasingly being stashed under locked display cases — an annoyance for the customer who must track down an employee to unlock the $24 wrinkle serum.

"Unfortunately, many of these theft deterrent tools are inconsistent with good customer service and a good shopping experience," says Lisa LaBruno, the vice president of loss prevention and legal affairs for the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

The padlocks may be making a dent, however. Bucking the economic downturn, overall shoplifting rates dipped in 2009; still, retailers still lost $11.7 billion from shoplifting last year.

Rhett Asher, the vice president of industry relations for the Food Marketing Institute, says the group is working on a report looking into why amateur shoplifters swipe what they do. In terms of beauty products — why pocket a $15 lip gloss and risk serious legal consequences?

"You have to look at it as a specifically self-destructive kind of behavior, a statement of rebellion — it's more about that kind of statement than it is about mascara," says Dr. Gail Saltz, a New York City psychiatrist and regular TODAY contributor. "I think that if you’re stealing stuff, then probably you aren’t happy and you may feel it’s about the way you look."

But for teen girls, pocketing nail polish from a drugstore can almost be a rite of passage — even actress Megan Fox went through a sticky-fingers phase as a teenager, and was reportedly banned from a Florida Wal-Mart after stealing a $7 tube of lip gloss. (Keep in mind that's according to tabloid reports, and Fox's reps have refused to comment on the claim.)

"For young girls, it often is these makeup items they're taking, because ... it's not about beauty — it's about doing something wrong," Saltz says.

Another theory: Maybe some petty thefts steal the stuff they're too embarrassed to bring to the register. Among the top shoplifted items according to the NRF are Alli weight loss drugs, pregnancy tests, Nicorette products — and Rogaine.