Do you know what you’re putting on your face?

The counterfeit cosmetics industry is now bigger than ever and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between fake beauty products and the real thing. You may think you’ve found your favourite lipstick for half the price, but is that bargain worth putting your health at risk?

We’ve all been there before, you’re after the amazing new powder which promises to rid your complexion of all its’ pores and impurities, but it is so expensive. So you log on to eBay, which brings up that exact product for half of the price. You are tempted, it can’t be fake because the packaging looks identical, right? Not exactly, counterfeit cosmetics are part of an enormous industry of which a lot of work goes in to guarantee their packaging is identical to the real product, but the ingredients are far from alike.

You don’t know what’s in it.
You may be thinking, so what? It’s only makeup; the fake stuff is most likely the same. In February this year two men from Wales were arrested and charged with selling fake makeup on eBay. One of the seized mascaras was found to comprise over 20 times the safe level of lead. Similarly, BeneFit were recently appalled to discover that Coventry Trading Standards had confiscated a vast quantity of counterfeit BeneFit makeup; including a BadGal mascara which contained petrol. It’s not just makeup that is commonly copied, perfume is just as much a problem. Fake fragrances have been found to contain contaminated alcohol, harmful bacteria, anti-freeze and even urine. Consider the prices, if it seems too good to be true it probably is.

They can be extremely dangerous.
The perils of using fake cosmetics are endless. From minor reactions such as slight allergic rashes to the more extreme circumstances, for example a severe allergic reaction to a fake perfume could result in you never being able to wear fragrances again. Some fake makeup brushes and eyelashes have even been found to contain tiny bugs which have travelled from overseas, frequently the Far East. The bugs can breed within the bristles and then be brushed onto your skin.

Make-up artist and skincare expert Caroline Frazer tells us, “Fake makeup can contain dangerous levels of ingredients which can harm skin creating rashes, spots, burns and worse. Makeup doesn’t have to be expensive but it does have to have good ingredients, made by companies that have tested their products under proper conditions to keep your skin healthy and safe.”

Counterfeiters have no interest in safety laws.
It is highly unlikely that fake cosmetics have passed any safety tests at all. The people behind these companies are concerned with profits alone and not at all interested in how these products are made or how they may affect your skin. Not only do counterfeiters have complete disregard for safety laws, sales from fakes are known to be linked to organised crime. The bulk of fakes come from countries such as China and sales from these products are known to fund child labour, drug alliances, sweat shops and even terrorism. By purchasing these products you could be supporting dreadful working conditions and extremely low pay for the people employed to make them.

Medical director Dr Johanna Ward has had many clients pass through her clinic who have unknowingly purchased counterfeit products. She says,

“Counterfeit cosmetics have little regard for cosmetic safety laws and often contain illegal or suboptimal substances that can potentially be harmful. They pose a health risk to the consumer and have been known to cause severe allergic reactions and even blood poisoning. Its not just cosmetics that pose a significant health risk but counterfeit and pirated prescription only medicines too. Many people now buy their cosmetics online but online purchases do not guarantee a legitimate supplier.”

Avoiding buying fakes
Regularly plagiarized brands include BeneFit, MAC, OPI, Bobbi Brown and Chanel. The trend is that if it’s popular, it will be imitated. Before buying check that the brand actually makes that product; it may sound obvious but a seller on eBay recently tried to sell a 120-colour palette claiming it was MAC. The item received many bids but little did the customers know that MAC doesn’t make a 120-colour palette. Check colours too as MAC name their colours decoratively, such as ‘Dazzlelight’ and ‘Espresso’ whilst counterfeiters may simply use 012. A lot of fake MAC eye shadows contain a basement with a flip mirror and applicator; a feature that isn’t on genuine MAC eye shadows. If you can’t check the actual product then examine the packaging; whilst a lot of work is put in to duplicate the real thing a close look will show a hurried and shabby job. Look for indications such as excess glue residue and unevenly placed mirrors. For example, BeneFit use a trademark red ribbon cut at an angle on their makeup box sets whilst a fake may use pink ribbon cut straight.

Besides eBay and other websites, fakes mostly operate in tourist hotspots when abroad and at weekend markets in the UK. It is best to remember that makeup brands only sell through authorized retailers such as their own boutiques and websites, Debenhams, John Lewis, HOF, Boots, Harvey Nichols and other independent department stores. Online they can be bought at sites such as ASOS, Feel Unique and Look Fantastic. If you are unsure or think something looks suspicious get in touch with the brand, they will be happy to advise.

What are the brands doing about it?
It is in the brand’s interests to take action and prevent counterfeiting from becoming an even bigger industry than it already is. BeneFit have recently taken on a company that specialise in tracking down and dealing with fakes. OPI also use private investigators and lawyers to combat counterfeiters but as the problem is so extensive, it’s a full time job.

EBay are taking action and have their own guide on how to shop safely with them; avoid stock photos, if you can’t see the product don’t buy it. Make sure the seller offers a returns policy and check their feedback. Some sellers have 100% positive feedback, this could be down to previous customers being unaware their purchase was fake. Though UK counterfeiters operate too, be especially aware of sellers from China or Hong Kong.

There are also many beneficial tutorials on YouTube incorporating fake and real products, recommending guidance on how to tell the difference and shopping securely.

The paramount thing to consider when buying your beauty products is to use reputable companies and if it seems to good to be true it probably is. A single MAC makeup brush costs £16; if you find a set of 20 brushes for the same price they are most likely fake.

It can be tempting to snap up what seems like a beauty bargain but when you consider the consequences it could end up more costly than you first imagined.

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