The ugly truth about counterfeit cosmetics

A selection of cosmetics including lipstick, nail varnish, blusher, powder brush and mascara, as if someone has turned out their make up bag on a table

There is a tide of counterfeit cosmetics available to buy online - and you might be inadvertently smearing cat urine on your face.

That is the stark warning from Kent Trading Standards officers who, in one of their series of Product Safety Matters videos, are raising awareness of counterfeit or non-compliant makeup that may not be safe.

Horror stories include tests across the country which found dubious substances, from the aforementioned pet biohazard to the now-banned chemical compound Lilial.

Kent Trading Standards Officer Wendy May said: “Counterfeit cosmetics when applied to your skin can cause serious reactions. They are a health and safety risk to consumers, containing everything from paint stripper to rat poison to lead.

“The one takeaway from this is please always buy from a reputable retailer.

“The cheap products on large online marketplaces most likely will not have gone through the rigorous testing you really want when you are applying substances to your skin.

“If it seems like a good deal or bargain check and double check as it could be unsafe and dangerous.

“We ask you ensure the safety of your loved ones by showing our video to vulnerable family and friends who may not have internet access. If you have any concerns, it is important people report it to us.”

At Kent Scientific Services, who examine products from across the UK, they are seeing a large number of skin lightening gels and creams coming to them from Trading Standards teams in London. These have been found to contain some nasty ingredients.

Wendy added: “Fake designer products costs businesses and the taxpayer thousands of pounds each year.

“People should always do their research. Check the reviews of online sellers, and bear in mind that if something is really cheap, it’s likely to be fake and could potentially be harmful. Anyone who has purchased make-up that they think is dangerous should stop using it immediately and report it to their local Trading Standards team via the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline.”

Cosmetic counterfeiting involves deliberate, unauthorized imitation or reproduction of genuine cosmetic products. The goal of the criminals is to mislead consumers into believing they are purchasing the real thing, all while seeking financial gain.

The consequences of buying counterfeit products can range from poor quality to more serious outcomes, such as permanent harm. Additionally, the profits generated from counterfeiting often fund other criminal activities, including drug trafficking, arms smuggling, identity theft, money laundering, and even terrorist operations.

Tell-tale signs to look out for:

  • Unusually low price
  • Unusual place of sale, for example a market or train station
  • Low-quality packaging, for example spelling mistakes
  • Differences in product and/or packaging, for example its colour, shape and font size
  • Missing information for example, batch number, the period-after-opening symbol (a graphic symbol that identifies the useful lifetime of a cosmetic product after its package has been opened for the first time).

Watch this buying cosmetics safely video to find out more.

Further information

The Kent Trading Standards team is concerned about markets being flooded by counterfeit products as well as sharp practice from unscrupulous individuals dealing in stolen products.

To counteract this increase in criminal activity, a Product Safety Matters campaign has been created to alert consumers to increasingly sophisticated ways criminals catch people out.

Watch all the Product Safety Matters campaign videos.