The Hidden Dangers of Counterfeit Beauty Products and How to Avoid Them

BY Gracee Tolentino · February 15, 2018

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Everyone loves a good deal, which makes incredible beauty discounts—online or on the street—hard to resist. But consider this before bagging that bargain: Counterfeit beauty products have become increasingly common. They’re being manufactured and sold at such a rapid pace these days that it’s now considered a global epidemic. But unlike that Chanel “replica” which might only cause you a little embarrassment if it doesn’t simply fall apart, fake beauty products could end up sending you to the doctor’s office.

The Ugly Truth About Counterfeit Beauty Products

Sometimes the $2 difference between buying authentic beauty products and buying counterfeit ones from the flea market could mean not having to deal with permanent skin damage and long-term diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer. In 2012, Inside Edition tested counterfeit cosmetics bought on the street and the results were surprising. The tests found high levels of aluminum (linked to Alzheimer’s disease), beryllium (a known carcinogen) and bacteria in the products.

With more and more people shopping online, it has become easier for counterfeiters to distribute their products anywhere in the world (they’re no longer limited to selling their products in questionable corners). Even giant online retailers can have a hard time controlling the authenticity of beauty products sold by third parties. In the U.K. alone consumers spend $140 million on fake beauty products; most of them probably didn’t even know it until they noticed the side effects. In fact, just a simple Google search yields countless horror stories of fake and expired products gone wrong.

How to Avoid Counterfeit Beauty Products Online

It’s easy to identify a fake designer handbag when the item in question is something that normally retails for thousands of dollars and it’s available for less than $100. Beauty products, however, are trickier to spot and the sad truth is that counterfeiters are becoming better at making and imitating product packages. So good, in fact, that it can be nearly impossible to tell a fake from the real thing, especially when it’s being sold at a comparable price.

1. Buy from authorized sellers.

The single easiest way you can be sure you’re getting the real deal is to buy your products straight from the brand or its authorized dealers and retailers. Authorized dealers are often listed on the brand’s official website. You might not get the lowest price, but for your health, safety and well-being, you can bet you’ll be getting the best deal for the real product. As a reminder, Dermstore only sells beauty products it is authorized to sell.

2. Use common sense.

Sometimes, the problem with buying from unauthorized sellers is that you don’t know how the products are kept; exposure to extreme temperature can alter an ingredient’s potency. You also don’t know how long the products have been there. Because very few beauty products carry a use-by date, the easiest way to tell if a beauty product has gone bad is by its smell. Anything that smells (or looks) funky is a dead giveaway. For makeup, if you notice any odd odor, texture or color, use common sense and throw it out. Even if you’ve spent a lot of money on it, it does you no good if it will only lead to irritation or infection.

3. Beware of deals that are too good to be true.

Another rule of thumb: If an offer from a retailer you’ve never heard of seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you want to save on beauty products, there are definitely other ways to do it. If you look around enough, you can find great deals on shipping, first-time-customer and email-signup discounts, flash sales and free gifts with purchase. Many online beauty vendors also offer loyalty points and reward programs that can yield ongoing discounts.

Editor’s Tip: If you want to save on beauty products on Dermstore, click here.

Here’s the rub: Counterfeiters don’t have any standards to uphold. They infringe intellectual property rights (yes, it is illegal), and they use the cheapest ingredients to turn the biggest possible profit. They don’t abide by the FDA’s sanitation guidelines and feel no obligation to protect their consumers. Be wary of purchasing skin care products from companies you’ve never heard of, and remember that if the product isn’t coming directly from the manufacturer or its authorized sellers, even if it’s from giant online retailers, there’s a high possibility it could be fake (or expired).

Gracee Tolentino

Gracee Tolentino is the managing editor of the Dermstore Blog. After spending 10 years of her writing and editing career working in the travel and food industries, she finally found her true calling: beauty, health and wellness. In her spare time ... Read More >