The Dangerous World of Counterfeit Make-Up

Counterfeit makeup is an intellectual property crime. Make-up from reputable sources is being copied and sold for a fraction of the cost. Many consumers fail to realise the dangers this presents.

The Rise in Counterfeit Beauty

According to OHIM, in 2015, the rise in counterfeit make-up resulted in the loss of around 50,000 jobs, and caused Europe a five billion euro loss. This represents around 8% of the sectors sales. This report was created 4 years ago and since then the industry has only grown. Statistics show that the industry is growing by around 3% per year. Sales of makeup have topped £4 billion. The industry has even been compared to drug trafficking, with law enforcement being unable to keep up.

As the make-up industry grows the demand for new products increases. New trends in makeup, such as Fenty Beauty and the Kylie Jenner lip kits are creating a buzz in demand. These highly popular items sell out quickly, counterfeit make-up takes advantage of this by creating readily available products.

The rise in social media is also a contributing factor to the growing industry. Today people are less concerned with the ingredients they are putting on to their skin and more concerned with the name on their product.

So why is this such a bad thing?

The Dangers of Counterfeit Beauty

Whilst advances in technology are creating packaging almost identical to the original products, the ingredients are hazardous to consumers’ health. It is alleged that these products are coming from unhygienic labs in China and then being shipped worldwide.

These products can lead to skin rashes, allergic reactions, and even chemical brains. An extreme side effect could also be dangerous metals affecting the brain and nervous systems.

ITV took some of these counterfeit products to the medical labs at Kingston University. They found that a fake Mac lipstick had high levels of lead. The neurotoxins in this ingredients can dangerously affect hormones and should never be near the skin, never mind the lips.

Furthermore, an American television program ‘The Doctors’ examined the products. In one eyeshadow palette the lead contents was over 10% that of the original. A fake Mac foundation claimed to have SPF15 but examination showed this to be false. This is a dangerous claim and is stopping measures used to prevent skin cancer.

Police have been informed of substances containing rat droppings, human urine, arsenic, faeces and high levels of mercury. Some products have been found containing the skin whitening agent hydroquinone.


What is being done?

Counterfeit make-up is a dangerous industry on a global scale. In America between the years 2004-2016 5,000 health related complaints were reported to the FDA in association with fake products. In America the industry is expected to reach $265 billion in revenue, however the FDA department of Cosmetics and Colours only have a budget of $13 million. The government cannot keep up with the fast growth of the industry.

In the UK cosmetics are regulated by the European Cosmetics Regulation 1223/2009. This requires safety assessments on all products supplied in the UK. Consumers are urged to notify the European commission if they find a counterfeit product. This legislation is regulated in England by local Trading Standard Offices. Consumers should use their local authorities as the first calling point should they find any of these products.

Companies are collaborating with enforcement agencies and other public bodies to combat counterfeit makeup. Estee Lauder have their own Global Security department, with a special division on anti-counterfeiting. This includes their own private investigator. More companies are taking matters in to their own hands, finding sellers themselves and then reporting them to the proper authorities.

In 2018 Europol brought more than 250 people to court for selling counterfeit goods. In 2017 2.2 million goods have been seized in the UK but this is reportedly just the tip of the iceberg.

DS Kevin Ives states that 30,000 counterfeit goods websites have been taken down over the past 3-4 years. Currently enforcement is removing over 1,000 a month. Law enforcement is currently working incredibly hard to stop this ever growing industry, but brands need to be taking active measures to address the counterfeit products.

Furthermore, consumers need to be better educated on the products they are using on their own skin. The only real solution to the problem is education. If the demand for the product is eliminated then there will be a decline in supply. Consumer awareness is the best long term solution.

Ways in which consumers can spot a fake product are:

  • If the price of the product is low it is likely too good to be true
  • Look out for typos on the product or misplaced lettering
  • Make sure you are buying from reputable sources

Currently this industry is only growing in size, but hopefully with more awareness raised these dangerous products can be stopped.

emily trotter

This post was written by Emily Trotter. Emily is a final year MLaw Student at Northumbria University. She is currently working in a Business and Commercial firm in the Student Law Office. After graduating Emily will be taking part in Cultural Exchange Programme at Walt Disney World Florida, before pursuing a career in the legal departments of film production or publishing. Emily has previously worked for Warner Bros. Studios and has a keen interest in the film industry.