The trade of fake beauty products is thriving and the only people benefiting from it are the rogue manufacturers themselves. You may feel that you've snapped up a bargain on the likes of eBay and Amazon when you score that product you've coveted for a fraction of the price, but you are most likely putting your skin and your health in severe danger.
If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. You need to be aware now more than ever of the abundance of fake beauty products that can be bought online. You may get the packaging that you can show off to friends, but the item you've bought will likely be counterfeit and contain harmful ingredients, not to mention the fact that it will be shocking in performance terms too. I spoke to beauty product manufacturing expert Nikki Hesford to find out everything you need to know about fake beauty.
What is your role in the beauty industry and what experience do you have?
I'm an account manager for a full service and contract manufacturer/filler, making some of the UK's leading beauty brands’ products.
Why are fake makeup and beauty products being produced and who is making them?
There are lots of products that are routinely available as counterfeits - clothing, handbags, and electronics etc. These are typically made in China where product piracy is the norm (hey, they even have a word for it - shanzhai) and IP infringement is not really considered a crime because the culture doesn't necessarily associate innovation with rights. While arguably, a fake jumper might not cause too much harm, there is certainly a real danger associated with putting untested formulas onto your skin and around the sensitive eye area. Cosmetics such as fragrances, popular high-end make up and high-end skincare are popular targets of piracy - driven mostly by the fact that they are in high demand, and are relatively easy to replicate to the untrained eye.
What are the dangers for the consumer in buying fake makeup and beauty products?
Legitimate beauty products sold in the UK marketplace have undergone stringent testing and regulation to make them safe and compliant with EU laws. A reputable manufacturer will start by ensuring that raw materials and components (tubes, bottles etc) have come from an audited and reputable supplier - there is no point in testing the liquid and then putting it into a bottle that has been on a dirty floor for six months.
Incoming components are quality tested to ensure they are suitable for filling. The same applies to raw materials, which undergo microbiological testing and are stored in line with GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) guidelines, which means documenting Use By dates, storing safely to prevent cross-contamination and re-testing regularly if the material is not used for a while. There is no obligation for an unregulated manufacturer (i.e. those producing fake beauty products) to do this - the raw ingredients may well be unclean, contaminated, out of date or banned in the EU.
A reputable manufacturer will test the formula for stability (so it doesn't separate), compatibility (that it is compatible with the component - some formulas react badly to certain plastics which causes leakage or can discolour the product) and most importantly, they test it to make sure it is microbiologically safe for use on the skin.
None of this applies to fake products, so you really have no idea what you are putting on your skin – possibly ingredients that could cause burning, dryness, irritation, infection and many other potential problems.
Furthermore, if an issue is identified in a regulated product, it will be publicly re-called and you will be made aware of it - this will never happen with a fake.
How can consumers protect themselves against buying fakes?
If it seems too good to be true, it’s probably fake - if a product is normally £40 and you see it for £10, it is almost certainly fake. If in doubt, Google 'how to spot a fake XX' and you should find information. Every brand will have some way to identify itself e.g. GHD straighteners have the hologram sticker and a serial number. The fragrance is always a good giveaway too - for example one particular cult high-end brand’s lipsticks have a distinct vanilla-type smell, but the fakes on the market all smell 'plasticky'.
While you do sometimes get genuine sellers on eBay, most brands prohibit the sale of their products on auction sites, so unless it’s a one-off that someone has bought and is re-selling for some reason, it is likely a fake. Check out the sellers other items - do they only have one or do they have many? If they have lots of items, they are likely fake.
What regulations are in place in the UK to ensure that genuine makeup and beauty products ate safe and perform well?
The UK/EU has many regulations, as well as the Good Manufacturing Practice that all manufacturers adhere to. There is legislation on what raw materials can enter the supply chain (many are banned, such as certain silicones, allergens and soon microbeads) and UK suppliers are required to show traceability of all products from purchase, to delivery into the warehouse and everything in between - so you can be assured that your product is safe, regulated and ethical.
Basically, a genuine product will have been made using raw materials that are authorised for us – many are discontinued in the UK market as they are deemed unsafe under REACH legislation. However, a Chinese counterfeit can use these cheap and banned materials which cause irritation and are potentially unsafe.
How do you see the business of fake beauty products progressing in the future? Can we stop it?
While there is a demand for something, someone will always supply it. The best way to manage it is by educating people about the dangers of using fake products, as many people wouldn't consider it to be unsafe.
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