The beauty industry is an astronomical business: $460 billion globally in 2014 and expected to exceed $675 billion by 2020. Equally as shocking is the counterfeit beauty industry. It’s estimated that all counterfeit products account for 2.5% of the world’s trade — and approximately $461 billion. In fact, seizures of counterfeit beauty products rose by 25% between 2011 and 2013, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Not only are counterfeit beauty products terrible for beauty brands, but consumers are really the ones facing harsh penalties. Counterfeit products, usually made in China, contain carcinogens, bacteria, paint thinner and rat droppings, according to a recent investigation. What does that do to the body? Counterfeit beauty product victims report severe allergic reactions, eye infections, skin burns and even potential long-term damage and disfigurement.
Some products even contain lead, mercury, copper, aluminum and cyanide. And not just in small amounts, which are also harmful; these products contain seriously dangerous levels of these ingredients. “Even in small doses these toxins can cause serious damage and for small children, the elderly or those who are immunocompromised the results can be devastating,” says Sujoy Bhattacharya, Founder and CEO of Falls River Soap Company, a handmade soap company specializing in natural and organic beauty products.
Overseas markets are not the only areas to face these serious health risks. Counterfeit beauty products are being shipped into America and sold at flea markets, online, and even on a table on the street. American counterfeiters are using the Chinese website, Alibaba, to purchase large quantities of counterfeit beauty products that they then sell to salons and other distributors — who may not even realize they’re distributing a dangerous counterfeit product. The distributers don’t necessarily even need a contact in China to obtain the counterfeit products; they can buy the products in bulk online.
James Ricaurte, founder and President of Allegiance Protection Group in New York City and renowned anti-counterfeit expert, recently appeared with Dr. Oz to warn consumers about the dangers of black market cosmetics and beauty products, “the flood of fake products is a health crisis for consumers and an economic crisis for the beauty industry, says Allegiance Protection Group, “unfortunately, the flood of illegal, counterfeit cosmetics products coming into this country from abroad has escalated, and we need to bring awareness of these health risks involved with the use of counterfeit make-up to the consumers.”
There are ways for consumers to protect themselves from counterfeit beauty products. First, be sure to always purchase makeup and skincare products from a reputable dealer, such as department stores, Ulta and Sephora. If an item is purchased on an online discount site, including eBay, be sure to inspect the packaging for some telltale signs. Look for misspellings, a “Made in China” label, and even inspect the font used on the packaging as it may differ from the real deal.
Beauty brands are working hard and spending billions of dollars to ensure their packaging is counterfeit-proof. Estee Lauder, which makes M.A.C, one of the most counterfeited products, spent $37 billion in 2014 to create difficult to duplicate packaging. This includes watermarks, holograms and RFID chips. It has also been reported that 2.8 million Estee Lauder products were seized by customs officials last year. Estee Lauder created a global security team to fight off the counterfeit market, a team that is made up of 42 agents who work worldwide.
As a whole, the beauty industry has lost about $75 million in one fiscal year due to counterfeit products. Ultimately, beauty customers are the ones who suffer most from using these knock-offs. The Department of Homeland Security urges consumers to be aware of where they buy their makeup and other beauty products from. If a price for one of Kylie’s Lip Kits or Ben Nye’s Banana Powder is too good to be true, it probably is.