Consumers today are constantly on the hunt for a better bargain. The proliferation of online shopping has made it convenient to compare prices and find products for far cheaper than what they would cost in stores. However, if these deals seem to good to be true, it’s because they are. When it comes to buying discount beauty products, there’s often a huge hidden cost: your health.
How customers become victims
Increasingly, shoppers eager to get their favorite skincare, makeup and hair products are scouring the Internet to find them at a significantly lower price, especially on Amazon and eBay. Karen Monterichard of the Makeup And Beauty Blog told Buzzfeed that the pricetags are so tempting on these products that shoppers simply can’t turn them down. According to the news source, though, many of them are a counterfeit version of the real thing. The majority are made in China, sent to the U.S. in bulk quantities and then bought through online wholesale marketplaces, where they are re-distributed to unreliable sites. Because they’re manufactured outside of registered channels of distribution, the laws differ between countries and there is such a high frequency of trading, it has become nearly impossible for the government to keep track of these instances.
While it may be easy for you to spot a fake designer handbag, it’s not so easy to determine when cosmetics aren’t authentic. Since you’re purchasing the item online and the packaging is typically identical to the real thing, you have no way of knowing that you bought an imposter product – until you use it and realize the difference in quality firsthand.
Christine Mielke, head of the popular makeup blog Temptalia, explained to the source that it’s also damaging to a brand when a customer isn’t aware they bought a fake. These imitation products are usually not as effective, so the buyer may begin to lose respect for the company if they have a negative experience. A typical example is the beauty sponge from Beauty Blender. Dupes and imitations are flooding the market and people are connived they are buying the real thing. Needless to say, the quality and performance of such products is far below the that of the original.
PopSugar referred to this problem as the “grey market.” One of the major issues with buying products from unauthorized retailers is that you don’t know how old the product is or if it has been stored properly. Erica Moore, fragrance evaluator at Fragrances of the World, told the news source that as a result, you could be purchasing an item that is already expired.
The dangers that come with a deal
What’s the big deal? Much like consuming food past its expiration date, there are serious risks that come with using beauty products that shouldn’t be on the shelves anymore.
Kate Morris, founder of Adore Beauty, told PopSugar that you could actually have an allergic reaction if the item is no longer good. Because the product was bought on the grey market, the manufacturer can’t compensate you or assist you in any way.
“When you buy grey market products you are not protected by the cosmetics company or brand if the product is faulty, expired, if you develop any type of reaction or if the products never arrive,” Alice Hampton, Estée Lauder’s communications manager in Australia, told the source.
On the other hand, if you bought a new face cream or eyeshadow from an authorized retailer, the customer service department would no doubt reimburse you or swap it out for something else that works better.
While one potential outcome of buying counterfeit cosmetics might be that you’re simply disappointed, the Daily Mail reported that some aren’t so lucky. Mandy Lanham is one customer who fell victim to these scams when she found her go-to foundation online at a much lower price on eBay. When she woke up the next morning after using the product for the first time, her face was puffy, inflamed and sore. She got in touch with trading standards officers, and it became clear that she had unknowingly purchased an imitation of the item. Because the compact was indistinguishable from the real foundation, she had no way of knowing when it arrived that she had been tricked.
The beauty brands that you trust put their products through considerable testing to ensure that they’re safe for your skin. U.S. regulations require that companies have a series of processes and procedures that they need to abide by for the safety of not only consumers, but also of employees that are involved in the manufacturing process. However, Daily Mail explained that counterfeit products haven’t gone through the same kind of standards evaluations, and many of them contain ingredients that are not only irritating but could be extremely dangerous.
To assess the severity of the situation, the news source ordered 10 designer makeup products from an online store that wasn’t authorized, and determined that eight of them were imitations. Then, the Daily Mail contacted Staffordshire Scientific Services and had them test the products, employing the same measures as trading standards officers. The result? Every one of the illegitimate items was found to have a combination of damaging metals and other substances, such as lead, mercury, cadmium and even arsenic. In fact, a fake MAC eyeliner was packed with 46 times the legal level of copper. It’s no wonder dermatologists are seeing a huge swell in patients with skin problems that were caused by counterfeit cosmetics. Some have merely reported blemishes and breakouts, while others have suffered psoriasis and other more concerning conditions.
“It’s only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt,” said Christine Heemskerk of the Trading Standards Institute, as quoted by Daily Mail. “These counterfeit cosmetic products may not have been made in a sterile environment. They may contain carcinogenic ingredients that are banned from use in cosmetics and could cause long-term harm. They may trigger rashes and eye infections as well as more serious conditions such as lead poisoning, which can affect major organs, causing problems for the heart, kidneys and nervous system.”
Self magazine noted that the U.S. has a list of what ingredients are permissible and in what amounts. However, some countries haven’t established these guidelines. So if you’re purchasing a product from a retailer that isn’t authorized, there’s a good chance it was manufactured in a country where potentially toxic contents are allowed.
Telling the difference
So how do you know if you’re buying the real thing?
Self magazine asserted that it’s best to only shop for beauty products from a trusted source. If you’re unsure of whether the retailer is legitimate, look for a seal somewhere on the site that indicates it’s an authorized retailer, or a sticker that says authenticity is guaranteed. If you’re seeing prices that are dramatically lower that the typical value, that’s usually a dead giveaway that the products are fake.
Kate Morris told Pop Sugar that there are other signs that the stockist isn’t trustworthy. If there are no brand logos, the products are sold without boxes or an irregular array of items, you should be wary of buying off the site. Additionally, she noted that if that packaging doesn’t look current, or the products are from a line that you know has been discontinued, you’re better off avoiding making a purchase.
When cosmetics cost less than you’re used to paying for them, it can seem irresistible to take advantage of the deal. Still, a few saved dollars are not worth risking your skin, beauty or your health. The point of these products is to make you look and feel your best, and a counterfeit simply can’t guarantee that.