Makeup has always been a fun hobby and the rise of YouTube's beauty vloggers and Instagram influencers has taken the obsession for the precise application of the perfect product to new heights. Also on board are celebrity makeup lines, from Kylie Jenner Lip Kits to Rihanna's newly launched Fenty Beauty. Makeup obsessed but cash-strapped teens and young adults sometimes turn to street vendors, eBay and other outlets to nab these coveted brands at a lower price. What they don't know is that these products may be counterfeit and could cause major damage, from eye infections to allergic reactions.
“The flood of fake products is a health crisis for consumers and an economic crisis for the beauty industry. 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,” says James Ricaurte, founder and President of Allegiance Protection Group in New York City, a leading private investigation and security firm based in New York City. Ricaurte recently appeared on the Dr. Oz show to explain the dangers of counterfeit beauty products to consumers.
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A recent Bloomberg investigation showed that counterfeit products are often made in unclean conditions, typically in China. Dirt floors, vats of dye and powders left open and exposed to bacteria, and the materials used even contain carcinogens. FBI investigators have found that toxins are rampant in these products, leading to rashes, burns, allergic reactions and even permanent disfigurement. Another danger is the long-term effects of these products, some of which may include high blood pressure and infertility.
Lead, mercury, arsenic and paint thinner are some of the most common dangers found in counterfeit beauty products. Some were even found to contain waste products from both humans and rats. Needless to say, these are things you don't want to be putting on your body — let alone your face.
Counterfeiters literally do not care about the safety of the products they sell. Money — and lots of it — is what drives them to create these products. In fact, seizures in 2015 ended up costing the beauty industry about $75 million. Counterfeiters are targeting the YouTube generation, not only the typically expensive brands like La Mer, Chanel and Armani. Instead, they're counterfeiting Tarte, Benefit, Kat Von D and Ben Nye.
Clearly, beauty brands seek to protect their bottom lines, which are greatly affected by counterfeit products. But they also care about their customers and do not want their brand name associated with products that they don't manufacture and cause major damage to consumers.
It's becoming more and more difficult to spot fake products. In response, beauty brands are beginning to instill watermarks, holograms and RFID chips to their packaging so that consumers will know when they have an authentic product. They're so concerned that the industry reportedly spent $37 billion on defending brands through the packaging in 2014 alone. In fact, many of the largest brands, like Estee Lauder, employ their own global security divisions to track down counterfeits and help prosecute offenders.
The best rule of thumb is to only purchase beauty products directly from the manufacturer, or through authorized vendors like Sephora, Ulta or any department store. “Counterfeit products can destroy consumer trust and cause irreparable harm to a brand,” says Sujoy Bhattacharya, Founder and CEO of Falls River Soap Company, a handmade soap company specializing in natural and organic beauty products.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported a 25 percent increase in counterfeit beauty product seizures from 2011 to 2013. These seizures took place in China, Dubai, and coast-to-coast in America. The most terrifying part is that buyers of counterfeit products are often not aware that they're buying a knock-off; they assume that the products are regulated and safe, therefore, don't realize the danger of using them.
M.A.C. makeup, owned by Estee Lauder, is one of the most commonly seized counterfeit products. In 2016, more than 2.8 million counterfeit M.A.C. items were seized by customs agents. Operation Plastic Beauty is one investigation in the U.S. that has seized over $8 million worth of counterfeit cosmetics. Items that slip through customs can be found at flea markets, eBay and other online retailers.
The overall message from the Department of Homeland Security, which is also involved in prosecuting and seizing counterfeit products, is that consumers must be vigilant. If you're buying a Kylie Lip Kit for $3.99 on the street, it's likely not the real deal.
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