Counterfeit Cosmetics – Keeping this Halloween as Scare-Free as Possible


As consumers, the access we have to makeup and tips from beauty experts on how to apply it is growing every day. You only have to go onto YouTube, Instagram or any other social media platform to see the reach that beauty influencers have, and the brand engagement that endorsed products can have. At Halloween, this is no exception.

Research by online beauty comparison site Cosmetify showed that in 2018, sales of cosmetics at Halloween reached an estimated £86m, an increase of 36.5% on the previous year.

With the growth in popularity of any product, there inevitably comes opportunity for counterfeit, sub-standard goods to be circulated, posing potential quality and safety hazards to consumers that can be both long-lasting and devastating.

What is counterfeit makeup?

Cosmetics Europe, the European trade association for the cosmetics and personal care industry, defines counterfeits as ‘deliberate, unauthorised imitation or reproduction of genuine products to obtain financial gain by misleading consumers into believing they are acquiring the genuine product’. It is an Intellectual Property (I.P.) crime.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the value of trade-related counterfeit goods amounts to $461 billion annually across the globe (approx. £335 billion).

Counterfeit manufacturers have perfected their craft so well that consumers can’t distinguish fake products from real ones, and even the sharpest connoisseurs must get out their magnifying glass to tell the difference. Many counterfeit goods do have one difference though, as they very often contain very different, and harmful ingredients.

Danger in the Fakes

Unfortunately, counterfeit makeup (also known as ‘knockoffs’), are showing no sign of leaving our markets, and can pose a real danger to public health. Some of these products look, smell, and feel like the real deal, but the underlying chemical compositions show that they can cause severe allergic reactions, even containing harmful carcinogenic elements in some instances.

Besides the potential health hazards, the presence of fake makeup products undervalues the effort of certain brands to establish themselves in the market and can also affect companies’ profits because of the low price that counterfeit alternatives sell for.

In 2020, the U.S cosmetics industry lost an estimated £3.6 million due to the sale of replica and counterfeit goods on the black market; this represents 20% of the global sales of cosmetics counterfeits. Cosmetic counterfeits are the third most investigated fake products in the U.K., resulting in the apprehension of £2.2 million worth of products in 2019 solely.

Risks – The Specifics

In Britain, hundreds of thousands of pounds of counterfeit cosmetics, including makeup, have been found to contain high levels of whitening agent hydroquinone. Without a prescription, hydroquinone is not sold to the general public in the U.K., as it can severely damage the kidney, liver and nerves if misused.

In 2018, Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the Local Government Association (LGA) safer and stronger communities board, said:

“Counterfeit cosmetics can be dangerous as they can contain toxic chemicals and dangerously high levels of lead which can be detrimental for people’s health.  Fake designer products cost businesses and the taxpayer thousands of pounds each year. Councils have been targeting rogue retailers selling these fake products, and the fines they have received should deter others from selling these dangerous products.

He also commented on ways consumers can protect themselves –

“People should always do their research and take a pragmatic approach when they are buying makeup and cosmetics. Check the reviews of online sellers, and bear in mind that if something is really cheap, it’s likely to be fake and could potentially be harmful.  Anyone who has purchased makeup that they think is dangerous should stop using it immediately and report it to their local Trading Standards team.

“It is vital that people report any concerns, so that councils can take action to prevent anyone being harmed or scarred for life.”

Social influence

Research conducted by Southwark Council noted the demand for skin lightening products was driven by a “desire for fairer skin” caused by “deep-rooted complex social, cultural and historical reasons”.

The pursuit of these chemical agents provides counterfeit cosmetic makers with the chance to manipulate desperate customers, eluding them into buying potentially dangerous products.

Additionally, the perceived ‘high bar’ set by the many social media influencers and makeup artists in having a large stock of high-quality (and often high cost) products makes the lure of the counterfeiters even more tempting.

How can we fight counterfeiting?

It is hard to find a brand that doesn’t have a counterfeit version of its products. Major brands such as benefit, Dior, MAC, and Chanel have had thousands of their skin products counterfeited and sold for a fraction of the price.

The cosmetics industry takes the safety of its consumers very seriously, and companies collaborate with enforcement agencies and other public bodies in combatting counterfeiting. If you think you may have purchased a fake product or suspect that sales of a product are not genuine, you can contact the company concerned.

All genuine cosmetic products purchased in the E.U. will carry the name of the responsible company with an E.U. contact address and sometimes a customer care line number to call on the pack.

Alternatively, you can contact a relevant the anti-counterfeiting body in your country: can also take reports of counterfeit goods and pass them on to Trading Standards partners at both local and national levels.

How can we identify counterfeit cosmetics?

The rule of thumb says that when a deal is too good to be true, we should think twice before handing over the money, and with cosmetics, the same rule should be applied.








‘Fake designer products costs businesses and the taxpayer thousands of pounds each year,’ the LGA says

What are the giveaways when it comes to counterfeit cosmetics?

  • An unusually low price (too good to be true)
  • An unusual place of sale, (e.g., market or train station)
  • The sanitation of the establishment
  • Low-quality packaging, (e.g., spelling mistakes)
  • Differences in product and/or packaging (e.g., colour, shape, and font size)
  • Missing information, (e.g., batch number, PAO symbol etc.)

If you would like to report counterfeit goods or substandard items, or for information on any other consumer matter, you can contact on 0808 164 6000. 

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Advice Direct Scotland ‘s Safety and Sustainability campaign is taking place between the 27th of October and 12th of November 2021. The campaign aims to demonstrate the small changes and considerations Scottish consumers can make to help climate change, whilst saving money, and making our lives a little bit easier. For more information visit the campaign page.