According to Action News, an ABC affiliate out of Tampa Florida, Homeland Security has been has been uncovering increasing numbers of counterfeit high-end cosmetics, most notably mimicking the makeup powerhouse MAC, are turning up all across the US via flea markets, on Craigslist, and naturally, online sales:
"U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Special Agent in Charge Shane Folden says many of the products sold [on eBay and other discount retailers] are not real. 'When you buy a legitimate product, you have the confidence that the manufacturer is held to certain standards. When you buy a counterfeit item, there's absolutely no guarantee,' said Folden. While Folden says he can't talk about ongoing investigations, but he confirms his agents are working to break-up large-scale counterfeit makeup rings."
So what's the difference between the authentic stuff and the fakes? Inside Edition purchased counterfeit cosmetics on the street and had them tested against the real deal by Upstate Labs. Dermatologist Dr. Robert Buka reviewed the results:
"The results were frightening. Tests found high levels of aluminum, which has been linked to Alzheimer's disease. Five of the counterfeit products tested positive for the metal Beryllium, a known carcinogen. What was more concerning; there were dangerously high levels of lead in seven of the counterfeit products, including two bogus M·A·C eye shadows. A counterfeit Chanel eye shadow turned out to be loaded with potentially dangerous bacteria. 'The amount of bacteria you found in this counterfeit makeup was disgusting,' Dr. Buka told Inside Edition.
The dermatologist interviewed also warned of permanent damage caused by counterfeit makeup; one of his patients developed an infection after using a fake MAC product "leaving her scarred for life." Says Dr. Buka, "I see about two to three cases of counterfeit makeup dermatitis in my practice every month."
The team from Action News in Tampa also conducted their own investigation. After purchasing two MAC products online from eBay sellers, one was confirmed authentic, and one was a fake. While the news team paid $13 for the counterfeit lipstick on eBay, they were able to walk in to the local MAC boutique and buy the real thing for only $2 more. A small price to pay to avoid wearing permanent duckface from a bad allergic reaction.
The scariest part of cosmetic counterfeiting is that it's often not so easy to avoid fakes, as retailers and consumers alike fall victim to the greater scheme. Even mega-retailers like Amazon have a hard time controlling the authenticity of their cosmetics products. Recently, my dear friend Elizabeth Jayne Liu of Flourish in Progress went to register her new Clarisonic on the company website and discovered that her serial number prompted an error message. After trying again with her teen daughter's Clarisonic and a bit of Internet sleuthing, Elizabeth realized that she had bought not one, but TWO separate counterfeit versions of their wildly popular cleansing devices over a year apart on Amazon.com. That's not to mention replacement brushes and possibly cleaning serums as well. How did this happen? Well, she had purchased the units via Amazon Prime, like so many of us do for so many of our daily necessities (and y'know…beauty products) and trusted their authenticity as a result. Amazon couldn't explain the lapse, but agreed to refund Elizabeth for both of her purchases, the new unit, and the older unit she had already passed down to her teen. What really gets under Elizabeth's skin is the lengths counterfeiters go to:"Honestly the thing that irks me the most is how ballsy those counterfeiters were to include a registration reminder with their fake product. That's next-level gangster."
As Action News noted in their own report, the fact that Elizabeth was able to purchase counterfeits on Amazon is likely due to their decision to sell products for third parties, handicapping their control over individual items for sale. Amazon has also been known to sell the counterfeit MAC products:
"An Amazon spokesperson tells the [Action News] I-Team that Amazon won't tolerate sellers of counterfeit products. The company's policy is to kick them off the site and destroy any counterfeit products that end up in Amazon's distribution warehouses."
That may be true, but a quick search reveals there are still plenty of non-vetted Clarisonics for sale on the mega-site. So what can we do to protect ourselves against counterfeit cosmetics? Well, as unpopular as it may sounds, pay full price and order from the brand itself, or from a fully-vetted and authorized retailer of theirs. If you're buying anywhere else, it seems you just never know…
-By Morgan Shanahan