The Dangers of Counterfeit Makeup and How You Can Avoid It

The Dangers of Counterfeit Makeup and How You Can Avoid It

Kathryn De Vries

February 26, 2020


Imagine this: a young girl takes a trip to the store beaming with glee as she sets out to purchase her very own Kylie Lip Kit. This isn’t just any lipstick, it’s mega-influencer Kylie Jenner’s million-dollar lipstick brand, and girls across the globe are pining after the hot commodity. The girl so desperately wants to fit in with the models she has seen on Instagram, so she saves up enough money and buys the lip kit. She runs home and rushes upstairs to her bedroom where she can finally apply her new lipstick, the moment she’s been waiting months for. After snapping a few selfies in her new lipstick, the girl suddenly realizes the worst has happened: her lips have been sealed shut by her new “Kylie Lip Kit” on account of the product being counterfeit. This is the horrifying reality many consumers face when they choose to buy brand name makeup from third party outlets, both in-store and online.

The increase in digital marketing through social media in today’s consumer culture has no doubt played a crucial role in the high demand for brand-name products. Consumers in today’s society are constantly spending their money on the material goods they see social media influencers promoting, with hopes of attaining the same kind of lifestyle they see depicted online. This strong desire to “fit in” has led many to find cheaper and more accessible alternatives to these brand-name products through third-party vendors, most commonly online. Many of these third-party vendors have been caught selling counterfeit products to consumers who believe the products on their pages are the real thing. According to Duane Morris, a Philadelphia-based law firm, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized more than 2,000 shipments of counterfeit cosmetics in 2015, worth an estimated $1.4 billion.

Although these fradulent products may be easier to come by, they are by no means safe to use. Counterfeit makeup poses significant health risks to consumers, as they have been found to contain aluminum, human carcinogens, dangerous levels of bacteria, lead, arsenic, mercury and even horse urine. When applied to the skin, these unsafe ingredients expose consumers to long-term health problems such as infections, rashes and in some cases can cause cancer.

In an interview with Refinery29, Haven Cruise, a consumer victimized by the detrimental effects of counterfeit makeup, said she felt like shards of glass were tearing through the skin under her eyes after waking up one morning following the use of a counterfeit Ben Nye makeup powder. Upon looking in the mirror, she was shocked to see the areas around her cheeks and temple were raw, bumpy and painfully dry.

“It was almost like something had entered my pores and was hanging out in there,” Cruise told Refinery29.

Cruise’s experience is similar to many other consumers’ encounters with counterfeit makeup. Many have taken to social media to share the effects these products have had on their bodies, as well as their disappointment with the brand they thought they were buying from.

Emma Morgan posted a video to Twitter showing her lips physically sticking together after using a counterfeit Kylie Lip Kit in the shade “Koko K.” She called out celebrity influencer Kylie Jenner captioning the video, “@kyliejenner fake Koko K I got…Literally has glue in it! So gross! So not cute…”

Cruise and Morgan’s stories are just two examples out of hundreds highlighting the alarming danger counterfeit makeup products pose to today’s consumers. Regardless of the U.S. Customs ongoing attempts to decrease the amount of counterfeit products entering the marketplace, there is still a possibility some of the products consumers are purchasing could be fake. However, there are several ways in which consumers can identify counterfeit beauty products in order to protect themselves:

1) Be cautious of vendors with reduced pricing on their beauty and skin care products. (Authorized vendors usually never lower prices more than 20 to 30 percent)

2) Cross-check product labels with the ones found on the manufacturer’s website. (Often times labels can be misprinted, words can be misspelled and incorrect terms can be used on counterfeit cosmetic labels)

3) Check the formula of your product. (Fake powders, eye shadows, blushes and lipsticks tend to have a thinner consistency than the real thing)

Counterfeit makeup is something consumers should be cautious of, but it also shouldn’t make consumers shy away from purchasing brand-name products. Keep in mind these helpful tips when buying cosmetics online or consider buying more affordable brand “dupes” for the same intended results. There are plenty of other products on the market that can help you create the same looks as Kylie Jenner, and they’re safer too. Make sure you know what’s going on your body first before you apply the product to avoid the danger of counterfeit makeup.


Kathryn De Vries is a Creative Advertising junior focusing on a concentration in copywriting. Her passion for storytelling is evident amongst her various projects as a writer, editor, brand strategist and designer. When she’s not busy working, you can find her exploring her love for craft beer at any of the local breweries around the Lansing area.