Counterfeit skincare and make-up: how it's damaging the UK beauty industry

If you’ve spent any time browsing the beauty section on Amazon or Ebay, chances are you will have come across counterfeit beauty products. As a beauty industry professional, it’s likely you’re a dab hand when it comes to spotting a fake but the same can’t always be said for your clients, especially given that the counterfeit beauty industry is booming right now.

Beauty products are the third most counterfeited sector, following fashion and jewellery, according to the Government's Intellectual Property Office, who report that 17% of UK women have knowingly purchased a counterfeit product online.

Just last month a Manchester-based trader was fined hundred of pounds after they were found in possession of 720 fake Huda Beauty eyeshadow palettes and 42 Morphe eyeshadow palettes, which would had been worth £33,000 had they been legitimate goods. So, why is counterfeit beauty having such a moment right now? It could be down to the fact we're all shopping online much more. 

Why are counterfeit beauty products on the rise?

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic UK consumers are 45% more likely to buy skincare products online, according to supplement brand Lycored, and with less savvy shoppers who are new to e-commerce adding to their baskets with abandon, counterfeit beauty retailers are having a field day.

Indeed, Daniel Shapiro, vice president of brand protection agency Red Points, says he saw a 56% increase in counterfeit products sold online across the 700 brands they look after (which includes beauty tool brand Foreo) in the first six months of 2020. Counterfeit products continue to grow at an alarming rate, with the US Patent and Trademark Office predicting that fake goods will contribute $4.5 trillion to the global economy by 2024.

Are counterfeit beauty products dangerous?

“The damage and dangers associated with fake cosmetics, perfumes and body care products are not only economic,” says director general of the Anti-Counterfeiting Group Phil Lewis. “Dangers to health and safety are growing as potentially toxic ingredients are being more commonly used in fake products to reduce costs.”

Toxic ingredients found in beauty products can shockingly include cyanide, arsenic, lead, and mercury, and Lewis even told us that animal urine is a common ingredient. "Animal urine is a particularly popular substitute for expensive stabilisers used to prolong fragrances in legitimate products," he said. 

The counterfeit industry is also damaging to the beauty industry as a whole. It harms the credibility of brands, with low quality, potentially harmful products sold under brand names damaging their reputation, as well as cutting into the profits of related businesses.

But, what can we do as an industry to stop the futher rise of fake beauty products? The first step is educating yourself and your clients on how to stop counterfeit beauty buys.

Three ways to help your clients spot counterfeit beauty products

Counterfeit products are designed to be unidentifiable from the legitimate product, but there are a few ways to spot a fake, according to Cosmetics Europe, the European trade association for the cosmetics and personal care industry, who has some handy advice for how to spot counterfeits.

1. Unusually low price

“If a deal looks too good to be true, it most probably is,” states Lewis.

2. Low-quality packaging

“Look out for poor quality boxes and labelling, including spelling mistakes and poor grammar," warns Lewis

3. Differences in product and/or packaging

This is trickier to spot, but check out the colour, shape and font used on the product to see if it matches with the real offering

Lewis also points out that the location of where you're buying from should be a key indicator. If you’re online, check it’s a reputable site or stockist of the product.

When it vomes to real life shopping, advise clients that products purchased from markets or in discount stores on the high street are unlikely to be legitimate.

If your client is unsure if an online product is reputable, get them to read the reviews online to help them see if it’s legitimate. They can always avoid counterfeit beauty products by buying directly from your salon, the brand's website or from reputable etailers.

What do you make of the issue of counterfeit beauty products flooding the market? Tell us your thoughts below.