The Dangers of Buying Fake Cosmetic Products

I recently went to a family market in Pretoria as part of a weekend outing. At such markets, one can find a variety of affordable goods. Anything from bags and wallets, toy guns, mobile accessories, luggage, jewellery, clothing, and even fake cosmetic products. I know what you are thinking; products that are that cheap most likely come from, or are made, in China, which for the most part is true.

One particular stall whose presence always catches my eye was that of a beauty supply store.

As a makeup artist and hairstylist, I am obviously always intrigued and I could not help but walk in.

There was a large variety of cosmetic products and tools available at prices which even the smallest budget could afford. Most of the cosmetics I saw there were of Chinese brands that have never even been heard of before. But what surprised and shocked me on this particular trip to the market was to see high end and prestigious cosmetic brands such as Kylie Cosmetics, Urban Decay, Huda Beauty, M.A.C and Too Faced, sold at that stall but at a fraction of the price you would be paying for it at department stores such as Edgars, Woolworths, and Foschini where they are most readily available.

I instantly knew that those products were knock-offs and not the original products sourced from the real brand or company. I know this because I worked for prestige cosmetic brands M.A.C and Bobbi Brown. I know where and how their products are made and where they are available for purchase.

I could not help but wonder where exactly these fake cosmetic products are made, and what processes and ingredients were used to make them? Let’s be honest everyone loves a good bargain that won’t break the bank. But what if cheap could actually be very harmful?

Concerned, I decided to do some research.

The beauty industry is continuously growing with each passing year. To keep up with this growing consumer demand, large beauty brands and cosmetic houses are continuously producing new and innovative products and collections to satisfy consumers’ increasing needs and wants. This is also an atmosphere perfect for counterfeiting.

Some of the many national security experts around the world compare the counterfeiting of cosmetic products to that of the drug trafficking industry. Such counterfeit cosmetic products enter a country through its harbors and such imports are mostly sourced from China. It is possible for parties interested in retailing large bulks of such fakeup (fake makeup) to easily import from China. Some of the sources of those who make those counterfeits acknowledge that the product is not original but very similar to that of the original. A copy if you will.

However, this similarity or copy does not make it safe to use. In fact, the ingredients in them are very different. Reports have found that fake cosmetics contain many different types of harmful bacteria and toxic elements which have resulted in cases of severe acne, Psoriasis, skin rashes, swelling, and damage to the eye to name a few. Some of these counterfeits have also been found to have traces of cyanide, paint stripper and mercury a chemical element known to cause lead poisoning in humans.

Many investigations have also found the disorderly and contaminated manufacturing environments where many of these fake cosmetic products are made.

Counterfeit products do not have to ensure safety due to the fact that they do not need to abide by health regulations, safety certifications, and legally required product testing.

The good news is that fake cosmetics can easily be identified and avoided from purchasing. Here are a few tips on how to spot counterfeit’s:

1. The price tag

We all love a good deal but high end cosmetics available only in select retailers won’t suddenly drop from R400 to R150. Since manufacturers and brands regulate their pricing, it is not likely that they will mark it down too low. If it looks suspiciously cheap, then 10 to 1 it is a fake.

2. Read labels

Most counterfeit beauty products imitate the original packaging, but there is error in the spelling. Check the product with the brand’s official site and compare labels to make sure everything is spelled correctly and is in the correct order.

3. Packaging

If you previously purchased a lipstick or eyeliner from the brand in question, line the items up side-by-side to compare them. Fake cosmetics are stored in lower-quality plastic or casings, often paired with ill-fitting mirrors and sponge-tipped applicators. The name of the shade should be printed on a sticker and not on the box.
Products that struggle to fit into the box as they should, as well as boxes with exposed pieces of cardboard, are other indicators that you could have bought a fake.

4. Test the actual product you are interested in buying

Fake maeup which includes eyeshadows, blushes, lipsticks, and powders tend  have a chalkier or thinner consistency than the original ones. Also smell the product. Many cosmetics have signature scents to them and are easily identifiable with that original product. Fakes tend to have no scent or have a medicinal or strong chemical like smell.

5. Where the product is available from

Select retailers or departments stores receive authorization to sell specific brands. In South Africa, brands such as M.A.C, Chanel, Clinique, Khiel’s etc. are available for purchase only in Edgars, Foschini, Woolworths and Truworths. One can also purchase a brands product online from their official website. If the products are found outside of these retailers, it is most likely a fake.

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Francis Ferreira
Francis Ferreira


Francis Ferreira is a professional makeup artist & hair stylist. He studied makeup & hair design at Kohl Makeup Academy. He has always been in love and fascinated with makeup and how it can transform and enhance a face. His passion for beauty and skin care stems from many years of experience working for prestige cosmetic brands MAC & Bobbi Brown. Francis loves sharing the art of makeup with women and show them how they can utilize it to enhance their own beauty.

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