The U.S. Food and Drug Administration urged consumers to be cautious.
“Counterfeit products, including cosmetics, are illegal and may be harmful to a consumer’s health,” an FDA spokesperson said.
The danger, according to the FDA, is that counterfeits may contain harmful or banned ingredients, unacceptable by-products of manufacturing or unapproved color additives.
Companies that make cosmetics and skin care products are actively fighting counterfeiting.
“Cosmetic counterfeiting has been the scourge of the industry and it’s only getting worse,” said Dr. Scott Wasserman, founder and CEO of Cosmetic Alchemy, maker of LiLash and LiBrow, products used on eyelashes and eyebrows.
Wasserman said Homeland Security contacted his Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company three times in one month to identify suspected counterfeit products found in shipping containers. And, it’s not just bulk products coming into the country that are a problem. The internet is another source of counterfeits. When Cosmetic Alchemy submitted a product trademark to the website Alibaba, the site had to remove 465 listings that were offering fake products.
How can consumers protect themselves?
Dr. Shari Lipner, a dermatologist with NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, said it’s almost impossible for the average consumer to tell the difference between a branded product and a well-done counterfeit.
Lipner said you don’t have to spend a fortune to maintain healthy skin, but added, “My best advice is to buy cosmetics and skin care products from reputable sources.”
The FDA cautioned consumers to be wary of products on sale at flea markets or re-sold online in channels such as auctions. It recommended checking packaging carefully for any evidence that the product might have been repackaged or relabeled. Also, make sure the product looks and smells like it should.
But what if you just couldn’t pass up that $10 lipstick at the flea market that normally sells for $50, and now it’s making your lips itch? Lipner said the first step is to stop using any product that irritates your skin.
“Most skin rashes are short-lived and will improve as long as you do not expose your skin to the offending product,” she said.
If the rash continues to worsen, becomes painful or blisters, see a doctor, preferably a dermatologist, Lipner said.