Counterfeit Makeup Is Really Real And Really Scary

Beauty addicts love a good makeup sale. With prices for the good stuff continuing to climb and trends constantly changing, it's no wonder cosmetics fans look for discounts and even resort to dumpster diving in order to snag free designer cosmetics. Then, there are the knockoffs. There have always been counterfeit versions of high-end apparel and accessories – why not beauty products, too?

You may ultra-tempted by that $5 online listing for a Kylie Lip Kit (especially if it's sold out in every single authorized store), but step away from the computer. Counterfeit makeup is flat-out dangerous, and you're far better served buying a drugstore dupe. You may be aware of some terrible knockoff makeup stories, like the one about a blogger who suffered painful rashes and chemical burns, but every tale from the multi-million dollar counterfeit cosmetics industry is harrowing. Dangerous fake makeup can slowly poison your body and even cause cancer.

The industry of counterfeit beauty products is on the rise, but that doesn't mean you have to buy in. Here's what you need to know about knockoff makeup.

  • The Factories Producing Knockoff Makeup Are Disgusting

    The Factories Producing Knockoff Makeup Are Disgusting
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

    Illegal operations running out of mainland China don't often take the same sanitation measures as OSHA-regulated manufactures in the US. According to Greg Marrazzo, the Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel of Estée Lauder Companies, the factories that produce knockoffs are horrifically dirty:

    "If I could paint a picture of what it's like in one of these [counterfeit factories in China]... If you took the most disgusting frat house bathroom, it looks like a surgical suite compared to these conditions. It’s filthy, there’s bacteria everywhere... it’s disgusting."

    It's terrible to think about people working in those conditions. The bacteria found in those factories tends to seep into the makeup they produce, too.

  • Fake Makeup Can Cause Cancer

    Fake Makeup Can Cause Cancer
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

    It may be tempting to snag that faux Kyshadow, but it's not the same thing as carrying a knockoff handbag. These products are used on sensitive parts of your body and can deeply affect your health. There's a reason the FDA has to approve makeup ingredients.

    According to FBI reports, counterfeit makeup can include carcinogens. This means that over time, the use of that fake Jeffree Star liquid lipstick can actually give you cancer.

  • Counterfeit Makeup Can Contain Dangerous Ingredients Like Paint Thinner, Lead, And Mercury

    Counterfeit Makeup Can Contain Dangerous Ingredients Like Paint Thinner, Lead, And Mercury
    Photo: flickr / CC0

    You're probably not in a huge rush to bathe your lips in paint thinner – but that's exactly what you could be doing if you use counterfeit makeup. It's also likely that you're slathering yourself in toxic metals like lead and mercury.

    According to the FBI, counterfeit cosmetics can contain paint thinner, which irritates the eyes, nose, and throat in addition to being flammable and poisonous. Mercury and lead are also sometimes found in makeup knockoffs, which can lead to heavy metal poisoning. Mercury poisoning has long-term health effects including headaches, lack of coordination, vision impairment, mood swings, and insomnia. Lead poisoning can cause a number of similar long-term health problems, as well as miscarriages and stillbirths in pregnant women.

    In the best case scenario, being exposed to dangerous heavy metals and toxic chemicals in counterfeit makeup causes swelling, rashes, irritation, and chemical burns. Those symptoms subside should subside after use is discontinued.

  • Your Eyelids Can Fuse Together After Using Arsenic-Laced Eyeshadow

    Counterfeit makeup can contain arsenic (also known as rat poison). The Guardian speculates that it finds its way into makeup through rats. The unsanitary factories that produce knockoffs are often infested with rats and loaded with poison to keep them away.

    Arsenic is the opposite of something you'd want in makeup. In fact, your eyelids can actually fuse together if you use an eye product that contains it. In addition, continued exposure to arsenic can cause drowsiness, headaches, diarrhea, and confusion. In extreme cases, arsenic poisoning can lead to seizures, impaired hearing, cancer, and death.

  • Knockoff Makeup Often Contains Rat Droppings And Human Urine

    According to cosmetic scientist Colin Sanders, rat droppings aren't "particularly harmful in small quantities." That still doesn't mean you'd want to rub rat feces all over your face and mouth. Unfortunately, because of the disgusting conditions inside of counterfeit makeup factories, you may be doing just that.

    Both rat feces and human urine have been found in knockoff cosmetics. The source of the rat poop is obvious, but the human urine remains a mystery – are people really peeing into batches of knockoff lip gloss?

  • Counterfeit Makeup Can Trigger A Life-Long Allergy

    Counterfeit Makeup Can Trigger A Life-Long Allergy
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

    Not every ingredient used in counterfeit makeup is inherently harmful; many are actually found in the designer makeup products you know and love. The only problem is that the people who make these products don't always use the right amount of these ingredients, particularly preservatives. This can trigger allergies to regular makeup, too.

    "Once you’ve developed an allergy to something, you get it for a considerable period of time, possibly even life,” cosmetic scientist Colin Sanders told The Guardian. In other words, even if you switch back to that legit lipstick, it could still give you a rash.