Counterfeit Beauty Products: How To Spot Them

How To Spot Counterfeit Beauty products

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally written by Gracee Tolentino for Dermstore, an affiliate partner of Charlotte’s Book. A big issue we see in the Charlotte’s Book community is counterfeit or expired skincare and cosmeceuticals. Our readers should be wary of purchasing skincare on Amazon or eBay: orders fulfilled by Amazon mean that the seller has a deal with Amazon to store the items in an Amazon warehouse, which can translate to varying temperatures (and time spent on the shelf unmonitored), affecting the product. Additionally, because the product isn’t coming directly from the manufacturer, there’s a high possibility it could be fake, or expired—there’s very little regulation on sites that allow third-party sellers. Dermstore, on the other hand, only sells beauty and skincare products they’re 100% authorized to sell: read on for a little education on safe shopping.

We get it: everyone loves a good deal, which makes incredible beauty discounts online hard to resist. But consider this before price shopping your beauty and skincare routine from an unauthorized dealer (most likely on Amazon): Counterfeit beauty products have become increasingly common and can cause serious harm. They’re being manufactured and sold at such a rapid pace these days that it’s now considered a global epidemic. And unlike that Chanel “replica”—which might only cause you a little embarrassment if it doesn’t simply fall apart—fake beauty products could end up sending you straight to a Charlotte’s Book expert.

The Ugly Truth About Counterfeit Beauty Products

Sometimes the difference between buying authentic beauty products and buying counterfeit ones could mean not having to deal with permanent skin damage and long-term diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer. The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), found fake cosmetics and skincare to contain toxic levels of chemicals and unpleasant substances, such as arsenic, mercury and even urine. Back in 2012, Inside Edition tested counterfeit cosmetics bought on the street and the results were surprising. The tests found high levels of aluminum (linked to Alzheimer’s disease), beryllium (a known carcinogen) and bacteria in the products.

With more and more people shopping online, it has become easier for counterfeiters to distribute their products anywhere in the world. Even giant online retailers can have a hard time controlling the authenticity of beauty products sold by third parties. In the U.K. alone consumers spend $140 million on fake beauty products, and most of them probably didn’t even know it until they noticed the side effects.

Related: 5 DIY Skin Care Products You Should Never Try

Here’s the rub: Counterfeiters don’t have any standards to uphold. They infringe intellectual property rights (yes, it is illegal). They use the cheapest ingredients to turn the biggest possible profit. They take shortcuts. And importantly for skincare, they don’t abide by the FDA’s sanitation guidelines, and their products don’t undergo rigorous tests required by law before they’re released to the public.

How to Spot a Counterfeit Beauty Product Online

It’s easy to identify a fake designer handbag when the item in question is something that normally retails for thousands of dollars and it’s available for less than $100. Beauty products, however, are trickier to spot and the sad truth is that counterfeiters are becoming better at making and imitating product packages. So good, in fact, that it can be nearly impossible to tell a fake from the real thing, especially when it’s being sold at a comparable price on Amazon or eBay.

Related: What Dermatologists Wish You Knew About Your Skin

The single easiest way you can be sure you’re getting the real deal is to buy your products straight from the brand or its authorized dealers and retailers.  Some brands like SkinMedica do a great job of actually listing the bogus websites that sell their products. Aside from compromised ingredients, in skincare the shelf life of a product is also very important. Buying cosmeceutical products from offline retailers may result in old product inventory that is past it’s prime. To make sure your getting the real deal, check for authorized dealers listed on the brand’s official website. You might not get the lowest price, but your health, safety and well-being won’t be compromised.

Illustration via on pinterest


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Facebook Conversations


  • Jacqueline

    Don’t ever buy from OverStock! They actually have random people from any area send the products. This mean’s a complete stranger will get your address and send you whatever they have, however they obtained it. Sometimes OS will have it sent to them, then send it to the consumer but when they mess up like it happen to me, it was from some man in a ghetto part of Florida.. Yes, that’s right he shipped it to me directly and I reverse searched the return address and couldn’t believe it. Called OS and I guy was very kind the other guy actually hung up on me…lol

  • Melissa

    Good reminder to buy from the doctors office/directly from the brand. Plus then you’re supporting the business (or your doctor) directly …

  • Lisa

    So, you start the article by intimating that you will tell us how to spot the fakes, then end it by telling us that we cannot spot the fakes. How was this helpful? Other than being an ad for Dermstore…

    • MidnightRoseXO

      Basically, like with anything, if you want to be sure it’s the real thing, you have to buy it from a licensed retailer. All these cheap Ugg boots and MK handbags you see ads for are fakes.

    • Robin Shobin – CB

      Hi Lisa. We disclosed right at the start that Dermstore is an affiliate partner. But we do hope this article helped readers understand the risks with buying counterfeit and/or outdated products. The single easiest way you can be sure you’re getting a real product is to buy it either straight from the brand or from one of its authorized dealers and retailers (usually denoted on the brand’s website). Even if the product is from an authorized dealer– be sure to check expiration dates. Shelf life in certain skincare products can be very important.

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