How to identify and avoid counterfeit beauty products in Singapore: The ins-and-outs of fake cosmetics, skincare, etc

How to identify and avoid counterfeit beauty products in Singapore: The ins-and-outs of fake cosmetics, skincare, etc

False pretences

Text: Emily Heng

We won't go as far as to say that pirated goods are a hallmark of pasar malam culture, but it definitely is a cornerstone of numerous street markets. Think about it: amidst the Ramly burger stands, mobile phone repair services, and carnival game booths lie stalls aplenty —many of which can be found hawking counterfeit bags, DVDs, and stuffed toys. And while a fake designer purse proves detrimental to one's style quotient (lol), it doesn't quite pose the same risk as counterfeit beauty products. We're talking knock-off Kylie Lip Kits, M.A.C. eyeshadow palettes, and other cult offerings that come at a fraction of the price accompanied by (equally) discounted formulations.

The lack of fancy, premium-grade ingredients such as hyaluronic acid or retinoid isn't an issue, but replacing safe ingredients with hazardous ones along the lines of heavy metals, paint thinners, and the like, is. In fact, it's grown to be such a widespread issue, fake beauty products are a focal point of an episode from Netflix docu-series, Broken. Are most consumers oblivious to the harmful effects of bootlegged beauty? How did the counterfeit business erupt to the point where it is at, today? And most importantly, how can you identify and avoid falling for a phoney product? We break it all down, below.

Who is producing counterfeit beauty products?

Though no specific sources or companies have been identified, recent investigations have discovered that an overwhelming amount of knock-off goods are produced by factories in China. The most notable incident was in 2017, where high-end cosmetic fakes worth US$120 million were seized from seven underground dens in Zhenjiang.

When did this problem begin?

Imitation products have been around since the dawn of time, though it has only shaped up to be a prevalent problem in the late 2000s. According to a report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, seizures of bogus beauty products increased by 25% from 2011 to 2013. It's not a problem limited to the beauty sphere — The Center For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) has also found that 30% of all the medicine in the developing world is counterfeit; the number is higher in certain at-risk countries than others.

Why are counterfeit beauty products being sold?

Simply put, the enormous growth of the beauty industry (it's now worth US$532 billion, FYI) has made it an extremely lucrative market to tap into. Beauty products are relatively inexpensive to make in bulk and they provide high profit margins when done right — as evidenced by the successes experienced by new businesses in the vein of Kylie Cosmetics, Fenty Beauty, and Colourpop.

What are the ingredients used in counterfeit beauty products?

The FBI and other independent investigators have found a host of harmful chemicals in fake cosmetics they've confiscated, from aluminium and human carcinogens to high levels of bacteria, and even horse urine. Lead, arsenic, and mercury aren't uncommon too. These substances are known to cause severe allergic reactions that can lead to hospitalisation, or death. Such is the case with Ireland teen, Rachel McLaughlin, who experienced gooey, blistering lips and dramatic swelling after using a counterfeit Kylie Lip Kit she purchased online for US$4.

Where are counterfeit beauty products sold?

Street markets and pasar malams such as Bugis Street are popular spots. Bootlegged beauty has also infiltrated legitimate online marketplaces such as Amazon, Lazada, Qoo10, and more as companies find it impossible to comb through every single listing to verify its authenticity. Perhaps more surprisingly, popularised Telegram chat groups in Singapore are no exception. Singapore Freebies recently featured a listing for brand new Fenty Beauty, Kylie Cosmetics, and Bliss Rose lippies — none of which are legit, as disclosed by the seller. They have been taken up.

How to identify and avoid counterfeit beauty products in Singapore: The ins-and-outs of fake cosmetics, skincare, etc (фото 1)

How can you identify and avoid counterfeit beauty products?

Buying only from verified retailers and sites is a good start. Should you be tempted to purchase from other third-party sites, email the brands to check on the legitimacy of the platform you want to buy from. Unfortunately, shoddy packaging is not a reliable method of verifying the authenticity of beauty offerings anymore, with many a manufacturer wising up to produce close-to exact duplicates of OG offerings.

Instead, keep an eye out for the product's texture, smell, and consistency. Counterfeit picks tend to smell funky, or possess a thicker, glue-like quality that makes it harder to remove. Failing that, QR codes are a great way to check if the product is the real deal. Give them a quick scan, and see if they bring you to the brand's page. If they don't, dump it.