Counterfeit Cosmetics in the UK

by | Oct 7, 2020

ITV’s This Morning broadcast a segment on Monday which shone a light on the scale and severity of the counterfeit cosmetics problem within the UK.

Cosmetics Europe suggest that all cosmetics products can be counterfeited, with counterfeiting being defined as: “deliberate, unauthorised imitation or reproduction of a genuine product for the purpose of obtaining financial gain by misleading consumers into believing they are acquiring the genuine product. It is an Intellectual Property (IP) crime”.


Alice Beer focused her consumer goods segment with Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield on the impact of the counterfeit cosmetics trade. The daytime show revealed that counterfeit cosmetics are the third most investigated counterfeit products within the UK, with £2.2million worth of fake products being seized last year. Counterfeit cosmetics are a health and safety risk to consumers, containing everything from paint stripper to rat poison to lead.


What are the risks of counterfeit products? (Source: Cosmetics Europe)

  • Dissatisfaction with purchased products:
    • A counterfeited product may look similar to the genuine article but will not provide the expected level of quality, efficacy or enjoyment. Importantly, it will not have followed the legal requirements for safety and may actually be harmful.
  • Safety risks
    •  Genuine cosmetic products conform to strict laws that ensure they are safe to use. They undergo strict safety assessments, are manufactured under very specific conditions, and European and national systems ensure traceability of each product. Although companies make considerable efforts to combat counterfeiting, it is important to realise that counterfeit products by their nature are not following these safety rules.
  • Destruction of products
    • Counterfeited goods may result also in financial loss to consumers, as some EU member states require that they be destroyed and that anyone found purchasing them are fined.
  • Organised crime and terrorism
    • Profits made from IP crime are used to fund other serious organised crime such as drug and arms smuggling, people trafficking, identity theft, money-laundering and child pornography. As reported by Interpol, there is even evidence of profits from counterfeiting funding terrorist activity. Purchasing counterfeited goods can contribute to funding criminal activities of this sort.
  • Economic and societal impact
    • Counterfeiting also affects societies and economies at large, from loss of tax revenue to IP infringements that discourage research and innovation. To legitimate manufacturers, counterfeited products result in a loss of revenue, which may lead to forced redundancies.


To try to mitigate the risk of buying a fake cosmetics product, Alice Beer suggests:

  • Look to see whether where you’re buying from is a licensed stockist for the branded product. Brands should have a section on their website which lists where you can buy their products from; if the store you have found their product isn’t listed, do not buy it.
  • Look at the brands website to understand the nuances of the packaging and product, so that you can identify if the product you have purchased, or are preparing to purchase, is a fake.


As well as the above, Cosmetics Europe explain that counterfeit cosmetics are likely to have at least one of the following traits:

  • Unusually low price
  • Unusual place of sale e.g. market or train station
  • Low-quality packaging e.g. spelling mistakes
  • Differences in product and/or packaging e.g. colour, shape and font size
  • Missing information e.g. batch number, PAO symbol etc.


Speaking in 2018, Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the Local Government Association‘s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

“Counterfeit cosmetics can be dangerous as they can contain toxic chemicals and dangerous high levels of lead which can be detrimental for people’s health.  Fake designer products costs businesses and the taxpayer thousands of pounds each year. Councils have been targeting rogue retailers selling these fake products, and the fines they have received should deter others from selling these dangerous products.

“People should always do their research and take a pragmatic approach when they are buying make-up and cosmetics. Check the reviews of online sellers, and bear in mind that if something is really cheap, it’s likely to be fake and could potentially be harmful.  Anyone who has purchased make up that they think is dangerous should stop using it immediately and report it to their local Trading Standards team.

“It is vital that people report any concerns, so that councils can take action to prevent anyone being harmed or scarred for life.”


If you believe you have a counterfeit cosmetic product, report it to Citizens Advice and Trading Standards. To watch the full segment This Morning, click here.





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