In the new Netflix series Broken, industry experts, consumers, and law enforcement share their perspectives on counterfeit makeup. The knockoff makeup industry is worth an estimated $48.3 billion globally, and the numbers are only rising.1 The Netflix documentary series episode titled Makeup Mayhem investigated the practices behind this counterfeit makeup explosion and the dangers in its ingredients and production.

Counterfeit Makeup Dangers

The two biggest dangers of knockoff makeup are its ingredients and production environments. As the series Broken explained, the conditions in which the knockoff makeup products are produced are a nightmare for consumers. Unsanitary practices and unregulated ingredients can cause users to experience deadly effects from counterfeit makeup. The series interviewed one young woman who, after using what was unknowingly a knockoff Kylie Cosmetics lip kit, experienced a side effect of the knockoff lip product that literally glued her lips together. She was able to unglue her lips at home, but the close call with a medical emergency shows how dangerous these knockoff products can be. 2 The ingredients in counterfeit makeup can also cause long-term health problems with prolonged use. The docuseries episode outlined dangerous ingredients found in counterfeit makeup, including:
  • Carcinogens
  • Arsenic
  • Beryllium
  • Lead
  • Mercury
There were also traces of urine, fecal matter, and staph found in many knockoff cosmetics due to the unsanitary production conditions at the facilities producing the products.2 Exposure to toxic ingredients and trace contaminants may cause acne, rashes, or contact dermatitis in users. In long-term exposure cases, more severe lifelong problems including memory issues, fertility struggles, or even cancers may result from repeat exposure to the dangerous ingredients in many knockoff cosmetics. 2

How to Spot Knockoff Makeupinfographic on how to spot counterfeit makeup

Now that you understand how dangerous knockoff cosmetics can be, it’s important to understand how to spot counterfeit cosmetics so you can avoid making a dangerous purchase. Our South Florida dermatologist shares some top tips for identifying knockoff makeup from the real thing:
  • The place where the product is being sold, most name brand cosmetics are sold by the name brand themselves or through trusted third-party retailers like Sephora or Ulta
  • The price of the product; if the price is too good to be true, it very likely is
  • The packaging of the product, are the colors correct, are there any spelling issues on the packaging
If you’re unsure whether the makeup is authentic or not, compare its packaging to the real thing. You can find photos of authentic products online to cross check, and when in doubt, throw it out. Sources:   Infographic added to page February 2021.