Counterfeit cosmetics contain mercury, carcinogens, bacteria and feces

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by Dr. Eowyn

Good grief.

In addition to counterfeit food and counterfeit drugs, we now must beware of counterfeit cosmetics.

Serena Gordon reports for HealthDay (via MedicineNet), Oct. 17, 2019, that cosmetics with prices that seem too good to be true, or that you buy on the internet or from flea markets may be counterfeit — and dangerous.

Those counterfeit cosmetics may even carry name labels.

Earlier this year, a 47-year-old California woman was semi-comatose for weeks after using a Pond’s-labeled skin cream purchased in Mexico. Turns out the product had been adulterated with mercury. The levels of mercury in her blood were 500 times the normal amount.

Pond’s said in a statement that it does not use mercury in its products and that “Illegitimate sales, product tampering and reselling are beauty industry issues that deserve close attention and consumer awareness.” The company is working with authorities investigating this product-tampering.

Fortunately, most incidents of cosmetic counterfeiting or product tampering aren’t as serious as the mercury-adulterated skin cream. But if you don’t buy from reputable retailers, it’s hard to know exactly what’s in the products you’re putting on your face.

Last year, officials in Los Angeles seized $700,000 worth of counterfeit cosmetics from a well-known outdoor shopping area. The knock-off products included high-end brand names, including Urban Decay, NARS, MAC and Kylie Cosmetics. Lab tests of the products showed they were contaminated with high levels of bacteria and feces, according to ABC News in Los Angeles.

Detective Rick Ishitani of the L.A. Police Department told ABC News counterfeit products aren’t made under the same safe and hygienic conditions that real products are. That’s why “feces will just basically somehow get mixed into the product they’re manufacturing in their garage or in their bathroom — wherever they’re manufacturing this stuff.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urges consumers to be cautious. An FDA spokesperson said “Counterfeit products, including cosmetics, are illegal and may be harmful to a consumer’s health” because the counterfeits may contain harmful or banned ingredients, unacceptable by-products of manufacturing or unapproved color additives.

According to the FBI, some of the ingredients that make up counterfeit cosmetics and fragrances are downright dangerous:

  • Phony cosmetics often containthings such asarsenic, beryllium, and cadmium (all known carcinogens) along with high levels ofaluminum and dangerous levels of bacteria. Some of these products have caused conditions like acne, psoriasis, rashes, and eye infections.
  • Counterfeit fragrances have been found to contain something called DEHP, classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a probable human carcinogen. These phony perfumes and colognes, which sometimes contain urine as well, have been known to cause serious skin rashes.

Companies that make cosmetics and skin care products are actively fighting counterfeiting.

Dr. Scott Wasserman, founder and CEO of Cosmetic Alchemy, maker of LiLash and LiBrow, products used on eyelashes and eyebrows, said “Cosmetic counterfeiting has been the scourge of the industry and it’s only getting worse.” Wasserman said Homeland Security contacted his company three times in one month to identify suspected counterfeit products found in shipping containers. The internet is another source of counterfeits. When Cosmetic Alchemy submitted a product trademark to the website Alibaba, the site had to remove 465 listings that were offering fake products.

How can consumers protect themselves?:

  • Dr. Shari Lipner, a dermatologist with NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, said it’s almost impossible for the average consumer to tell the difference between a branded product and a well-done counterfeit. She said: “My best advice is to buy cosmetics and skin care products from reputable sources.
  • The FDA recommends:
    • Beware of products on sale at flea markets or re-sold online in channels such as auctions.
    • Check packaging carefully for any evidence that the product might have been repackaged or relabeled.
    • Make sure the product looks and smells like it should.

What if a cosmetic you bought irritates your skin?

Dr. Lipner said you should stop using the product, and if the skin rash worsens, becomes painful or blisters, see a doctor, preferably a dermatologist.




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