KNOW YOUR PRODUCT: How to spot a fake


Buyer beware! Fake makeup (‘fakeup’) is big business and has been for some time. There are counterfeits of everything from MAC, Benefit and Bobbi Brown everywhere you turn, and it shows no signs of slowing.  Whilst many buyers will cite high cosmetic prices as a good justification for buying the cheaper knock offs, with counterfeit products any savings will ultimately be at a price. This is the flipside to the shadowy world of counterfeit cosmetics.

For starters, the regulations in place around quality or labelling of ingredients just aren’t there.  Counterfeiters churning out the cheap versions do not abide by any enforced rules or regulations, so many potentially substances may be used to drive down the cost.  Whilst cheaper imitations may look legitimate, most of these products will be filled with toxic, low-grade fillers, talcs, heavy metals and many other shady ingredients that at best irritate the skin; at worst they have the potential to cause damage to both the body and the brain. They may contain carcinogenic ingredients that are banned from use in cosmetics and could cause long-term harm.


There have been numerous reports internationally of people having severe reactions after using fake products; from facial swelling, skin irritations, swollen and irritated eyes, rashes and psoriasis. Dermatologists are reporting an increase in the number of women with skin conditions triggered by the use of counterfeit make-up.

In a real vs fake study conducted by Staffordshire Scientific Services, eight  out of ten ‘designer’ makeup items purchased online within a two week period were found to be counterfeit when packaging and product were compared with the genuine article. Of those that were faux, further testing found they contained a cocktail of potentially harmful ingredients ranging from lead, copper and mercury to arsenic and cadmium, a metal which is highly dangerous.


A counterfeit MAC eyeliner sold on Amazon was tested at 46 times the permitted level of copper –  deeming it unfit for use on eyes.  Paint stripper and nail varnish remover has been found in fake mascara and liquid eyeliners. And a batch of counterfeit perfume seized by the police in the UK contained urine as a substitute to stabilisers used in the genuine product. WTF?

Also concerning is that counterfeit cosmetics may not have been made in a sterile environment, whereas the manufacture of genuine cosmetics is strictly controlled and products are rigorously tested before they go on sale. 

Secondly, if you give a damn about sustainability, ethical production of products, animal testing, child labour, etc, how can you be assured of what has gone into the production of that fake product when you don’t even know who made it? With counterfeit products, your powers to choose what and who you support when you buy are effectively removed. You are putting your faith into the anonymous supplier and effectively playing russian roulette with your health and the safety of those involved in their production.


Here’s some tips to avoid fake products, and how to spot them if you suspect you’ve already purchased one!

  • If you are going to buy a specific brand, buy it from their website or physical store, a large cosmetic department store (eg Sephora), or a certified reseller or distributor.  Beauticians, makeup artists and the like are also generally a good source; they will buy direct from the manufacturer to resell and should only ever stock genuine product (as their reputation depends on them being able to back the products they sell and use). You can also find where your fave products are stocked by going to the website of the brand and finding their list of stockists.
  • Generally speaking, steer clear of Ebay, where its pretty difficult to spot the difference between the real thing and the fake! Unless you know your products and their labelling back to front and have done your research, it can be extremely hard to determine the difference. Remember, there’s an astoundingly HUGE market in selling knock-offs, so they are abundant online. There are some sellers that disclose this; there are others who, worse, sell their products as genuine and sometimes even use genuine stock pics and swatches. It’s only when you receive the product that you find you’ve been sold something far inferior.

If you think you have a fake in your possession, have a really close look at its packaging and test it out.

  • The product itself may feel sticky and unpleasant on the skin. You may also notice the shade will be slightly different, or the pigment not as strong or bold than ones you have tried or bought before. It won’t smell the same either; this is usually one of the first things that trigger an alarm bell for me. Cheap products smell like chemicals!
  • Generally, fakes will have different shaped/ sized/ smaller lids, the packaging will feel different or cheaper, paper materials will be thinner, and finishes such as raised writing will be generally be printed on with a cheaper ink that can be scraped off easily.
  • There are many sites that outline the difference in packaging, labelling and graphics used on fake products vs the real ones; they are quite subtle but if you have a good eye it is possible to spot the differences with some careful scrutiny. Look carefully at the fonts used on the product packaging. They are often slightly different in size from fonts used on the genuine article.
  • Fake products will tend to be missing batch numbers and shade names etc. Scan the packaging and the product for a batch number — it should be printed on the base or there will be an imprint on the box.
  • Also, its worth knowing what format / style your fave brands make their palettes in. There are tonnes of fake MAC 36- and 64- and whatever eyeshadow palettes – MAC don’t make these. At all.
  • There are also many fake brushes online it ain’t funny! They’re often dyed and dipped in cheap chemicals that smell like crap and will shed their hairs everywhere!


Golden rule: if something seems really cheap compared to what it should retail at, there’s probably a reason.

So keep your eyes out when shopping! The new generation of beauty fakes are very convincing. They’re widely available on reputable online sites including eBay and Amazon, with sellers buying in stock from Chinese wholesalers or shady middlemen in the UK. While the bigger websites are taking action to clamp down on counterfeiters, there are still thousands of products out there.  Unless tougher action is taken, unsuspecting customers on the hunt for a beauty bargain will be the ones who pay the price.


Safe shopping Ultra babes!



8 thoughts on “KNOW YOUR PRODUCT: How to spot a fake

  1. Mirifique Beauty says:

    What a great article. OMFG! Urine in perfume, disgusting. Some of the ingredients in eye products that could actually blind you. I got duped with a Chanel product on Ebay and have never bought anything since. My Chanel SA has told me about people trying to return perfume to her bought on line and it has completely different packaging and even bottle shape as well as a different coloured perfume.. I can well believe it.

    • Danee Sunshyne says:

      Thank you 🙂 Sorry to hear you got duped online. Its so hard to tell whats real from fake, particularly when they use stock pics! I have been tricked a few times too. You just have to be so careful. Counterfeit perfume is everywhere now! Thanks for reading and sharing your experience 🙂 x

    • Danee Sunshyne says:

      Thank you so much! I’m so glad you found it useful. Spread the word! There are so many evil fakes out there now :\ Its bad for the industry, bad for the consumer, bad for everyone!

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