If a bargain seems too good to be true, it’s likely neither good nor true.
That’s the lesson learned after the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) raided the city’s Fashion District and seized $700,000 worth of counterfeit cosmetics this month.
Recently, the department’s Anti-Piracy Unit was tipped off that vendors in Santee Alley, a portion of the famed district, were possibly selling bogus makeup. They conducted an undercover operation and purchased several of the suspected fakes.
Indeed, test results showed the products were phony. What’s more, they contained high levels of bacteria and animal waste.
Brands in the knockoff roundup included Anastasia, NARS, MAC, Urban Decay, and Kylie Cosmetics, the makeup line from model Kylie Jenner.
Several of these companies tipped off the LAPD when customers contacted them, complaining of rashes and bumps after using the products.
Little did the customers know, they’d purchased fakes filled with feces and potentially harmful microbes.
With the raid, LAPD arrested owners at six of the locations. Fifteen other operations received cease-and-desist orders. The arrested individuals will likely be charged with trademark violations.
“The best price is not always the best deal!” wrote LAPD Captain Marc Reina in a tweet after the raid.
However, this isn’t the first time LAPD has made large busts for counterfeit products — and it most certainly won’t be the last.
Counterfeit products aren’t uncommon
Earlier this year, 18-year-old Rachel McLaughlin shared disturbing images of her swollen lips on social media after she used fake Kylie Jenner Lip Kits.
McLaughlin, who lives in Northern Ireland, purchased the knockoff Kylie product for just $4. Authentic Kylie Lip Kits sell for $29.
A handful of hours after applying the lip gloss — and reapplying a few times — McLaughlin noticed her lips had begun to swell. By the next morning, her lips and face were inflamed, and she had developed blisters inside her mouth.
“This is the consequences of a fake Kylie Jenner Lip Kit, which could [have] ended up with a fatality if not treated as soon as it was,” wrote McLaughlin’s sister, Bronagh, in a Facebook post.
When news broke of the newly seized Kylie Cosmetics from the Los Angeles raid, Jenner’s sister Kim Kardashian West took to Twitter to plead for people to be more aware of what they’re buying.
“Counterfei[t] Kylie lip kits seized in LAPD raid test positive for feces,” she wrote. “SO GROSS! Never buy counterfeit products!”
Therein lies a bit of the problem for consumers, however.
Some of these fakes are incredibly realistic. Picking out a phony product might be hard for a novice makeup fan, and the temptation for a bargain version of a popular product might be too hard to resist for some.
“Consumers should only purchase cosmetics from trustworthy companies and authorized retailers,” says Dr. Sonia Batra, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles and a recurring co-host on the television show, “The Doctors.” “Pay close attention to the prices, packaging, and quality of the product. If the price is too good to be true, if the packaging is discolored or missing a barcode, or if the consistency or texture of the product seems different than the original, you are most likely looking at a counterfeit product.”
Unlike legitimate skin care brands, companies producing sham products have no oversight or regulation.
This week, Kourtney Kardashian, another sister of Kylie Jenner, attended closed-door hearings in Washington, D.C., to discuss the need for regulatory reform of the cosmetics industry.
A vast portion of the Kardashian-Jenner empire rests on the value of their cosmetic companies, so the fakes — and the potential damage to their brands — hits the sisters where it really hurts, in the purse.
While the news that people were applying feces-laden products to their face may bring out shrieks of horror, the really nasty part of the story is the potential for serious health concerns.
Counterfeit has consequences
“Counterfeit makeup often contains known carcinogens arsenic, beryllium, and cadmium,” says Dr. Bobby Buka, a dermatologist in New York City and a contributing founder and chief science officer of the First Aid Beauty skin care line. “It also has an alarming number of potentially infection-causing bacteria that can lead to scarring, burning, and disfigurement.”
He notes the bargain might feel like a good option, but you’ll wish you’d paid full price for the real deal when you see how high the doctor’s bills can climb.
“It’s well documented that contaminated makeup around the eyes can lead to eye infections. These infections can be viral or bacterial in nature and need to be treated with appropriate medication,” says Dr. Amanda Hoelscher, OD, with Key-Whitman Eye Center in Dallas, Texas. “Makeup contaminated with feces is a huge concern because of the infectious matter in feces.”
“I’ve seen people get eye infections from sharing mascara with a friend who had an eye infection. That was a trusted friend. Imagine what could happen if you buy and use what you think is a new or professional product but with unknown ingredients. The results won’t be pretty,” Hoelscher told Healthline.
If you buy a product and suspect it’s a fake after using it, Batra suggests you immediately stop using the product. If a rash appears, avoid scratching it and clean the skin with soap and water.
“You can use petroleum jelly, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream to soothe the affected area,” Batra told Healthline. “Most rashes will go away on their own, but consult your doctor if it persists or worsens.”
How not to be scammed
If you’re always looking to add to your makeup collection or eyeing a great set of eye color from your favorite celeb, you may fall prey to a scam too easily.
Follow these tips to avoid spending money on a phony product — and possibly spending time in a doctor’s office.
Be suspicious of great bargains. “Usually, the price is the best tipoff that the goods are counterfeit,” says Chris Schwegmann, a lawyer in Texas who has represented a number of cosmetic companies and sued online retailers over counterfeit products. “If the price looks too good to be true, it is usually a sign that you are buying counterfeit goods, especially if you see these products on a website like Amazon or eBay.”
I know it’s hard to resist a bargain, but don’t trust a so-called name-brand cosmetic with a too-good-to-be-true cheap price tag,” Buka says.
Fakes aren’t the only cosmetics that could foul up your face. “Consumers should also watch to avoid purchasing old and expired cosmetics on these same websites,” Schwegmann adds. “Unscrupulous online [sites] will sometimes sell ‘authentic’ cosmetics — meaning cosmetics manufactured by the name on the label — but is very old or long since expired. Always check the expiration dates. Old and expired cosmetics, particularly sunscreens, can also cause problems.”
In addition, if you buy from the original manufacturer, you have an actual path of recourse in the event the product doesn’t work for you.
“These counterfeit products aren’t leftovers that are resold from manufacturers at a lower price,” says Dr. Janet Prystowsky, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Livad Skin Care. “They are made in terribly unsanitary working conditions with ingredients that are not only different from what you expect but potentially harmful in and of themselves.”
No bargain is worth the risk, Prystowsky says.
“You may save $15 by buying a counterfeit product, but you’re not truly buying the real deal at a low price,” she says. “You’re paying for feces, bacteria, and harmful chemicals wrapped in a shiny box with a brand name.”