Fake Makeup 101

Get the scoop on the beauty industry's bogus makeup market.

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Bargain hunters, beware. Although a super-low price tag on an otherwise expensive eye shadow palette can be tempting, it can be also be dangerous to your health. In an investigation with ABC’s David Muir, knockoff cosmetics—posing as popular MAC eyeliners and Benefit blushes—were found to contain five times the legal amount of lead and 20 times the amount of copper. Some of the sketchy ingredients are heavy metals, like arsenic and mercury. Allergic reactions, nerve disorders and even death are among the health problems associated with these homemade formulations.

Despite countless crackdowns around the globe, the bogus beauty business is booming—and lucrative. The market is estimated to be worth around $3 billion internationally.

So how exactly do you spot these fake cosmetics? First, check for nonstandard or low-quality packaging, poorly replicated logos and design, misspelled words and/or manufacturing flaws such as crooked labels, says Andrew Brodsky, commercial director at NetNames, a firm specializing in online brand protection and anti-counterfeiting services.

If a website seems to be pushing its products' authenticity by using terms like "real" or "legitimate" as well as an extreme dip in price, it’s likely selling knockoffs. Brodsky also suggests using caution when shopping on large online marketplaces like TaoBao, Alibaba and 1688.com. Another way to safely purchase products is by buying directly from the brand's website.

Although the trend in fakes won’t diminish soon, there is a silver lining. Beauty companies are partnering with brand protection specialists—like NetNames—in order to track, observe and ultimately stop the distribution of these products.