Knockoff products, we’ve all seen them. They’re plastered all over Instagram under the tags of ‘inspired by’ or something or rather. There is no such thing as a Naked 8, but hey. It’s tempting to buy brand name items at a lower price point, but when it comes to things you put on your skin – the risks can prove deadly.

example of fake makeup

Googling ‘fake makeup’ or ‘counterfeit makeup’ comes up with dire warnings telling you about the dangers they bring. Before you brush off these concerns, it’s all about the ingredients in the makeup. Some are just gross to think about, others are unsanitary and even more are plain old dangerous.

Some of the majorly dangerous things you find in fake makeup:


The Daily Mail tells us that some counterfeit makeup products have up to 19 times the legal limit of lead in them. Other than building up in the human body and leading to lead poisoning, there are other terrifying side-effects. In adults, lead poisoning can cause memory loss, joint and muscle pains. Pregnant women are at risk of miscarriage or premature birth – yikes.

Adverse Reactions

A MAC make up artist I spoke to explained that most ingredients that go into make are FDA-approved and usually food-grade. With fakes, you don’t know what goes into these products. At best, you get an allergic reaction. At worst? Permanent scarring.

Browsing the net led me to pictures of said allergic reactions (don’t Google this, it will scar you) – like skin rashes. Apparently, tests done on the fake makeup was found to contain high levels of lead, Beryllium, and bacteria – all of which can cause these rashes.

You could also contract an eye infection (I had one of those from a contact lens: not fun. No eye makeup for two weeks). Daily Mail has a report on one woman, Katie Brown, who bought counterfeit Urban Decay eye shadow. Minutes after she applied the eyeshadow, her eyelids swelled and her vision turned blurry. She said, “I realised it was fake as soon as I opened it.”

The online reports I’ve been skimming show that women have experienced chemical burns on their face and eyes after using fake makeup. Louise Emery used counterfeit MAC makeup and woke up in pain the next day, her face and eyes swollen. She told the Daily Mail that she “…had what looked like severe burns beneath my eyes … I was worried sick I would be scarred for life.” After going on antibiotics and antihistamines for two weeks to reduce the swelling, five months on and her skin is still very sensitive.


Let me think: unsanitary work conditions lead to contamination of product, right? So, you could get bacteria in there from workers’ unwashed and ungloved hands, from animals, from insects… the list goes on. Imagine roach bacteria going on your face.

You want to hear about one of the bacteria that can be found in counterfeit makeup? E. coli (Escherichia coli). It causes severe diarrhea, as well as kidney failure and anemia. Some e. coli strains can also cause urinary tract infections. Guess how it’s spread? Fecal matter.

I’ll give you a moment to think about that.

Insane Ingredients

Some of the weird stuff found in counterfeit makeup includes arsenic and mercury. In fact, there was a case earlier this year about high levels of mercury found in Malaysian products. Of course, the products were pulled from the shelves but come on Malaysia!

Arsenic is often found in rat poison, and the element itself is a) toxic and b) has a slew of horrendous side-effects including abdominal pain, shock and death. On the other hand, mercury is a naturally occurring element found in the earth’s crust. It’s highly toxic and can cause major harm to the heart, kidneys, immune system, lungs, and brain. It’s also a cause of skin rashes, muscle weakness, headaches, and insomnia. If you have the misfortune to use eye makeup that contains this deadly ingredient, it can permanently damage your vision.

Other horrifying ingredients I’ve read about? Rat feces, paint stripper and human urine. Ew.


Right, so high levels of aluminum are bad. Traditional deodorant contains it and a lot of people have been looking for aluminum-free versions. It’s described as a neurotoxin, so ingestion can lead to bone disease, fatigue, memory loss, dementia, and numerous other problems. This can accumulate in body tissues and the brain… so. Think about it.

In conclusion:

Don’t buy counterfeit makeup. It’s not worth the risk. Buy a drugstore brand, buy something you find in Guardian or Watsons.

  • Have you ever bought counterfeit makeup?
  • Did you have an allergic reaction?