Warning: Knockoff beauty products could be hazardous to your health

By Brianna Volz - Web producer

It may be a cheap alternative to buy knockoff beauty products and toiletries, but consumers are being warned that the fake products can actually be hazardous to your health, CBS News reported.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials are also seeing a spike in the use of the alternative products, as data shows that CBP personnel seized nearly $1.4 billion worth of counterfeit goods last year, according to the report. Those employees said one of their top priorities is spotting those fake products that can be harmful to your health.

Customs agents collected more than 2,000 shipments of fake beauty products in 2016, CBS reported, making the knockoff toiletry items more common than fake handbags.

While visiting a warehouse near the Long Beach Seaport, CBS News got a closer look at what goes into inspecting the suspicious packages and found that most of the boxes lined up for inspection were from China and Hong Kong.

The customs officers serve as the first line of defense for catching those illegal shipments in order to protect citizens’ health.

Beauty blogger Tanya Arguelles told CBS News that she purchased a popular eye shadow last year while shopping at a street market in downtown Los Angeles, where customs officers said most of the cheap goods sold there were smuggled in through sea ports like Long Beach, according to the report.

"I just wanted to know, can this possibly be as good as the $50 that I just spent?" Arguelles asked.

After testing both eye shadows, Arguelles said she fell asleep and woke up in the morning to an itchy, uncomfortable and burning eye.

"Within the first 45 minutes, I realized that it was an eye infection. I couldn't get my contacts on," Arguelles told CBS News. "I looked back at the footage and it was on the fake side. Hundred percent."

Others who have used counterfeit makeup products have had similar unfortunate reactions, including skin rashes, swollen lips, chemical burns and allergic reactions.

To find out how easy it was to come across the knockoff products, CBS News went undercover while shopping at the same downtown alley and found that most of the fake makeup sold there was half the price as the original, according to the report. 

Some of the vendors even admitted the products were fake, but said they were “just as good,” CBS said.
"It works the same thing as the original," one vendor told CBS.

After returning to Arguelles’ studio, CBS compared some of the counterfeit products with the originals, finding that the packaging was almost identical.

Some of the fake beauty products have been found to contain hazardous chemicals like arsenic, mercury and aluminum, according to the report.

CBS News sent some of the fake products, along with the real versions they’re intended to compare with to a lab, where they reportedly tested for 12 different metals, according to the article.

One of the most concerning finds was that some of the eye shadows in the fake palette had nearly four times the amount of lead as the real versions, CBS reported.  The amount in one of the shadows even exceeded the FDA recommended maximum of 10 parts per million, according to CBS. The fake lipstick also had almost 15 times the amount of lead as the real version.

"Often the unsafe consumer goods are made in factories … have unsanitary conditions,” Brenda Smith, the executive assistant commissioner for Office of Trade at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told CBS News. "So the quality is not to what you need it to be."

The fake beauty products are also harmful to the cosmetic industry, costing it about $75 million per year, according to CBP officials. 

Customs officials believe the amount of the smuggled knockoff products could be reduced just by educating consumers of the dangers, according to the article.

"The furthest they think is, I'm just buying a fake palette. They don't think that there could be ingredients in here that could put my health at risk," Arguelles said.

The fake beauty products aren't just sold in downtown street markets like the one in Los Angeles, though. Officials said consumers should also be mindful of them while shopping online, and that if the deal seems too good to be true, it very well could be.

Beauty bloggers encourage consumers to find out whether they're receiving the real products by logging on to the cosmetic company's official website to learn where the items are sold, according to the report.

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