How to spot fake cosmetics

If the price seems too good to be true, that designer lipstick may just be a counterfeit.
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01.Designer fake facts


Thanks to clever printing, good packaging and all-round mimicry, counterfeit products aren’t so easily identified these days.

The days of your Gocci watches, Channel lipstick and Louise Vuitton handbags are numbered. Knock-offs are now sporting fake tags, certificates of authenticity and guarantees. As a result, counterfeit goods such as designer shoes and handbags, perfumes and cosmetics are rife.

The products are now so convincing that even retailers are finding it hard to tell the difference between what’s genuine and what’s counterfeit - Australian discount department store Target recently had to pay global make up brand MAC$1m in a settlement after the store was busted selling allegedly fake MAC cosmetics. 

But there’s more at stake in the counterfeit game than a multinational corporation’s profit margins. 

Dangers of fake cosmetics

Australians regularly pay more at the cosmetics counter than their fellow consumers overseas, so buying a cheapie can be tempting. But while it’s one thing to get stung financially when buying a pair of counterfeit shoes or a bag, it’s a different story when you’re rubbing something counterfeit onto your face. 

Fake cosmetics and perfumes, while looking and maybe even smelling similar to their real counterparts, may contain a whole host of unknown chemicals, meaning they’re unlikely to comply with the regulations set by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), Australia’s cosmetics regulator.

Unsafe chemicals used in counterfeit cosmetics could cause:

  • rashes on people with sensitive skin
  • burning of the skin
  • staining of clothes, or
  • respiratory problems.

Top tips for spotting a fake

But how do you know that the product you're buying is a knock-off and not just a parallel-imported cheapie? Here’s our spot-the-fake checklist:

  • Where is the product being sold? If it’s on a street corner, at a flea market, or on a suspect website, it could well be fake. 
  • Look at the packaging. Are there any misspellings? Does the country of origin match the country usually on the product? Is the print or cardboard of poor quality? If you’ve got an old box, take it shopping with you for comparison.
  • If you can, look at the contents. Are there differences in colour or texture from the normal product? 
  • How does the product smell? 
  • If you are buying perfume, spray some on a piece of cardboard, then go away for half an hour. Does the fragrance last? Has the smell turned?
  • If you're unsure don't take the risk.



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