Counterfeit perfumes - how to smell a fake

CHOICE sniffs out the facts on the counterfeit perfume business.
Learn more
  • Updated:21 Nov 2007

01.Counterfeit perfumes


While it’s more likely you’ll come across a counterfeit perfume while browsing flea market stalls or buying products online, most consumers are unaware that highly sophisticated knock-offs are also finding their way onto retail shelves. It's easy to be fooled — some counterfeits look almost indistinguishable from the real thing.

It's estimated that counterfeits account for around 2 to 3% of the Australian trade in cosmetics and fragrances, and this figure is increasing. Besides the loss of income to legitimate sellers, there are also potential health risks to the consumer.

Counterfeit perfumes haven’t been rigorously tested and can contain a whole host of unknown chemicals, meaning they're unlikely to comply with the regulations set by the Australian cosmetics regulator (NICNAS). This creates the potential for all sorts of nasty surprises, such as:

  • causing a rash on people with sensitive skin
  • burning the skin
  • staining clothes
  • respiratory problems.

What's more, tests on some fake fragrances have allegedly found traces of urine, which gives a whole new meaning to 'eau de toilette'! Others have been revealed as a simple combination of fragrance and pond water.

The scent of a counterfeit may have a similar 'top note' to the original, but otherwise won’t usually smell anything like it. If you’re buying the perfume for the first time, you’re unlikely to realise this, of course.

A counterfeit may have a sour or bitter smell, and its fragrance may last only a short period of time on the skin. One expert told CHOICE that a perfume should linger at least six hours, so if it lasts 30 minutes, it’s probably a dud.

Please note: this information was current as of November 2007 but is still a useful guide today.

Key findings

  • To the untrained eye, a sophisticated fake could easily pass for the real thing.
  • Parallel importing (where a store buys directly from a wholesaler overseas, rather than from the perfume’s authorised distributor) has paved the way for more competitive pricing — but could be allowing fakes to end up on retail shelves.
  • It's likely you won’t know it’s fake until you get it home. Most fake perfumes come packaged and wrapped in plastic, and look like the real thing, but don’t smell like it.


Sign up to our free

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.