Discounted makeup sold online could be a dangerous counterfeit

by: Jim Strickland Updated:

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A Channel 2 Action News consumer investigation uncovered the hidden danger of counterfeit makeup sold online.

It may look like the real thing, but much of it is fake and could be harmful to your health.

Dee Dee Huey buys makeup, including foundation, blush, eye shadow and mascara, online.  Huey told Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland that she usually sticks to brands that she knows. But she found deep discounts on hot new designer products from social media sensation Kylie Jenner and California pop icon Jeffree Star.

“But then on here it’s only $8. What a great deal,” Huey said.

The real lipstick costs around $18 and eye shadow goes for $45.

Huey ordered from an EBay seller and lesser known website. The packages that showed up were the first red flags there was trouble. 

Her Jeffree Star EBay order shipped from two different places.  The pink one came from California and the second return address is a substance abuse halfway house in Albany, New York.

The shipping label for the Kylie product shows it came straight from China.

“Were you surprised when the label said China?” Strickland asked. “I was because I didn’t remember it saying China,” Huey said.

We noticed obvious flaws with some of the makeup’s packaging, like a bubble in one tube of lipstick.

“The circles are not even complete circles. It just looks kind of cheaply made,” Huey said.

We took the suspected counterfeit makeup along with the real thing to Proquality Analytical Labs in Cartersville. We compared Huey’s makeup to the genuine article ordered straight from the brand names’ websites.

“See how that one’s got a lot more of a sheen to it,” said chemist Rik Roberts about two eye shadow samples. 


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Roberts shot the samples with a laser. He found dramatic differences between the real Kylie lipstick and the Chinese imposter.

“They’re definitely not the same product,” said Roberts.

Chemist Doug MacTaggart looked for more trouble.

“Carcinogenic, poisonous, what we call persistent organic pollutants,” said MacTaggart.

Then chemists performed an acid test to separate suspect ingredients.

“Got a little bit of bubbling,” said Roberts about one of the samples after adding the nitric acid. “And we’ll be able to tell if we have anything in there that shouldn’t be in there.”

Two days later we got the results. The various tests revealed lots of fillers like talc not seen in the real products, but nothing toxic.

The government’s counterfeit watchdog says, in a way, we got lucky.

“Some counterfeit items we see are subpar quality. Some of them may be particularly dangerous,” said ICE spokesman Bryan Cox.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents seized nearly $74 million in fake pharmaceuticals and personal-care products in 2016. The Dr. Oz show videoed a counterfeit perfume seizure in New York.

Cox told Strickland about the potential dangers.

“The counterfeit products are often contaminated with a variety of industrial materials, toxins, chemicals, things of that nature, and when you get it, you’re putting those things on your face,” said Cox.

Huey decided to steer clear of the bargain look-alikes.

“This, I thought, was getting a good deal online. But now that I’ve got it, I see why it was so cheap,” she said.

We reached out to Jeffree Star and Kylie Cosmetics by phone and by email. Kylie Cosmetics says it can only guarantee products sent from an authorized retailer. Jeffree Star never responded.