Are counterfeit cosmetics safe?

Tatyana says… I have been sent two fake makeup palettes that are meant to be Urban Decay, and these fakes are really ubiquitous. As I am a scientist as well, I did notice fairly quickly a few ways to identify fakes besides the aesthetics and scripts with lot numbers. One of my fakes did have an obvious ‘Beauty with ay edge’ typo on the box and insert. Anyway, I love makeup, and I love the hyper-pigmented, super saturated colour that Urban Decay often employs. I do realise some of the cost of cosmetics is in the development and quality control of the product, but is there any significant difference in the quality of the pigments? I do know that the costs of pigments for fine arts painting can be significantly different, and I have always assumed that is due to the nature of the pigment, for example, yellow ochre, cheap, some of the bright, lime greens (I can’t remember the name right now, something like phallocyanate green), expensive. As well, some young women just think it is great to be able to get cheap fake cosmetics, they don’t think there is an issue. Can you elaborate on some of the issues with fakes please? As well, is there any distinction between fake cosmetics and what a lot of them are calling ‘cosmetics from Hong Kong’.

The Beauty Brains respond:

In the US (and many other countries) pigments are certified to ensure that they don’t contain any dangerous contaminants. This requires a more elaborate process of manufacturing and record keeping but it does ensure that colorants are safe. Some counterfeit products made outside of the US (or other regulated countries) have been found to contain pigments with high levels of lead, for example. While trace levels of lead are common (and not very dangerous) high levels of lead does pose a problem. So it’s possible that some unscrupulous companies are selling these cheap knock-offs rather than using pigments that have been properly quality control checked.

From what I understand, a number of these counterfeit products come from China so I assume that the term “cosmetics from Hong Kong” is just another way to refer to such fakes. (Of course that is not to say that ALL fakes come from China or that every Chinese product is fake.)