HPRA and HSE warn consumers to be vigilant when purchasing cosmetic products for Christmas

News Category: Regulatory news

Date: 12/12/2018

Counterfeit cosmetics can be harmful to human health

The HPRA and the Health Service Executive (HSE) today warned consumers to be vigilant when purchasing ‘high-end’ leading brands of beauty products on sale through certain outlets such as markets and websites at Christmas. The HPRA states that in previous years, Christmas has been a time when counterfeit cosmetic products, which can be harmful to human health, have been identified in Ireland.

Last year, a significant quantity (728 products) of counterfeit and imitation cosmetics were detained by HPRA and seized on entry to the country by Revenue’s Customs Service. The majority of these products consisted of eye shadows and lip products, and subsequent tests identified that some contained harmful substances such as arsenic and lead. Some of these products were purchased online from websites based outside of the EU and sold to Irish consumers online and through social media. They were also found in some trade shows and at markets throughout the country. Kylie Cosmetics by Kylie Jenner and Urban Decay were among some of the counterfeit cosmetic brands which were found to contain these illegal substances in 2017.

Emer O’Neill, Cosmetics Product Manager, HPRA, states:

“We can’t emphasise enough the need for consumers to exercise caution and to be vigilant when purchasing cosmetics this Christmas. While it may be tempting to avail of cheaper prices, counterfeit products could cost you your health. Unfortunately, the Christmas season is generally the peak time of year for rogue sellers of counterfeit products, which are often found when purchasing products online or from temporary stalls or outlets. Shoppers are strongly urged to apply common sense and to ask themselves; if a product seems very cheap, is it really likely to be the genuine article? The danger of counterfeit products is that their quality and safety is not known”, she says.

“It is extremely concerning that highly toxic substances, such as arsenic and lead, have previously been detected in some products. Prolonged exposure to both of these banned substances can severely damage health causing potential harm to the brain and kidneys, among other organs. The suppliers of these products are unconcerned about the health of the consumers who purchase them. If you are unsure, suspicious, or if a product is much cheaper than in a high street store or pharmacy, the HPRA strongly advise against taking the risk. Legitimate products are always the safest option. Beauty brands usually list their licensed retailers on their websites and this is the best way for consumers to ensure that they are purchasing a legitimate cosmetic product,” Ms O’Neill concluded.

The HPRA states that as well as the possible toxic ingredients which may be contained in counterfeit cosmetics, the way the products are manufactured and the safety and cleanliness of the production environment is unknown, which is yet another reason to avoid purchasing and using these cosmetics. In Ireland, the market surveillance of cosmetic products is carried out by the HPRA and the Environmental Health Service and Public Analysts’ Laboratories of the HSE.​

HPRA advice on how to spot a counterfeit cosmetic:

  • Is it significantly cheaper than on the high street?
  • Is the distributor reliable? Beauty brands usually list their licenced sellers on their website.
  • Physically check counterfeit cosmetics for:
    • Uneven fill levels e.g. in eye-shadow palettes
    • Faded packaging
    • Misspelling on the packaging or in the information leaflet
    • Slight differences in the name of the product or shade
    • A different print (font or style) on the container
    • Mirrors that don’t quite fit or are of bad quality


The HPRA always advises consumers to:

  • Ensure that the product is labelled with a European address (this means there is a company in Europe responsible for ensuring it complies with quality and safety requirements);
  • If you have any concerns about a product you have purchased that you think may be counterfeit, do not use it. Contact the supplier and the European manufacturer listed on the label;
  • Report any sellers of counterfeit cosmetic products to An Garda Síochána on 1800 666 111;
  • Report anyone who is illegally importing counterfeit cosmetic products to Revenue on 1800 295 295;
  • Report any undesirable health effects to your healthcare professional, the manufacturer (contact details on product packaging) or directly to the Health Products Regulatory Authority. Consumers can do that through our website www.hpra.ie or by email to cosmetics@hpra.ie


For Further Information:

Weber Shandwick PR:   (01) 679 8600

Siobhan Molloy / Jo Twamley:   (086) 817 5066 / (085) 143 8320

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