This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
Dublin: 7 °C Thursday 24 January, 2019

Arsenic and lead found in counterfeit makeup products sold to Irish customers

The Health Products Regulatory Authority and the HSE have both warned people to be vigilant this Christmas.

Image: Shutterstock/Daria Minaeva

MAKEUP IS HIGH up on many people’s Christmas present lists this year – but there are warnings about counterfeits doing the rounds, particularly as recently such products have been found to contain arsenic and lead.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and the Health Service Executive (HSE) both 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 said that Christmas has been a time when counterfeit cosmetic products, which can be harmful to human health, have been found in Ireland.

It said that last year, 728 counterfeit and imitation cosmetics products were detained by HPRA and seized on entry to the country by Revenue’s Customs Service.

The majority of these products were eye shadows and lip products. Subsequent tests identified that some contained harmful substances such as arsenic and lead.

The HPRA said that 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, explained: 

“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.”

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.

She said that if you are unsure, suspicious, or if a product is much cheaper than in a high street store or pharmacy, the HPRA strongly advises 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,” O’Neill said.

The HPRA also said that possible toxic ingredients aren’t the only danger – the way the products are manufactured and the safety and cleanliness of the production environment is unknown.

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.

How to spot counterfeit cosmetics

Ask yourself:

  • 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 eg 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.

Then report any sellers of counterfeit cosmetic products to An Garda Síochána on 1800 666 111, and report anyone who is illegally importing counterfeit cosmetic products to Revenue on 1800 295 295.

It also says you should report any negative health effects to your healthcare professional, the manufacturer (contact details on product packaging) or directly to the Health Products Regulatory Authority. Its website is and email is

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel