Fraudsters are selling fake make-up containing dangerous levels of poisonous chemicals such as arsenic and lead, consumers were warned yesterday.
Fake versions of fashionable cosmetic brands including MAC and Benefit have been found to contain up to 19 times the legal level of lead.
Pregnant women and their unborn babies are particularly vulnerable to some of the dangerous chemicals found in the counterfeit products, which have also been found to contain cancer-causing compounds.
Counterfeit versions of products by US firms MAC and Benefit and other big-name brands were seized, tested and found to contain high levels of lead, arsenic, mercury, copper and cadmium.
The heavy metals have been linked to health problems ranging from allergic reactions and skin sensitivity to nerve disorders – and even death.
Excessive levels of lead can cause high blood pressure, fertility problems, memory and concentration problems and increased risk of harm to the foetus during pregnancy.
Dermatologists have reported a rise in the number of women with skin conditions triggered by use of the counterfeit cosmetics, and have warned the make-up can cause permanent damage. The manufacture of genuine cosmetics is strictly controlled and products are tested rigorously before they go on sale.
But counterfeiters put cheap, untested substances in their concoctions, which are often packaged to look virtually identical to the genuine brand. Previously, fake versions of high-end mascara and eyeliner have been found to contain paint stripper and nail varnish remover, while a batch of counterfeit perfume seized by police was found to contain urine.
Trading standards officers have warned that online shoppers are also at risk, with fraudsters hiding behind internet sites to sell the fake goods.
Officers have also reported finding makeup containing up to 200 times recommended safe levels of metal.
The Daily Mail found several websites selling cut-price cosmetics yesterday, with prices reduced by up to 86 per cent.
A MAC lipstick on the brand’s official website for £15.50 was available on a cut-price site for just £2.05.
Consumers shopping online have no way of knowing if the reduced version is genuine or fake, but trading standards have warned that sites or shops offering massive reductions may be selling counterfeits.
Warwickshire trading standards officers did not name the shop at the centre of their swoop, saying their investigation is still continuing.
But county councillor Richard Chattaway said retailers had a legal responsibility to ensure their goods were genuine and safe to use. He added: ‘It is unusual for fake and dangerous cosmetics to appear on the high street.
However, we would advise consumers to seek medical attention if they have an adverse reaction and to report the product to trading standards.’
MAC Cosmetics is endorsed by pop star Rihanna and used by celebrities including TV cook Rachel Khoo and reality TV star Kim Kardashian.
The firm said it worked with authorities in Britain and internationally to stop the illegal sale of counterfeit cosmetics and to block websites which sold them.
Consumers are advised to buy from official websites or stockists and to examine packaging for batch numbers.
Handley Brustad, lead officer for Intellectual Property at the Trading Standards Institute, said counterfeiters are frequently using the internet because they can escape detection and follow the latest trends to sell their fakes.
He said: ‘Online this is a huge problem because it’s not as straightforward as finding it being sold in a high street shop or marketplace because you have got to do an awful lot of digging to find it.
‘Counterfeiters are using domain names that appear like they are from the UK when they are not, and are making prices closer and closer to the genuine product to make them appear more real but make people think they are getting a bargain.
‘With make-up we are finding the counterfeiters are putting in many more metals because that’s what binds the make-up together. This is very strictly controlled in the UK because these metals are dangerous.
‘People who buy the make-up are then putting these products near their eyes and mouths. They can cause blindness and if you ingest enough of it, even death.
‘We are generally talking about high percentages of unsafe chemicals. It’s usually heavy metals like lead and cadmium – the ones that are strictly regulated because of the harm they cause.’
Fake MAC and Benefit make-up has also been found recently in South Wales, and Mr Brustad said examples containing dangerously high percentages had also been discovered.
‘There have been incidents where we have found products containing 100 or 200 times these safe levels,’ he added.
‘Counterfeiters are getting better and better all the time which makes the industry all the more dangerous’