Fox 4 goes face-to-face with counterfeit cosmetics to confront ugly problem putting your skin at risk

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The multi-billion dollar beauty industry battles a growing and ugly problem which puts your skin at risk. International counterfeiting rings are flooding the United States with potentially dangerous cosmetics.

Some of the products Fox 4 investigated.

As the popularity of upscale companies such as Estee Lauder, Ben Nye and L'Oreal continue to rise, so does the likelihood they will be counterfeited. Experts say not only do you not know what is in the counterfeit products, but they could contain high levels of bacteria, lead, aluminum or other toxins.

The Department of Homeland Security seizes millions of dollars in cosmetics every year, including Estee Lauder's MAC cosmetics. Despite those efforts, unsafe knock-offs continue to pour into the country, including Kansas City.

Fox 4 repeatedly found vendors at the Super Flea off 62nd and St. John selling what they claimed to be authentic MAC, Urban Decay and Kylie Cosmetics. They offered huge savings because they said the products got damaged during shipping.

Some of the products Fox 4 investigated.

We purchased MAC foundation for $25, MAC eye shadow for $23 and the vendors gave us a Kylie Lip Kit for free. All together, it ended up being a $51 savings off the retail price.

We went back with licensed professional makeup artist, Malinda McHenry. A different person at the same make-up booth again sold what he claimed were genuine MAC and Kylie Cosmetics at a discount. This time we purchased a Kylie Lip Kit, Kylie Lipstick and a Kylie Powder called "Barely Legal."

“I bought three Kylie products which should have cost me $69 plus shipping and tax and got all three tax included for $33," McHenry said.

But our investigation revealed we got taken twice in a classic counterfeit scheme. Kylie Cosmetics told us the products we purchased were not real. The only place consumers can buy authentic Kylie Cosmetics is on the company's website. MAC also confirmed our products were counterfeit. Genuine MAC products are only sold at authorized dealers and the company's website.

Kylie Lip Kit

We asked the vendor why they were selling counterfeit cosmetics but they refused to answer Fox 4's questions.

Fox 4 learned that places such as the Super Flea are not the only ones peddling phony makeup. Unsuspecting consumers can also get taken on popular websites such as Amazon and eBay.

We purchased Ben Nye's Banana Face Powder and asked A to Z Theatrical, one of the two authorized Ben Nye Dealers in Kansas City, to review our purchase. (Click here for a list of all authorized Ben Nye Dealers)

Sales Associate Jenna Holmes noticed right away which product was counterfeit. "This is already off the bat a fake. Ben Nye does not shrink wrap their products," Holmes said. Holmes also noticed the fake Ben Nye product was a slightly different shade.

“There could be so many irritants in this, it is not good for your skin. It could be very, very damaging for your skin," Holmes said. She said the best protection is to only purchase cosmetics from authorized dealers.

Homeland security is aware of our investigation and has opened a case based on Fox 4's findings. Super Flea said it did not know the vendors were selling counterfeit cosmetics and promised to handle the matter internally. When we checked back, the vendors were gone and the makeup booth locked up.

How to Spot Counterfeit Cosmetics
Source: FBI
-The price is slightly or drastically lower
-Packaging looks different from authentic brand
-Product is listed as "limited edition" even though the real manufacturer does not offer it
-The consistency or texture of the product looks different
-Products are sold at non-authorized retailers, including flea markets, mall kiosks or the internet