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Who Investigates Counterfeit Cosmetics Products?

In our last blog post, we talked about the global problem of counterfeit cosmetics. Today, we’re talking about who investigates counterfeit cosmetics products, starting with how cosmetics are regulated in the United States and the EU.

Regulation of cosmetics products varies greatly from country to country, so our discussion today should not be taken as an overview of what to expect everywhere cosmetics are sold. Enforcement of laws and the actions authorities take to target counterfeits also vary.

What is universal, however, is that the cosmetics industry faces unique challenges with consumer safety, increased consumer demand for transparency, and being targeted by counterfeiters. It’s good to know who investigates counterfeit cosmetics products and what measures you can take to be part of the solution.

Who investigates counterfeit cosmetics products: USA and EU

Counterfeit cosmetics are dangerous because the criminals who make them don’t follow regulations or standards for production. Fakes are often contaminated with “stuff” you really don’t want to think about, let alone put on your face, such as bacteria, animal and human feces, arsenic, and mercury. So, regulators keep an eye on cosmetics.

United States

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the governing body for cosmetic regulations. Cosmetics products do not require FDA approval — but they are regulated. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) explain the FDA’s requirements, restrictions, and disciplinary actions regarding cosmetics.

The FDA focuses on preventing adulteration and misbranding, mislabeling, and harmful ingredients or drugs. Adulteration refers to products or product ingredients that are not in line with FDA regulations or that have been contaminated. A misbranded product is “improperly labelled or deceptively packaged,” which could include counterfeit cosmetics products. The FDA prohibits 11 chemicals from being used in cosmetics products.

Additionally, the FDA reserves the authority to request recalls and work with the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Border Customs if any violations are found. It maintains a “Cosmetics Recalls & Alerts” page and has a searchable “Enforcement Report” database of recalled products.

The European Union

Cosmetics products manufactured in and imported to Europe are regulated under the EU Cosmetic Regulation. Like the FDA, the EU regulates ingredients and labeling; generally, however, the regulations are broader and more precisely defined.

For example, more than 1,300 substances (e.g., chemicals, colorants, and preservatives) are banned from cosmetic use, and hundreds more are permitted only under certain conditions. The regulations also mandate Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), whereas the FDA only suggests GMP as “guidelines for effective self-inspection.”

Furthermore, the EU requires significant product documentation. Every cosmetics company must have a “responsible person” for every product they make. This person is responsible for ensuring products are safe and comply with regulations, and must submit a cosmetics product notification through an online portal before a product can be sold.

The responsible person must also create a product information file that includes the name, description, and nature of the product; description of the manufacturing methods; statement of compliance with regulations and GMP; a product safety report; and data about animal testing, if any. They must also assemble a product safety report that contains product safety information and a product safety assessment.

Do consumers have a role?

Yes, and it begins with vigilance with prices, packaging, and product quality:

      • Prices: If the price is too good to be true or just noticeably cheaper than the last time you bought it, there’s a good chance it’s a fake.
      • Packaging: The printing might look shoddy or the colors might seem off. There might not be a barcode. There might not be packaging at all, and the products might be offered in bulk.
      • Product: If the consistency or texture seem different, it’s likely a fake

In the United States, consumers can “report suspicions concerning the manufacture or sale of counterfeit or pirated goods” to the FBI. For suspected counterfeit cosmetics products seen online, consumers can contact the FBI Internet Fraud Complaint Center. The FBI has also partnered with the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center to create a tip line where consumers can report products they suspect to be fake.

In the EU, consumers are encouraged to contact their local authorities about counterfeit cosmetics products. Depending on the nature of the situation, the authorities might investigate themselves or contact the appropriate investigative body, which could include Europol. The United Kingdom has Action Fraud, an online reporting tool for fraud and cybercrime.

Consumers should also be aware of what brands are doing to combat counterfeits and consumer engagement programs that encourage people to report suspicious products.

Final thoughts

If you really want to drill down into the U.S. and EU regulations, download our “Global Cosmetics Market” white paper today. It also has a section about regulations in Singapore, plus more information about counterfeit cosmetics products.

In “Top Supply Chain Trends of 2021,” we posed some important questions companies should ask themselves as we move toward what is likely to be another challenging year for supply chains. Many of those questions, listed below, fit perfectly with what we talked about today — regulations, counterfeits, brand protection, consumer engagement.

Your supply chain is where all of these concerns converge. Which is why you should schedule a short demo of our solutions. In about 15 minutes, we can show you the basics of our Traceability System and how it transforms your supply chain into a strategic asset that will improve and protect every facet of your business.

 

  • Are you keeping up with supply chain trends?
  • Are there gaps and blind spots in your supply chain?
  • Are counterfeits a problem in your industry?
  • Are you doing everything you can to protect your brand?
  • Are you actively reaching out to your customers to bring them closer to your brand?
  • Are there compliance deadlines on the horizon?
  • Are you certain your current supply chain solutions are truly optimal?
  • Are you using your supply chain as a strategic asset?

Why We Should Worry About Counterfeit Cosmetics

Counterfeit cosmetics have boomed during the pandemic. Not that they’ve ever not been in fashion among the criminal set. But recent research shows a renaissance, a proliferation of often dangerous fakes readily available to more people and through newer channels.

We just published a white paper about the global cosmetics market. It has a section about counterfeit cosmetics, and now we want to keep the conversation going with more information about this global problem. Here we go.

The statistics reveal “a worrying threat”

In “Global Trade in Fakes: A Worrying Threat” (June 2021), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that the global value of counterfeits and pirated goods amounted to as much as $464 billion in 2019, or 2.5 percent of world trade.

Worldwide, there were “consistently” more than 130,000 customs seizures of counterfeit and pirated goods annually in 2017, 2018, and 2019. “Overall,” the report continues, “the unified database on customs seizures of IP-infringing goods includes almost half [a] million observations.”

In 2017 and 2018, counterfeit cosmetics and perfumery products accounted for about 4 percent of all customs seizures. That rose to just under 10 percent in 2019 — a considerable jump in a very short time. Furthermore, cosmetics and perfumery products were among the Top 5 products “targeted by counterfeiters” every year from 2011 to 2019. (The others were articles of leather, clothing, footwear, and watches.)

What toll do counterfeit cosmetics take on the industry’s fiscal health? One report shows that annual sales losses from counterfeiting in cosmetics and personal care products sector amounted to 4.7 billion euros, or about $5.3 billion.

Our brand protection series talks more about counterfeits. It’s a real problem that every industry, some more than others, must contend with.

Counterfeit cosmetics in a huge global market

According to a Fortune Business Insights report published in September, the cosmetics market was worth $277.67 billion in 2020. Despite an overall decline in sales during the pandemic, the market is projected to grow to $415.29 billion by 2028.

The market has responded to consumer demand for a wider variety of products, and online shopping has added an ease of access. Online shopping will drive the market and, according to industry watchers, could account for nearly 30 percent of global beauty sales by 2026.

However, the dramatic shift from in-person to online purchasing during the pandemic has emboldened criminals to churn out more and more counterfeit cosmetic products. As OECD put in its “Global Trade in Fakes” report, “Under confinement, consumers turn to online markets to [fulfill] their needs, driving significant growth in the online supply of a wide range of counterfeits.”

Research from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security supports this finding. Its “Combating Trafficking in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods” report (January 2020) noted that “Selling counterfeit and pirated goods through e-commerce platforms and related online third-party marketplaces is a highly profitable venture.”

The threat to businesses and consumers

Counterfeit cosmetic products are a real threat to manufacturers and consumers. The bogus goods mimic the original, undercutting company sales. They bypass quality control processes and regulatory oversight, which means they can contain harmful “ingredients.”

For example, in 2018 authorities in the United Kingdom recovered counterfeit cosmetics that were found to contain mercury and high levels of hydroquinone, a skin-whitening agent. UK Police have also warned consumers about fake products containing “rat droppings, human urine, and arsenic.” Police in Los Angeles found counterfeits with bacteria and animal waste.

With the surge in online orders, shipping has become important to the counterfeit industry. The OECD reported that between 2017 and 2019, 64 percent of global seizures were postal shipments and 13 percent involved express couriers. In the same period, 77 percent of all counterfeits seized by authorities were discovered during the shipping period.

Final thoughts

Counterfeit cosmetics — counterfeit anything — threaten consumer safety and brand reputations.

Your supply chain is your first line of defense. With the right solution for end-to-end traceability, like our rfxcel Traceability System, you can leverage data and lock down your supply chain guard to against counterfeits and help mitigate other risks.

You’ll also be able to meet consumer demand for transparency. You can tell them with certainty that your products are what you say they are. You’ll ensure product safety and protect your brand.

If you have questions, we can help. Take a look at our solutions for brand protection and download our white paper about the global cosmetics market. And contact us today to arrange a short demo of our Traceability System. In about 15 minutes, our supply chain experts can show how our solutions will turn your supply chain into your most valuable strategic asset.

The Global Cosmetics Market

The 2021 global beauty industry market is valued at $511 billion, and the global beauty and personal care market could reach $716.6 billion by 2025. These “breathtaking” figures show that cosmetics, which are a segment of these broader industries, will continue to be a lucrative and important product category.

This rfxcel white paper presents current information about the global cosmetics market to help facilitate a better understanding of products and how they are regulated, characteristics of the supply chain, industry changes and challenges, and the world’s leading companies.

It defines the five cosmetics categories (skin care, hair care, makeup, fragrances, and hygiene products) and goes into the granular details of how these products and their ingredients are regulated in three important markets:

  1. United States: the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA)
  2. Europe and Great Britain: EU Cosmetic Regulation and the UK Cosmetic Regulation
  3. Singapore: Health Products Act (HPA) and the Health Products (Cosmetic Products -ASEAN Cosmetic Directive) Regulations (HPR)

It profiles the industry’s “Big 3” — L’Oréal, Unilever, and Estée Lauder — using each company’s latest marketing and sales data. These concise sketches also describe what the companies are doing to maintain their market positions in an increasingly competitive and complex environment.

In terms of the cosmetics supply chain, the white paper discusses its four primary sectors and the importance of keeping operations flexible yet structured. It describes two of the “core” ingredients that are found in many products, palm oil and mica, and why they pose significant challenges and risks to manufacturers.

It concludes with a look at four critical industry changes: environmental concerns, technological innovations, counterfeits, and new regulations. It also talks about the effect of the pandemic and how cosmetics companies have had to rethink production and marketing strategies to keep their workers safe and consumers engaged.