Increasing numbers of criminal gangs are producing and importing fake beauty products that contain a killer cocktail of harmful ingredients

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Reports have emerged that criminal gangs are creating counterfeit versions of leading makeup brands such as MAC, Benefit and Urban Decay that contain dangerous levels of lead, mercury and cyanide.

Thought to be located in areas of Eastern Europe and China, investigators have suspended more than 5,500 websites for selling fake luxury goods over the past 18 months. In one container alone police found more than 4,700 fake versions of MAC products including foundation, bronzer, lip gloss and eye shadow.

The bogus beauty products are thought to contain a toxic mix of lead, arsenic, mercury, copper and cadmium - which in turn can lead to high blood pressure, fertility problems, memory and concentration problems and in extreme cases, even death. The gangs have also been found to produce sun cream that contains no protection against harmful UV rays.

Detective Superintendent Maria Woodall, of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, said: “Criminals are exploiting every opportunity to fool customers into buying counterfeits in order for them to make some quick cash – putting people’s health, homes and lives at risk. Beauty products are meant to enhance your features, however, the fakes can in fact do quite the opposite. Not only could these products have serious implications for your health and wellbeing but by simply going online and buying from a rogue site or dealer, your personal and financial information is at risk.”

As well as top cosmetic brands, other popular counterfeit items are Christian Dior face cream, Estee Lauder night cream and Dove soap and shower gel.

To be sure you’re purchasing the real deal experts have advised that legitimate luxury brands are very rarely sold at heavily discounted prices, meaning ‘great deals’ are probably too good to be true. Officers have also highlighted the dangers of buying other counterfeit goods, including electrical items such as hair curlers and straighteners.