Growing up, Halloween was always a well-thought-out occasion for us, with myself and my two younger siblings taking time to describe what we wanted to dress up as, and my mum and aunt making or purchasing items to make our vision a reality.
From the time I dressed up as Dracula, with a bin bag cape (picture below – my dad was in charge that year) – to the carefully constructed superman outfit that my aunt made for me, we were always dressed in something different, every Halloween.
Moving into adulthood, more restricted by time and planning for the occasion, I was faced with having to purchase outfits and accessories from fancy dress shops or online; or one year taking the lazy option of claiming I was a ‘Bounty Hunter’, and putting a coconut-flavoured chocolate bar in my pocket before leaving the house.
Sometimes dress-up items purchased off-the-rack or from online marketplaces for the kids (or ourselves) is the most convenient way to do it, with many supermarkets and other retailers offering the full ensemble for a bagain price.
Most importantly, it is vital that we think about the safety of costumes as a priority, as well as considering whether cheap items are worth the risk. Fake, counterfeit cosmetics and other products used to create theatrical prosthetics can contain ingredients which can be harmful to our own skin, and to that of our children and young people.
‘Bin Bag Dracula’ circa 1994
What are counterfeit cosmetics?
Cosmetics Europe, the European trade association for the cosmetics and personal care industry, defines counterfeits as ‘deliberate, unauthorised imitation or reproduction of genuine products to obtain financial gain by misleading consumers into believing they are acquiring the genuine product’. It is an Intellectual Property (I.P.) crime.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the value of trade-related counterfeit goods amounts to $461 billion annually across the globe (approx. £335 billion).
Counterfeit manufacturers have perfected their craft so well that consumers can’t distinguish fake products from real ones, and even the sharpest connoisseurs must get out their magnifying glass to tell the difference. Many counterfeit goods do have one difference though, as they very often contain very different, and harmful ingredients.
Risks – The Specifics
In Britain, hundreds of thousands of pounds of counterfeit cosmetics, including makeup, have been found to contain high levels of whitening agent hydroquinone. Without a prescription, hydroquinone is not sold to the general public in the U.K., as it can severely damage the kidney, liver and nerves if misused.
In 2018, Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the Local Government Association (LGA) safer and stronger communities board, said:
“Counterfeit cosmetics can be dangerous as they can contain toxic chemicals and dangerously high levels of lead which can be detrimental for people’s health. Fake designer products cost businesses and the taxpayer thousands of pounds each year. Councils have been targeting rogue retailers selling these fake products, and the fines they have received should deter others from selling these dangerous products.
He also commented on ways consumers can protect themselves –
“People should always do their research and take a pragmatic approach when they are buying makeup and cosmetics. Check the reviews of online sellers, and bear in mind that if something is really cheap, it’s likely to be fake and could potentially be harmful. Anyone who has purchased makeup that they think is dangerous should stop using it immediately and report it to their local Trading Standards team.
“It is vital that people report any concerns, so that councils can take action to prevent anyone being harmed or scarred for life.”
How can we fight counterfeiting?
It is hard to find a brand that doesn’t have a counterfeit version of its products. Major brands such as benefit, Dior, MAC, and Chanel have had thousands of their skin products counterfeited and sold for a fraction of the price.
The cosmetics industry takes the safety of its consumers very seriously, and companies collaborate with enforcement agencies and other public bodies in combatting counterfeiting. If you think you may have purchased a fake product or suspect that sales of a product are not genuine, you can contact the company concerned.
All genuine cosmetic products purchased in the E.U. will carry the name of the responsible company with an E.U. contact address and sometimes a customer care line number to call on the pack.
Alternatively, you can contact a relevant the anti-counterfeiting body in your country:
consumeradvice.scot can also take reports of counterfeit goods and pass them on to Trading Standards partners at both local and national levels.
So, how do we identify counterfeit cosmetics?
The rule of thumb says that when a deal is too good to be true, we should think twice before handing over the money, and with cosmetics, the same rule should be applied.
What are the giveaways when it comes to counterfeit cosmetics?
- An unusually low price (too good to be true)
- An unusual place of sale, (e.g., market or train station)
- The sanitation of the establishment (usually poor)
- Low-quality packaging, (e.g., spelling mistakes)
- Differences in product and / or packaging (e.g., colour, shape, and font size)
- Missing information, (e.g., batch number, PAO symbol etc.)
But it’s not just the makeup that we need to consider. With floaty fabrics, and flammable items attached to certain outfits, it is important that we take care when out and about, or at home around open flames.
UKCA Marking & Selling Products in the UK (Edit 26.10.22)
The UKCA (UK Conformity Assessed) marking is the product marking used for products being placed on the market in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales).
The UKCA marking applies to most products previously subject to the CE marking. It also applies to aerosol products that previously required the reverse epsilon marking. The technical requirements (sometimes referred to as ‘essential requirements’) that manufacturers must meet for the UKCA marking will depend on the product specific legislation for their product.
More information on UKCA Marking is available here.
Scottish Fire and Rescue make several recommendations for fire safety at Halloween –
“Battery operated candles are the safest way to light up scary things at Halloween. However if you do have naked flames around, make sure pumpkins, candles and other lights are placed well away from anything that can burn. Please don’t put them too close to paths where ‘trick or treaters’ will walk, as their flowing costumes might catch fire.”
They also offer advice on the importance of ensuring children know what to do if their clothing is set alight –
“You can make a game of teaching your children to “Stop, drop, cover and roll” if their costume does catch light. This means having them practice stopping still, dropping to the ground, covering their face with hands, and rolling over and over to put the flames out.”
Preparing children for a worst-case-scenario is important, but there are safety considerations that should be made in relation to the costumes that we are purchasing to ensure that we are keeping our little ones safe.
When purchasing items, we should ensure that the product meets manufacturing and health and safety guidelines. This is also relevant with second-hand products. If the instructions, or ingredients are missing, they may be available through the manufacturer’s websites.
Check for safety / manufacturing marks
Manufacturers of some products have a legal obligation to display appropriate markings to be sold in the UK indicating that a manufacturer has taken all necessary steps to ensure that a product meets specific health, safety, and manufacturing requirements.
This applies to toys, electrical goods, gas appliances, fireworks, and PPE, such as goggles, gloves, and helmets. We should only buy these products if they have the appropriate safety markings on them, as well as the name and address of the manufacturer.
Read and follow safety instructions
It is important that we follow relevant safety guidance, usually outlined on labeling or instructions provided by the manufacturer. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) provide product safety information for consumers on specific types of products.
Potential safety risks – manufacturer’s responsibilities
Any business that imports, distributes, or sells consumer products in the UK is responsible for their safety. The manufacturer has the responsibility to contact all consumers it knows are affected to alert them to the issue and instruct them what to do.
The UK Government supply a list of recalled products, with specific instructions on what consumers should do if they are affected. This is available HERE.
Members of the public choosing to dress up with their children this Halloween should be mindful of the potential safety risks that costumes pose. With bargains available online, in supermarkets and discount stores, questions need to be asked about the quality of the costumes we are buying for our children.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) set out the mandatory regulations that are in place to control the fire performance of the fabrics used in nightwear and toys, including compulsory labelling to make consumers more aware of potential dangers.
The Nightwear (Safety) Regulations 1985, and The Toy Safety Directive 2009/48/EC/ Toy Safety Regulations 2011 set out these mandatory regulations, however the British Retail Consortium (BRC), have worked with the British Standards Technical Committee to approach CEN with a view to reviewing the existing standards in place.
Development of revised European Standards take time, and in the meantime, the BRC (Supported by RoSPA) have introduced two voluntary codes of practice to enhance the safety of children’s dress-up clothing, looking at; additional flammability labeling of children’s dress-up and; methods of testing for the flammability safety of children’s dress up.
These codes of practice highlight the considerations that businesses selling children’s dress-up and Halloween costumes should make to ensure that the products being supplied are of a high quality and comply with their recommendations.
The key messages in relation to children’s dress up clothes and Halloween costumes: ensure that children are protected, and that risks are minimised before they don their superhero masks and princess ensemble.
In the lead up to Halloween 2022, consumeradvice.scot are urging Scottish consumers to make some considerations before purchasing outfits, cosmetics and prosthetics.
Halloween Safety – Remember consumeradvice.scot rule of ‘I.M.S.A.F.E’
By following the consumeradvice.scot rule of ‘I.M.S.A.F.E’, parents can ensure that they reduce the risks associated with Halloween.
In – Sight – Remember to keep an eye on children, in the home as well as when out and about. Candles and hanging decorations can be fire hazards, as well as increasing the risk of a trip or fall.
Materials – Check that costume materials are flame-resistant and there is a visible CE Mark. Ill-fitting and loose / draping costumes can catch fire easily. By ensuring the material is flame-resistant and does not flap around, you can minimise the risk of them catching fire.
Shoes – Ensure that shoes are suitably fitting and comfortable – high-heeled and ill-fitting shoes can cause trip hazards, and with more candles about, the fire risk is real.
Accessories and Masks – Make sure that accessories for costumes are safe, with no sharp edges. Masks should fit, and like the materials of the costume, should be flame-resistant.
Face paints / Makeup – Ensure that face paints and makeup are non-toxic. By reading the label we can ensure that we are not putting something on children’s skin that could irritate them or cause lasting damage. Perform a small patch test on the back of the hand to ensure that there are no allergies to the makeup / paint.
Extra Layers – Ensure that children wear clothing underneath the costume. By wearing an extra layer under the costume (such as a woollen jumper or jeans), there will be a barrier between the costume and your child’s skin should the costume catch on fire.