Skin Deep

Use caution when buying skincare products online

Convenience and seemingly endless options are two reasons most of us shop online, but you can be putting your health and your appearance at risk if you search for the lowest possible beauty product prices on the Internet. You would be shocked at how many bad reactions to skincare products purchased online that I have seen or been consulted on. A super-low price on a skin or hair care product sold online can mean a few things…

The product could be counterfeit

There are numerous reports of imposter skincare products coming out of China and other countries. I have personally seen many counterfeit products sent to me by patients. The counterfeit products may be in an old bottle that’s been refilled with an inexpensive imitation cream, or an imitation bottle is filled with an imitation cream.

The product could be expired

Less scrupulous online retailers slash prices on expired products and hope you don’t notice. They often remove the expiration date from the package so you have no idea just how old it is. Skincare ingredients—especially retinol—degrade with time, heat, sun and air exposure, and the resulting chemicals can lead to redness and irritation.

The product could have illegal and dangerous ingredients

Many of the counterfeit skincare products come from China and other countries. They can contain lead, mercury, arsenic and other harmful toxins. They also may contain fragrances or preservatives that can cause an allergic reaction.

The product is stored improperly in a warehouse without climate control

When you purchase products from an unknown online retailer, you have no idea how the product was stored. Extreme temperatures such as excess heat and cold can damage the chemical integrity of the products. Organic products are at an even greater risk because they do not contain preservatives to protect them from temperature variability and bacteria and fungus that grow in a hot, damp environment.

Tips for saving money

There are a few ways you can score discounts on authentic products. Stock up on your favorites during holiday sales and store them in an air-conditioned area. You should also sign up for your aesthetician or doctor’s newsletters and follow them on Facebook so you don’t miss a promotion! And please post counterfeit product alerts so we can help keep each other informed. (I also found a website called where you can report counterfeit products.)

Let’s all work together to ensure the integrity of the skincare products that we put on our skin.

Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.