Fake or Real: Can You Tell the Difference?


The number of fake products is on the increase in Malaysia. Common ones are branded sneakers such as Adidas, Fila and Nike. Top range perfumes and bags such as Guess, Chanel and Louis Vuitton, Issey Miyake are easily available in the market. These items, incidentally, have no negative effects on end-users and thus are relatively safe. But there are those that may impact users’ health when applied or consumed. Ipoh Echo takes a look at fake products that are harmful to our health. 


The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines product counterfeiting as a form of fraud. A product, purporting to be something that it is not, is sold to unsuspecting buyers. It is an organised group activity because the manufacturing of goods takes people and time, and the goal is invariably to profit. These products are produced based on similar designs as the originals. They are packaged and branded to make them indistinguishable from the genuine stuffs. These manufacturing countries are generally poorer and so have lower capacity for finesse. 

According to Seth Hays, Asia Pacific chief representative from International Trademark Association (INTA), approximately RM5.43 trillion (US$1.3 trillion) of counterfeit goods are traded globally every year. 


Fake Beauty Products

The number of fake beauty products bearing popular names such as Nars, ColourPop, Huda Beauty, Kylie Cosmetics, NYX Cosmetics and some of the big names are readily available here in Ipoh. 

This scribe visited a few night markets and malls around the city recently and was shocked by what was discovered. You can buy these imitations for a fraction of the original prices. Some for less if one is prepared to haggle. For instance, Kylie lipstick which costs over RM100 a piece is sold for just RM5. 

The price is a giveaway and a warning too. It makes you wonder whether the products sold are safe for general use, especially cosmetics which you need to dab onto your face and limbs. Will exposure to the cream and liquid harm your skin which, being the largest organ in the body, is one of the easiest ways for chemicals and pollutants to get inside the body and cause long-term insidious damage.  

We checked with the authorities concerned. The first was the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperative and Consumerism branch in Ipoh. The lady on the phone told us to raise the matter with the Perak Health Department instead. According to her, actions could only be taken if the owners themselves lodge a report with them. In other words, owners of the highly-acclaimed brand names have to come to Malaysia and file a complaint with the department, only then will action be taken. 

We then called the Perak Health Department, and here is another bombshell. They would only act if it is proven, clinically, that the ingredients used in the products are harmful. The onus is on the consumers, not the authorities. We have to do the groundwork, ourselves. 

“I used the fake products for three months even though I knew that it was fake. I loved the colour of the eyeshadow, lipstick and foundation which resembled the original. Furthermore, it is much cheaper. However, after months of using it, my lips became drier than usual and started to flake off. I realised that something was wrong, so I stopped using it before it worsened. I’ll never buy fake products anymore and I urge everyone to do the same no matter how cheap or attractive the packaging is. Some of my friends have to seek medication as the products affected their skin. The authorities should do more to eradicate this issue,” said Yana, 22. 

According to Dr Terry Lee Lean Hiap, an aesthetic skin care specialist at Terry Lee Clinic Ipoh, one common disease caused by fake products is Irritant Contact Dermatitis (ICD). Allergic dermatitis is a form of exogenous dermatitis or eczema. The eczema is well demarcated with a glazed reddish surface. The affected area itches and swells. 

“The worst disease is skin  from the effect of hydroquinone. Hydroquinone which is used for hyperpigmentation, must only be prescribed by doctors. The permissible usage is only four per cent but fake products contain up to 10 per cent of this chemical. Other harmful ingredients are mercury and steroid,” he added. 


Ways to Avoid 

The first step is to be an informed consumer. Before buying a product you must ensure that the product is a longstanding brand in the market. Avoid new products. Secondly, check trustworthy testimonials and reviews. If you are unsure, try the sample before you buy the products. Thirdly, check the ingredients label. Fake products, normally, have no information label of ingredients on the packaging. 

“The common reason given by my patients who used fake products is the price. The price has been reduced tremendously. Be sure you buy from trusted stores such as Watson or Guardian,” urged Dr Terry.

Fake Milk Formula 

In February, three traders were charged at the Sessions Court for selling fake infant formula in Johor Bahru. Yap Kai Chai, 59, Ling Mei Nar, 42, and Yap Chang Hong, 26 are joint-owners of several branches of TCM Yong ThyeLian, Chinese medical shop. 

Yap Kai Chai (son) and Yap Chang Hong (father) were charged for selling 208 packets of fake milk powder

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