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Buyer beware: Unscrupulous businesses are passing off urine, antifreeze, and other “unpleasant, flammable, or dangerous chemicals that burn when applied to the skin” as designer fragrances, according to ABC 7 New York. In the culmination of a two-year joint undercover operation in Lower Manhattan on Wednesday, the New York Police Department arrested five people for allegedly distributing throughout the United States knockoff fragrances designed to resemble popular brands such as Chanel, Dolce & Gabanna, Polo, Gucci, Christian Dior, and Juicy Couture. Federal agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security division seized more than 10,000 boxes of phony merchandise, which reportedly came through Port Elizabeth to a temporary warehouse in Elizabeth, N.J., before they were sent to Queens to be repackaged. Eventually—and, we’d imagine, heistily—they made their way to a storage facility by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
Trafficking counterfeit goods is the third-most lucrative industry in the world, authorities say. Some experts suggest that at least 10 percent of all perfumes on today’s market are fake.
“What you’re getting is a substandard product,” Homeland Security investigator Angel Melendez told ABC 7 New York. “You’re getting a product that you don’t know what’s included in it. So these products have been smuggled into the United States utilizing various methodologies. And once they’re here, they’re repackaged and then just distributed. In this particular case, they were distributed to various businesses in the New York City area, and some of them actually made it to e-commerce sites, as well.”
A statement released in 2014 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation noted that fake cosmetics often contain known carcinogens such arsenic, beryllium, and cadmium, along with high levels of aluminum and “dangerous levels” of bacteria.
“Some of these products have caused conditions like acne, psoriasis, rashes, and eye infections,” said the FBI, a member of the National Intellectual Property Rights Center. “Counterfeit fragrances have been found to contain something called DEHP, classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a probable human carcinogen.”
And that thing about urine?
“These phony perfumes and colognes, which sometimes contain urine, as well, have been known to cause serious skin rashes,” the FBI added.
Still, even legitimate perfumes can prove deleterious to your health, particularly if you have allergies or chemical sensitivities.
Because of a loophole in federal law, perfume manufacturers aren’t required to list the ingredients they use. This can include phthalates, a class of estrogen-like substances linked to developmental abnormalities, infertility, and testicular and breast cancers, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
“Companies that manufacture perfume or cologne purchase fragrance mixtures from fragrance houses (companies that specialize in developing fragrances) to develop their own proprietary blends,” the campaign writes on its website. “In addition to ‘scent’ chemicals that create the fragrance, perfumes, and colognes also contain solvents, stabilizers, UV-absorbers, preservatives, and dyes. These additives are frequently, but not always, listed on product labels. In contrast, the chemical components in fragrance itself are protected as trade secrets and described on the label only as ‘fragrance.'”
Mistakenly dabbing ourselves with pee, in other words, just might be the least of our problems.