The “Fake” Cosmetics Industry in Ethiopia

By Meron Tekleberhan


Fake Cosmetics in EthiopiaAddis Ababa, July 2, 2012 ( - The demand for cosmetic products is one that is increasingly growing on the Ethiopian market. The range of products and the various brands available on the market have grown proportionally with the demand. Unfortunately, however, the increase in the type and supply of the products on the market has been matched by a similar increase in what are known as fake on the market.


The type of products known as fake are marketed under the label and packaging of brand name products but are of much lower quality and dubious provenance. There are two general categories of fakes according to Mulat* who has been in cosmetics trade for several years.


“The first type of fake cosmetics is imported from China and the Middle East and is manufactured with the intention of convincing the consumer that they are purchasing brand name items at much cheaper prices. Popular imitation products utilize internationally recognized brands such as Victoria’s Secret, Mac, Boss, Chanel, Dark and Lovely and others“he said.


It is well known amongst consumers that these brands have fakes with identical packaging as the originals according to Mulat. The products are usually distinguished by the significant price difference between the original and fake which can be as much as three or four times more for original brands.


“Some customers ask specifically for the original expecting to pay more while others buy the fake because that is all they can afford.” He explained. Legal retailers can usually be trusted not to sell the fake for the price of the original because they would lose credibility added Mulat.


Retailers freely tell their customers which products are fake and which are original because both types are imported legally into the country and are sold legally, said Mulat. In spite of this however the fake products are clear misrepresenting internationally copyrighted brand names and of such inferior quality to be hazardous to health in some instances.


“There is a very clear difference in quality between the original Victoria’s Secret lip gloss and the fake sold under the same name and nearly identical packaging. I had an allergic reaction the first time I used the fake gloss after having being told that it was in no way different from the original product which I had used for years” said W/t Tsion.


“A foundation crème masquerading under the well known Mac brand also damaged the skin of my sister peeling the skin underneath her eyes and forming unsightly bruises permanently,” she added.


Some of the fake products on the market are of such low quality as to be completely useless in many instances agreed Mulat.


“Several customers have complained that some of the hair products like hair gels and relaxers are inactive while other have brought back perfumes that had developed unpleasant scents or lost all smell altogether. Most common complaints are about make-up that melts, or even worse causes allergic reactions in users” he noted.  


In spite of this however importers and retailers have no qualms about importing and selling these products as they are able to do so legally. Fortunately there is more control and legal accountability with the second type of fake cosmetics on the market.


The second type of fake cosmetics are locally mixed or repackaged and sold illegally to legal retailers. These types of fakes are much more hazardous to health than even the poor quality knockoffs that are imported into the country.


“These type of fakes primarily constitute of refills of used and discarded containers. The empty containers are carefully refilled with a mixture of products most of which have been thrown out by wholesalers as expired or for having been damaged in transit. Little thought is given to potential health consequences on the consumer and it is this type of product that is usually associated with serious damages to users” explained Mulat.


“I bought my usual brand of lotion from a neighborhood supermarket but when I applied it the next day I discovered that it smelled different and had a strangely soapy consistency. I immediately washed it off and I took the lotion back to the supermarket where I had bought it because I thought they might have sold me an out of date product by accident. They however were very defensive and refused to refund my money or to even exchange the lotion claiming that they had received the product from their regular retailer” said W/t Tirsit. Most worrying has been the uneven texture and foul smell associated with hygiene and hair products used for children according to W/t Tirist. Several parents complain about the fakes of a range of liquid soaps and hair oils used for young children she added.


Fake products have been associated with various side effects ranging from minor skin inflammations to major allergic reactions, hair loss and potentially other complications that are as yet unknown because of the absence of research in the effects caused by the products.


In light of the popular awareness and frustration with the fake products on the market and the consequences associated with them there is a clear need for rigorous quality control on the products that are entering the country and strict applications of laws governing the local production and distribution of fake products.



Meron Tekleberhan


Meron Tekleberhan is Addis Ababa based reporter for She can be reached by sending email through this form.



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