Health and Beauty Products You Can Buy—but Shouldn't—on Amazon

These products may be expired or fake.

Staying up late and sleeping in every morning is also associated with a greater tendency for risk-taking, according to a 2014 study in Evolutionary Psychology. While men in the study took more financial risks than women overall, women who were self-described night owls were more daring than those who were early birds.Female night owls also had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which the study authors suspect is a driving mechanism behind high-stakes behavior. And while taking risks isn’t always a bad thing, it can sometimes lead to dangerous or unhealthy situations, like gambling, substance abuse, or unprotected sex. Oscar Wong/Getty Images

There's a lot to love about Amazon. You can shop at 3 a.m., and you never have to deal with finding a parking space. Plus, you're scoring tons of products in different categories at prices often lower than what you'd find in a brick-and-mortar store.

However, sometimes, those rock-bottom price tags mask a potentially dangerous problem. 

"Large online retail hubs are often the source for selling counterfeit, expired, or stolen goods," Sydney Ziverts, a health and nutrition investigator for, told Health.

Since sites like Amazon allow you to buy from third-party vendors, "you want to be sure you're purchasing from the actual manufacturer and not a criminal using a similar company name," added Ziverts.

So, even though resisting what feels like an unbelievable bargain can be hard, here are six items you might not want to order from a random seller on Amazon.

Emergency Contraception

The morning-after pill—taken after unprotected, or condomless, sex—is available without a prescription. Yet that doesn’t mean buying online rather than at a local drugstore is safe.

Some reports have indicated that people who purchased some brands of emergency contraception from Amazon vendors discovered that the expiration date on the package had been rubbed off or altered. That means the pills could be ineffective, if not harmful.

Tips for where to purchase: Emergency contraception can be found in different places depending on the type you need:

  • Plan B One-Step® and similar generic versions: Available to individuals of any age with no prescription
  • Levonorgestrel tablets (two-pill generic Next Choice® and LNG tablets 0.75 mg): Available to individuals 17 and older with no prescription; sold from behind the pharmacy counter
  • ella®: Available by prescription only


Found your favorite high-end mascara for a steal? That could be because it's a counterfeit version. Fake makeup and perfume have become serious business for online-only retailers.

According to the report, many of these products are made in subpar factories. Additionally, they could contain toxic chemicals such as arsenic, beryllium, and cadmium, considered carcinogens.

These products might also include high levels of both aluminum and bacteria. After using these products, people have experienced acne, psoriasis, rashes, and eye infections.

Fake fragrances have also been found to have DEHP, a likely carcinogen for humans, and some might include urine in their contents. The products have also been linked to serious skin rashes.

These indicators may help you identify merchandise such as cosmetics as counterfeit:

  • Unauthentic brand packaging and/or haphazard wrapping
  • "Limited edition" marketing when it's not considered a limited edition from the actual manufacturer
  • Slightly or extremely low pricing
  • Off-brand consistency or texture compared to the real brand
  • Issues with fragrance scent or color
  • Sale of the products at non-authorized retailers, including Internet sellers

In addition, some cosmetics sold online could be past their ideal use-by date. No U.S. laws or rules indicate shelf lives or expiration dates on the labels of the cosmetics are necessary. However, the safety of manufactured products falls on the manufacturers.

Cosmetics eventually start to degrade or break down for a number of reasons, including:

  • Preservative breakdowns, allowing bacteria and fungi to grow
  • Separation of emulsions, which are mixtures of water and oil
  • Products being dried out, resulting in hardening or cracks
  • Color, texture, and odor changes due to things like temperature changes or exposure to sunlight

Tips for where to purchase: One way to ensure you buy authentic, unexpired cosmetics from your favorite brand is to check the brand's website for a list of authorized retailers. The brand has approved or authorized these retailers to sell their products.

Reporting Adverse Events to the FDA

The law does not require cosmetics to be approved by FDA before they are sold in stores. However, FDA does monitor consumer reports of adverse events with cosmetic products.

You should notify the FDA if you experience a rash, redness, burn, or another unexpected reaction after using a cosmetic product. Also, please contact FDA if you notice a problem with the cosmetic product, such as a bad smell, color change, or foreign material.

Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

Nutritional supplements are big business online for counterfeiters as well. "Scammers can easily change the date on a package to extend the expiration date," said Ziverts. An expired product, at best, won't work; at worst, it can be dangerous.

Like in cases of cosmetics, the FDA doesn't require vitamin and dietary supplement manufacturers to include an expiration date on the packaging.

However, many vitamin and supplement products will include a "Best By" or "Use By" date on the label or elsewhere on the product packaging. This date is related to the potency of ingredients in the product. After the date listed, components may no longer be at 100% concentration in the amounts listed.

Tips for where to purchase: Grocery stores, drug stores, general merchandise retailers, natural food stores, and specialty health and nutrition stores typically sell supplements. If you buy online, consider checking the brand's website, which may provide a list of authorized retailers.

Dietary supplements are minimally regulated by the FDA and may or may not be suitable for you. The effects of supplements vary from person to person and depend on many variables, including type, dosage, frequency of use, and interactions with current medications. Please speak with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before starting any supplements. 


Just as scammers can easily change the expiration date on supplements, they can also fudge sunscreen's "use by" date. True, you're not ingesting your SPF. But "as sunscreen ages or is exposed to too much heat and moisture, its other ingredients dissipate and interact with each other, causing them to lose sun-blocking properties," said Ziverts.

All sunscreens must have an expiration date unless the manufacturer has completed stability testing and results showed the product has three-year stability. In other words, sunscreen products with no expiration date can be used no longer than three years following purchase.

Sunscreens should be discarded after their expiration date or after three years if they don't have one. There is no way to know how safe or effective they will be after those times.

Tips for where to purchase: A safer alternative for buying sunscreen is to purchase it from your local supermarket or pharmacy. Many sunscreens can be purchased online through the brand's website or authorized retailers.

Imported Skincare Products

If you’re hoping to treat a skin condition by purchasing a cream or serum from a company outside the United States that you’ve never heard of, buyer beware.

There has been a rise in potentially tainted treatments that might contain mercury. These treatments include skin-lightening and anti-aging treatments that remove age spots, freckles, blemishes, and wrinkles. Adolescents may sometimes use some of the same products for acne.

This can appear on the ingredient list as “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurio,” or straight-up “mercury,” but sometimes no ingredients are listed at all. Pregnant and nursing people and young children are especially susceptible to mercury’s toxic effects.

Tips for where to purchase: If you want to buy a skincare product from an international supplier, plan to buy from a reputable retailer or the brand's website. Always check the label and ingredient list for any product you intend to purchase. If any of the ingredients listed above are contained, do not purchase the product. If the ingredients aren’t listed and/or there is no product label, refrain from buying it.

For cosmetics and nonprescription drugs, ingredients must be listed on the label; do not use a product that doesn’t have a label. You should also consider other options beyond drugs or cosmetics without labels in English unless English labeling is also included. A label not in English can indicate that the product has illegal advertising.

Protein Powder

Protein powder can be pricey at your local supplement store or organic market, but the splurge is worth it. If you find it cheap online, "it's almost certainly a counterfeit product and most likely doesn't contain the high-quality protein you think you're purchasing," said Ziverts.

Another concern is the ingredients used in the protein powder. A study by the Clean Label Project analyzed 134 of the top-selling protein powder products according to Nielsen, the best seller list, and fitness blog consumer favorites. They obtained the powders both in stores and online.

The analysis found that 75% had measurable levels of lead. At the same time, 55% had measurable levels of BPA, a known endocrine disruptor. Contaminants also included mercury, cadmium, and arsenic—substances linked to multiple cancers, reproductive harm, and brain damage.

Also, if you're buying from an unknown seller, you don't know where they're storing their products, said Ziverts. "If they have buckets of protein power stored in a hot and humid warehouse, this increases the risk of bacterial growth or spoilage."

Tips for where to purchase: The FDA categorizes protein powders as dietary supplements. The agency does not approve dietary supplements before they are sold to the public, so it is important that you purchase your protein powder from a reliable retailer. Check reviews on brand websites or online retailers for feedback on the quality of the product.

Reporting Reactions to the FDA

If you think a dietary supplement such as protein powder may have caused you or someone you know to have a serious reaction or illness, immediately stop using the product and fill out a safety report through the Safety Reporting Portal to submit your complaint to the FDA.

A Quick Review

Amazon has transformed the way consumers shop. However, along with the convenience come some risks. Large online retail hubs like Amazon are often the source for selling counterfeit, expired, or stolen goods. These products can be ineffective or, worse, harmful.

In addition, regulatory agencies like the FDA do not regulate products such as cosmetics, vitamins and minerals, or dietary supplements. It is essential that you purchase these products from reputable retailers and review labels for any unsafe ingredients.

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  1. Vice. Amazon vendors are selling expired emergency contraception.

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health. Emergency contraception.

  3. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Counterfeit cosmetics, fragrances.

  4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Shelf life and expiration dating of cosmetics.

  5. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Using cosmetics safely.

  6. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dietary supplement labeling guide: chapter I. general dietary supplement labeling.

  7. The New York Times. Ask well: vitamin expiration dates.

  8. Office of Dietary Supplements. Use and safety of dietary supplements.

  9. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sunscreen: how to help protect your skin from the sun.

  10. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Mercury poisoning linked to skin products.

  11. Clean Label Project. New study of protein powders from Clean Label Project finds elevated levels of heavy metals and BPA in 53 leading brands.

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