Are online products safe?

THE case of a young Muscat-based woman who suffered burns on her hand after applying a skin exfoliating cream purchased online has once again underscored the potential health risks associated with the growing multitude of cosmetics and wellness products targeted at online shoppers.
The woman, who initially sought help from a local health centre for her injuries, was later referred to a tertiary hospital in the capital region in light of the severity of her burns.
It appears the patient, who had procured the skin exfoliating application from a local vendor operating on the popular Instagram platform, failed to carefully read the ‘instructions for use’ leaflet accompanying the product.
Marketed as a ‘skin peeling oil’ that purportedly helps users relieve dark skin on various parts of the body, it however had a corrosive effect on the tender skin of the unwitting consumer.
In a similar mishap, a young woman suffered burns after applying a cream peddled as a skin whitening product in the city. The two incidents have raised serious questions about the safety of health-related products sold online.
Yes, it’s true that online shopping saves shoppers a great deal of time and effort while affording them the convenience of received their merchandise delivered at their doorstep.
But products marketed online do not come with the same degree of consumer safety and general safeguards associated with merchandise purchased offline in a grocery store or supermarket, for example.
Perhaps, even more importantly, traders dealing in such products have a legal responsibility to make sure they procure their merchandise only from producers with a well-established reputation for consumer safety and health standards.
Online marketing assures handsome returns especially to those who specialise in the sale of beauty products and cosmetics for women.
Cyberspace abounds with female vendors who, although with zero experience, mix and mash together ingredients to come up with products of their own.
Instagram offers them a popular platform to advertise and tout their products to gullible shoppers.
Thuraya, a compulsive online shopper, says she exercises caution in the way she makes her purchases via social media.
Her advice to shoppers: “Make sure you read up on the product reviews and assorted feedback posted by consumers.
If the comments are generally positive, then you are reasonably assured that the product in question is safe for purchase.
But before you settle for a certain brand or product, do get familiar with what’s on offer by checking out a wide selection of online sites.
Products marketed online can be cheaper than versions sold in malls.”
However, experts warn against placing too much trust in product reviews posted online. ‘You shouldn’t believe everything you read online,’ is the commonplace advice they proffer.
It’s not unusual for online merchants to manufacture positive reviews themselves in order to sway shoppers.
Instagram and other social media platforms are seen as a cheap and convenient vehicle for online merchants to operate without the need to register themselves, obtain a Commercial Registration number or set up an office, as mandated by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI) for those operating physical establishments.
‘Miss Pure’, the Instagram moniker of one of the most popular vendors of herbal cosmetics online, says she built her reputation on the basis of positive reviews from her growing portfolio of online shoppers. ‘Miss Pure’ claims she has a licence from the ministry to market her products, all of which are also subject to medical tests.
She urges fellow online merchants to adhere to local safety regulations and not endanger the health and well-being of consumers.
The Complaints Department at the Public Authority for Consumer Protection (PACP) receives all kinds of complaints from consumers who feel conned by merchants operating either online or offline.