How to stay safe when buying health products online

Adulterated health products, Cosmetic products , General safety, Health supplements, Therapeutic products (medicines), Traditional medicines

The convenience of online shopping for health products may actually cause you more harm than good, if you are not careful. Consumers are exposed to many unfamiliar or dubious sellers over the Internet, and need to be aware of the risks of buying online: fraud, harmful products, false claims, and lack of consumer information.

To ensure you minimise risks and maximise benefits when buying health products online, remember these three points:

  1. Talk to your doctor
  2. Play it safe, don’t purchase from unfamiliar or dubious sources
  3. Don't get fooled by false claims

1. Talk to your doctor

Your first step should always be to really understand what your body needs. Visit a doctor to get professional and proper diagnosis and recommendations for treatment, especially if you have a chronic or serious medical condition. Taking health products on your own for such medical conditions instead of getting the proper treatment can have serious consequences (e.g. worsening the condition). If you want more information on health products or medications, you can also ask a pharmacist.

The amount or dosage to take is important as well. Get correct dosage instructions by consulting a doctor or pharmacist instead of relying on just information from a website or a sales representative.

Taking multiple health products at the same time also carries some risk. You should get a doctor or pharmacist to tell you if and how different products or medicines interact with each other and what to do if you experience certain side effects.

Tackling your health needs early and accurately by making discerning healthcare decisions can save your life, as well as avoid pain, discomfort and unnecessary loss of money in the long run.

2. Play it safe

Putting medicines or supplements from unfamiliar or dubious sources into (or onto) your body always entails some risk, as you can never know for sure what you are consuming. Don’t buy from online sellers that aren’t familiar, or that can’t prove that their products come from established manufacturers or suppliers.

Products sold from such online platforms have a higher chance of being adulterated, fake or sub-standard, which can have a very serious impact on your health – you may end up worse off than before. There have been many cases where people have died after using health products purchased from dubious sources, due to the undeclared potent medicinal ingredients in these products. Other serious side effects like hallucination and falling into a coma are not uncommon as well.

Always be suspicious of a website or retailer that is willing to sell you prescription medicine without providing a prescription.

3. Don't get fooled by false claims

Be wary of health products that promise or produce quick and miraculous results for medical conditions. They may contain undeclared potent medicinal ingredients which produce the quick results, but these ingredients can cause serious side effects. Exaggerated claims such as “100% safe”, “miracle”, “risk-free”, “cure all” are clear signs of dubious products. Personal testimonies and other claims are often used to hide the fact that there are very few or no benefits that the product offers.

Don’t take blog posts, forum posts, chat group messages and personal testimonials as trustworthy sources. They can be easily made up or the people may be paid to promote the product. Recommendations from friends and family may be useful, but please take note that they are not able to vouch for your safety and health. Ask a doctor or a pharmacist.

Don’t simply go for the lowest-priced products. Quality is a very important factor when it comes to taking care of your health. Don’t get tempted by freebies or other offers such as “free online consultations” either.

Turn to established retailers

The best reason to buy from established retailers, whether online or offline, is transparency in knowing where their products come from. Retailers in Singapore will be liable to a certain extent for the products they sell, and can connect you back to their suppliers and manufacturers if need be.

If you buy online from unfamiliar sellers, you might not be able to claim any damages or get any refunds should anything go wrong, including receiving expired goods, poorly manufactured products, or damaged items.

If a medicine you are buying is not approved for use in Singapore by HSA or suspected to be adulterated, it may be detained by customs authorities, and you may not be able to make any claims to get it back.

If you have developed an allergy or side effect after taking a medicine or health product, stop taking it immediately and consult your doctor.

You can help us combat adulterated, counterfeit and substandard health products. Report any suspicious sale or advertising of medicines, cosmetics and health products to HSA through e-mail or phone at 6866 3485.