More than 90,000 counterfeit condoms have been seized in the UK in the past two years, new data suggests, putting people at risk of unwanted pregnancy or STIs.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) seized the huge haul of condoms throughout 2018 and 2019, according to figures obtained by The Guardian.
Counterfeit condoms are those that haven’t passed the official tests required to ensure their safety and effectiveness. These illegal condoms may be produced in unhygienic environments or made using cheap, substandard materials that are prone to rips and bursting.
Many of them sold illegally online imitate the branding of well-known, legitimate manufacturers, so it’s not always easy to spot them at first glance. How can you ensure your condom is the real deal?
When buying condoms in the UK, look for products that carry the BSI kite mark or European CE mark, as these are recognised safety standards, states the NHS. “Don’t use novelty condoms, unless they carry the BSI kite mark or CE mark,” the site adds.
The MHRA advises consumers to buy condoms from “reputable sources”. You can get reliable condoms for free from your GP and from sexual health services like Brook, or buy them from all big supermarkets and pharmacies.
If you’re buying contraception from an individual seller, you can check if they’ve been authenticated by the MHRA by accessing its list of registered suppliers.
And, it might be worth buying condoms in the UK before travelling abroad. This means you can avoid any language barriers or uncertainty over that country’s safety regulations.
“Once you’ve got your condoms, make sure you store them out of the heat and sun,” Eliza Bell from Brook tells HuffPost UK, “and if you’re using latex condoms always keep them away from oily substances (including moisturisers and oil-based lube) as this will damage them.
“Keeping loose condoms in your wallet, pocket or bag can also damage them. If the wrapper looks at all damaged it’s best to throw it away and use a new one.”
Finally, be sure to always check the expiry date on condoms before using them, as even legitimate products have a limited shelf-life.
If you have any suspicions about the quality of a condom bought online, report your concerns to the MHRA using the Yellow Card Scheme.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.