Risks of buying natural health products online
Many natural health product websites are lawful businesses, but some sell products that may present serious health risks. Learn about the risks of buying natural health products (NHPs) online and how to identify licensed products.
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Risks of buying online
When buying NHPs online, you may not have access to the product's warnings and directions for safe use. This missing information can lead to unwanted side effects when using the product.
Other risks include receiving products that:
- come from an unknown or potentially dangerous source
- are past their expiry date
- list the wrong ingredients or fail to list dangerous additives
- are contaminated
- do not work or are of low quality
There is also a risk that the NHP may:
- not be authorized for sale in Canada
- be counterfeit
If you buy NHPs online or from outside of Canada, you should know that:
- some countries may not require evidence that NHPs work, are safe or are of high quality
- products may make health claims that are not allowed to be made in Canada
- products may contain different ingredients from the Canadian version
Natural product numbers and licensing
Canada regulates NHPs sold nationally. To be sold legally in Canada, NHPs must have a product licence. It is proof that we have reviewed the safety of the product. Either an 8-digit natural product number (NPN) or homeopathic medicine number (DIN-HM) will appear on the product label.
Minimize your risks
If you buy NHPs online, follow these tips to lower your risk of buying unsafe products.
- Look for websites that show you all of the information that appears on a product label. This includes:
- the recommended use or purpose of the product
- how to use the product safely
- warnings about why someone should not use the product with other drugs or because of an existing health condition
- Only buy NHPs that have an NPN or DIN-HM on the label. If the website does not have this information, contact the seller to ask for the 8-digit product licence number. Check this number against Health Canada's database for licensed NHPs.
- If you buy NHPs from outside of Canada, know the guidelines for importing them. Otherwise, you may not be allowed to bring them into Canada.
As with any health product, speak with your health care provider if you have questions about the product. This will help you avoid taking something that may interact with medications or other products that you are already taking.
Report a concern
Report a complaint about the quality or safety of a health product using the health product complaint form. This includes the sale of unlicensed products and products with unapproved health claims.
You can also report negative side effects through MedEffect Canada.
If you would like more information, contact us toll-free at 1-800-267-9675.
- About natural health product regulation in Canada
- Regulation of natural health products in Canada: Myths and facts
- Drugs and health products: Compliance and enforcement policy
- Buying drugs over the Internet
- List of site licence holders
- Import Requirements for Health Products under the Food and Drugs Act and its Regulations
- Get cyber safe: Online shopping
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