TextAlice GibbsIllustrationCallum Abbott
On one hand, the practice is making the expensive beauty industry more accessible, but the obvious health risks are leaving some with concerns
‘Recommerce’ has become a huge part of the fashion industry. More of us are embracing secondhand shopping in a bid to be more environmentally friendly by reducing our personal waste. According to ThreadUp’s 2019 retail report, “64 per cent of women bought or are now willing to buy secondhand products.” Up from 52 per cent in 2017. A secondhand jumper is one thing, but now reselling culture is finding its way into beauty too.
Beauty junkies are scouring the internet for neglected make-up being sold at a fraction of the price you would pay at your local beauty counter. Some products haven’t been opened, some have been ‘swatched’ (testing briefly by the buyer), and many are half-used. The most popular are from big names that sell for a higher price initially. In particular, branded eyeshadow palettes that often sell for just a couple of pounds less than their original price.
This practice of buying used make-up has become increasingly popular in Japan, with frugal millennials selling and buying secondhand beauty products online and the domestic market for digital resale in retail was valued at 483.5 billion yen ($4.59 billion) in 2017. While in the US, sites like Glambot (which also ships to the UK) are dedicated to facilitating the reselling of beauty products. Glambot’s dedicated lab inspects and cleans lightly used products before placing them on site for sale. You’ll find secondhand products from brands such as Anastasia Beverly Hills, Charlotte Tilbury, and Urban Decay in a quick scroll. However, outside of sites like Glambot, there’s often no way of ensuring these products are legit.
“I always seem to get beauty products for Christmas but I sometimes find I don’t get on with the products once I try them,” says Bekki, a digital PR & outreach executive from Newcastle. “I don’t want the item to go to waste so I’ll sell it on eBay. I have a rule though, I won’t sell anything I’ve used more than 20 per cent of and it must be from a ‘higher’ brand. I’ve sold MAC lipsticks, Pixi skincare, and Estée Lauder foundation.”
From the seller’s perspective, it makes perfect sense. If you’ve barely used a product, why not use it to make a little extra pocket money? That’s before we even get into the impact that throwing away unwanted products can have on the environment. A survey of 1,000 UK women by Fragrance Direct in 2018 revealed that we spend an average of £482.51 a year on beauty products – working out at £2.39 per day.
“I regularly buy make-up from eBay – mainly for value for money,” says Elysia, a sexual empowerment artist from the Lake District. “Luxury make-up brands usually cost a lot – lots of people buy things only to realise they’ve bought the wrong shade or the product doesn’t suit them. Because you can’t return make-up, they’ll sell them on.”
Getting your hands on the latest £40 palette for a fraction of the price is super appealing, plus we’re preventing products from being needlessly thrown away – everybody wins right? But the practice of reselling beauty products does have its potential downsides. “People need to be careful from a hygiene perspective when it comes to used products,” says make-up artist Hannah. “Particularly when it comes to eye products such as mascara and eyeliner if used.”
“How much attention you pay to use-by dates depends on the product completely. I would always want to stick to this when buying secondhand and make sure all labels are still on the product. I would use an out-of-date blusher at a push, but an out-of-date eyelash glue could cause an infection” – Hannah
After all, there is a reason you can’t return products once they’ve been opened. Applicators can easily carry bacteria (even if you’ve just tried it out on the back of your hand), while products that have been used on lips or eyes offer a particularly high risk of spreading germs. When selling online in the UK, eBay states that, “Used cosmetics present some serious health and safety concerns because the products and applicators used to apply them often come into direct contact with the body. This is why we generally don’t allow the sale of used cosmetics on eBay.”
Another element to consider is the use-by dates on products. Unlike food products, the use-by date on beauty goods rely on the first day you use the item, not the purchase date. For example, 6M is six months, 12M is 12 months etc. When you buy products online, it’s nearly impossible to determine when they were first opened and used and as a result, it’s difficult to know when the product is set to expire. Ignoring the use-by dates can have pretty negative consequences, out-of-date products have the potential to cause skin irritation, breakouts, eye infections, and styes.
“How much attention you pay to use-by dates depends on the product completely,” explains Hannah. “However, I would always want to stick to this when buying secondhand and make sure all labels are still on the product. I would use an out-of-date blusher at a push, but an out-of-date eyelash glue could cause an infection.”
“Like food, I think use-by dates are more of a guideline and you can use common sense,” says Elysia, “Cleanliness does bother me to a degree, if I bought a used lipstick I would just cut the end off. I wouldn’t buy secondhand make-up brushes or anything that’s had direct contact with skin, but foundation that comes with a pump would be fine.”
“Cleanliness does bother me to a degree, if I bought a used lipstick I would just cut the end off. I wouldn’t buy secondhand make-up brushes or anything that’s had direct contact with skin, but foundation that comes with a pump would be fine” – Elysia
But if there are risks to reselling our unwanted cosmetics, is the only alternative filling our landfills with unwanted products? MYTHYN specialises in organic skincare, bath, and home products. Sustainability and reducing waste is a big part of its brand ethos. “We work on a small-batch basis to reduce waste,” explains founder Mathilde Gauvain. “It can be done if you plan production based on your sales cycle. The rare times I’ve had excess stock were around Christmas, in which case I’ve usually reduced it to clear the stock.”
“I can see the intention behind it is to reduce waste. Unfortunately, cosmetics are very personal and, as a brand owner working very hard to maintain good manufacturing processes for the purpose of safety and quality, I wouldn’t resell,” continues Mathilde. “When a product seal is broken, a jar opened, and the product is exposed to air, water, someone’s hands, it is effectively contaminated. If you’re buying secondhand, how can you guarantee it is safe to use?”
As we move forward as a society and become more aware of the impact we have on our planet with regards to waste, any element of recycling and reducing waste should be commended. “People just need to be careful of the condition and how the products have been stored,” says Hannah. “I would be asking the buyer a lot of questions before buying the product. It’s also a good idea to check that the product is genuine.”
Selling and buying used cosmetics online has its positives – getting a bargain, helping prevent waste, and ensuring your unwanted products go to a good home. While it may not be a perfect solution, if those buying and selling are taking care to ensure hygiene is considered, this practice could become more regular in the UK.