used makeup
Though it could potentially be dangerous, secondhand makeup could be the recycling revolution we need. (Illustration by Alexa Finkelstein, Pratt Institute)
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used makeup
Though it could potentially be dangerous, secondhand makeup could be the recycling revolution we need. (Illustration by Alexa Finkelstein, Pratt Institute)

You’ve heard of thrifting clothes and furniture, but is secondhand makeup crossing the line?

For as long as most people can remember, America has been producing a large number of products that more often than not find themselves ending up in the trash. While recycling, reusing or reselling items for additional profits and use has become an effective way to combat the effects of this throwaway culture, “thrifting” has risen to become an exceptionally popular hobby among younger generations. Typically, we associate thrifting with clothing or furniture, but, recently, a trend of secondhand makeup has been sweeping the nation.

But does secondhand makeup cross the line from reusable to unsanitary?

The History of Thrifting

In the past, people used everything they had to survive, typically using and reusing items until they were useless. Christian ministries of the 19th century realized that there was money in the thrift business and, in order to fund their outreach programs, formed the Salvation Army and, later, Goodwill.

The Salvation Army launched its first “salvage brigade” in 1897, where residents of the men’s shelter pushed carts around neighborhoods and asked for used items; Goodwill did likewise in 1902. These “junk shops” were rebranded as department stores in the ’20s to attract middle class housewives, advertising the virtuous nature of buying something old to recycle and give back to the community.

Since then, opportunities to thrift items have bubbled up throughout the millennium. Websites offer almost any item at a secondhand discount, ranging from furniture to cameras and even tools. And although the culture of recycling and thrifting is popular today, buying secondhand makeup is, well, peculiar.

The Concept of Buying Used Makeup

The trend started in Japan and made its way to the U.S. through online communities, including Glambot, Poshmark and MUABS. Even Reddit has a market for secondhand makeup. The websites allow members to sell or purchase pre-owned items for a discounted price, which is the primary reason why they’re so sought after.

Makeup can get expensive and an opportunity to buy top brands for cheap is definitely a bargain deal. So while it might sound like a good way to spread bacteria, the demand for secondhand makeup is rising, and selling forums are doing the best they can to make it sanitary.

Good Intentions

Websites will provide stipulations for their makeup to try and maintain cleanliness. Glambot products need to be at least half full and cannot be expired and at Poshmark all items must be brand new. Reddit also provides tutorials on how to disinfect used makeup before selling or swapping it.

But most products forums will sell have been used very little, or not at all. “Secondhand just means that somebody owned it before you — it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been used, and if you’re getting something secondhand that’s new or basically new for less than it would have been, then both parties win,” says Doris Day, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone.

When people buy or receive makeup, they might try it once and not like it or, if it was a gift, they might never have liked it in the first place. Throwing it out would be a waste of perfectly good makeup, whether an eye shadow palette or a tube of lipstick. These forums aim at selling this secondhand makeup to then be used.

The forums lay out a pretty decent case for buying used makeup. But even with the advantages, there are still some undesirable aspects of purchasing used beauty products.

Not the Best Idea

When you purchase makeup that’s already been bought, you risk running into unwanted contaminants. Established brands have preservatives that guard against viruses and bacteria while increasing a product’s shelf life, but that doesn’t mean they are completely safe after they have been bought.

While there are many forums on which you can purchase secondhand makeup, some online sellers have completely banned the practice altogether. EBay’s policy states, “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.”

Between how long it’s been open, what it’s been exposed to and how many people have touched it, there are way too many unknowns to feel completely comfortable buying secondhand makeup. A consumer is at risk of infections like folliculitis, conjunctivitis, impetigo and fungal infections, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to contaminant effects.

While dermatologists do not support buying used products, they do have a list of safety precautions one can take if they are still considering thrifting their beauty supplies.

Safer options include powders or those that come in tubes like primers or pump-liquid foundations. This minimizes cross-contamination with unwanted bacteria and viruses. Stay cautious with open jars and creamier products, and anything that comes into contact with the eyes or lips (mascaras, eyeliners and lip glosses) is completely compromised. Even after cutting off the ends of lipsticks, “unless you want to French kiss that person, I wouldn’t buy it,” Dr. Day remarked.

Regardless of safety hazards, millennials and Gen Z appreciate the bigger picture associated with buying secondhand products.

Impact on Youth and the World

Younger generations are more informed about the benefits of recycling and thrifting than ever before. “Gen Z is more environmentally aware and they care about reusing rather than throwing it away and getting something new,” Dr. Day says.

Consumerism has reached an all-time high in the past decade and the youth is starting to realize the impact that has on our minds and our world as a whole. It’s bad enough to feel guilty for throwing out rarely used products, but when you realize the impact trash makes on our environment, it only strengthens the rise in secondhand thrifting.

Secondhand makeup might sound gross, but its larger, more positive impact cannot go unnoticed. Makeup products are usually not biodegradable or “recyclable” in the original sense of the term. They can create more deadly effects on our earth than most other trash we throw out every day. Pollution is an ever-growing problem, and this is yet another way to combat its impact.

That’s why even the opportunity to buy used makeup is helping to increase the time we have left in our world. It is, of course, important to remain cautious, but there is more than enough evidence to make secondhand makeup an incredible thrifting option.

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