Beauty editors and writers are used to getting late-night (or early-morning or literally 24-hours-a-day) texts with zero context and burning questions. No, we don't mean of the "U up?" variety. These inquiries are about skin freak-outs, product recommendations and makeup mishaps... and we've seen 'em all. With that in mind, we welcome you to our series, "Fashionista Beauty Helpline," where we address the beauty questions we get asked most frequently — and run them by experts who really know their stuff.
The beauty editors' "U up?"
Whether because of a now-regretted subscription to a monthly beauty box, short-lived fling with a 10-step K-beauty skin-care routine or a minor obsession with YouTube makeup tutorials, chances are you're the (not-so-proud) owner of more moisturizers, serums, powders and palettes than you can possibly use. And let's not forget that these things expire! But before you clear off that #shelfie and pare down your products, it's best to have a game plan in place — ideally one that doesn’t involve a trash bin.
There are three main options for decluttering your beauty collection the eco-friendly way: reselling, donating and recycling. The right choice for you depends on the specific products you have on hand; whether they're brand new, gently used or mostly used; and just how generous you're feeling.
WHERE TO RE-SELL UNWANTED BEAUTY PRODUCTS
"Recommerce" has all but taken over the fashion industry, and the second-hand shopping trend is extending its influence into the beauty space, too; with sites like Poshmark, eBay and Glambot all allowing beauty products to be bought and sold via online platforms.
To unload unused (as in, never opened and never swatched) beauty products, head to Poshmark or eBay. Both platforms are user-friendly and give you full control of your products, from the pictures to the price. Simply start an account, snap a few photos, upload them to site with a short description and wait for the sales roll in. While Poshmark doesn't allow the sale of liquids of any kind (that includes nail polish and perfume), eBay is a little more lenient with its guidelines: Unused fragrances and aerosols, like hair sprays and dry shampoo, are fine to sell and ship domestically.
But your used skincare and cosmetics aren't necessarily destined for the dump. Glambot, an online marketplace for all things makeup, accepts both brand new products and those that are "up to 50 percent used" — including sample sizes — but the site does have a pretty specific set of guidelines. It only takes items from a handful of high-end beauty brands (no drugstore steals here) with labels in "sellable condition," and doesn't accept products that fall under the umbrellas of hair care, body care, nail care or full-size fragrance. The platform handles product uploads and shipping for you, though, which is a bonus. To sell through Glambot, you can request a prepaid shipping label and mail in a "sell package" for consideration. According to the company, "Sell packages must contain at least 20 full size, qualifying items; international packages must contain 30."
If all else fails, check out Reddit: The community content platform boasts Skincare Exchange and Makeup Exchange pages with tens of thousands of users, where you can share any item, new or used, with community members who may be willing to buy or swap products.
That being said, it's very much worth noting that dermatologists warn against buying or exchanging used beauty products through Glambot and Reddit (or by any other means, for that matter). "Unless the 'used' product is in its original packaging, unopened and not expired, sharing skin-care or beauty products of any sort is not recommended," says Dr. Neil Sadick of Sadick Dermatology. "Our skin is a great host of personalized bacteria; whether we have acne, or eczema or an untidy bathroom dresser, the bacteria grow and thrive, especially in dark containers within a moist environment." Something as simple as not fully closing the lid on a face mask or testing the feel of a new makeup brush can spread these microorganisms. "You don't know if the used lipstick will give you a cold sore, or the mascara an eye infection," Dr. Sadick says. In other words, it's better to be safe than sorry.
WHERE TO DONATE UNWANTED BEAUTY PRODUCTS
If you're not concerned about earning cash for your cosmetics, donation is the way to go. And while foundations like Goodwill or The Salvation Army don't actually accept beauty products, there are plenty of speciality charities across the country that do.
Share Your Beauty, an offshoot of the Family to Family organization, launched in 2014 with the help of beauty influencer Lara Eurdolian of Pretty Connected. The initiative distributes unopened, unused beauty and personal care products to "homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters and foster care agencies," according to Pam Koner, the Executive Director of Family to Family. The organization works directly with skin-care, makeup and hair-care brands, as well as industry influencers, to collect excess product; but it also accepts donations from the general public. "Individual donors can ship their beauty products to us or leave them at a drop off point in New York City," explains Koner.
Another option for new, unused and non-expired self-care products is Beauty Bus, an organization that brings in-home and in-hospital beauty services to those "whose illness or condition prevents them from accessing a salon." The donated beauty items are used for both pop-up salon treatments and goodie bags, so that every client ends their service with a beauty-boosting care package. Donations can be mailed to the organization’s headquarters in Santa Monica, California.
If you're saving a stash of cosmetics you've only used once or twice, Project Beauty Share can help you downsize. The charity accepts "lightly used" skin care, cosmetics, hair care and hygiene products and distributes them to disadvantaged women across the country when you ship donations to their Washington sorting center.
The easiest option? Check in with local homeless and women's shelters in your area to see if they accept personal care drop-offs, and make a philanthropic pit-stop on your next lunch break.
Just keep in mind that even if an organization accepts used beauty products, it's never charitable to donate your germs. Anything that comes in a jar that you dip your fingers into shouldn't be given away — it's just too risky. The same goes for cream blushes and eye shadows (bacteria thrives in cream formulas but can't survive in powders), mascaras and anything applied directly to the skin with a wand, like lip gloss. These products are best passed along to friends and family members (hey, they might be more inclined to overlook the germ factor) or tossed.
WHERE TO RECYCLE UNWANTED BEAUTY PRODUCTS
Here's a not-so-fun fact: Most cosmetics are considered "hazardous waste," which means you shouldn't dump the remaining contents of a nearly-empty product down the drain or rinse empty beauty containers in the sink, where they can contaminate the water supply. Instead, call your local disposal center and ask if it accepts cosmetics as hazardous waste. If it doesn't, make sure to dispose of the contents directly into a trash bin destined for a landfill, and wipe down the container with a paper towel in lieu of rinsing it out.
As far as packaging goes, recycling is key. "Each year, more than 120 billion units of packaging contribute to one quarter of landfill waste, much of it produced by the global cosmetics industry," says Gina Herrera, the U.S. Director of Brand Partnerships at TerraCycle. "The complex plastics of squeeze tubes, cream tubs, eyeliner and mascara wands, body wash bottles and powder compacts can take over 400 years to break down in a landfill." That's exactly why TerraCycle exists. The national recycling program accepts virtually all makeup, skin-care and hair-care packaging — from bottles to pumps to trigger heads — and makes sure each piece gets recycled through the proper channels.
TerraCycle offers a few different ways to take advantage of its planet-saving services. One is the Zero Waste Box program. "Individuals can purchase a box specially designed for beauty products and packaging," explains Herrera. "When the box is full, they return it to TerraCycle with a pre-paid shipping label for recycling." Or, you can drop off your #empties to a participating TerraCycle location. Through a partnership with physical L'Occitane stores, "We have a network of convenient drop-off locations across the country for consumers to drop off their empty beauty packaging," says Herrera. TerraCycle simply asks that all excess product has been removed and that the packaging is not wet when sent in or dropped off.
Once your bathroom cabinets are free and clear of clutter, the final step is to keep the first initial of "the three Rs" in mind: reduce. And when you do need to restock your #shelfie, turn to brands that actively offer sustainable solutions. "Currently TerraCycle is working with EOS, Burt's Bees, L’Occitane and Garnier, to name just a few," Herrera reveals (and you can find more eco-friendly brands here). "Through their relationship with us, all of these brands have created a viable system to recycle their packaging and help save the environment."