If you’re not a member of five or more Facebook buy, swap and sell groups, you’re not shopping right. While the constant ‘ping!’ of a notification every time someone uploads a new garment might be annoying, the chances of bagging a bargain are high. And then there’s the sustainability factor: buying pre-loved gives unwanted clothing a second life. Bonus points if your dress/skirt/handbag of choice was manufactured by an ethically-minded brand in the first place.

More and more, beauty aficionados are selling their unwanted skincare and makeup products online too, via the aforementioned Facebook groups, Reddit and eBay. Descriptions usually cite whether or not the product has been opened and how many times it was used. But just because you can buy discounted beauty products online, does that mean you should?

On face value, second-hand beauty sounds like a win, win situation. Sellers can make a quick buck by offloading a foundation, serum or moisturiser that they’ve barely used and probably shouldn’t have bought in the first place (win!). It ties nicely into this Marie Kondo moment we are all having, coupled with our desire to save more and waste less (Win, win!). Then, there’s the fact that savvy shoppers can nab a luxury or hard-to-find product for a fraction of the price. (Another win!)

However, there is a catch – buying second-hand (and usually gently-used) beauty products does not come without its risks – the germs, the counterfeit, the works.

So, we went ahead and broke it all down for you in one neat little guide. Bookmark it, screenshot it, send it to your friends and lovers, and pull it out next time you’re thinking of buying that dubious, half-used lipstick online.

Put on Your Private Investigator Hat

To ensure they live up to their potential, beauty products need to be stored correctly. That means away from extreme temperatures, direct sunlight or, perhaps, the shower if water contamination is an issue.

All products – particularly those with actives – have a use by date. A period after opening (POA) symbol on the back or the bottom of the bottle will explain how long you have to use it before it becomes ineffective. Usually, it’s somewhere between six and 24 months.

Questions to ask the seller:
How long have you owned this product?
Where was it stored?


No Scrubs, Please (Safety First)

When it comes to makeup, hygiene is a real issue. Some products put you more at risk than others. Mascara, for example, is a big no, no. Sorry to play bad cop, I’m only trying to help: Do you really want a used applicator, that has already come into direct contact with the eyes of a stranger, coming near your own? Think of all of the bacteria, fungus, or other microorganisms crawling around on there. Not so cute. The same goes for lip products.

Anything that comes in a pump bottle is your best bet, as is blush, bronzer and other powders – provided you BYO brush. As for skincare, purchasing anything gently-used that comes in a tub is risky business. Think about it: the previous owner has probably dipped their fingers in the product, even if it was only once or twice. I’ll let you sit and simmer on that for a minute.

Questions to ask the seller:
Has the product been opened?
How many times was it used?


Keep an Eye Out For Counterfeit

A friend of mine who is a marketing manager for a major skincare brand recently told me that she has occasionally spied the brand’s products for sale at unauthorised online marketplaces (otherwise known as the grey market.) She is 100 percent sure that these products are not authentic. Therefore, who knows what’s actually in the bottle; it could be anything. Moral of the story? Make sure the product was originally bought from a reputable supplier.

Questions to ask the seller:
Where did you buy the product from originally?


Our Final Verdict

You may spy a product for sale online that, for all intents and purposes, seems like a good deal. Perhaps it’s an almost-full bottle of NARS Liquid Blush in Orgasm or a bottle of YSL Touche Éclat Blur Primer. Not all second-hand beauty is bad – provided you know the risks and have asked the right questions. I mean, who doesn’t love a bargain?

Questions to ask yourself:
How many dollars am I willing to drop on a product that may or may not live up to its description?

How much will I cry if I expose myself to an infection?
How disappointed will I be if it doesn’t work?


Words, Erin Cook.