You may ask, “can you return makeup?” but should you? Here is what employees behind the makeup counters wish you knew

It’s happened to everyone. You purchased a new brand of foundation only to find the product is lackluster with no coverage. You may have spent $40 on it! Of course, you want your money back, so you plan on a trip to do what anyone else would do: return makeup. 

Until recently, I would have done the same thing. Then I saw a video of an Ulta employee showing what happens to returned items on Tik Tok. While filming, she takes the lids off several premium brand products and pours it into a garbage can under the Ulta counter. It’s the worst part of her job.

Cosmetics on a counter

Why not return makeup purchases?

You may think you are doing the responsible action for returning products. After all, if you are not going to use it, it should be available to others instead. Plus, you should get your wasted money back. You would think this is the least wasteful option.

Unfortunately, making a return is the most wasteful route you can take when it comes to makeup. Big brand stores like Ulta and Sephora make it a policy that employees must throw away all returns. And to make sure no one goes through their garbage for barely used makeup, employees must destroy it first.

So they have to open containers, pour the product out into the bin to be thoroughly wasted.

Meaning the entire product, container and all, are completed wasted. Not only that, but it also means we’re disposing of products inappropriately. Most cosmetics, packaging, and toiletry are not naturally derived or biodegradable.

Just think about all the shampoos alone, poured out to the ground. Soaking into the soil and poisoning the greenery. Then after a process of condensation, saturates the rain and spreading its chemical traces. This is only one of the reasons why chemicals have extended to our natural waters. It affects land life, sea life, and our lives insidiously.

Knowing all of this, you’ll watch this video of an employee pouring shampoo into the trash bin with a whole new light. It’s dreadful to watch.

This employee claims at the store she works at alone throw away $1000 worth of makeup a week.

Why do stores do this?

Stores like Ulta and Sephora have their reasons to do this despite the evident loss financially. It’s worth noting all retailers allot for stolen, returned, and damaged products in their financial planning. It’s a reality of brick-and-mortar. So while they may lose money, its money they predict they’ll lose.

It seems like there are two real reasons for this policy. 

First, they do not want the problem of dumpster divers. Having people digging through your garbage can is not a cool look when you’re trying to be an on-trend place. Big brands even consider this behavior stealing!

I could write another article about what I think about that line of logic, but I’ll stay on topic.

Big brands will and have reported people who dig through their garbage for “trespassing” and “theft. The best way to keep the dumpster divers away is not to have anything worth “stealing.”

The other reason is there is a liability of having used cosmetics available to other people. Any makeup artist will tell you the importance of cleanliness and preventing cross-contamination. 

The threat of spreading viral infections is very real. Sharing brushes or product can quickly transfer conditions like pink eye and other germs. 

For this reason alone, I understand the policy.

And yet, these consequences are wholly wasteful and harmful.

Can you return makeup?

What to do instead

So it seems these big brand stores and shops have their hands tied with this issue.

In a perfect world, I think makeup stores need to come up with a better solution. Or, in the very least, refuse returns or install proper disposal methods to minimize environmental harm.

It’s up to us, the consumers, to take action while the big brands do nothing. 

When trying out a new brand or product, practice cleanliness. If possible, use it with a new brush or clean applique. Don’t use your fingers or apply the product directly to your face to where it touches. Don’t cross-contaminate with your other items or applicators.

That way, if you decide it’s not for you, you won’t have introduced germs to it. Better safe than sorry!

Then I recommend you either give it away or earn back some of your money spent by giving it to a friend or selling it through social media like Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark, or Craigslist.

That way, you are skipping the guaranteed waste of it and hopefully letting someone else use it. If you’re able to sell it at the price you bought it (or a reduced price), you’ll have made at least some money back.

Don’t be discouraged if no one buys it immediately. It may take a little while to sell. You’ll be surprised, though, how many people are happy to accept used items off your hands!

Anything else we can do?

Another thing you can do is write letters and pressure these brands to do better. Throwing perfectly useful products away into the garbage is actively harmful to the environment. We must start demanding solutions to problems like this; otherwise, they won’t have any reason to change. Companies will do as well as what is expected of them. If we want better protocols, we have to expect it.

The change is slow, but you need only to look ten years ago to see how much progress we’ve made in the cosmetic industry. Let’s keep going!

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