Makeup is expensive – trust us, we know. In an age of very, very convenient online shopping platforms, we now have the option of buying pre-loved makeup at a heavily discounted price.
To some people, the idea in itself may already gross them out – who wants to buy and use makeup that’s already been opened and used by a random stranger? But to others who aren’t as concerned about this, the temptation of getting almost brand new makeup at a much lighter price tag can be overwhelming.
Buying second-hand makeup and skincare products can be perfectly acceptable in some cases, but there are also several red flags that you need to look out for.
With potentially expired or contaminated beauty products, the best case scenario you can hope for is simply that the product no longer works as effectively as it is intended to. The worst case scenario can include painful infections, allergic reactions, and other unpleasant medical conditions that no one would want to suffer through.
We’re here with some tips to help you stay away from nasty situations after your next pre-loved purchase.
1. Be very aware of the shelf life of beauty products
All right, hands up: how many of us are guilty of not checking out the remaining shelf life of beauty products before we buy them? Some of us are more diligent about this than others, but this is certainly something that all of us should keep in mind when buying any product at all, not just pre-loved ones.
There are two things you need to keep in mind regarding shelf life: there is an expiration date, and there is a limited period after opening (PAO).
- Expiration date: this is the date on which the beauty product is no longer usable, even if it has remained unopened.
- Period after opening: after the product is first opened, this is how long more it can keep
The product is considered expired when it reaches the expiration date or the limit of the period after opening, whichever is earlier.
Even if the product is still well within its intended shelf life, it’s still a good idea to test the product if you can, just so you can spot if there is any suspicious discolouration or funky smell. It’s very possible for products to go bad before their shelf life is up if they were not stored properly.
Many beauty products only list manufacturing dates and batch numbers, so you may or may not be able to find the expiration date on the product itself. Ask the seller for these details, and input them into online calculators like Checkfresh.com and Checkcosmetic.net.
This step is relevant whether you’re buying a pre-loved or a BNIB product!
Period after opening (PAO)
This is the little symbol that you see everywhere but never really take much notice of:
These symbols give you an indication how long your product is good for after it’s been opened. A symbol with ‘6M’ written means it’s good for 6 months after first opening, ’12M’ means 12 months and so on.
This is particularly important when you’re buying pre-loved beauty products. Even if the seller had only opened it, and hadn’t done anything with it, air has already been introduced into the tube which hastens the makeup’s degradation process, and the PAO will start from that day on.
Usually, sellers should remember at least the month, if not week, in which they first opened the product. If they can only give a very vague answer, whether to buy the product or not will be up to your own discretion.
Can’t find either of those details?
What happens if you’ve met up with the seller and you can’t seem to find any batch number, expiry date, or even the PAO symbol on the box?
We’d recommend to err on the side of caution, and reject the sale. No amount of discount is worth the risk of getting infections!
2. Opt for meet-ups and pay cash
Arranging a meet-up with the seller may be a good idea if you want to be triple sure that you are getting what you paid for. Being able to check the product before you hand over your cash means you’ll be able to 100% certain that you aren’t going to get an expired, near-expiry, or otherwise non-usable product.
This isn’t as necessary for BNIB (brand new in box) products, although it’s still a good idea since they still have expiry dates and you want to make sure you’re going to get something that’s still in good condition for your money.
3. These types of packaging is generally safe to get pre-loved
Not all beauty products are created equal. Some have a higher risk of degradation or transmitting infections, but there are some which you can be more at ease about buying at a second-hand marketplace.
- Products that come in squeezable tubes, sprays, or pump bottles: these types of packaging prevents people from contacting unused product, so there’s a much smaller chance of bacterial transmission. Be sure to sanitise the nozzle or tip though!
- Nail polish: because of the chemicals in nail polish, it doesn’t grow bacteria and fungus as readily as other cosmetic products. As long as they haven’t hardened entirely, you can easily shake them up or add some nail polish thinner and continue using them. Also be sure to clean and completely sanitise the brush before using it. This is also why it’s generally safe for nail salons to use the same bottle of nail polish on different customers.
- Makeup accessories and tools in good condition: these are generally much easier to clean and sanitise. For those made entirely of metal, you can even throw them into a cup of isopropyl alcohol for a thorough disinfection.
4. Stay away from anything liquid-based
Since water is one of the most necessary ingredient for bacteria to thrive, makeup that is liquid-based will naturally have the strongest tendency to breed someone else’s bacteria. Avoid these ones at all cost! There’s always an affordable, brand new option in stores somewhere.
- Any eye-area makeup, especially mascaras and eyeliners: your eyes are very sensitive and very susceptible to infections so you really don’t want cross-contaminated products that have touched someone else’s eye before.
- Lip glosses, liquid lipsticks, or any product that come in dip tubes: the wand is taken out, applied to someone’s lips or skin, and then dipped back into the product. We don’t need to explain why it’s impossible to sanitise this properly.
- Anything that comes in tubs: our hands and fingers contact the most surfaces through the day, which means that they also breed the most bacteria and fungi. A tub packaging means that someone else has dipped their finger (who knows if they’ve cleaned their hands thoroughly?) into the product, leaving whatever microorganisms breeding inside.
- Makeup sponges: we don’t know anyone who would want to buy, or even sell, a used makeup sponge, but we’re just leaving it here just in case. Makeup sponges soak up everything and they’re almost impossible to clean and disinfect thoroughly because of the material used in making them.
5. These products are in the grey area, so proceed with caution!
With powder makeup, such as powder foundations, setting powders, and blushes, the jury is still out. For those that come in compact pans, such as eyeshadow palettes and most blushes, it’s generally easy enough to rub off the topmost layer which would have contacted another person’s finger or makeup brush.
For loose powders, things can get a little bit more tricky. Powders are generally seen as less likely to breed bacteria since they are formulated without water, which bacteria need to thrive. But because they’re impossible to sterilise, you just never quite know.
The same also goes with traditional lipstick bullets. They’re not as bacteria-friendly as liquid lipsticks, and it’s easy enough to wipe off or even cut off the topmost portion of the bullet that would have contacted someone else’s lips. You can even find ways to sterilise a lipstick bullet on the Internet, which involves dipping the entire lipstick into isopropyl alcohol and then freezing it overnight.
However, we’re not 100% sure how effective sterilising lipsticks really is in preventing transmission of bacteria and the like. Furthermore, lipsticks are products that contact your lips and your oral cavity after all, and we’d like to be a bit more careful about that. You can use your own judgement call here to decide how willing you’d be to buy a pre-loved lipstick bullet!
You may want to check out our review of the beautiful, marble-themed Dear Dahlia products. Psst, we’re giving them away too!