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Expensive Beauty Products Sell for Cheap on Resale Apps. How Safe Is It to Buy Them?

Allure logo Allure 8/14/2022 Emily K. Schwartz
© *Allure*/Channing Smith

It's hard to escape the attention resale apps like Poshmark, Depop, and thredUP have garnered in recent months. The pandemic gave us an excuse to shed the shoes and fancy 'fits we never wore and inflation has us seeking out more affordable options for our everyday lives. Enter: resale.

Here's the thing – while clothing, accessories, bags, jewelry, and shoes may get prime airtime, there's a flourishing resale category flying under the radar, even while it's quietly growing and thriving: beauty. At the time of writing, tapping on Poshmark’s "Makeup" category returned everything from an (allegedly) new Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Volupté Shine Lipstick7 (at $27, that's a $12 discount from Sephora's $39 listing) to a reportedly unused NuFace Trinity Facial Toning Device, complete with the charger and standard size gel (setting you back $160, or nearly half the cost of purchasing new for $339). Over on Depop, a "lightly used" cult favorite Ouai Wavy Hair Spray goes for $16, a bargain compared to its $28 price tag. Tempting, right?

For those unfamiliar, a quick primer on the resale space might be helpful. There are fundamentally two kinds of resale apps: consignment and peer-to-peer. Consignment apps like The RealReal or thredUP are supported by sellers who essentially sell their items to the app, and the business lists the items on the seller's behalf. The business takes photos, gathers measurements, creates the listing, and sets the price. When the item sells, the seller receives a percentage of the revenue from the sold piece. When you purchase from a consignment app, you're purchasing from the business, not an individual seller. 

This model differs from peer-to-peer resale apps like Poshmark, Depop, Vestiare Collective, or even broader-scope platforms like Facebook Marketplace and eBay. On these sites, sellers create a hub for their items and take care of the photography, measurements, listing, and pricing on their own. It's more work, but the payoff is also greater – these businesses have fewer overhead costs to cover, so the seller keeps a higher percentage of the sale price.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, dedicated peer-to-peer resale apps have emerged as popular destinations to buy and sell pretty much anything. While some apps focus on primarily luxury brands, others run the gamut, and have expanded to include categories like pets, home, electronics, and – of course – beauty. Poshmark claims 80 million users across the United States, Canada, and Australia, with a sale happening every second in the U.S. alone. Gen-Z favorite Depop, acquired by Etsy for $1.6 billion in 2021, claims 30 million registered users, with approximately 90% of users under the age of 26

With tens of millions of users flocking to these apps to buy, sell, and even trade, one has to wonder: what's going on with beauty and resale?

Who buys beauty resale? 

Kate Minina, a 29-year-old software engineer based in Maryland, turned to retail apps when she began buying more luxury makeup products. “I realized buying a $90 eyeshadow quad was ridiculous,” she tells Allure. "After some reviews, I decided to check out these resale apps, and they were like twice as cheap. I got super into the brand Tom Ford and I've bought multiple quads on resale apps. For an $88, $90 quad, I would pay $35 to $50, so a pretty good deal." 

Behnaz B., a 35-year-old who asked that her last name not be used, recently bought a travel-sized, unopened Olaplex shampoo and conditioner on Poshmark to prepare for a trip to Madrid. "If someone is trying to get rid of something, and I need that something, why not?" she asks. "As a consumer, I'm trying to be greener. It seems like a better, more ethical decision." But she still has limits: "I probably would never ever in a million years buy, like, a deodorant, or something that has been used on [someone else's] body."

The "used on the body" factor is a line that several buyers seem to reflect on, at times trying to understand their own aversion or comfort with specific items in the beauty category.

For Melissa Lim, a 32-year-old product manager from London, it's important that she purchase unused products on resale apps, "because it's such a personal item." And then there are the beauty-fashion hybrid items that make more sense to buy, like hair accessories. "Simone Roche, one of my favorite designers, collaborated with H&M… she had these beautiful flower hair clips. I couldn't get my hands on them when the sale launched so I ended up finding them on Depop and I bought a couple there for my friend as well," Lim adds.

Carradine McAlpine, a 37-year-old product operations manager based in Denver, feels the same. “Scrunchies, that's less questionable… and I might consider [purchasing] perfume. But moisturizer? No thank you! Something that I would put on my eyes, absolutely not.”

From makeup to skin care to hair care and beyond, the beauty category on resale apps spans far and wide. On Poshmark alone, the "Makeup" category includes 19 subcategories, from "Lashes" to "Nail Tools" to "Setting Powder & Spray." The "Bath & Body" category includes nine subcategories, the "Skincare" category 11 subcategories, and the "Hair" category another nine subcategories. And that's not even including the separate section dedicated to kids' bath, skin care, and hair care. Depop's Beauty category is a little more manageable to navigate, with six subcategories plus a seventh "Beauty - Other"  catchall – where, subjectively, nail decals, makeup bags, and miscellaneous tools seem especially prevalent.

What beauty resale fans will never buy.

Not everyone is eager to jump on the beauty resale train. Sarah Myers, a 28-year-old student and writer based in New York City, is a fashion resale enthusiast who has reservations about shopping and selling the beauty category on resale apps. "Whatever touches my skin and goes on my body goes into my body… there's an 'ick' factor there," she says. "I kind of stay away from beauty products in the resale market."

Minina, who's also shopped for beauty on eBay and Mercari in addition to Poshmark, adds that she "prefers" to buy new beauty products — but she'll turn to resale if a product is expensive or discontinued. "If it's not new, I'm looking for pretty close-up pictures of the item [to be included in the listing]," she says. "If there's a dip in the pan or if it's heavily worn, I might comment and ask for extra pictures. If there aren't close-up photos, I'm not comfortable bidding on it."

Scrolling through the seemingly endless list of beauty products for sale can be daunting and overwhelming, especially for users who haven't spent much time on these applications and aren't familiar with unique lingo or norms. For example, "NIB" is shorthand for "new in box." "VGUC" stands for "very good used condition." Before purchasing a product, it's also wise to make sure the seller is active by commenting or checking their profile.

Who is actually selling all this stuff?

It's easy to identify all the reasons one might turn to resale apps to shop beauty products: price, locating discontinued or hard-to-find items, shopping more sustainably, and finding collectable or exclusive products are just a few of the reasons. But what motivates sellers?

"I hate clutter," says Behnaz B. "A few years ago I bought the Dyson hairdryer for $500. I have the [Dyson] Airwrap now, so I'm getting rid of the hairdryer. I'm also getting rid of hair tools that feel like they're redundant for me at this point. I have two or three platforms where I'll post and see where I get the highest offer." 

Minina decided to sell her products to get rid of clutter that inevitably comes to anyone who decides to start a beauty routine from scratch. "When I originally got into makeup, I wasn't really sure what I needed," she says. "Later, I decided that some products are just not my thing." As long as she hasn't used a product too much, and she can make at least $15 off of a sale, she thinks it's worth posting.

What does it mean to not use a product "too much"? For Minina, it's more of an art than a science, but makeup that is "super used" goes in the trash, not the resale apps, in part because selling takes significant time and effort. Taking photos, writing listing descriptions, negotiating prices, packaging items, and driving to the post office usually takes at least an hour in total. That energy only seem worth it if she can walk away with a good sale. 

Before selling a used eyeshadow palette or blush, for example, she'll check to make sure the imprint is still intact, clean off any loose powder or residue, and mist alcohol over the pan. "I don't sell used liquid products," she adds. "I wouldn't purchase those used, so I don’t sell those used." Minina also stresses that she’ll avoid selling anything that’s particularly fragile that could break or crumble during shipping, as it’s "not fair to the buyer."

Do experts recommend beauty resale?

Whether you’re a veteran or brand new to the game, shopping and selling resale beauty shouldn’t be something you take lightly, advises Katie Roche, owner of Eleven11 Skincare and Laser in Denver.

"[Resale sellers] are not licensed professionals," Roche says. "To get products directly from a company like Skinceuticals, for instance, you have to be a licensed spa or skin-care studio to actually purchase them directly from the company. For me to actually get these products I have to jump through hoops, submit paperwork, have my medical director submit their license number because they're strong, medical-grade products. If you don't apply them correctly or use something that's not for your skin type, things can go wrong." (In case you were wondering, there are hundreds of Skinceuticals listings on Poshmark and Depop alone.)

In other words: buyer beware.

That prestige moisturizer on Poshmark? As Roche puts it, you have "no idea whose finger was in there." Trying out someone else's bond builder on Depop? "You don't know that the product is stable, or that it's not contaminated."

Many beauty listings across both peer-to-peer and consignment resale apps claim to be new, unopened, or sealed. Great, no concern, right? Not quite – even unopened products expire, and the age of a product isn't always clear on resale apps. Loretta Ciraldo MD FAAD, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skincare, warns that "Even if the seller doesn't put their fingers in [a product], there could be bacteria overgrowth, fungus, or yeast, just because the preservative system isn't effective anymore." 

Roche adds that factors like temperature and humidity can also impact the efficacy of products, especially in hot, summer months when a package might be sitting in a warm truck, mailbox, or on a front stoop for an extended period of time. "The number one risk is you have no idea what you're putting on your face or on your skin," she says. "If something is not the correct formulation or has the right ingredients, it can cost you a lot of money in the long run."

OK, but how do I resale responsibly?

So, what's one to do if shopping the beauty category on resale apps is too impossible to resist? Roche stresses the importance of checking expiration dates and making sure the item is not opened.  "A lot of products have around a six-month shelf-life once the seal is cracked," she says. Along with checking expiration dates, look for a PAO (period after opening) date. 

This symbol usually looks like a jar with a number of months underneath it, which indicates how long an item can be used safely and effectively after it's been opened or pumped. "That number is usually between 6 and 12 months, and that's basically how long the product is good for," adds Roche. Many products in their original packaging will also have a batch code on the box, which is a manufacturer's way of tracking batches over time (Roche adds that this is often mostly used by brands to track product in the event there is a bad batch). Both buyers and sellers can look up this code online to confirm the age of the product.

There are practical steps you can take as a seller to mitigate risk and support buyer satisfaction when selling in the beauty category. For example, store formulations in a cool, dark place or in a beauty fridge away from sunlight, heat, and humidity to help preserve efficacy and potency. When possible, keep products sealed and take photos of the sealed item rather than opening the product to capture more detailed photos. If you're going to list a product that has been used or opened, be explicit and honest in your listing description about the use, how long the product has been opened, and how/where it has been stored. Take clear photos so buyers can make informed choices when browsing, and so your seller rating doesn’t take a hit for misrepresenting a listing. 

And if shopping and selling resale is increasingly becoming part of your regular routine, consider keeping packaging and paperwork – especially for devices, accessories, and high-value items – to help demonstrate authenticity if you decide to resell. 

Resale app popularity, the rise of TikTok beauty influence, inflation, plus the desire to live more "sustainably" has the resale beauty category poised for continued growth. For the beauty lovers among us, sensible reminders on how to shop and sell safely are paramount.

"In this economy, I totally understand why people might want to look at these resale sites, but when it's something that's going to interact with your skin, your hair, your nails – those kinds of things I would be concerned to buy [on resale apps]," adds Dr. Ciraldo. "Be very careful with things like nail products, cuticle cutters, files, manicure sets. You're better off buying a cheap, new manicure set than something that looks appealing that’s used."

So, what beauty product is fair game in the resale economy? Dr. Loretta considers items like "mirrors, makeup bags, and compacts" to be far less risky purchases.

Time to go zhuzh up responsibly.

Read more about beauty product safety: 

And now, watch Kim Kardashian answer beauty questions: 

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