Dumpster-Diving Is a Growing Beauty Trend — But How Healthy Is It?

Kristine Solomon
Style and Beauty Writer
Yahoo Beauty
Would you use beauty products scavenged from dumpsters — even if they were sealed? (Photo: Getty)
Would you use beauty products scavenged from dumpsters — even if they were sealed? (Photo: Getty)

When you hear the term “dumpster-diving,” you probably think of “freegans” and other opportunistic people who rummage through the trash in wealthy neighborhoods and behind supermarkets looking for discarded yet still-edible food. But a new type of dumpster-diving has been growing in popularity in the past few years. Scavenging for expensive beauty products is more popular than ever all over the country, says Ohio-based news station Fox 19.

High-end cosmetics stores like Ulta and Sephora are typical targets for people who are looking to score pricey goods for free, either for personal use or — more likely — to resell at discounted prices. The thriftiest among them even manage to make a living off of hawking the tossed items. According to Fox 19, Angel Jones of Chicago has turned her penchant for salvaging posh products into a full-time job. And a man from New Jersey, James Jugan, told Racked that he makes 100% of his income from selling beauty products he rescues from dumpsters.

Jones and Jugan are just two of a growing number of people who have mastered the art of transforming trash into treasure. Most dumpster divers are interested in lightly used and brand new makeup, lotions, and other cosmetics, which they can they resell on sites like eBay, according to Fox 19. But other scavengers are simply interested in the packaging. “Empty boxes, paper shopping bags, hangers, shoe and purse dust covers, pieces of ribbon” from posh stores like Chanel, Christian Dior, and Burberry are often rescued from the garbage and sold to customers for various purposes. For instance, realtors might use them to stage homes, or decorators might transform them into art.

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Dumpster divers may be making a small fortune off of their habit, but store owners are not amused. Some retailers will deliberately damage products before tossing them in the trash, according to Racked, and stores like Chanel and Tiffany & Co. in New York City are known to shred and destroy their signature bags and boxes before disposing of them, so they’ll be worthless to those looking to make a profit off of them.

While there are upsides to this practice, there’s one major downside to dumpster-diving that should deter practitioners but somehow hasn’t yet: it’s unhealthy and could lead to illness and disease. “You come in contact with germs,” admits Jones, who does it anyway. “You must be careful to not stick yourself. Diabetic patients throw needles away. You must get gloves to protect yourself,” she tells Fox 19. And the cosmetics particularly breed germs when they’ve been opened already. Once the seal on a product is broken, it’s not worth the risk of using it, says the Ohio State Board of Cosmetology to Fox 19. “Cosmetics should not be re-used because [they] cannot be cleaned.”

But even if the products are sealed, they could be unhealthy to use if they’re past their expiration date or have been exposed to severe temperatures. Dr. Elma Baron, a dermatologist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center who was interviewed by a news station in Cleveland, says hunting for and using cosmetics that have been discarded can lead to serious skin conditions and even a trip to the hospital. “Itchy skin, red skin, inflamed skin, even acne or eruptions that look like acne” are some the potential consequences, Baron told the station.

Of course, dumpster divers can also get into legal trouble. Though the laws allowing or prohibiting the practice aren’t clear, Fox 19 says that, depending on the city, “police could charge you with trespassing or scavenging.” Some people, it seems, are willing to risk paying a hefty price for beauty — and for making (or saving) a buck. Could you?

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