People Are Selling Makeup From Dumpster Dives. Should You Buy It?

Various makeup items.
Can you find this kind of makeup in a dumpster? (Photo: Getty Images)

There’s a new trend on YouTube for beauty haul lovers: the dumpster dive haul. People are illegally hitting the dumpsters of stores like Sephora and Ulta after hours to pillage their discarded testers and damaged and expired products — and they’re sharing videos of these illicit hauls on YouTube. Some are also giving away items from their hauls, while others are reselling them on eBay, Amazon, Muabs, Glambot, and even on Instagram.

The two main concerns this should raise for anyone doing it or purchasing gently used makeup are legality and hygiene. Starting with the latter, let’s examine what kinds of products these stores are throwing away. On the most bacteria-infected end of the spectrum are testers, which are never sold in the store. These items have been on the floor, touched by many hands, and applied to many bodies, which means they aren’t likely to be full or even half-full. That makes them undesirable on the resale market, so they’re unlikely to end up there — but divers who decide to use testers for themselves should plan to buy massive quantities of isopropyl alcohol and cosmetic wipes with which to disinfect.

No matter how much you clean these items, though, you don’t know who has been using them or how. “Would you use a friend’s toothbrush? Then why use their lipstick? The big risk with sharing lipstick is developing a viral infection, like a cold sore, or even a cold or flu,” dermatologist Dr. Samer Jaber tells Yahoo Beauty.

The next step down in the bacteria scale are products that may have been used in a handful of in-store makeovers, getting sanitized between uses, with most of the product still intact. These products can be sanitized and used again. However, caution is prudent. “The FDA urges consumers not to share cosmetics. Another person’s bacteria may be hazardous to you, and a cosmetic product may go bad if you store it the wrong way — for example, in a place that is too warm or too moist. Previously used cosmetics may have been stored under conditions that caused them to become adulterated. In addition, a cosmetic can become contaminated once its sealed container is opened,” Theresa Eisenman, a spokesperson for the FDA tells Yahoo Beauty. A dumpster strikes us as potentially warm and moist.

There are also damaged products, which may come in unopened packages, like an eyeshadow palette with one shadow damaged (which is easily cleaned and refurbished) or even products in boxes with exterior damage only.

Then there are expired products. Expired liquid products (including foundation, concealer, mascara, creams, liquid eyeliner, lip gloss, and shower gel) are obviously not recommended for use beyond their expiration date. Powder products, nail polishes, bar soap, lip and eye pencils, body lotions, and scrubs will last for two years, so if you find these in a dumpster dive, they were likely thrown out for being imperfect — which makes them usable but not sellable at a retail store. “The bottom line is that no retailer tosses inventory of perfectly good products,” says cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson. “That’s tossing profit in the dumpster. If they were thrown away, then there is likely a good reason for it. In some cases, it could be as minor as the shades didn’t match the standards to something more serious, such as micro issues or expired product. I wouldn’t advise taking the risk.”

If you’re going to take the risk anyway, makeup artist Mary Greenwell suggests focusing on products with a longer shelf life and liquids that pass the smell test. “The moment you feel it looks unhygienic, that’s when you throw your powders away,” Greenwell says. “Lipsticks are expired when they smell bad. It will smell rancid, and that’s when you throw it out. Something like a liquid foundation, of course, do not use them after they’ve expired. Things like a powder blush? Keep using them until you don’t want to use it any longer.” She also recommends staying away from highly synthetic brands and natural brands after expiration, as they’re both likely to do more harm than good to your skin beyond their recommended usage dates.

The other important question for divers is: How legal is it? The answer is complicated. Dumpster diving itself was made legal in California v. Greenwood, a 1988 Supreme Court case that ruled there is no expectation of privacy in your garbage and that once something is thrown out, it is in the public domain. Things get tricky when it comes to where the dumpster is located. If it’s on private property, as many strip malls are, with a no trespassing sign, then the property owner or store employees can call the police if they see you in their garbage and press trespassing charges. The punishment for that varies from community to community, so check your local statutes.

Corporal DeMarquis Black of the Dallas Police Department tells us that the most the DPD would do in this situation is charge someone with criminal trespass, which is a misdemeanor in Dallas. “If we catch a person in the act and they refuse to leave, that is also trespass,” Black says.

Reselling cosmetics is as legal as reselling books, clothes, or furniture. Once you own something, whether you purchased it or acquired it through other means, it is yours to do with as you wish as an individual. The question dumpster divers who resell must grapple with is one of the ethics. If you don’t know why an item was thrown out, you cannot ensure its safety. If you are potentially selling a bacteria-infested item, an item that is carrying a viral infection, an item that was discarded because it has been tampered with, or an item whose color or consistency is faulty, you may be passing on something that could do harm to another person.

“It is not safe to use cosmetics that have been ‘trashed,’ as they could be contaminated with bacteria, yeast, fungus, and viruses,” says dermatologist Dr. Amy Wechsler.

Ultimately, that’s also the problem with buying makeup from resale sites: You don’t know the product’s history or what germs it may contain. If you absolutely must, make sure you disinfect any products — no matter how gently used.

Additional reporting by Kristine Solomon.

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