Women Go to Extremes for Discontinued Beauty Products

If a go-to lip color or a miracle foundation goes unexpectedly MIA, it’s tough to say goodbye—even if the product’s brand does. So when a shade or a formula bites the dust, many women are left reeling.

MAC Cosmetics used to make a lipstick called Pecan, and 45-year-old Jennifer Fisherman-Ruff, a PR consultant from NYC, was a staunch devotee. So when she got word that the brand was calling it quits on the shade, she immediately took action to secure a stock. “When I really like something, I get scared of it changing,” says Fisherman-Ruff. “I am very particular.”

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While she was proactive about getting her hands on ample supply of her favorite MAC shade, that foresight wasn’t enough. Before long, Pecan quickly evaporated from the market and slowly filtered out of Fisherman-Ruff’s life. “I was even a consultant for the company at the time, and I could not get any more of it,” she says. “Their lead makeup artist tried to mix me a version, but the color was not exactly right. I also sent a sample out to copy, but still, no one got it quite right.”

Fisherman-Ruff has not forgotten her Pecan disappointment, and has taken to stocking the products she loves en masse since her 20s. She currently keeps three of each of her favorite foundations—Cover FX liquid foundation and Yves Saint Laurent touché éclat— on hand at all times, about 10 By Terry eyeliners in colors Brown Secret and Ebony, and a stash of faux eyelashes by Salon Perfect that are exclusively available at Walmart stores. “Since there is no Walmart on the Upper East Side, I ordered 30 pairs online,” Fisherman-Ruff says. And she’s not alone in her hoarding tactics.

Before turning to online re-sellers to find her favorite discontinued mousse, Sunsilk Hairapy Captivating Curls, Michigan-based IT consultant Caroline Lynch went through her fair share of panic as the final bottle of her product waned. “It was the only product that ever worked with my difficult natural curls and did not make them feel crunchy,” says Lynch. “I tried to buy a large enough supply, and when that ran out, someone found a bottle and gave it to me for my birthday one year.” Eventually she was down to the last drop of formula. “I tried to splice it together with another product to extend the life, but it didn’t work,” Lynch says. “After six years, I haven’t found a true replacement yet.”

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Trading in an old favorite for another brand’s alternative never seems to measure up for diehard fans. Instead, searching high and low, stocking up, and sending out for custom re-creations to keep their former favorites alive is common.

Carolyn Hennecy, a consultant and author in Florida, has used a now-discontinued Maybelline brush-on eyebrow powder for 15 years, which she currently buys off eBay. “And it has to be ‘light brown.’ Pencils just don’t compare,” she says. “You know how we women are. We don’t change hairdressers or gynecologists unless ours dies, and we do not fiddle around with switching up our old faithfuls in cosmetics.”

Discontinued cosmetics and hair products can drive bigger business than you might realize. Sites like DiscontinuedBeauty.com and BuyMeBeauty.com are popular destinations for rediscovering products that are no longer available from traditional retailers. Another source of salvation for many women, like Hennecy, is eBay, where rare hair and makeup products can sometimes go for hundreds of dollars a tube or bottle despite their secondhand, partially used, or questionably expired state.

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For those who simply can’t find their shades, you can have a fresh batch of a fading product mixed up by a specialist. Makeup artist Chad Hayduk saw women sweating it out for years whenever cosmetics were discontinued, making it tough for women to secure their signatures. “Cosmetics are discontinued for a wide variety of reasons; like with clothes, they eventually filter out,” says Hayduk. “But with clothes, I think most women understand that trends cycle in and out of fashion. You may find a sweater this year that won’t be on the market next year, and that’s OK. But with makeup, when it works for you and your skin tone, you want it over and over again.”

Hayduk co-founded Three Custom Colors Specialists with this in mind, where he serves as creative director. In just two and a half weeks, the team will whip you up a striking replacement. “One of our first customers had a favorite shade that she sent us, which had just been discontinued,” Hayduk says. “She said, ‘If you make me this shade, I’ll buy 200 of them.’ We made it for her, she said, ‘Yep, this is it,’ and she did.”

That customer’s lipstick of choice was Revlon’s Naked Pink, an opaque peachy-coral color that Hayduk says is now one of his company’s biggest sellers. Customers can search Three Custom’s database for thousands of discontinued products dating back to the 1930s — everything from lipstick to foundation, brow gel to bronzer — and the team will do their best to match exact color and texture. Even Angelina Jolie is a fan, ordering up Guerlain’s Divinora (480) when it was no longer available for purchase.

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Makeup is easier for a company to replicate, but hair product formulations are a different story. For Manhattan-based real-estate publicist Kelly Kreth Revlon Flex conditioner has always worked perfectly to manage her hair and has a fragrance she can’t fully explain. “It just has one of the most unique scents,” she says. “There is nothing that replicates it. It saddens me to think that scent will be gone.”

In hopes that that wouldn’t happen, Kreth went on an immediate search to secure more Flex when she found out it was discontinued, even enlisting strangers overseas to help her find a personal stash she could draw from at will. Unfortunately, shipping across the pond became an issue and she had to abandon the quest after about a month. For now, Kreth is simply savoring what’s left of her Flex supply. “I still have about seven bottles of conditioner in my bathroom like a bizarro museum display,” she says. “I only use it for very special occasions, like a romantic date.”

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Kreth is tongue-in-cheek about her Flex obsession, but she doesn’t deny it’s real. The man she’s seeing even seems to, if not totally understand, at least respect and appreciate her mad love of the product. “He and I speak about Flex actually! He associates me with that smell,” she says. “We’ve dated on and off for five years, so he knows the whole Flex story and, I hope, is honored I break out my stash for him.”