Free the birds

Beauty, Retail

Secondhand Beauty – Yuck or Yay For Brands?

Reselling or ‘recommerce’ is now firmly established in the fashion market but. Physical vintage and pre-loved stores and peer-to-peer consumer platforms like eBay have been joined by slick operations led by, or in partnership, with fashion brands. It makes perfect business sense. Secondhand clothing sales exist whether brands approve or not, so why not make profit selling the same garment multiple times – and keep control of brand quality while doing it? It’s cheaper and it can assuage our guilt over fast fashion’s wastefulness while still delivering newness. Brands like Patagonia and platforms like ThredUp and The RealReal all offer quality and designer fashion recommerce. A trend that is clearly set to continue, if my own buying habits are anything to go by. But what about secondhand beauty?

In recent months there’s been a whole wave of articles appear in the media from the Business of Fashion and Vogue to Elle and the Guardian all talking about secondhand beauty reselling. Everyone loves a bargain and to be able to get their hands on product outside their budget for less, or on Limited Editions they originally missed out on or just to collect for less.

And with some skincare and fragrances now costing many hundreds of pounds, I certainly see the attraction! Not to mention the fact that if things don’t work or don’t suit me, I don’t just want to wastefully send them to landfill. And I’m not alone, a survey conducted by Ipsos for Vogue Business found that 37% of people surveyed were interested in unopened secondhand beauty products, with nearly half (49%) being driven by a love of value and 29% doing it to be less wasteful.



Element5 Digital on Unsplash.

As a result, there are scores of Facebook groups and other social sites where secondhand beauty selling is legion – secondhand but new and ‘lightly-used’ products – sometimes even actively encouraged by indie brand owners who see it as sustainable and a good way to brand build. More formally in the US, Glambot is dedicated to beauty recommerce with lightly used products from brands such as Glossier, Charlotte Tilbury, Hourglass and Jeffree Star lab-tested and sterilised before selling, and Poshmark now has an official beauty online market as of 2019, with beauty sales generally allowed since 2015. Even in germ-conscious Japan, rather surprisingly, secondhand beauty is a leading category on Mercari, its leading peer-to-peer selling site. Millennials in particular seeing beauty reselling as an integral part of the Japanese life concept Mottainai “what a waste” which informs crafts like Kintsugi, broken pottery mended with gold lacquer.

However, despite the consumer appetite – myself included – beauty *is* a lot trickier than fashion. Quite literally health and safety not gone mad, at all. Makeup can easily be a direct source of bacterial, viral and fungal pathogens from usage (particularly on eyes or lips with applicators) and not just makeup, anything involving fingers in jars is a no-no. Or even more trickily, the issue of degradation of the product after the expiration date has been reached once opened; nearly impossible to determine when that was in a secondhand beauty market. And the risks to brands can be high: Sephora had to settle a lawsuit in 2019 with a woman who claimed she’d contracted herpes (cold sores) from a lipstick in store, for example. And, quite understandably Ipsos found that 68% of people cited worries about bacteria and hygiene as the top reason they wouldn’t buy beauty secondhand.


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Chanel beauty on Mercari.

If brands do want to go down the reselling road, they would need to either strictly limit which types of products they resell (products with airless pumps, applicator-free or non-contact with skin, for example) or be absolutely 100% certain of their hygiene practices or – indeed – both! Think shaving and trimming powder formats and lipstick bullets and medical-grade sterilisation protocols. Because of that I think it’s very likely that while the upsides are good (double margins, being able to shout about their sustainability etc) the potential downsides for big brands are just too hard to shoulder. It’s more likely that Glambot or the like will be the ones to shoulder that risk for them, with small indies focused on sustainablity the most likely to get in on the act directly. It will definitely be interesting to see how this trend develops in 2020.

Nick Vaus.