The dangers of buying used makeup online

There’s a growing trend of second-hand makeup sales online (yes, it’s a thing), but experts are warning about the potential pitfalls of pre-loved cosmetics.

Everyone loves a beauty bargain, but at what price?

A quick search on social media reveals plenty of second-hand makeup for sale, ranging from high-end luxury products to affordable brands.

There’s plenty of choice, with everything from foundations, eye shadows and mascara through to lipstick and lip glosses on offer.

Sellers may claim products are “used once”, “lightly used” or “swatched” (they have applied a sample of the product to the skin to check the colour and finish).

While eBay has a strict policy against selling used cosmetics due to “health and safety concerns”, a number of websites and social media pages do allow second-hand makeup sales.

But experts warn purchasing second-hand beauty products does have potential downsides.

Is it safe to use second-hand makeup?

“As a general rule, if the product has been used or is open, then no,” says The Wellness Group aesthetic nurse practitioner Madeline Calfas.

“There’s a time and a place that you save your money and go for a bargain; I draw the line at second-hand mascara.

“There are so many different product ranges, from really affordable to extremely expensive ones and anywhere in between; there’s no justification for buying second-hand used makeup.”

Products have safety seals for a reason, she says.

“If they’re broken don’t buy them. You don’t know who has done what to the product,” Madeline says.

The health risks of buying used makeup

Madeline says second-hand makeup may put you at risk of serious infection.

“The previous owner may have had conjunctivitis and not have known it, or they may have had some other kind of infection,” Madeline explains.

Celebrity makeup artist Stephanie J Lacorcia says used makeup may can contain bacteria that causes skin, hair follicle or fungal infections.

“Contaminated eye products can transfer infections like conjunctivitis, while the herpes infection can be contracted from any lip products,” she says.

Stephanie says there is also a risk the products may be counterfeits that do not meet cosmetics standards.

“They can often be riddled with a variety of toxic ingredients such as lead, mercury and arsenic, just to name a few, which can cause chemical burns and rashes,” she says.

In 2019 a California woman was left in a coma for weeks for after using a skin cream tainted with methylmercury, which she had bought through an “informal network”.

Can you sterilise second-hand beauty products?

Madeline explains sanitising is giving something a quick clean, while sterilising involves giving it a medical grade clean.

“How do you sterilise a mascara? You can’t,” Madeline says.

“Makeup products are not designed to go in a sterilising machine.”

Tips for keeping your existing makeup clean and hygienic

Stephanie recommends:

  1. Invest in a makeup brush cleaner

Use a cleaner with a very high alcohol content or a simple rubbing alcohol, and try to disinfect tools and products as much as possible.

“This will also help combat any bacteria growth to avoid acne and blocked pores,” says Stephanie.

It is best to clean makeup brushes and sponges after every use – but at least three times a week – to avoid bacteria growth and build up.

  1. Check the use-by date on the bottom or side of the pack

There should be a numeral – usually 6, 12 or 24 – inside a symbol of a container, which indicates the number of months the item should be kept once opened.

“I recommend three to six months maximum for mascara if used daily or until you see or feel consistency changes in the product such as clumping, dryness or flakiness,” says Stephanie.

Written by Bianca Carmona.