I’ve worked in the cosmetics industry for many years, working on everything from a premium salon haircare brand to budget buys in Savers. During that time I amassed a huge amount of knowledge about retailers, budgets, product quality and generating revenue – something that the general public are mostly oblivious to, often to their detriment. A conversation started on Twitter recently about ‘bargains’ some people had been finding in Poundland; recommendations were flying all over the place and my heart nearly stopped. Did people seriously think they were onto a trick paying a quid for a product that’s probably been sitting in a damp stockroom for the past three years? Here are my reasons (and hopefully a thorough explanation) of why you should stay away from buying cosmetics in discount retailers.
How do the products end up in Poundland?
Although a lot of brands produce special products specifically for discount retailers such as Poundland (shower gels, budget buys and special sizes,) an awful lot of stock ends up in Poundland as a last resort to generate revenue. From my experience, when a company is in difficulty or it just wants to free up some warehouse space, they try to shift old stock at rock bottom prices to help with their bottom line. You may find a Sally Hansen nail varnish or a Maybelline mascara and feel like you’ve struck gold, but the chances are that’s been sat in a warehouse for a few years and the manufacturer or brand just wanted rid of it. Products and shades get discontinued all the time from the major retailers (Boots, Superdrug, Selfridges…) so the brand has to take back the stock at a cost to them. What do you do when you have 100,000 old nail varnish colours that you can’t sell through your traditional channels? You flog them to someone for pennies so you can at least regain some of that lost revenue. Although this may sound fine, sometimes this process takes years and often involves a third party overseas – making the product condition even worse.
Why should I avoid buying makeup from discount retailers?
Put simply, you don’t know where it’s come from or how old it is. When you buy a lipgloss from Boots or House of Fraser, you know that it’s of expected quality and has been stored in the right conditions to ensure its lifespan is maintained. When you buy products from somewhere such as Poundland, you’ve no idea where they’ve got the stock from (legitimate or otherwise) or how long it’s been sat in a cardboard box in a warehouse. Like any product, makeup has a shelf life – the PAO number on the back of every bottle shows how long it’s ‘good’ for after you’ve opened it. However, this is based on ‘normal’ conditions of storage, not on it being shipped around the world twice and left in a damp storage container in Watford. (A touch of poetic license there!) No product will ever be airtight, so there will always be a risk of foreign particles, dust or other nasty things getting inside.
So what if the product is a bit out of date. Does it matter?
Absolutely yes. Your face is a very sensitive thing, so applying out of date makeup can cause all sorts of problems; allergic reactions, conjunctivitis, rashes and much more. Even applying old nail varnish can cause eye irritations – it may be applied to a nail, but you unintentionally touch your eyes and face hundreds of times a day, transferring the polish particles as you do so. Nail varnish is known to be one of the biggest causes of irritation, which is why brands such as Clinique have invested in the development of irritant-free formulas. You wouldn’t buy a can of baked beans, leave it in the cupbaord for ten years and expect it to still taste good; similarly, you shouldn’t expect old makeup to be good for you either.
How old is the makeup in these retailers?
Using my powers of deduction (and knowledge from when I worked on some of the brands now available for £1.00 in retailers across the country,) I’ve been able to establish that some of the products are up to five years old. I found a variety of Bourjois nail varnishes that I know were launched in 2007 and discontinued soon after, as well as a huge selection of Sally Hansen products that have a design from before 5ive split up. Although many of the powder products don’t seem to be quite as old (my estimations are around the three year point,) there’s no guarantee how long ago they were actually produced. I would hope you wouldn’t willingly part with cash in Boots for a five year old nail polish, so please don’t change the rules for Poundland.
Should I be worried about buying makeup from anywhere else?
Unfortunately yes. A lot of online discounted retailers operate in a similar way, buying old or discontinued stock at extremely cheap prices in order to offer ‘bargains’ that so many people buy into. One retailer that kept cropping up and causing a lot of concern was Fragrance Direct; I received an absolutely tonne of tweets from people explaining they’d purchased something that was clearly not the quality they expected. Issues have included the scent of fragrances being wrong, the texture of foundations being dodgy and the separation of makeup formulas. Once I had a look at the makeup products on offer I could understand why – they are currently selling lipglosses that were discontinued from mainstream retailers in the UK around six years ago.
In the interests of fairness I contacted Sally Hansen (the products pictured) and Poundland for a statement, but have yet to have a reply. I also got in touch with Fragrance Direct and here’s what they had to say: “None of our suppliers agreed with your statements that unopened cosmetics stored in correct temperatures have a specific shelf life from the date of manufacture, or that the efficiency of unopened cosmetics stored in correct temperatures declines over time. Please do reassure your readers that our warehouse conditions are carefully temperature controlled to protect the quality and longevity of our cosmetics and fragrance products. We purchase all of our cosmetics from authorised distributors who often act on behalf of the major manufacturers in taking up the stock when the manufacturers refresh their colour ranges. In many instances, customers have provided positive feedback that we have allowed them to purchase their favourite product or shade that they can no longer find on the high street. However, for any customers that aren’t 100% satisfied with their purchase, we’d invite them to contact our Customer Services team who will be more than happy to help.” Interesting.
I think the issue here is that there’s no proof (either way I have to add) that the products being sold are of an acceptable quality. When you buy a makeup product on the high street you’re able to trust that it’s new, has been stored correctly and will be effective for the anticipated lifespan. With discount retailers there’s no such guarantee. In my opinion it’s better to be safe than sorry; an extra few quid and some Advantage Card points is a much better option than a dodgy eye infection.
Do you buy products from discount retailers? What’s your opinion?
UPDATE! I’ve had a response from Poundland:
“At Poundland we pride ourselves on the quality of our cosmetic ranges – we never sell lines that are out of date, and neither do our suppliers. In some instances lines sold may be closer to the sell-by date than in other retailers where they’re priced at a premium, and this is one of the ways we’re able to offer our customers such amazing value. However we have a rigorous assessment procedure in place to ensure products on shelf are good quality and within the expiry date. In fact all our products and ranges go through a strict internal process to assess all aspects of quality and safety – not just in regard to expiry dates but also the manufacture of the line, the ingredients and traceability. When it comes to our stock rooms, in many instances the time a product takes to go from suppliers to our stores is actually faster and more efficient than with other retailers because of the fast-turn around aspect of Poundland’s business model.” Sounds fine, until you realise that they’re selling products like I’ve pictured above…
NB: All of the opinions above are my own and my estimations are only estimations. I don’t know 100% for sure where these products are coming from, how old they are or what the storage conditions are like for any product. I just wanted to raise the issue and urge people to be a bit more cautious.