Buying Makeup From Discount Retailers: Do You Really Know What You’re Getting?

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.



  1. Emily
    September 10, 2013 / 3:06 pm

    This is really interesting to read. I've only bought a couple of items from Poundland before and I wasn't too impressed, so I just didn't use them and chucked them out. I was a little wary of the products because although yes, it seems good that it's only £1 instead of £4/5 it just doesn't look legit, the packaging looks a little rough around the edges etc. I've never bought from Fragrence Direct either because I didn't trust it, just like I haven't purchased items from other discount make up websites. I stick to Boots, Superdrug and occasionally Debenhams if I'm going to splurge! Beauty and Lifestyle Blogxx

    • Hayley Carr
      September 10, 2013 / 6:46 pm

      I think that's probably a good idea! You just don't know how old the stock is in these discount retailers.

  2. Helen
    September 10, 2013 / 3:20 pm

    I don't buy products have discount sites because, to be honest, I don't trust the quality at all. I've seen people blog about their purchases and thought 'Well, if you're happy with it then I'm happy for you' but I personally wouldn't bother. I find that I would rather have the advantage points, like you said.

    • Hayley Carr
      September 10, 2013 / 6:47 pm

      It's better to spend a few extra quid and be safe in the knowledge it's a quality product you can trust!

  3. Terri Lowe
    September 10, 2013 / 3:34 pm

    As if Poundland and Sally Hansen didn't reply! It's good to see Fragrance Direct did though. As I said before, I will buy things through discretion, obviously I wouldn't touch any of the polishes which have separated or any make up which looks odd, but the latest nail varnishes I've found are from a more recent collection. It looks like a lot of the products are imported (which is common practise for all discounted stores like Home Bargains and B&M etc) and I don't see massive issues with this. I mean, how many bloggers wet themselves over an American beauty swap?! And the Rimmel Wake Me Up shimmer and SH polishes I bought were made in the US. I suppose it's the consumers discretion and how much trust they put in to a product, I've not had any adverse reactions so far and I've been a fan of budget beauty for years, in fact the YSL mascara I'm currently using is causing me more jip than anything!! I also notice a LOT of Poundland beauty buys appear on discounted websites AFTER I've spotted them in store, which is a bit weird too!

    • Hayley Carr
      September 10, 2013 / 6:48 pm

      I agree with you – imported is one thing, old is another. However, a lot of the imported stock comes from unofficial 3rd parties and the brands often have no idea their stock is being sold via these retailers.

  4. Andrew James
    September 10, 2013 / 3:44 pm

    I think its horrible because its like lying to people some people will be like this is an amazing find its stila! but then what they dont know that its like 10 years old and can cause you a pretty nasty eye infection but as you said your average member of the public wont know

    • Hayley Carr
      September 10, 2013 / 6:48 pm

      Hopefully this will help a little, but I think we need to discuss it more to make people aware.

  5. gleepface
    September 10, 2013 / 3:51 pm

    This is a very interesting and informative post, and you raise some valid points. I have never actually bought any items from poundworld apart from household stuff which obviouisly isn't perishable, the only body/face related products I've actually ever bought there were heat pads and hand soap! I probably won't be branching out into the makeup section after all, then.I have to admit I was tempted by some nail polish I saw in Poundland last week, but you've made me rethink that!

    • Hayley Carr
      September 10, 2013 / 6:49 pm

      I think that's the key thing here – body washes and the like are cheap anyway, so they get them from 'official' avenues. Makeup is mostly more expensive and therefore needs to be old etc for the costs to be kept down.

  6. Lauren Marie
    September 10, 2013 / 4:14 pm

    I have found that tk maxx had nails inc polish that looked well past their sell by date. They were oily and separated. Lauren

    • Hayley Carr
      September 10, 2013 / 6:50 pm

      TK Maxx is different though and I wouldn't worry too much there. They buy end of line stock mostly, so it's not anywhere near as old as what I'm talking about.

  7. Sophia Ford
    September 10, 2013 / 4:24 pm

    So glad you wrote this post. When I was younger I used to buy my makeup from the town's twice weekly market stalls. Everything from eyeshadows to foundations and more. It wasn't until a few years back that I questioned why these were so cheap, some of which were in plastic containers opposed to packaging. Since then I avoided the markets and opted for the usual places, Boots etc, but with the odd purchase from Poundland. It wasn't until last year when Dispatches did their documentary on Poundland, that I realised what a fool I had been! Just because Poundland is in a building, does not mean it is any different to the market stall. Cotton pads, accessories, these are things I am happy to drop a few quid for in Poundland. Cosmetics? Never, ever again. Would be interesting to see a post on your thoughts to eBay beauty bargains, too! Fantastic post, I hope this reaches enough people as far too many don't realise the dangers of shopping in places like this xo

    • Hayley Carr
      September 10, 2013 / 6:51 pm

      Exactly! I did the same when I was a teenager and wondered why it smelt funny. It's no different buying there or from Poundland. Don't get me wrong, I love a trip to Poundland but the makeup should be withdrawn in my opinion.

  8. Ashly Rae
    September 10, 2013 / 4:38 pm

    I definitely think you raise some interesting points here. I have bought nail polishes from pound land in the past and been very happy with them. However, I definitely would not pick anything up that had separated or looked/smelt odd. I would also be interested to see any results which conclude make up over a certain age can produce eye infections, as this does not sound pleasant!

    • Hayley Carr
      September 10, 2013 / 6:52 pm

      It's well known that makeup can irritate and cause infection if it's old and the formula starts to break up – Andrew James (commented above) has first had experience of this I believe! Not nice.

  9. Lianne H
    September 10, 2013 / 6:09 pm

    Fab post – I only really realised this a few weeks ago – apparently there is an online cosmetics calculator which you can put the code in and it will tell you how old the product is. I plan to have a clear out very soon!!Lianne | TheBrunetteSays…

    • Hayley Carr
      September 10, 2013 / 6:53 pm

      The only problem with that is that it's not very accurate and only covers some brands. I would stick with throwing out old makeup at least once a year to ensure you have a big clear out.

  10. Paula B
    September 10, 2013 / 6:17 pm

    What an interesting post. I think most of it is self explanatory in places such as Poundland and although at first I thought "wow, huge bargain." it definitely isn't the case. Most things are off by the time I got them home and I learnt from my mistakes. I always make sure to read the labels whenever I buy anything from the cheaper retailers. Surprising response from Fragrance Direct. I've bought quite a few things off there, nail polish being the main product and it all seems too good to be true. Their response didn't really answer any questions either. I'll stick to my "if it's too good to be true, it most probably is" statement.Paula ♥ | xo

    • Hayley Carr
      September 10, 2013 / 6:53 pm

      I think you're right there!

  11. Ella
    September 10, 2013 / 7:45 pm

    Well, I don't think I'll be using Fragrance Direct again. I was just wondering what you think of discount make up in TKmaxx?

    • Hayley Carr
      September 10, 2013 / 8:03 pm

      TK Maxx operate slightly differently, buying in 'end of line' stock rather than old stock. Although it's discounted, it's not £1 so you can tell they've paid more from it and it should come from an official distributor. Most of their beauty stock is actually still current – it's often just slightly damaged or got the wrong label on etc.

  12. Becca W
    September 10, 2013 / 8:20 pm

    I got a Sally Hansen nail varnish in Poundland and it seems to be pretty good. But I noticed a fair few Collection 2000 ones in there that looked separated and horrible. I'd probably only use Poundland now to buy nail varnishes in odd colours I wouldn't normally buy as long as they look ok. Would not touch any of the make up at all. The ones I found were in little plastic bags with a card with the ingredients on despite the ingredients being on the product which I found a bit weird..

  13. danniannie
    September 10, 2013 / 8:41 pm

    Great post Hayley! Interesting to know why it is so cheap!

  14. Anonymous
    September 10, 2013 / 8:42 pm

    I think this is interesting but at the same time I've bought into things from Fragrance Direct etc knowing that the items are discontinued therefore likely to have been sitting around a while and I've been okay with that. I use my personal judgement, and I'm careful with what I buy. Maybe I'm looking at this from a particular/biased angle, as I tend to only really buy discounted nail varnishes rather than discounted makeup…every Essie polish I've bought from FD I've been wholly impressed with and it's been in the exact same condition as I would have got it in store. I guess the fact is that people don't know that which is worrying, and maybe it should be made more aware to them in the shops or online. Although it is different to big stores it isn't far off, sometimes old stock in stores gets pushed to the back for ages then brought to the front eventually. Sale stock works in the same way too as I'm sure you know. It's very hard to completely guarantee something will be brand new and perfectly stored prior to purchase. In some cases I think its obvious when something has 'passed it' and should be at the discretion of the retailer to decide when to not sell something or when to take something back which clearly isn't in a fit state to be used. I've seen Sally Hansen varnishes in Boots stores on the shelf that look as bad as these in this post to be honest. Stock is cared for badly in so many ways, I think that's an issue too.In the end of the day I think this is a common sense thing, if something seems to good to be true it usually is! If something costs £1 is it REALLY going to do your skin a lot of good? Probably not! But people love a good bargain. I think its good old stock is offered at a cheaper price, because some people really can't afford to pay X amount for a brand so it does give them an opportunity to try it at a more affordable price. Sadly though that cheaper price may compromise quality/efficacy of a product and I think they should be made aware of that more.My opinion is mixed. I think you raise some really good points at the perfect time too because this has become such a big thing – personally I don't think there is anything wrong with buying discounted makeup but I think it's important to know the facts before you do buy into it.

    • Hayley Carr
      September 11, 2013 / 1:08 pm

      I agree with you regarding the quality of stock in some Boots stores – often they don't sell through enough so the products sit there for ages without being touched. However, I think with those kind of retailers you know it's come direct from the brand and not via Russia or something random (where you've no idea where it's been stored and how long for.) There's also the guarantee (even with sale stock) that it's only Xyrs old and not up to 5 or 6 as we see in some discount retailers.

  15. Anonymous
    September 11, 2013 / 7:16 am

    Interesting reading but you're making huge assumptions that the High Street don't get their products from the exact same suppliers…they do!

    • Hayley Carr
      September 11, 2013 / 1:09 pm

      Not necessarily – that's one of the points I raised above. It's well known that Stila had no idea their products were in Poundland as they'd come from an unauthorized distributor, and this happens in a huge amount of cases.

  16. Rebecca
    September 11, 2013 / 11:46 am

    I've often wondered about this. I actually recently bought a tanning product from what you could describe as a discount online shop. It hasn't really worked very well – but I partly suspect this is because the product may be a bit old. Boo!! Will definitely re-think where I buy from now

  17. Sophia Carbonell
    September 11, 2013 / 4:19 pm

    Very interesting, I've always found such bargains to good to be true. Informative post, thank you :)

  18. Laura Gadsby
    September 11, 2013 / 6:38 pm

    unlike a lot of blog post i've read, i'll steer away from fragrance direct in future, cheers for the help, have you ever bought anything from beauty bay that may be off or illegitimate?with a lot of products you could probably tell if they're off, you can like you mentioned a off smell or dodgy consistency, if you buy and product and has that 'old makeup' smell you can often tell, i can imagine it's maybe a little more difficult with hair products and body products x

    • Hayley Carr
      September 12, 2013 / 9:41 am

      I haven't experienced Beauty Bay to be honest, but it's probably worth doing some research on them too. I'd stay clear of online and stick to the High St – better to be safe than sorry.

  19. Sally
    September 18, 2013 / 8:32 pm

    I have nail polishes which are years old, and they are absolutely fine. I didn't always store them well, and have used thinner to get them to a good consistency. ALWAYS thinner, never polish remover. I have ordered from Fragrance Direct online many times and they come to my place of work to sell perfumes. They are a fantastic company who bring things to us for prices we couldn't have dreamed of before. Personally I will enjoy using my poundland polishes with a smile on my face. (and no hint of infection)

  20. Elspeth Daisy
    September 20, 2013 / 10:33 am

    I think you have assumed quite a lot both about discount retailers and high street retailers which is a little concerning because you are presenting your assumptions and your opinion as facts. On nail varnish in particular I think there is very little difference in the age and quality of discount stores and your regular Boots or Superdrug. I used to work in Boots and the quality of nail varnishes is by no means guaranteed. Nail varnish is a cosmetic that can and does stay 'good' for a long time if you look after it. The secret is often storage – keep nail varnishes in the fridge or out of direct sunlight and even a polish bought 6 years ago will outperform a new polish kept in the sunlight. I also feel uneasy at the assumptions you've made about specific discount retailers – implying that they are engaging in illegitimate business practices is somewhat unfounded and comes across sometimes as snobbery. It seems you have no real hard facts on which to base the majority of your claims about these companies which are of course the same as Boots and Superdrug in that they are limited companies selling cosmetics – there is no difference between them or special code of conduct for Boots and Superdrug even though you seem to have decided they're 'better' in some way . They're all businesses and their purposes are to make money. Nothing more and nothing less. Elspeth x

    • Hayley Carr
      September 20, 2013 / 11:15 am

      I haven't stated anything above is fact – in fact I even added a note at the end stating that everything I've written is purely my opinion based on working with these kind of retailers professionally for over eight years. There is a massive difference between Boots & Poundland. Boots get their products directly from the brand, who in turn get them directly from the manufacturer – the process is extremely quick. Poundland get their products often from 3rd parties who buy old stock that has already been in Boots and sat unsold for months, if not years. Even if they buy direct from the manufacturer or brand there's a huge difference in time when compared to Boots etc – this is the whole point of the blog post. I've worked with brands that are stocked in Boots, Superdrug, Selfridges, House of Fraser etc for many years and know exactly what the processes are. I've also worked with brands who sell old stock to Poundland or to 3rd parties who sell overseas (and then often back to discount retailers in the UK.) My opinions are based in fact and experience, not snobbery. I feel that you've missed the point of the post and have taken up issue with my opinions because I'm 'looking down' on people that buy from Poundland, when the fact is I spend most Sundays picking up bargains from their shelves. This is about quality and safety. Nothing more, nothing less.

  21. littlemissstyleguru
    October 8, 2013 / 3:04 am

    Poundland wouldn't be able to sell the items if they were out of date. As the big nanw companies like rimmed. Collection. Revlon. Millani.opi etc would all be up for scrutiny too so wouldn't want to jeopardize this would they. Everything I have purchased from poundland has been fine. No irritation nothing. You don't actually get a guarantee certificate from boots or superdrug so you actually never will know what ur buying. Most of the stock and colours selling in poundland are currently available in boots superdrug so not old stock. Maybe overstock or change if packaging etc or wasn't the right weight when manufacturing occurred then they get sold on . big companies would not let poundland sell their products for last few years if they were harmful to the public and yep some nail varnishes separate. Give them a shake and voila. Hope this helped.

    • Hayley Carr
      October 8, 2013 / 2:29 pm

      Again, you're unfortunately missing the point of the post. I've worked in the industry for many years and these companies don't 'let' Poundland or other retailers sell their products. They mostly get them from 3rd parties when they're sold on after they've been discontinued.

  22. septhyne riadi
    May 26, 2014 / 11:53 am

    Interesting post. Thanks for sharing. I've never bought anything from discount stores for the same reasons. Even though they are pretty usually they just ended up at the bottom of my drawer

  23. Minty
    July 31, 2014 / 8:41 pm

    That old adage rings true again- if it seems too good to be true, then it probably isn't. Poundland has it's place and I do buy lots of household cleaning products from them- and they are fabulous fir that; When did Stila discontinue Angel light? I keep seeing it in Poundland and I just checked ebay and there's a load on there for £4.99. The only beauty product I buy there is their artificial nail remover which is fabulous!! Like you, I'd rather know I was getting an in date product and pay a bit extra.

  24. amy
    January 4, 2016 / 6:51 pm

    I was wondering if savers makeup is like this too? a foundation I want is a few pounds cheaper at savers than boots so was wondering!

    • Hayley Carr
      January 4, 2016 / 8:25 pm

      Savers is just a discounted version of Boots or Superdrug – they (as far as I know) get their stock from the same places, i.e. direct from the brand.

  25. shannon mclucas
    February 10, 2016 / 2:18 am

    As for your comment about old nail polish causing eye infections or irritation, your wrong nail polish never expires! in fact the chemicals used to make nail polish prevent bacterial growth regardless of how old it is, check it out :"In reality, nail lacquer should stay safe forever. It might not be any good after many years — due to slow color changes or if it evaporates to a solid, useless block — but it won't be unsafe…..Nail lacquer does not go "bad" with bacteria after opening (or ever), because the solvents are chemically hostile to microbes. Indeed, research shows clearly that microbes don't survive in nail lacquer, whether in a salon environment or even if deliberately contaminated in a laboratory test."

  26. Anonymous
    March 14, 2017 / 4:46 pm

    How about skin care in TKMAX UK (originally unopened packaging) ?

    • Hayley Carr
      March 14, 2017 / 5:11 pm

      That tends to be end of line and comes direct from brands.

    • Ana Ara
      August 27, 2017 / 2:04 am

      Why do the cosmetic products from Tkmaxx not have the expiry date on them?

    • Hayley Carr
      August 28, 2017 / 5:10 pm

      Because cosmetics don't have expiry dates

  27. Anonymous
    May 8, 2018 / 1:29 pm

    Adding to the discussion to say that I purchased a TIGI lipstick from Poundland yesterday and it literally smells like a 15 year old crayon.

Leave a Reply


Looking for Something?