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The Product Graveyard: What to Do With the Stuff That Sucks

By Amalah

Hi Amy!
What do you do with products you tried but did not like? Or products that worked for awhile, but not long enough to use all of? My current product graveyard is a drawer- I can’t bring myself to throw out some of these products — the really offensive ones I can toss, but the mediocre and once upon a time products? Taking up very precious space. It feels so wasteful- I might as well be throwing money away! Anyway I was wondering what you do with products you don’t like or no longer use?

So very funny that you asked this…as JUST this past weekend I took a gift bag full of product rejects up to my mother for her birthday. Lipsticks, shadows, Bare Minerals (more on THAT LATER OH MY HELL), and a boatload of moisturizers. And every loser in every Price Tag Cage Match ever.
I also got her some delicious cashmere, but honestly, the bag o’ semi-new makeup and hair products may have been an even bigger hit.
I give away a LOT of stuff, especially since the Smackdown graciously furnishes and encourages all my cosmetic experimentation. But once or twice a year I dig through my makeup drawer and sort out the products I’m just not using. My mom gets the vast majority of it, since we have pretty much the opposite complexions and skincare needs. (Me: pale, combination bordering on oily, increasingly allergic to all sorts of things and unable to tolerate ANY fragrance in ANY lotion-y type thing; Her: olive, dry, aging, skin allergies are for the WEAK, PFFFT.) Stuff that doesn’t work for me has a decent shot at working for her. Plus, she doesn’t get to splurge on that sort of thing ever, so even a little sample pot of fancy night cream is a big treat.
The biggest challenge, though, is getting her to actually USE that little sample pot of night cream. One time, after a disastrous perming experience, I bought her some Pureology shampoo and conditioner. Like, four years ago. And then I recently discovered those very same bottles still sitting in her shower. She was saving them for a special occasion. My mom, she is the CUTEST EVER.
Meanwhile, the stuff was so old and rancid it had completely separated and smelled EXACTLY like dog shampoo. It still took me two more visits home before I had the heart to tell her that she needed to chuck the stuff, but now I know to check the levels of everything I give her and remind her of the ticking-clock of cosmetic shelf life. Use it! CARPE DIEM!
I use similar sorting rules for my makeup drawer as I use for my closet — if I haven’t used/worn it in a year, it’s gone. Six months gets a long hard look. I usually give skincare products a second change when the seasons change — stuff that made me break out in the summer might be perfect in the winter when my skin is much drier, and vice versa. So I encourage everybody to give those in-between meh-ish products another try when the weather changes.
When you’ve really determined that something isn’t right and the Sephora return-policy deadline has passed, give it away! It’s fun! Do you have a mom, a grandmom, a little sister in college? A fellow product whore who might have a drawer of her own to trade? Or a friend going through a hard time who could use a little just-because pick-me-up?
I mean, you don’t say something like, “Oh, these products didn’t meet MY exacting standards but maybe someone like YOU could use them.” Dress them up as a pampering gift bag (maybe with a Sephora gift card or something new like spa slippers or a manicure set) and give them away on a random, no-holiday day. Obviously you don’t pretend that you’re giving new bottles away, but just be honest that hey, this stuff didn’t work for you for whatever reason, but SOMEBODY sure as hell should enjoy it.)
Certain stuff should always get tossed — mostly mascaras and eyeliners and other things that actually touched infection-prone areas of the body. Compacts that are cracked or bubbly from oil aren’t worthy of getting passed on. Make sure the recipient is aware that the stuff is used and has an idea of when it was purchased, warranty void where prohibited, your mileage may vary, blah blah blaaaaah.
Honestly, all I need now in the world is a friend with a lighter complexion than mine and oiler skin. Have I got a GOLDMINE of crap for her.
(Likewise, I would also accept a friend who owns a bunch of winter-colored lipsticks that would suit someone like me. COUGH COUGH.)

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • BaltimoreGal

    December 3, 2007 at 9:12 am

    umm… not to beg (COUGH COUGH) but I have cool-toned skin that is some of the palest on record (COUGH COUGH)

  • Kristie Nowlin

    December 3, 2007 at 9:16 am

    I’ve used this site for a few years now. You can swap makeup with other ladies. If used stuff creeps you out, you can also find brand new stuff.

  • BridehoodRevisited

    December 3, 2007 at 10:32 am

    If you’re trying one of the cool people products for the season, you can always try ebay as well.
    I’m struggling with half empty bottles of face washes and toners and scrubs and kerastase hair stuff at the moment. Ugh. I’m trying to use the rest of the shampoo and conditioner before I buy bumble + bumble stuff…

  • Joy

    December 3, 2007 at 10:51 am

    Thanks for the ideas-I just hate the idea of throwing away products that I know someone can use! I have some philosophy stuff I’ve been trying to use up- it just didn’t work for me and I can’t bear to just toss it! I also have a lot of product that I used to sell, that is brand new but because I am such a product whore, will never use all of before it’s past its prime! Anyone interested let me know!

  • Giada

    December 3, 2007 at 11:14 am

    I bought a $150 bottle of Prevage that turned out to irritate my skin. Given the price tag, I couldn’t bear to just throw it out. So I offered it up (for free) to a few ladies at work (probably about 8) that I thought might be interested and that I thought I knew well enough that they wouldn’t be weirded out by the offer for already-used face cream.
    About a month later, I was talking to another co-worker, a male, when he mentioned how he’d heard about my selling my used skin care products at the office. Turns out, one of the ladies had thought it would be funny to repeat the story to others, but instead of telling people that I’d offered it for free, she told them that I was selling it. When I told the guy the real story — that is was a very expensive product and I’d offered it out to a few people for free — he definitely felt bad and said “yeah, that’s actually really nice of you, and very different from what I heard.” I couldn’t believe that someone took what I felt was a pretty generous offer and then lied about it in order to get a laugh. So much for good intentions.

  • robin m

    December 3, 2007 at 11:57 am

    I just might be so pale that people think I am a corpse in the summer when I am wearing shorts. Also, oily. Except my forehead for some reason which has recently turned into the driest place on earth.
    I can’t wait to hear about the Bare Minerals story. I love their eyeshadows but their foundation makes me turn red and itchy and apparently I am an alien.

  • Kathryn

    December 3, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    Pff. Bare Minerals. That stuff also made me turn red and itchy, and then turn really dry and flaky (was dumb and continued to use it for a few days, thinking my poor skin just needed time to adjust).
    A couple weeks after the ill-fated usage attempt, I went into the Bare Minerals shop with my mother, who wanted to buy some (she can use it with no problems). I mentioned my reaction to the snooty queen of a salesman who was pressuring me for a sale, and he had the nerve to argue with me and quite rudely tell me that it’s impossible for the stuff to cause a reaction. Excuse me, but I (and my itchy, blotchy, flaky skin) beg to differ, jackhole.
    I don’t mind products that cause a reaction; I realize that everyone’s skin is different, and mine is a bit more sensitive than most, so it’s to be expected sometimes. I do, however, have a problem with a company whose representatives rudely deny that THEIR product could EVER cause a problem, and act as if I’m lying about it. Because really, what else do I have to do with my time? Hrmph.

  • Olivia

    December 3, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    I recently thru out some make-up that was way beyond its expiration date, but I’ve been holding onto a shampoo and conditioner that suck. They were cheap, but dammit, my momma didn’t raise me to be wasteful 😉 So I’ve been pouring out twice as much as needed for a shampoo and waiting for those bottles to be empty. Yes, yes…I’m a weirdo.

  • Chunky Photojournalist Barbie

    December 3, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    Not to rain on the fun-swapping parade, but you could also donate unwanted (but not yet crusty and gross products) to your local battered women’s shelter. A lot of women end up having to get out very quickly, and toiletries usually aren’t a priority if they have time to pack anything at all.
    Don’t get me wrong. My sister isn’t just a products whore; she’s the MADAM of the products whorehouse. 🙂 I’m that little sister who benefits, and I love it. But still. It’s the season of giving, right? Just a thought.

  • kalisah

    December 3, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    Excellent question Joy. I have – I’m not kidding you – THREE (3) GALLON-SIZED ZIPLOCK BAGS of barely used products under by bathroom sink. I love Barbie’s idea of donating it to a battered women’s shelter, but how do you find those? Aren’t they, like, underground?

  • Stephanie

    December 3, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    Just from a quick google search, here are some ways to find a battered women’s shelter:
    1. Call your local police or sheriff’s department. The department should be able to refer you to a shelter in your area.
    2. Contact your local family court. The staff there should know where to find shelter.
    3. Ask your local YWCA if it provides or knows who provides shelter in your area.
    4. Find the number for a local homeless shelter and ask the staff there for information about a family violence shelter.
    5. Go online to the Family Violence Prevention Fund ( and click on “Getting Help” at the bottom of the page. This will help you locate a shelter in your area. You can also call (800) 799-SAFE to find out how to contact a family violence program in your area.
    I hope that helps!

  • NGS

    December 4, 2007 at 12:03 am

    I used to work at a battered women’s shelter. There are non-emergency lines to most shelters and if you just call and let someone working there know you want to make a donation, they’ll send you to either an administrative office or to the shelter itself to make a donation.
    A lot of shelters are going less “underground” and secret and announcing their presence so that locals can watch out and alert the police if there is any suspicious behavior around the shelter.
    And, yes, getting donations of personal items was something our shelter always needed. Mostly for women and children, although men’s stuff was also needed for any teenage boys we were housing at any given moment. So call your local shelter and take your ziplock bags in!!

  • Jenchilla

    December 4, 2007 at 2:39 am

    I want to hear about the Bare Minerals, too!

  • Chunky Photojournalist Barbie

    December 4, 2007 at 2:57 am

    The actual residences where the women and children are living are usually unlisted numbers with unpublished information. Like all non-profits, they usually have separate administration buildings where the public can contact them about fundraising, donations, educational programs and outreach volunteerism. The above suggestions to find shelters are good ones.
    You can also call the women’s studies department at your local college or university. They will absolutely know where to send you. If you happen to work in a public school, your friendly school pschyologist and/or social worker can absolutely hook you up. 🙂

  • EmilyA

    December 4, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    Hi, new commenter here….can you clarify for me the Sephora return policy? I mean, if I’ve tried the product for a week or two and it’s not doing anything for me, can I return it? I can’t tell from their website. This would open a whole new world for me because I have really sensitive skin so I’ve always hesitated to try more expensive products. I want to try the Vitamin C powder from Philosophy (i’m worried about sun damaage) but I’m worried it will irritate my skin (I’ve had problems with citric products before). Thanks for all the great advice Amalah!

  • Goingape

    December 5, 2007 at 8:49 am

    I’ve started giving away my products on Freecycle or look for a local yahoo group for freesources.
    I just bag up whatever partially used stylingproducts/cosmetics/shampoos/conditioners/etc. etc., send an email, and voila swarms of women willing to take things off my hands without nary a description. I pick a time and email the designated person and she comes to my house to pick it up because she’s getting free stuff.
    I have both given and received a lot of stuff this way. I have received clothes, a game boy advance, firewood, tv trays, etc. and have given away an ass load of clothes, bookcases, beauty products, etc. It rocks.

  • Rachel

    December 7, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    SOOO glad that goingape mentioned freecycle- it rocks. I have given and received hordes of things. I now only buy new toys for my son on special occasions because he has so many great things from generous people who’s kids outgrew them.
    So I totally recommend freecycle if you don’t want to put any effort in past sending an email- because I am so scatterbrained that I almost never remember to drive things places to donate them- they just get lots of car rides until I get tired of driving them around and they are freecycled.

  • warcrygirl

    December 9, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    I have pale AND extremely oily skin. You know, for future reference…
    I have eyeshadows that are ten years old; they’re so old they’re new again. I still won’t get a chance to wear them, though.
    Yeah, I know.