Returning unused beauty products can have a big impact on the environment, even if the containers haven’t been opened, as tons of companies still throw them away in a practice called “damaging out.”
What is damaging out?
“Can you believe this goes on?” one TikToker asked incredulously as she described damaging out.
Here’s how it works, according to the post. When cosmetic products like liquid foundation, shampoo, or eyeshadow are returned to beauty retailers, they are often sent straight to the landfill for hygiene reasons — even if they appear unopened and unused.
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An Ulta employee exposed the practice on TikTok in 2020. “This is what we have to do,” she said with a grimace as she squeezed out unused shampoo into the garbage. She indicated that the company did this to prevent people from dumpster diving.
Why care about damaging out?
“Beauty companies enforce ‘damaging out’ for hygiene reasons,” beauty industry watchdog Estée Laundry told Dazed Digital. “It is often done because they don’t want lawsuits on their hands from selling/donating products that could have been tampered with.”
While damaging out may be easier for companies, it contributes to environmental degradation and risks human and animal health.
About 20-40% of all beauty products end up as waste, Arnaud Plas, cofounder and CEO of the brand Prose, told Vogue. This adds to our already overflowing landfills.
The beauty industry creates over 120 billion units of packaging annually, most of which are not recyclable, The Guardian reported. Plastic containers that held your unused lipstick or mascara could take hundreds of years to break down.
Plus, substances that have been found in cosmetics (in smaller or greater amounts) — including mercury, lead, parabens, and phthalates — can persist in the environment for years, accumulating as toxic pollutants in landfills. Landfill chemicals can make their way into the soil and contaminate nearby water sources, posing a risk to both people and wildlife.
What can you do about damaging out?
Many beauty brands like Maybelline have virtual try-on services for products like foundation, which can help you make more informed color choices and avoid product returns. You can even request sample sizes before purchasing a full product.
Another great way to reduce your impact is to be more conscious about what you buy in the first place. Avoid impulse buys and seek out more ethical and sustainable companies.
But, should you end up with a product that doesn’t work out for you, try giving it to a friend instead of returning it to the company.
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