For some of us, losing a favourite lipstick can be a little like losing a lover. Both are something we come to rely on, often on a daily basis, to lift our spirits and comfort and reassure us. “When you find that holy grail product, and discover one year later that it’s vanished from the shelves, it feels like the rug has been pulled from under your feet,” says makeup artist Jaimee Rose, who works with the band Haim.
Glance at the cosmetics forum MakeUpAlley or the beauty channel on Mumsnet and you will find hundreds of threads devoted to cherished products such as Clinique Superlast Cream Lipstick in Nude Bloom or Benefit’s tinted moisturiser You Rebel. “Noooo I can’t believe it’s been discontinued. It was my absolute fave product to use once I’d had a hint of sun,” is how Sunmakesmesmile laments the passing of You Rebel, echoed by MrsMarcJacobs, with: “WTF? REALLY? It’s so good.”
Cherished … Clinique Superlast Cream Lipstick. Illustration: Cristina Polop
This obsession with tried-and-tested favourites is partly fuelled by the sad fact that most beauty products fall woefully short; this is an industry built on overpromises and underdelivery. We are accustomed to buying overhyped and overpriced cosmetics, tubes, sprays and bottles only to discover that, no, this primer doesn’t make our makeup last 24 hours at a festival, or, no, this texturising spray won’t give us perfect beachy waves in Kent’s hard water system. Most beauty products are a waste of money, a waste of plastic and a waste of hope.
But wherever there are consumers united in despair, there are entrepreneurs ready to capitalise on their thwarted desires. And so there has been a proliferation of sites such as discontinuedbeauty.com and cosmeticsfairy.co.uk, which stock products that are no longer being produced, while eBay has a robust Health & Beauty channel brimming with vendors hawking “rare”, “vintage” and “cult” cosmetics and perfumes “for serious beauty collectors”. A gift set of Monogram cologne, fleetingly issued by Ralph Lauren in 1985, is on eBay at £209. An unboxed tube of You Rebel tinted moisturiser (original RRP £24) is priced at £79. The Body Shop’s Vanilla Perfume Oil, which along with Dewberry and White Musk blanket-scented virtually every British schoolgirl in the late 1990s and cost less than a tenner, is on sale on eBay at £299. A Rimmel Moisture Renew Lipstick in Rose Sorbet is £45; the RRP for current shades is £6.49.
The hopelessly heartbroken can have their loved-and-lost products cloned – or “duped” – by cosmetic colour experts who will custom-blend that beloved lipstick from the dregs of a tube of foundation or a stub of lipstick. In Manhattan, Giella Poblocki charges $34 for a tube of custom-blended lipstick, $60 for foundation and $25 for nail polish. She has received thousands of nearly empty bottles and tubes, posted from around the world, to be matched and returned to bereft beauty addicts. “People have an emotional attachment to a colour – perhaps the lipstick they wore on their wedding day, or a favourite holiday,” she says. “Or it could simply be the one product that always gets them compliments. Women spend so much money looking for the perfect shade and when we find it, we’re elated. The search is over. When the shade is discontinued, we have to start the search again. Or have it rematched by us.” Poblocki and her team colour-match by eye, combining pigments to replicate the precise shade. “There’s no machine that can tell you what texture or finish it is,” she says. “We’re all trained colour analysts and we need to see and feel the colour. It takes a long time to reformulate the shade, but the feedback we get from customers makes it worth it.”
Ralph Lauren Monogram cologne, c 1985 … on eBay at £209. Illustration: Cristina Polop
When customers are prepared to go to these lengths, it raises the question of why popular products are withdrawn in the first place. Urban Decay has just discontinued its ultra-popular Naked smoky eye palette, a product the Duchess of Cambridge recommended to Michelle Obama and that shifted more than 30m units. And Boots has announced plans to withdraw its longstanding Seventeen brand, the gateway beauty drug of many a teenager. Why would they do this to us?
“The beauty business is a business, after all, and most brands are less concerned with keeping customers happy, and more with producing newsworthy new products, chasing column inches, and broadening their customer base,” says Rose. Although a lipstick or foundation may have a steady and devoted following, it can still make good business sense to take this reliable workhorse of a seller off the shelves to make way for some sexy new tube that generates industry “buzz” and gets hashtagged to oblivion by beauty influencers.
But customers are fighting back, furiously haranguing brands on Twitter and Instagram, lobbying for a reprieve of this lipstick or that tinted moisturiser. “In the age of social media and instant information, consumers are feeling increasingly connected to the brands and companies they buy from,” says Charlotte Libby, global beauty analyst at Mintel. “Brands have been able to leverage two-way communication; the success of companies such as Glossier showcases the importance of building a relationship with consumers and bringing them into the R&D process.”
In the UK, the brand that has most visibly embraced “community engagement” is Lush, which since May has offered limited runs of retro (and new) products as part of its Community Product lines, which are voted for on social media via the hashtag #LushKitchen. “Being able to use social media to find out what they love, tell the inventors and then make it happen is really exciting,” says Danika Leigh, Lush’s Kitchen channel manager.
“Discontinuing products is a minefield,” admits Lush’s co-founder Mark Constantine. “Everyone loves a new product, but we don’t want to make room for it by losing one of our personal favourites. Sometimes I’ll be in the shop, peek into a customer’s basket and think, ‘Oh dear – that’s a product we’re going to have to discontinue, and they’ll be disappointed next time. Fortunately the internet – unlike our stores – has no confines on space, and we are able to run batches of old favourites that are not quite popular enough to put in the shop.”
Discontinued … Urban Decay’s Naked smokey eye palette. Illustration: Cristina Polop
Estée Lauder, meanwhile, has come up with the morose-sounding Gone But Not Forgotten programme, where customers can purchase a maximum of six discontinued favourites from a number of its brands, including Tom Ford Beauty, Clinique and Bobbi Brown.
Guardian beauty columnist Sali Hughes has an entire chapter devoted to discontinued products in her new book Pretty Iconic. Her biggest beauty bereavement? Suqqu Cream Foundation. “It is the greatest foundation that ever was,” says Hughes. “It was first recommended to me many years ago by Mary Greenwell, who uses it on Cate Blanchett. It feels nothing like other foundations – you simply forget you’re wearing it, and it looks like real skin, only flawless. A few years ago, they tried to discontinue it, but my readers and I lobbied hard and it remained for sale in the UK only.”
The victory was shortlived. “A few months ago, the worst happened and it went for good. The replacement is good, but not quite the same. The brand itself has given me what they had left. I have four large jars stockpiled, so I figure that gives me about four or five years to make them bring it back, or to bring out my own in its image.”
For those unaccustomed to this sort of relentless pursuit of the perfect lipstick or foundation, the passion might seem misplaced. Surely customers can just move on? Most brands discontinue a product to replace it with a newer version. Can’t we embrace the thrill of the new and learn to love that new shade of coral lipstick? How different can they really be?
If only it were that simple. It takes time to fall in love with a product; it’s not as shallow an affair as love at first sight. Our faith in a product is built up over those initial weeks when we learn it doesn’t clog our pores or lasts through our working day, and months of it-can’t-be-coincidental compliments. When we find something we trust, and that truly delivers, the task of auditioning hundreds of potential alternatives for the role seems insurmountable.
“Part of the problem is that there is a dizzying array of products on sale, with lines changing, and the choice can be baffling,” says Rose. “Only the most effective deserve a place in our hearts and our makeup bags, and when we find something that works, we’ll cling to it for ever.”
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Forget stalking your ex on social media—now is the time to put your Internet investigation skills to better use. Check out discount makeup sites like BeautyEncounter.com, BuyMeBeauty.com, and OverstockCosmetics.com, which carry surplus stock of marked-down products long after they’ve been cleared off store shelves. If your preliminary search is unsuccessful, eBay and Amazon are always viable options—just beware of counterfeits and products that are opened, used, expired, or look questionable in consistency. But whatever the source, if you do find exactly what you’re looking for, you’re going to want to stock up while you sill can. Here’s how to find the best lipstick for your skin tone.
Contact the company
Just because you can’t purchase your beauty BFF at its original retailer, doesn’t mean it isn’t out there. So before you scrounge through the sale bins at Sephora, ring up the company and explain your sitch. A representative may be able to give you leads on where to find the product, or suggest one that’s similar—and in-stock.
If you’re looking for an item under the Estée Lauder umbrella (i.e. M·A·C, Bobbi Brown, Clinique, and many more), contact the brand’s Gone But Not Forgotten program. A team of professionals will track down any product discontinued within the past 36 months, and if they find it, you can purchase as many as six pieces depending on availability. (Did you know that THIS is the most popular makeup brand in America?)
Check out sibling brands
Here’s a pro secret: Many of your favorite brands are owned by the same parent company, meaning that their products tend to be similar—if not the same. Get to know your product’s sister brands and look out for distinct resemblances in packaging and formula. A luxury product may be identical to its drugstore sibling, meaning you could go home with the exact product you’ve been vying for—just with a different label (and potentially a different price tag). And if you’re shopping for beauty on a budget, check out these celeb-approved drugstore lipsticks.
Find a good dupe
While the color and finish may not be exact, if you’re comfortable with a close-enough product, the beauty world boasts endless options. Surf through millions of dupe videos on YouTube, side-by-side comparisons on Pinterest, or reviews by MakeupAlley.com, and have faith that the perfect replacement is out there. If you prefer to do the investigative work yourself, take your beloved item to a beauty retailer (one where you can swatch to your heart’s content) and get down to business. If your hand isn’t a smudgy mess of colors by the end of it, you’re not doing it right.
Get it customized
Bring your makeup back from the dead with beauty customization services that guarantee to replicate your favorite product’s exact color and texture. Just be sure to save a sample of the product and send it off to the expert color matchers at Giella Beauty or Three Custom Colors, which also offers an archive of over 10,000 previously replicated requests that date back to the 1930s. For face products like foundation and powder, try the custom blend services at Prescriptives, which allows you to get involved in the process with a private consultation via video chat. If you’re on the hunt for lipstick, head to one of Bite Beauty’s three Lip Lab locations in New York, San Francisco, or Toronto, and re-create your favorite shade in a matter of minutes. Find out what your favorite lip color says about your personality.
If you’re totally head-over-heels for a specific hue, you probably already have something like it in your collection. For colors that are slightly off, mix in other shades to find the perfect tone. It might take some playing around, but once you achieve awesomeness, you may even forget about your old favorite. If consistency allows (i.e. liquid and cream products), bottle up your new creation and jot down the recipe so it can be easily replicated. You can even add illuminator, moisturizer, or serum to take your custom product to the next level. And if you’re also into DIY-ing your skincare routine, check out these facial treatments you can safely do at home.
Swap your stash
If you have an overwhelming stockpile of samples, gifted makeup kits, and impulsive trendy purchases in your collection (let’s be honest… who doesn’t!?), chances are your friends do, too. Organize a beauty swap and trade new or gently used beauty items for products of equal value. Before the party, create a Facebook or WhatsApp group and encourage friends to list their most-wanted products and what they’d be willing to trade for them. You may find the exact item you’ve been looking for, or at the very least, take home a good replacement. If you’re still on the hunt, take your exchange global on swap site, Swapidu.com.
Embrace the change
Take a moment to fully heal from the heartbreak, but realize that this is your opportunity to finally explore new brands and shades—without feeling like you’re cheating on an old favorite. The world of beauty is more exciting and accessible than ever, and with perpetual advances, there may even be something better on store shelves since you were last on the market. So don’t be afraid to get yourself out there again and find the one that’s right for you. To get you started, here are 10 secret weapon beauty products from top makeup artists.