September 29, 2019
Japanese millennials shocked the beauty industry with their newest shopping trend: buying second-hand makeup.
The trend, which was reported in the Business of Fashion (BoF) article “Why Japanese Millenials Are Buying Used Makeup” in late August, received a mix of reactions ranging from intrigue to disgust. As BoF reported, the logic behind the change in consumer buying is tied to “Mottainai”, which loosely translates to “what a waste”. This ideology speaks to the frugalness of the younger Japanese consumers who were raised in a resource-conscious environment and are currently living in a stagnant economy.
While the reasoning behind the buying decision seems logical, the idea created controversy. In an Instagram poll taken on October 1, 75 people were asked if they would consider buying secondhand makeup products that were properly sanitized and discounted by more than 50%. 51% (38 people) answered yes to the poll and 49% (37 people) answered no. As a follow-up question, they were asked to explain their answers. Two sides of the argument emerged, one relating to hygiene and the other to consumer waste.
“With makeup, you run into the issue of spreading germs and cross-contamination of other people’s bacteria that can cause reactions,” wrote Meredith Walser, a Business of Beauty and Fragrance major at the Savannah College of Art and Design, in her poll explanation. The spreading of bacteria and lack of proper sanitization were the main concerns for the majority of the people who answered no. Certain beauty products like those with wand applicators that dip into the product, loose powers and anything cream-based would be impossible to properly sanitize, justifying the majority of the 49%’s concerns.
The concern regarding product sanitization was magnified by the lack of available information on the regulations that are put in place when the second-hand products are sold. The top site for selling used makeup in Japan is Mercari. “We allow used makeup (to be sold) provided it is well described and not past its expiration date. Purchasers are responsible for thoroughly reviewing listings prior to purchase” explains Mercari on their “Does Mercari Allow Used Makeup and Cosmetics” FAQ page. There is no mention of any chemical regulations nor sanitary regulations that are put into place.
“I am concerned about the cleanliness of the products but if it was something that was certified by the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration) then I would definitely buy used makeup” stated Coco Hubbeling, a Photography major at the Savannah College of Art and Design in her poll explanation (to which she answered yes.)
Hubbeling was among the majority of respondents who selected yes but were concerned about the authority governing the quality of used products. Since there is no government agency tasked with the regulation of used-makeup, the responsibility falls to the retailers. Glambot, an e-commerce used-makeup service based in the United States has its own set of product regulations. Both new and used products are accepted on Glambot but they must be in sellable condition. Glambot describes the sellable condition on their FAQ page as “non-expired (within three months from painted expiration date), at least 50% of the product remaining, exterior packaging in sellable condition (no cracks, dents, or scratches with a legible brand name) and brushes must be new or clean and free of makeup buildup.” Glambot also clearly states what kinds of items they don’t accept such as “false lashes, skincare, makeup bags, or items with reusable applicators.” All products that Glambot receives are reportedly subjected to a proprietary five-step cleaning and sanitization process that varies depending on the product and its consistency.
The remainder of the poll respondents who answered yes and were not concerned with the regulation of sanitization did so for reasons regarding sustainability. “I don’t really use that much makeup so being able to buy less for less would benefit me. I don’t need an entirely new palette because I would never use it all and then I feel wasteful. I don’t want to feel wasteful.” explained Nikki Ciocari, an Industrial Design major at the Savannah College of Art and Design in her poll answer.
According to a Euromonitor statistic that was published in the Teen Vogue article “The Beauty Industry Has A Plastics Problem” in December 2018, the beauty industry produced 76.8 billion plastic packaging units in 2017 alone. This number does not include any plastic accessories or applicators. Sustainability has become a major trend in the beauty industry but it is also one of the most difficult things to achieve. In the fashion industry, one of the most prevalent forms of sustainability is the movement to shop second-hand or thrift, creating less need for the production of new garments and instead, reusing and repurposing older ones that could have gone to waste. The beauty industry has struggled to find a similar fix, but the emergence of the second-hand beauty trend could present a new opportunity.
Written by Hana Lorne