The excitement of putting on a full face of makeup and leaving the house used to be enough to get me out of bed in the morning. Before COVID-19, you could usually find me watching beauty tutorials, makeup hauls and product first impression videos on YouTube before dozing off the night before. I find the process of applying makeup therapeutic, and a full look makes me feel put together for in-person interactions. Needless to say, my beauty routine was scaled back drastically when the pandemic hit and I had to stay at home in order to contain its spread. Feeling less motivated to wear makeup while owning way too much started to make me feel anxious. For weeks, many of my most beloved products went untouched. However, that didn’t stop my impulsive desire to acquire more makeup, especially seeing new product releases across my socials feeds daily.
I was curious if other beauty lovers out there felt pressure to collect more makeup regardless of what they already own and how they were dealing with it. I dove deep into the online beauty world for support and found like-minded content creators who are combating cosmetics over-consumption by shopping—and striving to completely use up—their existing makeup stashes, reining in their spending by using a trusty old budget and being more purposeful about each beauty buy. They share their tips here.
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Shop your (beauty) closet
Instagram and YouTube are a constant stream of new beauty product launches and influencers showing off their overflowing makeup collections in compact acrylic cases. In the past two years, YouTube generated more than 100 billion views on beauty-related content alone. The global cosmetics industry is estimated to be worth $532 billion and growing. Suffice to say, beauty is booming. And when it comes to purchasing the latest makeup drop (like Fenty Beauty cream blush and bronzers, new collections from E.L.F, or celeb beauty launches like Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez), the pressure can feel intense for beauty enthusiasts to stay on top of what’s new and trendy. As a response to this overconsumption and materialism, makeup collectors in the YouTube and Instagram stratosphere are taking part in “project panning,” focusing on using makeup items in their existing collection rather than buying new ones.
“I want to shop my stash more and appreciate what I already have,” says Toronto-based beauty YouTuber Kyla Fish. “Using up products gives me the same amount of joy as purchasing new items.” Fish began documenting her zero-waste, project panning journey one year ago and has already gained more than 5,000 subscribers and 300,000 views on her channel. Fish was inspired to pan—as in use up individual products to the point where the bottom of a compact, or “pan,” is completely visible—her collection as a way of bringing awareness to the amount of waste in the beauty industry. “I get anxious if I have too many open products. I’m afraid I will have to throw them away (because they’ll expire) before I can get a lot of use out of them,” she says. “Even seeing others with large collections gives me stress, because a majority of makeup does not get recycled and will unfortunately end up in a landfill.” And Fish is right; about 86% of Canada’s plastic waste (including plastic from the beauty industry) will ultimately go to a landfill. 9% will be recycled and the rest is burned for energy which is extremely harmful for the environment.
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Set a budget
In a single day, I receive several emails with subject lines like “$10 OFF JUST FOR YOU” or “MAKEUP MUST-HAVE.” It can be challenging to avoid the temptation of buying more makeup when a reminder is always sitting in my inbox. As a freelance writer who is working from home, my makeup routine is now nearly non-existent and as a consequence, I’ve stopped shopping for makeup altogether because I just can’t justify it. That hasn’t been the case for everyone.
“During COVID-19 lockdown, my spending on makeup was really bad,” says Fish. She says stress shopping got the best of her at first but has slowed down since Toronto entered Stage 3 of reopening. For the first several weeks after the stay-at-home order was in place in March, purchases of beauty products dropped 44% likely due to uncertainty over job security, but quickly increased by 17% in April as online shopping became a new pastime and way to ease anxiety for many.
Other influencers in the beauty community, like Los Angeles-based Hannah Louise Poston, are turning to a low-buy lifestyle in an effort to thwart overconsumption. Poston, who is documenting her year of less stuff to her 30,000 YouTube subscribers, says panning her favourite makeup isn’t suitable for her; she’d rather focus on selecting a limited number of well-thought out purchases. “I really love my products but I don’t relish the idea of using them up!” she says. Poston wants a makeup collection that consists solely of items she wants to use, which she will naturally “pan” because she loves to use them, rather than forcing herself to use particular items. “I think that no-buy and low-buy projects can be useful for people who have fallen into the habit of shopping to self-soothe in troubled times,” she says. Before 2018, Poston began budgeting to resist the allure of overspending on new makeup. Within the confines of her monthly budget where she plans for both essential expenditures and fun purchases, Poston allows herself to buy “beautiful things” such as makeup once a month. Sticking to her budget ensures that her makeup buys for the month do not undermine her overall financial goals.
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Make every purchase count
Poston’s advice to those who enjoy makeup but don’t want to fall into the trap of overconsumption is to ask yourself: Do I want to use this makeup, or do I just want to buy this makeup? She suggests experimenting with the products you already own before shopping. “My advice for makeup consumers who are struggling with overconsumption is to set aside time to play with the makeup you already own,” says Poston. “The more you develop your techniques and your personal style, the more capable you will become of being honest with yourself about future purchases.”
Fish also recommends taking a step back and reflecting on what you already own. “Is it worth bringing in another item or will it just sit there?” She adds that using up cosmetics to the last drop takes a lot longer than you may think, so consider whether you could pan a new purchase before making it. “Stop and think if you own something similar, if you will use it often, and if you will use it up entirely.”