By picking up on Ulta Beauty employee Bianca Ann Levinson’s viral TikTok video showing the retailer’s practice of destroying or “damaging out” returned beauty products, the publication Dazed stirred a heated discussion in the beauty industry about how to properly treat returned merchandise. The discussion was continued on the Instagram account of anonymous beauty industry watchdog Estée Laundry, where beauty brands brought up that the costs of demolished returned products are passed onto them.
We decided to further explore the issue of “damaging out” by asking 11 beauty entrepreneurs: What are the implications for beauty brands of this retail practice, and what alternatives do you think should be considered?
When I first saw dumpster diving videos materialize in 2014, I was disheartened as a makeup artist and brand co-founder. We put so much work into a product, so when a product gets "damaged out," so do months/years of research, artistry, formulation, design and testing. It's like watching a beloved pet get tortured.
Returns in the beauty industry are notorious for producing waste and can bring a brand down as a net loss. "Damaging out" prevents dumpster divers from using/reselling returned product and is regarded as safer for beauty consumers. Protocols like the one demonstrated in the video have been in place for years and are necessary evils to protect the brand and consumer, although it's complicated.
As a makeup artist, I get several PR packages from other brands. This is what I do with excess product:
As we approach a more sustainable and less-is-more approach to beauty, there are much more sanitary and eco-conscious ways to manage the complicated issue of beauty returns: