Exactly What To Do With Beauty Products You Don't Like (That's Not Throwing Them Away)

Sustainability specialists offer their best tips to avoid wasting unwanted skin care, makeup, and hair care purchases.

TikTok can be a useful tool when shopping for beauty products. But sometimes, even after watching countless reviews, a skin care, makeup, or hair care purchase still might not perform the way you imagined it would. Do you keep a nearly full product on your counter to gather dust? Or toss it (and live with the guilt)? Thankfully, there are other options if you’re willing to put in some legwork or get creative, which is why, ahead, we talked with sustainability specialists to get their best tips for reusing, recycling, or repurposing the beauty purchases you don’t know what to do with.

1. Check The Return Policy

If you’ve opened a product only to quickly discover that it doesn’t suit you, you might be able to get your money back. Ulta has a generous return policy that allows refunds, credit, or exchanges “if you're not completely satisfied with a product for any reason.” At Sephora, meanwhile, returns of new or gently used products are entitled to a full refund. Just make sure to do your research and move quickly — Sephora’s conditions only includes products returned within 30 days of purchase, for example.

2. Ask The Group Chat

So you’ve either passed the return-by date or have “ungently” used the product before realizing it’s not a keeper. In this case, Nicole Nimri, project lead at Slow Factory, says you may want to offer it up to your friends and family because what doesn’t work for you may be a great fit for someone else. “This generates a way we can all try out new products together and avoid just throwing them away,” Nimri says.

3. Get Creative With Repurposing

Jazmine Rogers, founder of Sustainable Baddie, says that when a product isn’t quite cutting it for its intended purpose, she starts to think outside of the box. “When I was first trying to experiment with curly hair care products, I found that things I didn’t like for my hair were fine as a body wash,” she says. “Even for makeup, if a lipstick looks better on my cheek, it’s all interchangeable.” There are plenty of useful substitutes: using eyeshadow as highlighter, unused serums as hand creams, bronzer as eyeshadow, and facial oils as hair oil. The list goes on. (TikTok is also a helpful resource in this regard.) But before using a product in an unconventional way, always make sure to do a patch first to check for a potential negative reaction. And never put anything too close to eyes that is not eye-safe.

4. Donate Unused or Barely Used Products

For unopened, unused products (and some used products), consider dropping them off at your local women's shelter. Every charity organization and shelter has a different policy for accepting used beauty products, so first call your local center and check theirs before dropping off a box. You can also try a mail-in service, like Project Beauty Share, which accepts products that are at least three-fourths full. Just don’t expect your half-used mascaras, expired products, or opened tubs to be accepted — these can pose a health risk when shared.

4. Find a Take-Back Or Recycling Program

When you do successfully empty a bottle of shampoo or hit pan on your blush palette, it’s time to recycle. Leah Thomas, author of The Intersectional Environmentalist and program director of Earth Sessions, says she’s found that many of her favorite beauty brands (like Bare Minerals) offer take-back programs for their own products. Search for similar programs — like those from Glow Recipe, Farmacy, and Ilia — and considering shopping from those that do to avoid future waste.

But if you’re looking to recycle things from multiple brands, Nordstrom’s BEAUTYCYCLE is a good one-stop option. They accept empty bottles, tubes, caps, dispensers, pans, and palettes from all cosmetic brands — even ones you didn’t buy at Nordstrom. You simply drop your empties (no aerosol cans, perfume, or nail-polish bottles) off at their in-store collection bins.