If you’re a savvy shopper who makes use of resale platforms like Poshmark or Depop, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen some used makeup floating around on there. As a germaphobe, this alarms me greatly. If you do decide to snag a deal on it, what if you knew that the person selling it got it for free? Does that make you feel differently?
In the beauty space, it’s not uncommon for PR companies to send free products to editors or, more modernly, influencers to review or feature on their platforms. For popular influencers, an excess of PR products can be a problem. Not every item will work well for each person that they’re sent to. Let’s focus on cosmetics in particular. Say that a brand has developed a new lipstick and has sent PR samples ahead of the official launch. Some people on the PR list might not like the formula, and for those people, keeping the lipstick would end up being a complete waste of space. Even if the formula itself is universally enjoyed in this hypothetical situation, it is not uncommon for a brand to send every shade variation that the product comes in. Can you imagine actually wanting to wear every single shade of a lip product when there are dozens to choose from? Probably not.
Obviously, this is a major first-world problem. Personally, I would love to be on a few PR lists, and this wouldn’t be a huge deal breaker for me (what can I say, free stuff is awesome). The people who actually end up with unusable PR products, however, do need to find a way to get rid of them.
There are several ways that that might be accomplished. The easiest (but most wasteful) way of getting rid of unwanted products is to simply throw them away. Some people may give their unwanted PR to friends and family or include them in a giveaway for their followers. Others donate unused or gently used items to women’s shelters (If you have any unused or lightly used cosmetics that you no longer want, consider donating them here!). And then there are the people who put their PR items for sale.
Unlike all of the other methods of disposing of PR, selling it is profitable solely to the PR recipient, which is what makes it, at least in my opinion, the most unethical and dishonest. The reason why companies bother to send product samples (sometimes among other extravagant gifts) for free is that they are hoping for mentions on social media to bring awareness to their new launches. PR does not cost anything to the recipient, but it is “free” with an asterisk attached. When someone accepts the invitation for PR gifting, there is an implied exchange of goods (products) for services (a mention). What happens to the products after said exchange is up to the person — no matter how dubious it can seem.
I decided to take to Reddit to see what other people were saying about PR resale. “I think it's ridiculous. With the amount of money YouTubers make, they can easily donate spare items to charity or give it away to friends or family. Pretty sure these companies don't give away free items so these YouTubers can make a profit from selling them,” wrote one user. Several other Redditors also complained that no one should be able to make a profit off of something that they had been given for free. Another user noted: “It feels like beauty gurus are taking advantage of their subs by selling them products they got for free.”
Some people entertain the possibility that the people who sell their PR do actually need the cash. “Nowadays, I associate flash sales on eBay and whatnot by influencer types and their families to be indicative of cash flow issues. Kind of like the time I eBayed a load of stuff to pay a surprise bill. I think very few influencers are half as wealthy as they pretend,” a user wrote on the forum site Tattle. “I think at least it seems like the PR stuff hasn’t been opened and used before being resold,” they surmised. If someone was short on cash, selling stuff that they had obtained at no cost would make sense.
A case can be made for all of the above. When it comes to the fate of beauty products running their course through the influencer circuit, it’s kind of free game. Just don’t be surprised if there are some sideways glances if they end up on your Depop.