Discontinued beauty products: the bane of our lives

There are few things more frustrating than your favourite lipstick being discontinued. So, why do brands do it – and what can you do about it?

It might sound dramatic to compare a beauty product to a family member, so we won’t, but there are some beauty products that you come to rely on. Like a crutch. Or a bus route. So, when a beauty company decides to discontinue them, “you feel bereft”, sympathises Guardian beauty columnist Sali Hughes. She should know, she’s been abandoned by enough of them.

“The most pressing one I can think of is Astalift’s Jelly Aquarysta. Brilliant brand owned by Japanese company Fuji, such a great product, I quacked on endlessly about it. I wrote about it and my readers got hooked on it, and then they did the obvious thing by discontinuing it in the UK.”

The same thing happened with Neutrogena Body Emulsion, and about four years ago a cream eyeshadow by Tom Ford called Platinum. It’s just the greatest eyeshadow, it came out limited edition for one season then vanished. Collectively, we – the readers and I – made a fuss and it came back, but again only as limited edition. Still, we won.”

Discontinued products might be the bane of our small, aesthetic-focused lives, but for others they are a gold mine. Take Daneen Woolstrum, who set up Discontinued Beauty, which sells phased-out products and makes a killing selling cult items, anything limited edition or rare.

But why do they discontinue products which are clearly, tangibly, universally brilliant? Part of the problem, explains Sali, is that most of these brands are global. So, what works in the UK – be it trend or skin type – might not work in the US, and given the size of that customer base it often wins. Clinique Gentle Light is a case in point. “For some reason, it took off in the UK, so they brought it back but only here.”

“Brands now use Google Analytics a lot. If enough people are searching for a certain product name, they may feel it’s worth bringing it back to market.” Ditto eBay, which has a huge impact. “Brands can monitor the price and what’s being bid on the most. It’s also a good way to find discontinued items if you set up an alert, although you have to be careful, as things do go off.” Even Twitter helps: “Clinique, for example, are very receptive. They got rid of their Almost lipsticks. But everyone loved Black Honey, so they brought it back, just that one. I dare say they’ll never discontinue it again. Well, here’s hoping.”