You Tell Me: Should we be allowed to return cosmetics?

Consumer Rights. Trading Standards. It’s been opened. It’s been tested. There’s creases around the crotch area. Sorry, you already ate 95% of the meal, miss.

There are so many reasons as to why people won’t give you your money back. The US is fantastic for returns even for make up items (and US ladies, please do comment and tell me if this is not as great as I think it is…).

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In the UK returns for cosmetics is a no go area. There are some exceptions, such as QVC that allow 30 days for returns (even with used products). Also, its not to say that if you bought a £60 cream from a top beauty brand and it made you swell up like the elephant man they wouldn’t give you your money back – they probably would.

However – if you are just plain unhappy with your choice, was swept away in the moment or just think it doesn’t fulfil its promise…you are probably out of luck unless you want to be escorted out of the shop by security. Don’t ask me. I don’t want to talk about it.

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My thoughts –

I personally think that the rules need to be better in the UK. Whilst I don’t think people should take advantage of a good returns policy (ie. buy, chop off half a lipstick and return it) I have so often felt disappointed with a product I purchased but unable to take it back. I’ve even been denied an exchange for make up that were boxed and still sealed up.

Instead of doing this I think companies need better and more available samples (even if its just put into a little pot) and should focus on the long term, happy customer rather than someone they managed to offload £100 of products on to but will never shop with them again.

Besides, if you have a great product – why would you be worried?

So tell me in the comments with all honesty – should people be allowed to return specifically make up and skincare from whence they came?

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  1. says

    This issue really bugs me, especially in Space NK. They don’t have samples of the Fekkai/Neil George/ haircare or the Chantecaille skincare. I asked about their return policy and they won’t accept returns unless the product is defective or it makes your hair fall out. Why would I buy a £100 hair serum if I can’t test it or return it if it doesn’t work?

    I think more samples is the way to go – because people do abuse the return policy in the US. I also have less sympathy for colour cosmetics if you bought them in person – unless it’s foundation you’ve been mis-sold (and we’ve all had that happen – the SA insists it’s the right colour, but it’s orange when you get home.)

    • Row says

      Hi Grace

      Geez….especially since Space NK sells some uber expensive stuff – very very pricey but it can’t be returned? Madness. Give us a sample then, clearly thats the answer.

      The foundation thing I agree with too. I’ve had a girl hold me down and say that I *didnt* need to go outside to check, the lights indoors were *fine*. (I bought it, fearing for my life).

      Some people do take the mick in the US but I think a lot of the girls, having had this wonderful benefit for so long, are used to it and quite sensible (well the girls I talk to anyway!). I’ve heard people moan and moan and moan so much via emails about some of the current, very big brands and how they will never buy XXX from XXX again and I just think – if only you would take this product back, at last these girls would still be customers for other things!

  2. says

    Yes, I think a lot of cosmetic companies make bold claims about their products that they don’t follow through with, knowing that the product can’t be returned.

    Obviously there are some great products out there that do exactly what they say, but allowing a refund or return process would hopefully lead to some of bigger brands to up their game.

    You’d return any other product if it wasn’t suitable, so why not cosmetics?

    • Row says

      Hi Emma

      Thats the thing – I’ve bought so many things that make a clear came “Fades scars” “Holds Curl” etc. and THEY SIMPLY DO NOT. Try arguing with a counter girl when she’s got PMT…..its hard I tell ya!

      A returns procedure = Companies have to work HARDER, Staff have to work HARDER. Customers = HAPPIER and CONFIDENT in the brand!

  3. Stephanie says


    I went to Clinique for foundation, had my colour matched by their ‘experts’ and came away red. Not even orange, but red. I phoned up a number from their website to see if I could return it, got an okay, but when I got back to the shop they refused to deal with it, still insisting that it was good for me even when I removed some of the makeup I was currently wearing (a better match, but stil a bit dark) and pointed out the really obvious colour difference.

    Since that was £19.50 down the drain due to their supposedly helpful service being so utterly dreadful, I retaliate by telling people how dreadful they are :(

    • Row says

      Hey Stephanie

      That’s terribly that that happened to you – was the foundation 100% not a match?

      This has happened to me before but not with Clinique – where I have called the HQ and they have said fine but then people on the counter don’t play ball. It can sometimes depend on who you end up getting on the counter which is frustrating! I think that if you have been colour matched be THEM whoever the are, you should always be able to get your money back!

  4. says

    In spain we cannot return cosmetics either. I don’t understand why, if we can return any other thing we bought, why are cosmetics special? Some of them are expensive enought to let us try them first, IMHO.
    I think a reasonable return policy would be good for both the consumer and the brand.

    • Row says

      Hi Eru

      I wonder if its quite strict over Europe? I agree if something is defective, or does not fulfil claims we should be able to return. If something is new and sealed it should be returnable. Its a difficult one and by god, it means the counter girls have to work a bit harder, but it will seriously make people much happier long term!

  5. Kimberly says

    I live in the US & I honestly think returns need to be better everywhere. Women spend an unbelievable amount on beauty care items. Companies need to listen to our needs for a change. Honestly sometimes you have to go through such a hassle to return an item. Companies really need to re-think their return policies, either to lose long term valuable customers against some unwanted or defective items. Products that are still sealed & never used should always be accepted back no questions asked.
    Hopefully the companies in the UK & other places will read this article & make some changes to policies. For now you can always consider swapping your unwanted items on Makeup Alley, or posting a blog sale, or sell the items on Youtube to rid you of the items you wind up stuck with.

    • Row says

      Hi Kimberley,

      Thats what I am doing now! Considering a blog sale (I’m not really one for swaps though) because I have so much stuff I have only used once or twice. its a real hassle i wish there was just a tiny bit of flexibility from the cosmetic companies.

    • Row says

      Hi Kim

      Yeah its like that for us all the time in the UK! I forget sometimes with cosmetic houses being so strict that fashion stores are much better, letting people get a refund up to 28 days.

  6. says

    I live in the US and one of the reasons I am willing to explore new brands is because I know I can return the product if it does not work. It also comes in handy if I oversplurge, get home, and realize I don’t need so much stuff because I couldn’t say no to the sales assistant. In any case, I try not to abuse it, and only returned used products if I absolutely must, as in a wrong color foundation, as Stephanie described above. I agree with her, if I have a bad experience I tell others about it and word of mouth is quite influential.

    • Row says

      Hi Kajal

      I agree with you too – people have to be be considerate with returns but I would much rather HAVE the choice to return than not. I think we have all been there – bought a ton of make up then decided we don’t want it. I have bought something before, waked away from the counter, realised whilst walking away I had the wrong shade and they wouldnt change it for me when I got back….not kidding! I won’t name and shame the brand but it was horrendous!

  7. says

    I think you should be able to return items (I live in the US, btw). There have been too many times when there are no testers, the lighting in the store made it look good (and it was cloudy outside, go figure), situations like that. Personally, I think there should be a change in policy in general here, too. Some places will allow you to return things that have been used /way/ too much. I’m not saying “it looks used, no returns!” but if something looks more than a quarter used, there should be no refund. (I have seen things like that, where it’s obvious the person either used most of it up, or depotted it, and are just trying to get their money back to buy something else).

    You can try on a pair of shoes in a store, you can try on a dress (or pants), you should be able to get samples to try out makeup, and/or allowed to return something that didn’t work, it is just that simple.

    • Row says

      Hi Karoru

      Yes I agree with you! No Testers = More mistakes. I guess some companies may think the sooner they offload you with something, the sooner they get your money (whereas a tester can last up to a month) but you got to think long term here!

      I reckon if they changed the policy in the UK, sales would be slower but people would be happier in general, there would be more customer loyalty etc. etc. If I buy something and hate it (all the time) everyone will know about it! If I got a chance to test it, then I am less inclined to feel intense hatred towards it since I wasn’t lumbered with 6 months worth of the thing.

  8. says

    I love our return policies in the US. I have a really hard time matching foundations and it makes it a lot easier. Most department stores, CVS, Walgreens, and ULTA all accept returns no questions asked with a receipt. However, I have heard that they keep track of your returns (at places like MAC) and if you abuse the policy you will not be allowed to return products.

    • Row says

      Hi Lauren

      Fair enough for MAC I think – I can imagine some people buy a ton of stuff without thinking about it then use it and take it back willy nilly (but of course its not hygenic and can’t be resold) – what a waste! I’m afraid drug store make up couldnt be returned in the UK unless I guess, it was faulty

  9. says

    I’d agree with better samples being the way to go – open return policies are definitely too open to abuse, and people would definitely take the mic. However I have lost count of the number of times I have been matched to a foundation, bought a full size and then worn it for a couple of days, only to realise it makes me look like a tangerine tinted freak – hence I now have a drawer full of crap like MAC studio sculpt etc that I can’t use or take back. Waste of money, and it also means I’m HIGHLY unlikely to buy foundation from them again. Would be far better for the companies to give out a sample which would allow you to use a product for a few days, decide if it works for you and then act accordingly – I’m personally FAR more likely become a return customer if companies offer me a sample before I commit to full sized purchase – I think this is where companies like Clinique and Estee Lauder do well. It not only encourages you to explore your needs properly with the assistant, but it also tells me that the company are confident enough in the quality of their products that they think you will return to purchase further. One thing that irritates me no end is when I ask for a sample and I am given an icy stare and informed thet they didn’t get sent any samples of that this week…

    • Row says

      Hi Mizz

      Too true! I have asked for samples before and I always get the “Sorry we don’t have any in stock” as if I’m a beggar….but IF you buy something, suddenly, its freebies galore! Which makes no sense – especially with things like a foundation, it doesn’t help me!

      I am the same with base – I have so much cos I love a texture then it goes nasty on my skin (tangerine freak as u say!) or the colour was just wrong.

      At the same time I can imagine some people totally take the mickey….I think there needs to be a general procedure with some rules – ie. you cant return something after 1 month, there can’t be more than 10% of the product that has been used etc. etc…..

      God I’d be so much richer if I could return make up!

  10. says

    I can’t say that I return things often (I can probably remember the number of times), and that particularly applies to makeup. Either I’m lazy to do so, or I convince myself that I’ll be able to find some use for it in the future. BUT, tonight I returned home with a new item from MAC that I realized was a bit smashed in the lid. To be honest, I didn’t really want it much to begin with (was a little pressured by the MA), so I’ll be heading back down there tomorrow to give it back. I like knowing that I can do that–and in places like Sephora and Nordstrom, a receipt is not required. For the markup that cosmetic companies charge on items, I think it shows a little sensitivity to allow the customer to change their mind.

    Samples–only recently have I discovered the true reason for their existence. And because of them have purchased many more items–so, in my opinion samples only lead the customer down the dark tunnel of increased’d think they’d realize that offering them to us, is to THEIR benefit.

    • Row says

      Hi Suka,

      That’s the thing – I think all of us are susceptible to peer pressure – even I have been in (recently) a situation where I felt forced to buy something. It was awful! Makes you feel powerless, then angry afterwards for wasting the money.

      Its good to know you have to option to return – you are pretty much stuck with it most of the time in the UK.

      A good brand shouldn’t fear the sample system at all! x

  11. Julia says

    Interesting comments here. I agree with all those who say that sampling should be available. Without samples how can we be expected to make an informed choice. So often we are told after a brief scrummage in a drawer that “we don’t seem to have any samples, we haven’t been sent any or we are waiting for them”. If the companies were confident in their products they would have nothing to fear. I think many of the sales consultants are target driven and don’t really work to achieve repeat custom. I think the department stores who give space to these cosmetic houses should also impose some rules. I personally think Chanel is one of the worst companies to deal with regarding return of products. They just don’t want to know – even when products have caused unpleasant skin irritations. They say “but we didn’t say our products were hypoallergenic”. Estee Lauder have a 100% satisfaction guaranteed policy which is very reassuring and no doubt encourages people to buy with confidence. Many years ago I had a skin reaction to a problem that needed dermatological help. I was told then “never buy a product unless the company are willing to sample you. If they won’t sample you, they are not valuing you as a customer so don’t take the risk”. Wise words – if only I had remembered to listen and not believed the words of an over keen sales assistant.

  12. says

    I’m really jealous every time I hear on youtube that someone didn’t like a foundation so they returned it! The UK really should have a policy like that. I don’t understand how it works though with the products being used, surely they don’t get resold and would that not waste the company’s money? I don’t know.

    But it would be great! I have a £26 Lancome foundation that is too dark for my skin tone that is sitting in my makeup drawer that I can’t use or return!

  13. Amy says

    Ok…so I am totally fine with returns if it was not used. But come on ladies do you really think that its ok to bring something back that is used. Something that I can’t resale to another customer. Especially if I’ve spent 45 to an hour with you. And then you want to bring it back because you changed your mind. You may not realize it but a lot of us out there in retail world get paid by how much we sale. And when you bring it back it affects our pay. How about next time your in you try on the lipstick on your lips, not you hand. Same goes for foundation. I get so may people tell me that they want a new foundation, but there ” tanning” come on. Why is it so hard for you to wait until your done ” tanning ” and come back and then I can match you. I work for a great brand that takes everything back, even if its used. So many people take advantage of it. They buy a few thing’s during a free gift. They keep the gift …..wrong! And then return the products. People have no shame these days. One more thing, I’m all for samples. But if a product takes a few weeks to see results . How is a a sample going to help? It’s not! Foundation always try a sample or at least wear it home one day. And if you want results you have to actually follow the directions. You can’t just expect a product to work over night. It took you years get wrinkles and spots. They just don’t pop up one day. It’s gonna take time to see results. One bottle never works, you have to also be consistent.