The Champagne Life on a DIY Budget Since 2007

Pretty Cheap: Organizing A Beauty Product Swap

how to host a makeup swap

What’s better than getting together for a night of wine and a clothing swap with your girlfriends? Putting that same sense of fun and spring cleaning into your supply of beauty products.

Something new doesn’t always have to mean money spent, and a beauty swap is a fun and easy way to update your makeup bag. The idea is the same: grab the cosmetics, toiletries & spa products that you bought (or were given as gifts) and don’t use, and trade them for something you need but don’t have.

Round up those “gift with purchase” lipsticks, those too-pink cheek colors, those lighter-than-you-wanted eye liners, those doesn’t-work-for-my-hair products and encourage your friends to do the same. It’s time to purge your vanities and cabinets for a beauty swap.


It’s important to know specifically what’s missing from your arsenal before you get to the swap, and ‘more eye shadow’ doesn’t cut it. Maybe you’d like a pink lipstick for spring, or a deeper plum matte shadow. For a few days before the swap, keep a pad and pen next to the place where you get ready in the morning and comprise a wish list so you don’t just come home with a bag full of more beauty products you won’t use.


Before you swap, decide which ones are swap-worthy. Anything that isn’t opened or used is always best, but something ‘gently used’ is fine, too, as long as it’s in reasonably good shape. In addition to makeup, fragrances, body lotions, nail polishes, and body washes are kept sanitary and are great products to swap. Makeup that you haven’t touched in two months won’t ever be used again by you — no matter how much you love it — so give it a new home with a new owner who’ll actually use it.

Wind each lipstick all the way up, spritz with rubbing alcohol, then wind back down (so you don’t break it) to sanitize. Gently wipe the tip with a tissue to remove the top ‘used’ layer of color.

Cream Cheek Colors
Spritz each cream blush or rouge with rubbing alcohol (cleaning the mirror as well) and remove the top layer with a tissue, evening out the surface as much as you can. Try to make it look as presentable as when you bought it. (For powdered blush, see Eye Shadows.)

Eye Liners & Lip Liners
Dip or spritz the liner with rubbing alcohol and then give it a few twists in the sharpener to sanitize.

Eye Shadows
If the eye shadow is in a compact, wipe the mirror clean (if there is one) and use a cotton ball to remove the top layer of product. You don’t want to add rubbing alcohol to the surface, so it won’t be 100% sanitized, but if you aren’t prone to styes or pink eye then it’s probably OK to swap. 

Mineral Powders
Good news: mineral powders don’t need to be sanitized. Since they’re pulverized rocks, they can’t carry bacteria. Just remove the powder that’s on top of the container and clean it off so it looks nice.


The following beauty products shouldn’t be swapped at all, or should be swapped at your own risk — even then, only among a group of friends or people you know well.

Exposed Eye Shadows
If the bottom of the pan is exposed, they look old, or they show a lot of wear, just throw the eye shadow away.

Plausibly Old Products
If you can’t remember when you bought the makeup or beauty products, they’re probably too old to swap. Makeup does have a shelf life and if you aren’t sure about it, it isn’t worth hanging on to or giving away.

Anything you wore/used for a while but didn’t quite use to the end shouldn’t be swapped. If the lotion, shampoo, hairspray, or perfume is half-full or more, great; but if the glass is half empty, pour it down the drain. Something you used more than halfway but then got bored probably won’t be appealing to anyone else, either.

Unless your foundation is in a pump, there isn’t a good way to sanitize it once it’s been used and it shouldn’t be swapped. (Think: bottles that are dispensed by putting a finger over the top and shaking them upside down.)

Wand Applicators
Lip glosses and mascaras with wand applicators were probably used directly on the mouth or eyes and really can’t be sanitized. If you’re only swapping with close friends and you know that no one is prone to cold sores or eye infections, then it’s your call and up to the discretion of your group: swap at your own risk! Just be sure to let people know which items aren’t brand new so they can decide for themselves.


If you’re organizing the beauty swap, think of setting up your space like Sephora. You want everyone to be able to try things on (and wipe them off) in a sanitary way. Have the following items on hand:

  • Q-tips (to keep makeup from being applied straight to the face)
  • Rubbing alcohol (to keep everything sanitized)
  • Hand mirrors
  • Baby wipes (for removing makeup)
  • Tissues

Create ‘stations’ for testing the makeup, and then group all the beauty products by category in bins and on surfaces in order to make items easy to browse, like you’re actually shopping a boutique or makeup counter. Then open up the floor and let your ladies swap ’til they drop!


Don’t be tempted to take those 20 lipsticks you brought back home if someone else didn’t choose them by the end of the night. Donate new (unopened) makeup to your local Dress for Success chapter or women’s shelter.

Opened makeup should go to your local Origins store: their Return to Origins recycling program was launched last year and offers a free sample in exchange for each used or even empty cosmetic product, no matter who made it. Yup, all empty and used bottles (like shampoos, moisturizers, eye liners, even caps and lids) from any cosmetic line can be traded in at Origins for an Origins product sample. It’s a great program and a samples are an even better way to try something new before ponying up money for the full-size version.

Join Shoestring & The Swapaholics for a Beauty Swap & Bag Party on April 27th, 2010 in Boston, MA. For tickets and more info, visit

Copyright 2010 Shoestring, LLC and Carissa Passerella. Photo: The Chic Life