Have you ever relied on a beauty product day in, day out, only for it to be taken away? Stylist investigates why brands discontinue beloved staples – and the psychology behind our extreme reactions.
I remember the day I found The One. It was seven years ago, as I was waiting for a friend on Islington High Street when the heavens opened. To avoid the downpour, I took shelter in a nearby Boots and scanned the make-up shelves – and that’s when I saw it. Maybelline’s Superstay 14 Hour Lipstick in Lasting Chestnut.
The see-through packaging revealed a flash of a gorgeous pink-toned brown that had all the makings of my perfect nude lipstick. At the time, the magazines and YouTube videos I consumed touted Mac’s Velvet Teddy as the nude lipstick – yet it just didn’t suit my yellow undertones. But this Maybelline nude looked different. I bought it and swiped it on before I had even stepped outside. Smitten, the next day, I bought three more and kept one in my handbag, one in my office drawer and two at home as back-ups.
Lasting Chestnut was a comforting presence during some of my most formative years.I wore it during the transition between a bad relationship and a new, good one. It’s on my lips in my graduation photos and holiday selfies. It saw me through job interviews, nerve-wracking first days, promotions and all of the mundanity in between. Throughout all of the changes in my life over the years, it remained a constant.
One day, I rotated a back-up into my handbag and made my regular trip to Boots to replenish my stockpile. Except, it was nowhere to be seen. Slightly panicked, I asked a sales assistant about its absence, but all they could tell me was that there weren’t any available. When I got home, I went straight to the Maybelline website and there it was, the dreaded D word: discontinued.
It might sound hyperbolic, and I’m aware there are far worse things going on in the world, but I felt a drop in my stomach and numbness spread from the inside of my elbow to my fingertips. That lipstick was my equivalent of a comfort blanket. I managed to find two lipsticks on the Superdrug website and ordered them immediately. Over the next few months, I used my remaining supplies sparingly, dabbing them on my lips and blending them with my finger in an attempt to make them last as long as possible.
Inevitably, my last bullet came to an end and then it was gone, forever. Over the past three years, I’ve been on a painstaking search for my new perfect nude but nothing has come close.
End of the road
I’m not alone in my disappointment. A quick email around the Stylist office revealed most of us have felt the loss of a discontinued product. “Estée Lauder’s Double Wear Concealer is the best I’ve ever found for covering up volcanic spots,” replied Moya Crockett, contributing women’s editor and deputy editor of Stylist Loves. “They don’t make it any more so I’m currently rationing out the tiny bit I have left.” Production editor Amy Davies-Adams reminisced about how perfect Benefit’s long-gone Lemon Aid primer was for oversensitive eyelids, while acting executive fashion director Hannah Moore said she could “never forgive’’ Essie for ceasing production on its Clambake nail colour, “the greatest red/orange of all time”.
These disappearances only skim the surface. There’s an endless stream of online forums dedicated to grieving various discontinued beauty products. “Clinique Long Lasting Lip Gloss in Cosmic Pink was my ride-or-die product 10 years ago,” one Reddit user told us. “Since it’s been discontinued, I haven’t been able to find a product that’s the perfect pink with the right amount of sparkle. I felt a bit lost when I couldn’t find an alternative. Years later, I’m still looking for it.”
No letting go
From lack of popularity to clearing shelves for new launches, there are myriad reasons why a brand gives a product the boot. But that doesn’t make it any easier for die-hard fans. So, why do we find it so hard to let go? “We use products and brands to express, build and change who we are,” explains consumer psychologist Kate Nightingale. “This is a natural process of how the self changes throughout our lives.”
Nightingale adds that brands build symbolism around a product through marketing and communication. “We don’t buy the product – and not even the brand – but rather the symbolic meaning behind it,” she says. “For example, a lipstick may be sold by a brand that has a bold and innovative personality. It may make marketing claims that the lipstick will pull out your inner light for everyone to see. Then you might learn that a friend who is shining is actually wearing that lipstick. You buy it and suddenly, you feel more energised.
“The customer in this scenario externalises the reason for that change and places it on the lipstick rather than realising that the lipstick was only a trigger for an internal change. Most people ascribe this change to beauty products as it is easier to post-rationalise than admit that you have actually changed inside.”
Interestingly, the amount of time that we spend with a beauty product can also determine whether we feel sad, annoyed or angry about our loss. “The reason why we might experience different emotions and feelings is the importance of the change sparked by a given product,” says Nightingale. “The better the fit of the product and the brand message with your self/identity, the stronger the feelings. Also, the lack of symbolically valuable alternatives will also result in more intense emotions.”
Unbreak my heart
Just because your favourite foundation has been discontinued, doesn’t mean you’ll have a bottle-shaped hole in your make-up bag forever. Reddit is filled with hundreds of posts asking fellow users to help them track down a discontinued product. While others make pleas offering payment for anybody willing to post their last samples.
Many major beauty companies also offer initiatives to help customers track down any last samples of discontinued products still knocking about, such as Estée Lauder Companies’ Gone But Not Forgotten (GBNF) scheme. “[We] understand that having a most-loved product discontinued can be frustrating, and searching for a replacement can be daunting and time consuming,” reads the GBNF customer page. “We offer our consumers the opportunity to search for products that have been discontinued within 24 months through the Gone But Not Forgotten Programme.” To initiate a search, all you have to do is email email@example.com and the Estée Lauder team will hunt high and low across 21 beauty brands for any last remaining products. It’s worth a shot; 200 products are sent out to fans in the UK every month.
“It always feels good to get hold of certain skin products, like moisturiser, that a consumer cannot live without,” says Jessica Danson, dedicated lead for UK Gone But Not Forgotten. “When I tell them we have it available, you can hear in their voice how much it means and how much confidence the product brings to them.”
Similarly, Urban Decay has a Gone For Good section on its website, where you can purchase products before they disappear forever. There are also websites dedicated to selling discontinued products such as buymebeauty.com while eBay and Amazon are also popular. Though be careful you aren’t purchasing a product that may be expired or counterfeit. Check packaging and be aware of strange textures or smells.
Fans also channel their passion into their own personal campaigns, in a bid to get favourite products reinstated. “We get enthusiastic messages on a daily basis about some of our older products and scents, including Red Musk and Dewberry,” says Diego Ortiz de Zevallos, global brand director at The Body Shop. Speaking up about a loss can actually help. Customers tend to utilise the various methods of communication, from email and telephone to every social media platform that allows comments. Case in point: Aveda’s Sap Moss hair range. Aveda made the decision to bring the collection back 10 years after it was discontinued because of multiple queries on social media. “This cult favourite shampoo and conditioner system is back and even more high-performing after over a decade hiatus and endless requests from customers for its return,” says Nicole Howard, executive director of product development at Aveda.
In 2018, Mac Cosmetics launched its Throwbacks collection, in response to customer demand. The collection was a compilation of the brand’s most loved products from the 90s and reunited fans with iconic lip shades such as Marrakesh and Shrimpton, and eyeshadows such as Uninterrupted and Tete-A-Tint. “The Mac Throwback collection was inspired by requests from our make-up artists,” says Michelle Celis, vice president, global product marketing at Mac Cosmetics. “Since that collection launched, Marrakesh in particular has risen to be a top shade for us globally.”
Celis recommends getting in touch with the brand if your favourite product gets discontinued. “We have passionate, vocal fans and we always encourage them to share real-time feedback with us when a favourite product or shade is discontinued,” she says. “There have been times that we have brought some shades and products back based on fan feedback.”
Maybe I need to get Maybelline on the phone.
Not all products fall victim to changing trends. These items have stood the test of time…
The cult cream
Created in the 60s by physicist Dr Max Huber, La Mer Moisturizing Cream, £125 for 30ml, is one of the most iconic beauty products. It took 12 years and 6,000 experiments to perfect and contains La Mer’s signature Miracle Broth, a potent blend of sea-born ingredients.
The classic lipstick
Elizabeth Arden opened her first Red Door salon on New York’s Fifth Avenue in 1910. The Montezuma lipstick (now known as Red Door Red, £22) was made to coordinate with the uniforms of women serving in the armed forces during WWII.
The timeless scent
Coined “the first oriental perfume in history”, Guerlain’s Shalimar Eau de Parfum, £81 for 50ml, has been around since 1925. It’s a blend of bergamot, iris and vanilla and the basins of the famous Shalimar gardens in Lahore inspired the award- winning bottle.
Main image: photography by Dennis Pedersen