Conditioner, Lipsticks and Eyeliner: It’s my Crystal Meth
Cosmetics loved and lost
Can’t find that beloved beauty product anymore? The makers often keep a stash. They’ll send your old favorites – and new lines you might like.
It was just a slightly gloppy white goo, but to Nikki Virbitsky, the styling product known as Kiehl’s Shine ‘N Lite Groom was nothing short of a hair savior.
She used it for years, a small drop in the palm of her hand, giving her “really fine and overprocessed” locks a Rapunzelesque heft.
And then, it was gone. The company discontinued it in December, like the Grinch of Good Hair Days.
The South Philadelphia artist went to the Kiehl’s store on Rittenhouse Square and pleaded her case until she walked away with the store’s last 14 samples, each about half the size of a credit card. She’s been eking them out in tiny dabs until a new miracle comes along.
Still, she mourns. “That was my lifeblood and they took it away from me,” Virbitsky said. “It gave my hair fullness and body that I’ve never seen before.”
But now cosmetics junkies like Virbitsky may have a partial solution to their product addictions. Many cosmetics and hair-care companies have started what could be called “cosmetic graveyards” – replacement programs where consumers can find discontinued products, such as Clinique’s Chubby Sticks and M*A*C’s Wishful eye shadow.
Companies say the programs are a way to keep longtime fans loyal to their brand and avert immediate panic. It’s also an avenue to introduce products: Often they send samples of suggested alternatives with the old favorite.
Sometimes, as with Estee Lauder’s Hot Chili lipstick, the clamor from customers is loud enough to bring the dead back to life.
And they do call. Last year, Estee Lauder’s Gone But Not Forgotten program received more than 800 requests a week on average. That’s a lot of desperate women searching for their missing shine, buff, cover and scent.
Most want their lipsticks back. Killed-off foundations come next. The rest of the plaintive cries are for eye shadows, scents and other products. Begging is often involved.
“There was one woman who wanted to buy an entire truckload of pore minimizer, the nude base,” said Cynthia Strite, executive director of brand relations for Estee Lauder. “She was so adamant.” (Unfortunately, customers can purchase only six discontinued items at a time.)
Strite herself knows the pain of a good product gone, well, gone. For years she had a “signature red” lipstick that she wore with pride, much like a rouge coat of armor. Then it disappeared.
While Strite still wears red, she misses that original red, known appropriately as True Red. “That was my favorite, favorite,” she said, wistfully.
Products get discontinued for a variety of reasons, companies say – none to purposely punish consumers.
The main reason, companies say, is that customers are always looking for something new, with updated technology. Who wants an old lipstick that wears off with that first coffee sip when a longer-lasting product keeps cups stain-free?
Or a product may go out of style; for example, cheek cream is all the rage now, whereas powder blush used to be big. Or it simply may not sell as well as expected. Or the ingredients may no longer be available.
But all that rationalizing doesn’t help a woman without her favorite mascara. Although consumers will always hoard beloved products that reach limited-edition status (remember Elaine and “spongeworthy”?), women can become particularly attached to beauty essentials that help them face the world.
“It’s not a decision we come to lightly, because we know people get attached to their products,” said Cammie Cannella, Kiehl’s assistant vice president of global education in New York. “Consumers can be very dismayed when things are discontinued.”
A few years ago, Kiehl’s stopped producing its Light Flight shaving cream, made for men who used brushes, because of ingredient concerns, Cannella said. They thought few would be affected because it was a niche market. They were wrong.
“We had women writing on behalf of their boyfriends and their husbands,” she said.
The demand was so strong that the company decided to remake the product, using new ingredients. And those complaining customers? They were drafted to be the test group to try the new samples and see which ones were best. A new brush cream should be out in a couple of months, Cannella said.
Alas, even graveyard products have a “burial” date, usually two years or until the company runs out of stock.
But there’s still hope.
Chad Hayduk is cofounder of Three Custom Color in New York, which matches a variety of products from lipsticks to blushes to eyebrow gels (but not nail polish or scents). If you’re obsessed with the color of your goldish-burgundy velour tracksuit, he’s your man.
Most people, however, just want to look like Angelina Jolie. The company gets “hundreds” of requests a month for a long-gone Guerlain lipstick, No. 480 Divinora, a neutral beige color that the actress wears.
“Our customer wants what she wants and we’re here to give it to them,” Hayduk said. It costs $50 for two tubes of look-alike lipstick.
Some customers are lucky enough to have their fondest beauty wishes come true, thanks to others who share their obsession.
Kelly Thomas, a Philadelphia editor for a mathematics organization, yearned for the days when the Love’s products filled the shelves – but not the Baby Soft, which she considered “the weakest one.”
No, no, she wanted the Fresh Lemon and the Fresh Scent and the Fresh Rain. For years, her yearnings went unanswered.
Then inexplicably, they appeared on Amazon.com – even the Lemon! (Discontinued products are also often available on eBay.)
Barbara Eden, vice president of marketing for Dana Classic Fragrances, said she didn’t know how the little-distributed products appeared on the Web site.
“Maybe someone has a stockpile somewhere or something,” she said.
But while one of Thomas’ wishes came true, another remains unanswered, waiting for a pardon from the cosmetics overlords: Her favorite foundation, AirWear by L’Oreal, was discontinued in 2003.
“I went to the drugstore one day and it had those ‘last chance sale’ stickers on it, so I bought all the bottles I could find, about six of them,” she said. “I’m still using them.”
Searching for Lost Products
The first thing to do is contact the company; the phone number is usually on the back of the bottle or package. EBay and Amazon are other options.
These companies, among others, have specific programs:
Gone But Not Forgotten: This program is run by Estee Lauder, which is the parent company of Clinique, Estee Lauder, Bobbi Brown, and Bumble + Bumble, among others. If your product was discontinued in the last two years, it may be here. Call: 646-602-7725.
Goodbyes: This program is run by M*A*C. 1-800-588-0070 or http://www.maccosmetics.com/templates/products/picks.tmpl?pagename=macgoodbyes picks.tmpl?pagename=macgoodbyes.
Kiehl’s: The company does not have an official program but it helps customers find discontinued products until they are out. If you cannot visit a store personally (the closest is on Rittenhouse Square), contact 1-800-543-4572.
Guerlain: Store personnel can sometimes track down long-gone products, but customers can also call 1-800-815-7720 for help.
If you’ve given up hope, these companies will try to match that once-available lipstick that says “you.”
The Powder Room, 13023 Bustleton Ave. 215-969-0661, http://www.thepowderroomonline.biz/. Owner Julie Weiss-Schwartz can re-create lipsticks, lip gloss, and a host of other products. A tube of “reincarnated” lipstick costs $25 and you can even name it after yourself.
Three Custom Color:1-888-262-7714, www.threecustom.com. Send a snip of your eyebrow hair for a matching gel or a strip of that couch fabric for a coordinating lipstick.
And if you send your bridesmaid’s dress, these color specialists will even come up with colors to complement that puke green.
Cost is $50 for two tubes of lipstick.