It’s easy to underestimate the hold beauty products have over us. Though they’re often written off as frivolous, the mascaras, shampoos and perfumes that drive the multibillion-dollar cosmetics industry are seen as necessities by many customers. And when an item is suddenly and inexplicably discontinued, it can leave us stumped and frustrated that we have to begin the trial and error of finding a replacement all over again.
Often, shoppers are caught off-guard when a favourite product disappears. But in some cases, there’s some warning, which can create the opportunity to stock up. When Coral Beaton, a medical aesthetician, learned that her favourite dry shampoo by My Amazing was being discontinued, she bought 12 cans. “I’ve tried so many different dry shampoos. Either they don’t do what you want them to do, or they smell terrible, or they feel super gritty,” Beaton says. “This one is just perfect. It breaks my heart to this day.”
For real estate executive Ira Lindenberg, that heartbreak came in the form of the disappearance of Kiehl’s Hair Conditioner and Grooming Aid Formula 113, which he’d been using since he was a high-school student. “All of a sudden, it wasn’t available in Canada anymore, but it is available in the States,” he says. As a workaround, Lindenberg saves room in his suitcase to bring home a half-dozen bottles when he travels to the U.S. When flights were grounded during the pandemic, he found an alternate source. “I ordered a gallon of it on eBay,” he says. “It came in a jug that looked like a gas canister, but it was the right stuff and it worked out.”
Megan Robinson knows Lindenberg’s conundrum too well. The self-described MAC makeup collector has worked for the brand since 2012 and is now as manager of its Yorkdale store in Toronto. She has 10 years’ worth of products stored around her home in shoe boxes and started sharing her favourites on her social-media accounts a few years ago. “Everything I love left me at some point. My personal brand was discontinued products,” she says.
Robinson’s videos, set to sad music dedicated to long-gone items such as MAC’s famous limited-edition lipsticks, have garnered millions of views as she brings her nearly 100,000 TikTok followers back to their core makeup-loving memories. She says the success of her content centres largely on “nostalgia.”
Some beauty brands are having fun with that sense of nostalgia. When Urban Decay discontinued its bestselling Naked eyeshadow palette in 2018, it held a funeral attended by a bevy of beauty influencers and television personality Nicole Richie, who gave a eulogy. That beloved palette is joined in the annals of beauty history by Benefit’s Moon Beam Highlighter, the Body Shop’s Perfume Oil and countless others that maintain a following long after they’re gone.
There are a variety of reasons why brands decide to give a product the axe. “Either a similar product has been developed, which we feel provides better performance; an ingredient to make the product has been discontinued with no suitable alternate; or it has been retired due to shifting consumer preferences,” says Aïda Moudachirou-Rébois, senior vice-president and global chief marketing officer at MAC Cosmetics. Moudachirou-Rébois empathizes with the feelings that come with saying goodbye. “So many of our consumers have go-to products they have been using for many, many years so we completely understand that sometimes it can be tough when one of those products are discontinued. But it is always done with the utmost care and consideration.”
As cosmetics regulations evolve around the world, it’s forced many brands to reimagine the formulations of bestsellers, sometimes resulting in a product being discontinued and relaunched in a new formula and packaging. Sometimes, these changes go too far for loyal fans. For Beaton, a reformulation of a favourite exfoliating product from Indeed Labs left something to be desired. “I was happy that it came back, but I don’t love it as much anymore,” she says. In other cases, such as a celebrity or brand collaborations, expired licensing deals can be the nail in the coffin, as was the case when Lip Smacker discontinued its cult-favourite Dr Pepper flavour in 2020.
Finding a replacement can take a bit of legwork. Jasmine Virani, a Toronto-based Beauty Pro at Shoppers Drug Mart, says it’s common for customers to come to her store looking for alternatives to their discontinued faves, and that foundation and tinted-moisturizer substitutes are popular requests. When visiting a store for help with finding a replacement, Virani recommends bringing in the existing product to help in matching its colour, texture, consistency and formulation.
With so many beauty content creators sharing their favourite products online, turning to Google, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest or TikTok may also offer a helpful starting point in finding a replacement. Beauty YouTube creator Fatima Bah says that when her shade of Too Faced concealer was out of stock, she looked online to fill the gap. The digital world is a fountain of beauty dupes, or duplicates. These items are typically more affordable versions of luxury products.
Contacting the brand directly might also help. At MAC, the discontinued Squirt, a translucent green lip shade from the 2000s, was brought back twice following requests from staff and customers. MAC’s parent company Estée Lauder also runs the Gone But Not Forgotten program, which helps customers source products discontinued within the last 36 months by their roster of brands, which includes Bobbi Brown, Bumble and Bumble, Clinique, La Mer, Origins and Tom Ford Beauty.
My own beauty heartbreaker is the discontinued Nars cream blush in Penny Lane. I wore it throughout my mid-20s and can’t say I’ve ever found a blush that I love as much. But I’m not giving up hope. “If you find one product that you love, I’m sure you can find another product that you love as well,” Bah says. “You’re just going to have to do your research and figure out what works for you.” Again.