How to get free and cheap makeup
Think good-quality makeup is impossible to get on a student budget? Think again. We know of lots of ways to save money on makeup (including how to get your favourite products for free!).
Every now and then, you deserve to treat yourself to a little new makeup – but the price tags of the top high-street brands can be a teeny bit terrifying when you're on a tight budget.
The good news is, however, that there are plenty of ways to get great cosmetics for less.
Follow our money-saving tips to find out how to get cheap and free makeup, as well as the best ways to sell and revive old makeup. With this guide, you'll be able to enjoy nice makeup, while spending as little as possible in the process. Ideal.
12 ways to save money on makeup
Here are the best ways to get cheap and free beauty products:
Recycle makeup packaging for a free gift
Recycling makeup packaging can be kind to both your purse and the planet.
These brands have set up schemes which reward you with freebies if you return their product packaging:
Back to Mac
One of the most well-known makeup recycling schemes is Back to Mac. Return six primary packaging containers to a Mac counter and you'll get a free lipstick of your choice.
The packaging can be pretty much anything (e.g. empty blusher pots or foundation bottles) but they have to be primary packaging. This means that things like paper boxes and cellophane wrappers aren't included in the scheme.
If you want to speed up your returns of used containers to Mac, you can empty products into other bottles and pots that you already have at home. Then you can then bring back the container early and get the free lipstick more quickly!
Recycle Lush pots
If you're a frequent Lush shopper, you'll be well aware of their iconic black pots for things that come in cream, gel or lotion form. Unlike other forms of packaging like plastic shower gel bottles, these can't be recycled at home, so Lush have set up a scheme to recycle them in-house.
Return five clean used black pots to your local Lush store and you'll be treated to a free face mask.
Get free makeup samples
For free makeup samples, keep an eye on our health and beauty deals page – we post free cosmetics samples and exclusive discounts on there all the time.
Be sure to also join our Telegram group to grab free samples before they run out.
Lots of beauty counters, especially ones in big department stores, will give you free samples of products if you ask for them. Tell them there's a product that you're interested in but want to try out first – you've got nothing to lose!
For example, it's worth asking for a product sample next time you're in The Body Shop – it might be less likely to get free makeup from them, but they often give out samples of things like face masks and body lotion when you ask at the counter. This is ideal if you're looking for free vegan products as around half of their items are 100% vegan.
You can also often get perfume samples from department stores. Again, all you have to do is ask.
Finally, join product testing sites which often send out new cosmetics free of charge in exchange for consumer feedback.If you find yourself with loads of makeup samples that you don't fancy using, you could make money from selling them.
Revive old makeup
When you're able to keep cosmetics fresh for longer, you can get so much better value for money from them. Plus, it'll help you cut down on spending in the long run as you can wait longer to buy new products.
If your makeup is drying out, breaking or is running, these tricks will help them to stay effective and wearable for longer:
- Drying out and clumpy mascara – Add a few drops of saline/contact lens solution to the tube, swirl it around, and the mascara will last longer. Also, don't pump the wand when you use it, as this traps air in the tube and makes the mascara dry out quicker – try twisting the wand instead.
- Emptying makeup bottles – If you get to the end of a bottle of makeup but you know there's more product in there that you can't reach, place it in a bottle of warm water to loosen it up and decant it into a smaller container. If that doesn't work, try cutting bottles in half with scissors and scooping the makeup out.
- Broken eyeshadow – Mix it with some rubbing alcohol and press it back together again (you can also try this on pressed powders). Alternatively, you could mix it with some clear nail polish to create a new shade for your nails.
- Broken lipstick – You can melt the ends of two broken lipstick pieces to stick them back together again, or completely melt it down and leave it to set in a lip balm container.
Try to return makeup
It isn't always easy to return makeup, but it can be possible.
If you have some unused and unopened makeup, and you return it within 30 days of purchase, you'll have the biggest chance of success (although it's not guaranteed). Each shop and/or makeup brand will have their own policy on this, so make sure you check before you start making demands.
If you buy makeup and feel it isn't up to scratch, you might be able to get a refund – but this will likely be decided on a case-by-case basis. For example, if you buy a waterproof mascara that starts running when your eyes water, it'll be difficult for you to prove this to the store.
However, if you buy a foundation bottle and the pump is broken, you've got some solid evidence and that should stand you in better stead for a refund.
We have a guide with all the info you need about your consumer rights, but in summary, you should never rely on a refund. So, to avoid wasting money on makeup that you won't use, you should always make sure a product is right for you before you buy.Pamper yourself for a super low cost with these lovely homemade beauty treatments.
Sell unused makeup
If you change your mind about a new makeup product you've bought, but you're unable to get a refund, your best bet is to try and sell it to make your money back.
Sites like Depop are great for this, as you can literally take a few photos of the product on your phone, upload them to your profile and sell your makeup in minutes. Just make sure you're completely honest in the description about whether the cosmetics have been used at all, and make sure the price reflects this.
Find dupes of your favourite products
Dupes are the holy grail of bargain beauty products. They're essentially copycats of big-name or designer products for a fraction of the price.
For cheaper alternatives to your usual makeup and beauty products, you could try using Beauty Pie – they sell makeup, skin care, fragrance, hair care and body care for much lower prices than you'd expect to see elsewhere.
Membership prices for Beauty Pie start at £5 a month so, before registering, make sure you're confident you'll make this money back (with further savings!) with the reduced prices on the site. If you are, you could really cut down your monthly spending on cosmetics and toiletries.
As well as this, you can also stay up to date with the best dupes on the market by following beauty blogs and YouTube channels who spot them.
As a general rule, it's best to avoid high-end brands as much as possible, and instead, find the products you need in the own-brand ranges of high-street shops instead.
Use beauty loyalty cards
To buy makeup at discounted prices, it's worth getting loyalty cards for shops that sell cosmetics.
You'll use at least one of the shops below to buy makeup and beauty products, so it's a great idea to use loyalty points to get money off items when you buy them. If you collect enough points, you could even use them to get new makeup for free!
Boots Advantage Card
The Boots Advantage Card is one of the more generous loyalty schemes on the high street.
For every £1 you spend in-store and online, you get four points which are equal to 4p. You can then use these points in-store and online, but they have to cover the entire cost of an item (you can't use your points to pay for half of something, and then pay the rest yourself).
Watch out for special events and deals which will boost your points.
And, the loyalty card can help you save even more money by also giving you 10% student discount in-store and online.
Debenhams Beauty Club Card
The Debenhams Beauty Club Card is specifically for customers buying beauty and fragrance products (so it won't work for clothes, for instance).
You earn three points for every £1 you spend, and for every 500 points you earn, you get £5 to spend in-store or online. This means you have to spend over £167 to get a £5 reward, which doesn't sound great.
However, the card comes with a range of other perks too, like free standard delivery on all online beauty orders, free samples and makeovers, and birthday treats, including a free facial by Elizabeth Arden. Never say no to a freebie!
Superdrug Health & Beautycard
With the Superdrug Health & Beautycard, you'll earn one point for every £1 you spend, but there are a number of special deals to help you rack up points quicker.
Every 100 points you earn will give you £1 to spend in-store, and unlike the Boots Advantage Card, you can use them for part-payments.
Each Thursday, you'll get access to exclusive discounts on a different brand, and you'll also get a special birthday treat.
Volunteer as a product tester
It's fiercely competitive to get a spot as a beauty product tester, but if you do manage it, you could bag yourself a whole load of free stuff.
The Boots Volunteer Panel is one of the most well-known product testing schemes for makeup and cosmetics. There are very limited spaces and specific criteria you need to meet, so places are like gold dust.
If you get a spot, you'll either be sent products to test at home, or you might be invited to the Boots Evaluation Centre in Nottingham to take tests under controlled conditions (don't worry, you'll receive compensation for your efforts).
There are also plenty of general product testing sites that can offer makeup and beauty products – we list and review some of the best in our guide to product testing websites.
Stop buying expensive makeup brushes
Makeup brushes are super expensive, so you can save loads of money by buying different types of brushes instead.
Don't fall into the trap of buying the matching pink set in a cute case – standard paintbrushes are a pretty good alternative, and can be bought much cheaper.
Another clever hack is to reuse expensive mascara brushes in cheaper mascara tubes. You can really notice the difference with good-quality mascara wands, so make high-end ones last. Give them a quick clean and pop them into your new (low cost) tubs.
Use influencer discount codes
Picture-perfect beauty bloggers and Instagram influencers can be a tad annoying, but they're a great source of discounts and offer codes.
Make sure to follow some of the big names on Instagram and Twitter, and keep an eye out for any discount codes they offer their followers.
Also check out the description of YouTube videos, like makeup tutorials and reviews, for special discounts.
And, you could even make money from social media yourself by setting up as a beauty blogger or influencer.
Use hacks to save money when online shopping
You'll often spot a good deal when shopping online – and you can find even better deals with these hacks:
- Fill your online basket with all the products you want, then close the tab and leave the site. If you've signed up for an account with the site, they might send you an email with a discount encouraging you to close the deal and buy what's in your basket.
- Check our deals page for discounts and freebies.
- Search the web for discount codes and special offers before you check out.
- Use cashback when buying beauty products online – use our guide to getting cashback to see how it's done.
- Clear your cookies and internet history before browsing online. Sites like to bump the prices of items they know you buy or view frequently.
Don't forget your student discount
If you're busy focusing on loyalty cards and special discounts, it's easy to forget to use your trusty old student card in the process. But in some cases, it can save you some serious cash.
You can also use your student discount at popular online makeup outlets like ASOS. Make the most of these discounts to make sure you're getting makeup for the best prices you can.
Looking to save money on ASOS? We've got you covered.