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How to get free and cheap makeup

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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!).

woman with colourful makeup

Credit: Jacob Lund – Shutterstock

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.

Bookmark the health and beauty deals page of our site so you never miss a makeup sale or freebie.

12 ways to save money on makeup

Here are the best ways to get cheap and free beauty products:

  1. Recycle makeup packaging for discounts

    Recycling makeup packaging can be kind to both your purse and the planet.

    Here are a few schemes that have been set up which reward you with freebies if you return beauty product packaging:

    Lush Bring it Back: recycling rewards

    If you're a frequent Lush shopper, you'll be well aware that some of its products come in plastic packaging. Luckily, you don't have to throw these away – Lush has set up a recycling scheme.

    For every full-sized empty plastic packing you bring back (including its iconic black pots, clear pots, makeup packaging and more), you will get 50p towards your next purchase. On top of that, Lush is now offering 5p off your next purchase for every black sample pot returned.

    If you'd prefer, you can also save up five pieces of the qualifying packaging and exchange them for a free face mask instead.

    There are a few items that don't qualify. Check out the terms and conditions to find out more.

    John Lewis BeautyCycle

    John Lewis recycles a wide range of your beauty packaging for free. But join My John Lewis and you can also get a £5 discount on your next beauty purchase.

    All you have to do is sign up for a My John Lewis membership (it's free), drop off five clean and empty beauty containers at the counter when spending £20 or more on beauty products, and you'll get £5 off there and then.

    You can check the terms and conditions online for which items they accept for the BeautyCycle scheme.

    Recycle at Boots scheme

    Boots accepts all your hard-to-recycle beauty product containers in-store, no matter what the brand.

    On top of that, if you have an Advantage Card (you'd be silly not to – it's one of the best loyalty cards around) and spend £10 or more in-store, you'll receive 500 Advantage Card points.

    Those 500 points equate to £5! So for returning your empty containers, you're getting £5 to spend on loads of things in Boots (including makeup).

    To get your points you'll need to visit the Scan2Recycle website where you can scan and upload your products. Then wait 24 hours and take your empties into a participating store, spend a tenner and you'll receive your reward.

    L'OCCITANE recycling programme

    Take your empty beauty and skin care product containers from any brand to a L'OCCITANE boutique to be recycled and you'll get 10% off any full-price product in store that day.

    You can find a full list of what beauty packaging they accept on their website.

    You can also recycle your products with L'OCCITANE online. Just enter the code RECYCLE in the promotion box when placing an order and they'll send you an envelope to return your empty products in for free.

    However, you won't get the 10% discount this way, and as this guide is all about getting makeup for cheap we'd suggest getting down to your local boutique!

  2. Get free makeup samples

    red lipsticks on yellow background

    Credit: I am Kulz – Shutterstock

    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. They usually run out pretty quickly, so be sure to join our Telegram group to stay up to date!

    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. You 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 which is a great way to save money on fragrances. Again, all you have to do is ask.

    Finally, join product testing sites that 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.
  3. 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 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 more quickly. Instead, try twisting the wand.
    • 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 them down and leave them to set in a lip balm container.
  4. 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 its 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. Keep in mind that 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.
  5. 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. Facebook Marketplace is another great option for this.

    Alternatively, you can try eBay. Granted, it's harder to compete against the professional sellers on here, but our tips on maximising profits on eBay will help.

    Keep in mind that it is prohibited to sell used cosmetics on Depop, eBay and Facebook Marketplace.

  6. Find dupes of your favourite products

    makeup spilling out of cosmetics bag

    Credit: Becky Starsmore – Shutterstock

    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, skincare, fragrance, hair care and body care for much lower prices than you'd expect to see elsewhere.

    Membership prices for Beauty Pie cost £10/month or £59/year. 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 stay up to date with the best dupes on the market by following beauty blogs and YouTube channels that spot them.

    As a general rule, it's best to avoid high-end brands as much as possible. Instead, you can try to find your favourite products in the own-brand ranges of high-street shops.

  7. Use beauty loyalty cards

    To buy makeup at discounted prices, it's worth getting loyalty cards for shops that sell cosmetics.

    You'll likely 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

    As we already mentioned, the Boots Advantage Card is one of the best and more generous loyalty schemes on the high street.

    For every £1 you spend in-store and online, you get three points which are equal to 3p. 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).

    There are three different tiers you can reach on this card. By spending more money, you can climb to a higher tier. And the higher your tier, the more points you earn per purchase (plus, some extra perks).

    On tier 1, you earn three points for every £1 you spend. This can go up to four points on tier 2, or five points for tier 3 card holders. For every 100 points you earn, you get £1 to spend in-store or online.

    The card comes with a range of other perks too. They do vary depending on what tier you're on, but include things like free delivery on all online beauty orders, exclusive gifts and treats, and a discount on your birthday.

    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.

  8. 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.

  9. Stop buying expensive makeup brushes

    lined up makeup brushes

    Credit: Svetlana Lukienko – Shutterstock

    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. You can also often find cheap makeup brush sets on eBay for £5 – £10.

    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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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:

    1. 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.
    2. Check our deals page for discounts and freebies.
    3. Search the web for discount codes and special offers before you check out.
    4. Use cashback when buying beauty products online. You can read our guide to getting cashback to see how it's done.
    5. Clear your cookies and internet history before browsing online. Sites like to bump the prices of items they know you buy or view frequently.
  12. 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.

    In Superdrug for instance, you can stack it on top of other offers you get through your Health & Beautycard for bumper savings!

    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.

Jessica Murray

WRITTEN BY Jessica Murray

As an Editor of Save the Student, Jessica Murray has written extensively on student money news and money-saving tips. She was co-host of our podcast, No More Beans, and is now a journalist at the Guardian. Her tips and insights range from fun guides for freshers, to information for graduates entering the workplace.
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