The mascara games: Fear and loathing at the drugstore

Not too long ago, as I was half-squatting, half-sprawling on the floor of my local drugstore, unsuccessfully searching the lowest possible shelf for a replacement mascara, a question popped into my head. Do all beauty products get discontinued within a year’s time, or just the ones I like?

Apparently, the beauty industry must always be changing, reformulating, moving forward, like a shark that dies if it stops swimming. And OK, that metaphor may not quite work, and that bit about sharks might not even be true. But you know what I’m saying, right?

Writers and cultural commentators — people far more clever than myself — have long discussed the essential features of consumer culture. We all know the rules: Bigger! Better! Newer! More!  The beauty business is a tough, big-money business. Apparently, if it doesn’t sell — immediately — it is gone.

Consequently, smart shoppers have learned to adapt. Their advice? If you find something you like, you’d better buy three of it. Because it won’t be there the next time you look.

Like many women, I buy makeup from different sources. A couple of my essentials come from department stores, a few from specialty cosmetics stores, and some from the drugstore. (In my neighborhood, that means CVS or Target).

If I’m going to buy a drugstore product, I almost always vet it through Paula Begoun’s product review website, Beautypedia, first.  Otherwise, without trying a product before buying, you’re flying blind. Sure, the prices are lower. But over time, it adds up. You can waste a lot of money on invisible lipglosses, skin-tone clashing blushes, and cheap eyeshadows that look like dust (if dust were slightly less colorful).

Since using Beautypedia, I’ve done pretty well. That’s where I found my favorite mascara. But when it came time to replace it, I began to sense that something was amiss. During my routine drugstore trips, I noticed that only a couple of these mascaras were left, not in my shade. So I waited for the stores to re-stock. And they didn’t.

This is never a good sign. I should have been tipped off by the product’s location: bottom shelf, directly at floor level, impossible to reach. My favorites always seem to wind up here.

As for the higher shelves, they were full of the bright, shiny, colorfully packaged, “new, new, new!” items. The not-yet-vetted-by-Paula items. Which put me in a bit of a bind.

Eventually, I checked Beautypedia and found that yes, sadly, my brand had been discontinued. So I searched for other mascara possibilities. And the next time I went to the store, guess what happened. Even these, newer product lines were nowhere to be found. Well, OK, one of them still existed, not in my shade, in the bottom shelf graveyard, naturally.

Meanwhile, those showy, impertinent, top-shelf mascaras were screaming: Longer, thicker lashes! Improved formula! Come on, try us! Who cares what Paula thinks? Don’t you have a mind of your own?

So I bought one. I liked it for a few days, until I found the newly posted Beautypedia review. Paula was unequivocal in her scorn. Horrible! Flakes! Smudges! Even worse than the old formula, which was bad enough!

Hmmm, I thought. Could Paula be wrong? And then, by God, that mascara smudged and flaked the very next day. I am not kidding.

I’ve been back to the drugstore twice since then. On the first trip, I could not find a single top shelf brand that I remembered seeing on Beautypedia. Now, perhaps my approach is not as scientific as it could be. I don’t have an iPhone to check reviews in-store, and I certainly don’t have the patience to write down the names of all the brands. “I’ll remember the names,” I tell myself.

Ha! Have you seen the names of beauty products these days? I’ve read doctoral dissertations that felt shorter and less complicated. It can’t just be Maybelline Volume Express Mascara. (Oops, I mean, Volum’ Express). No, there is Volum’ Express 3X, and Volum’ Express Turbo Boost, and The Colossal Volum’ Express, and One by One Volum’ Express, and on and on and on. And no, Maybelline is not the only company that does this.

So I stood there, staring at dozens upon dozens of the wrong mascaras. And I thought: Do we need this many mascaras? I mean, really? How is it possible that, with enough mascaras to repopulate the Earth, not one of them is the right one? I went home empty-handed.

But from the darkness of despair, hope emerges. I made one last trip to Target and was shocked to find my old mascara brand, wasting away on the bottom shelf. How had I missed it before? There were exactly two tubes left. I was going to buy both, until I discovered that one of the packages had been opened. (This also seems to happen, often, to soon-to-be-discontinued products. Ask me about the time I bought my favorite conditioner — even though it had been opened and, quite possibly, used — because I thought it was the last one I would ever see).

So now I have my mascara. This buys me more time to find a new brand. I also still have my Beautypedia-approved drugstore blush, which will surely be gone when it’s time to replace it. And I have a very nice drugstore lipgloss, which I found while looking for Paula’s favorite ever, life-changing drugstore lipgloss, which had of course been discontinued.

What amazes me is that, in this environment of constant change, a few classics stick around forever. Look at Maybelline’s Great Lash mascara, for example. (I am not a fan, by the way, and neither is Paula). It’s existed for years, and it lands on the “best products lists” of many major magazines, year after year.

Even the packaging doesn’t change. And this is no small feat. (It is bad enough when your favorite product is discontinued. It’s even worse when the packaging changes for no logical reason at all, so that after years of being conditioned to buy the yellow jar, you buy the yellow jar and it’s the wrong jar, because the former contents of the yellow jar are now in the pink jar, and vice versa. Just to mess with you! Just because they can! Just because change is good! And because, if you’re too old to remember the 10-word name for your brand, you shouldn’t be buying beauty products at all!)

So I have a theory about Maybelline’s Great Lash mascara. The name is short and simple. The distinctive packaging — pink tube, green top — hasn’t changed much. I think this product stays around because it’s the only damn mascara that people can remember. Instant number one seller, right?

So why don’t all the other product lines follow suit? They can start with my favorite mascara. It’s made by Almay, and it’s the one with the white tube and a silvery blue top.

Are you listening, beauty industry?

To my readers: You’ve been there, right? I’d love to hear your rants stories!

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About Anne @ The Frump Factor

Reflections on beauty and style, for women who weren't born yesterday. Bring your sense of humor and "Fight the Frump" with me!
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38 Responses to The mascara games: Fear and loathing at the drugstore

  1. Oh, I feel your pain!! I have been searching for the perfect mascara since 1978! I quite like L’Oreal Double Extensions (expensive for me!) for a few years but now use Collection 2000 Skyscraper which is cheaper

    As for disappearing cosmetics…. aaarrrgghhh! It always happens! I was lucky to find a stash of a favourite eye shadow on sale in a discontinued bin a couple of years ago which I stocked up on… of course a couple of months later I went off it, but I have it in stock now for when I come back to it!

  2. Liz says:

    I don’t wear mascara, but I’ve been burned many times when The Body Shop has discontinued my favorite fragrances. However, if I act quickly, I’ve usually been able to find them online because some clever eBay seller has scooped up all the remainders at half price. It’s not a forever solution, but as you say, it buys me a little more time to shop around for a new favorite.

  3. tamerakitten says:

    Awesome post Anne. I know I am DOOMED if Maybelline ever discontinues the Full-n-Soft waterproof mascara in Brownish Black.

  4. Oh please don’t bring this curse on me! I have been paying $18.00 a tube (18 DOLLARS!!! Insanity!) for bareMinerals “Flawless Definition Volumizing mascara” for 2 years because it is the best mascara I’ve ever used. A few swipes of the wand and my lashes are natural looking and long and SOFT and it lasts all day. I cringe every time I pay that ridiculous amount of money for my EYE LASHES but I love the stuff. If it was discontinued I don’t know what I would do. I looked it up on Beautypedia and they love it too 🙂

  5. Stepping My Way to Bliss says:

    I am a beautipedia addict too and will not buy unless I check there first. So ironic you have written about this because I have a post ready to go for next week that talks about how I have simplified my skincare because I am so sick of the “hype” “claims” “promises” in the beauty industry. Know you are not alone!

    As for mascara…I have been using and plan to stick with L’Oreal Voluminuous mascara. It is rated well by Paula and does well for me.

  6. Ann Marie says:

    Please, don’t get me started on discontinued products……I have a very long list of favorites that I would love to see ……..but I know that will not happen. And by the way, even though they are labeled as better and newer, I find that is not always the case.
    I often read a great blog titled Nouveau Cheap which is a review of drugstore and popular beauty brands. She is usually right on and very honest in her reviews. She lists Physicians Formula Organic Wear Mascara as her favorite….or HG product. I bought a tube and it is quite good….no flaking or smudging. The tube looks like a shiny green leaf! Check the ad at CVS for a sale; they regularly run 40% off PF. Hope this helps.

  7. Katrina says:

    And what about changing the ingredients in established products? That is not nice. I am allergic to many, many things, and I used to think I could find a brand and stick with it. But no, the manufacturers must keep “improving” the products with new chemical junk.

    Okay, now how about the fact that I finally found underwear that was comfortable and seemed to fit pretty well, only to find out that it had ALREADY been discontinued and I had purchased the last ones on the planet?

  8. Beryl says:

    I miss Vital Radiance. I also hate it when a brand I like signs on a celebrity I don’t like as their spokesman.

  9. notquiteold says:

    Like you, I am also not a fan of Great Lash. Here’s my sad tale of discontinued lipstick: http://notquiteold.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/the-history-of-lipstick-chapter-60/

  10. Angie says:

    Sure I’ve been there and moved away by sticking to a classic mascara with no flashy name but always there when i need it.I had a weird moment yesterday when standing at the shampoo/conditioners department in front of hundred of options and newily created needs i didn’t knew I have for my hair. i thought that’s it …the world is going crazy and we will pay for this somewhere at the end of the road.

  11. Melanie says:

    I am a huge slacker about cosmetics. I grab the first thing that looks interesting, but I only wear mascara about once every two weeks so I’m not sure what a good mascara is. I wear lip gloss almost daily, but it’s the same lackadaisical shopping method. Thanks for the Beautypedia tip so at least when I grab something it should be good. I laughed reading about your quest, practically crawling along the floor scouring the lowest shelves – great post! It’s a mad, mad world.

  12. I have many allergies to products and sometimes have to waste a lot of money to discover which ones…for example, I cannot wear any Clinique…there is something in it that breaks me out and makes my eyes water. But, I have used Cover Girls LASH BLAST (orange one) for a long time and I really, really like it. I would be really sad if they discontinued it…do not know where I would turn.

  13. Ah sister, you are singing my song. I can’t start in on all the “perfect” lipstick colors that exist no more. It *is* of course part of the beauty industry’s plot – to keep convincing us to buy MORE and DIFFERENT. For some things, I like the same! Great post, I am LOL at the names of mascaras : >

  14. marywitt says:

    My favorite mascara and eyeliners are by tarte. I love Paula, but it wouldn’t matter what she said about the Lights Camera Mascara (non waterproof formula), it’s still the best I have found.

  15. I worked in a drugstore in the 1980s. Cosmetics had crazy long names then, too.

    Fortunately, Paula updates the Beautypedia website often. That helps me find good makeup. I always make a list of possibilities before I shop. Paula sells mascara, too. I just wish she’d bring back her eye shadows and blush. They were the best ever, and now they’re gone.

    • Yes, she does update often, which certainly helps! Things change so quickly.

      And yes, Paula does have her own products that she sells, which perhaps I should have mentioned in my post. I haven’t tried them because I prefer to pay cash, a little bit at a time, rather than using credit cards to shop online. I expect that Beautypedia is only free because it does help promote Paula’s products, too, but I don’t have a problem with that as long as she’s upfront about it. I appreciate that she gives good reviews to other companies’ products, even when they compete with her own.

  16. Leslee says:

    I was a fan of the Lash Stiletto for awhile until.. I noticed this mascara lasted only 2-3 weeks before I had to purchase another one. I also liked using the L’oreal Bare Naturale mascara.. another mascara that is gone 😦

    I have found a mascara that is suitable for sensitive eyes.. It’s called Real Purity. This mascara is a paraben free, vegan mascara. This mascara I love as it doesn’t clump gives my lashes length and definition with a nice natural look 🙂 Here is the website; realpurity.com

  17. yearstricken says:

    They just can’t leave well enough alone. It’s like that with so many kinds of products.

  18. Desiree says:

    Oh honey, are you a mind-reader or wot? I have the same issues with mascara – every time I’m ready to re-stock, everything’s different! Like, more to choose from – too many choices make my head spin and then the magazine ads make the models look like they’re wearing fringes hanging over their eyes! I think your thoughts on Great Lash are right – it’s only popular because people recognise the packaging!! Clever marketing. I’m terrified Mac will one day discontinue Ruby Woo and Russian Red lipsticks – my only “major” name addictions. Everything else, I just buy whatever’s on sale:)).

  19. I feel your pain!! I went to Sephora not too long ago and couldn’t find my favorite Shu Uemura mascara. When I asked a woman who worked there where I could find it she informed me that the brand is NO LONGER SOLD IN THE U.S.! How did I not know about this?? I agree with you on the fact that consumers should be notified when their favorite products/brands are being discontinued. The method of notification could be a website or forum – Just something!

  20. Ginny says:

    Oh I completely feel your pain on discontinued products. SO frustrating. I used to use Almay mascara almost exclusively–shoot, now I forget which poetic name it went by–and suddenly it became impossible to find. It wasn’t perfect, but didn’t smudge too badly. I tried Great Lash, and it was just OK (I’ve wondered why everyone loves them so much, too!) Then I got some freebie Clinique mascaras from my sis-in-law and mother-in-law, and have liked them fine–again, not great, but fine.

    But I recently tried Clinique’s Lash Power, and I love it. It is expensive ($15) but when they have their “events” and you get a big bag of goodies with purchase, it’s a pretty good deal. Anyway, it lasts through EVERYTHING, and comes off easily with warm water or remover. I’m a big fan now!

  21. Nancy Frye says:

    I am so with you on this. What’s the deal with discontinuing good products that work, especially when they replace them with something either pretty much equivalent or (shudder) worse? Are people really that fickle and demanding of “new” stuff on a seemingly monthly basis? Also: why is it so difficult to find brown or even brownish-black mascara anymore? I’m sorry, but I don’t need the sultry evening look in the middle of the day. Grr.

  22. denise:) says:

    I can’t tell you…
    I just can’t even go there…
    so many loves lost and who has the patience to try new things or the faith to believe the hype?
    But the light at the end of the tunnel is Beautipedia… had no idea this existed- so thank you!

  23. Katrina says:

    Anne, it looks like you hit on another popular topic!
    Your blog is so much fun that I nominated it for the Liebster Award – stop by when you get a chance!

  24. I just left a really long comment and got kicked off! I’m leaving a short one this time; if it takes, I’ll re-write the longer one.

  25. This usually happens to me when I find a good lip colour, then it gets discontinued. Now, I find three good ones, chances are one won’t be, lol! It took me a very long time to find a wonderful mascara that I loved. But, I did and now have two favourites Agnes b. & MaxFactor has a good one. I tried Maybellines Falsies mascara and liked it at first, but it got clumpy a few time and I don’t wear mascara everyday so… fell off the wagon on that one. Great post!

    • Thank you! (And I wasn’t going to name names….. but “the Falsies” was the VERY mascara that I alluded to — the one I tried that worked great for two days, and then, bleagh! Paula does her homework!)

  26. Shelley says:

    I’ve always used Maybelline mascara and been happy with it, but I’ve never liked Great Lash. I think you must be right about why it stays on the market, but I still think it’s yucky stuff. All the other Maybelline mascaras do seem to come in and go out, but I’ve been mostly happy with whatever they had in black or black/brown. I will go have a look at the Beautypedia and see what else is recommended, though. It is very annoying with beloved brands disappear, isn’t it? Like your opinion doesn’t count for much…

  27. I feel your pain! Last year I purchased the perfect lipgloss color only to find it disappear. It happens all the time. I’m always afraid I’ll recommend something in a makeup post only to have it be discontinued.
    I am a big fan of the colossal volume mascara by maybelline, both waterproof and regular. So far it’s still available.
    Great post!

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