Ulta Is Facing a Major Lawsuit After Claims That They Resell Used Makeup

Photo Credits: MosayMay/ Shutterstock | Image Used for Illustrative Purpose Only

Updated: February 10, 2018

A California resident is suing Ulta Beauty and seeking class-action status for what she claims is Ulta’s “widespread and surreptitious practice” of repackaging returned and used products and putting them back on the shelf to sell at full price with unopened products.

“Every customer who has purchased cosmetics at Ulta since this practice began was put at risk of unwittingly purchasing used, unsanitary cosmetics and this risk reduces the desirability and value of all cosmetics sold by Ulta,” the lawsuit alleges.

As the Chicago Tribune reports, Kimberley Laura Smith-Brown purchased dozens of cosmetics from the beauty retailer including eyeliner, mascara and lip balm at an Ulta store over the past six months—all before the below reports of the reselling of used and opened makeup went viral.

“We are aware of the lawsuit, and intend to vigorously defend against the allegations,” Ulta Beauty spokeswoman Karen Twigg May said Friday in an email. “Our policies, training and procedures are aimed at selling only the highest-quality new products in our stores and online. The health and safety of Ulta Beauty guests is a top priority, and we strive to consistently deliver an optimal experience every time they shop with us.”

Stay tuned to NewBeauty for updates.

Originally published: January 11, 2018

Ulta employees across the country are about to change the way you shop at the beauty retailer, and this time it's not with under-the-radar product recommendations. Workers are claiming the retailer constantly cleans, repackages and resells used makeup.

The allegations began on Twitter, when former Ulta employee @fatinamxo started a now viral thread explaining how she was asked to repackage and reshelve unsanitized and returned merchandise (ranging from makeup to hair tools) for new customers to buy.


Knowing some readers would dismiss the claims as untrue, she provided photos: one of a used foundation stick, which was later cleaned up with a Q-tip and later reshelved, and another of a lipstick palette she was told to “clean with alcohol" and restock.



“They even taught us how to clean eyeshadow palettes and let them dry overnight,” she explained, adding that this way, they could be repackaged and sold the next day. The reason for this behavior, as many past employees have since pointed out on Twitter, is the retailer's desire for managers to "reduce their shrinkage."

You May Also Like: 10 Cool Things You Never Knew About Ulta



After her tweets went viral (some have received more than 1,000 retweets), other employees who experienced the same things began reaching out to her. One past employee claimed her manager used a blow-dryer to smooth a returned brow pomade so it would look like new; another saying she would destroy the products once the customers returned them so managers wouldn’t be able to “fix” them. Even worse, someone else said they have worked at three separate Ulta stores and the behavior was the same at each.

As StyleCaster reports, Ulta began replying to some of the customers who chimed in with their own stories on the matter. The retailer denied any wrongdoing and assured that the company does not resell used products. They also issued a statement to Revelist denying the resale of any used or opened merchandise. 

“The health and safety of our guests is a top priority for Ulta Beauty and we take these matters very seriously. Ulta Beauty’s practices do not allow the resale of any items that have been opened and/or used. The actions described appear to be inconsistent with our practices and we are currently looking into this matter,” the statement read.

A solid tip we found from scrolling through this thread: swatch your makeup in-store, then buy it online. That will guarantee your product is coming directly from the company’s stock warehouse and has never been tested/used.

26 Comments
  • Gina
    Posted on

    Is there a class action lawsuit for this?

  • Make-upManiac_80
    Posted on

    During the duration of my career? I've also had women ask me if they could buy the tester because we were sold out of the product and then threw a fit because we wouldn't sell the tester LOL. This has happened on several occasions throughout my career. From the end of the artist, seeing those who insist on using testers without disposable applicators, those who insist on buying a tester when a product isn't available? Reading these things online are like WOW, the Becky-monsters that I service every single day and try to explain the importance of hygienic practices to but blatantly disregarded them? are now suing people claiming non hygienic practices... Oh the irony.

  • Make-upManiac_80
    Posted on

    I've been doing makeup professionally for over 15 years. May I remind you the same folks that sue retailers claiming they're being sold used products? Are the same people that dip their fingers in all of the tester jars and who don't use the disposable mascara wands,applicators and spatulas that are made available to them. I've had to explain to guest, for years! That their practice is unsanitary. Not the companies, the guest. Funny that companies should be sued over something that customers basically do themselves.

  • HamForDinner
    Posted on

    As a current Ulta employee I can confirm that we are instructed by our district manager regularly to spray returned make-up with alhohol and place it back on display for resale. I wasn't going to add my 2 cents, but after hearing the CEO say otherwise on CBS Evening News, throwing her employees and management teams under the bus, I can assure you that this is standard practice. Ulta seems to think that risking pink eye and herpes on such a grand scale is OK for retail chains that get too big for their britches.

  • Anonymous
    Posted on

    This is also true of their other products. I once returned a shampoo, told the sales associate I had used it several times but didn't like it and she promptly returned it to the shelf for sale right in front of me. I have inspected everything I purchased from Ulta for signs of use since then. Buyer beware!

  • Sherry
    Posted on

    I was in the cosmetic industry for 15 years. Never ever did this practice take place. I was a rep for Lauder, Lancome and all the big department stores. This is appalling behavior and not at all acceptable. This is NOT the norm. Anyone doing this should be fired and any executive who looks the other way with a wink and a nod should be fired as well.

  • JTG
    Posted on

    This isn’t just at Ulta, folks. Sephora does it, as do several department stores like Macy’s And Nordstrom’s. It isn’t company policy because no company wants anything like this in writing to come and bite them in the butt, but it IS verbally passed around by some managers and workers. I’ve returned items to Sephora - clearly used and also told the clerk such - and saw them try to make it look brand new again and restock it on the shelf. This happened at two separate stores, and I spoke to management on duty at both. One was appalled and took the merchandise I’d returned off the shelf, openly chastised the associate, and thanked me for catching this. Another manager told me it was company policy except for mascara which they’d either use as testers or at their makeover stations after ‘sanitizing’ it with a couple drops of alcohol. Two good friends who worked at two different big name department stores would talk about how some shift managers went through the damaged/return to vendor box to see what they could make look new and restock. Some employees took home returned cosmetic items instead of sending them back for vendor credit. The horror stories they shared made me a strict online purchaser unless there’s a viable safety seal or original shrink wrap still intact. It all comes down to numbers on a spreadsheet, though, and some stores and their management will do whatever they think it takes to meet that goal regardless of how many people it could affect. Test a product or color out in store, but buy online! And if you do return something, ASK to see them damage it for the RTV bin and explain why - I’ve yet to have an Ulta or Sephora store tell me no.

  • Jaysie
    Posted on

    I do not understand this at all. As a former employee of a couple of cosmetic companies, I know that they will take returns from retailers. Cosmetics manufacturers do NOT want a customer to have an allergic reaction nor be dissatisfied with their products, so they will take back stock and give the retailer a credit. If this is happening at Ulta, then maybe it's lazy managers who do not want to do the paperwork, packing, etc. involved in a return to the manufacturer.

  • LeslieB
    Posted on

    Absolutely appalling and disgusting. The amount of horrific contagious diseases that can be contracted by using makeup someone else has used is unbelievably high. I always steer clear of makeup testers, but to hear that this is an ongoing practice is just deplorable. I'm sure Ulta is not the only retailer to do this, but we'll never know for sure. Ulta should be fined for this. I will never purchase anything in store from them ever again!

  • Shouldafigured
    Posted on

    As a loyal Platinum customer, this makes me furious. Should have figured something like this though. The last couple of times I've shopped (especially before Christmas) I believe they not only forgot my points, but keep the freebies they're suppose to give us for our purchases for themselves or for their f & f !

  • Sandra
    Posted on

    Another big problem are the testers in the stores. This problem is caused by customers who don’t use the disposable applicators to test products. I once properly tested a lipstick by using the applicators provided by Ulta and scraping off the lipstick from the tube and then applying it to my lips. A little while later my lips started to feel irrated and became swollen. I immediately wiped it off. Now I feel it’s not safe to try the testers. Since then, I’ve paid close attention to people testing products and I’ve seen customers test the product directly from the tester. I’ve called them out and they just whatever. I guess I was naive to think that people would be careful and respectful to others and use the testers properly.

  • Lia Medina-Miller
    Posted on

    I love Ulta's rewards program. But I was turned off last week, when I purchased a Morphe palette that had been clearly used. They had them displayed near cash out and when I went back to return it that claimed a customer must have opened the package and swatched them all. I was like really? Right at the cash checkout, with a tester right there!? I doubted it. Thinking surely someone would stop someone they say doing that or they would not restock this. But clearly they don't care!! Agreed....shop at Sephora or shop online!!!

  • All Ultas are Not the Same
    Posted on

    I am actually a vendor/employee for 3 different Ultas and I have never seen anything occur like this, nor would I. You can't put out a blanket statement that "Ulta" as a company is condoning this as a common practice. This sounds like management wanting their return numbers to vendors or distribution to be lower....mostly likely it is something they were dinged on in their review. So Ulta is a case by case.

  • Susie
    Posted on

    I have worked for cosmetic companies. The companies take back damaged and used products and give credit to the retailers. I can’t understand why a Ulta would not return for credit like other retailers?

  • Jesse-Brice
    Posted on

    As a former Ulta employee I have to just say that this is highly uncommon. Ulta is very strict about used/opened product. It goes in the “damaged bin” where it is later destroyed and discarded. You couldn’t buy “damaged” goods from Ulta if you tried. I think that if this girl is telling the truth, she works at a VERY shady Ulta location that I would avoid like the plague.

  • Anna-Laura
    Posted on

    Yep, I shop at Sephora...Not cool!

  • Tara
    Posted on

    Not at all surprised with how huge a mess my ulta stores all let there products become. But it's not just ULTA. Sephora does the same thing. I returned something and I watched the register person take it, tell an employee to find a box and stick it on a shelf. I'd have sanitized that item if I'd known they were gonna do that. Online is the only way to go.

  • Anonymous
    Posted on

    I have had nothing but problems with that store and this beats it all! Absolutely unbelievable but I am 100% believe the girls that used to work there I have no doubt the managers do that after everything else I have experienced in that store. I will never go back there

  • Jen_Chi
    Posted on

    I bought Benefit Boi-big concealer at a JC Penny Sephora location and got home only to find it had been used, and repackaged. I am on chemo and immune suppression for an autoimmune disease. Now, I only shop online. Beware. It is not just an ULTA issue. Is this the alternative to souping? We have to risk our health when buying beauty items?

  • sabrina
    Posted on

    This was true at the Ulta I worked at. They try to act like the return didnt look barely used and put it out. They hated damaging returns. I would always damage it if it looked use but two managers would go back and put them on the floor. They didnt even clean them. Ulta is very shaddy!!!

  • Nicole
    Posted on

    I worked at Ulta for over 3 years as a manager and I can say for sure at my store THIS was not acceptable. We would just take the hit in "shrink" and damage the product out and send it back. While I'm sure what was stated in the article happens, it was not what I was taught.

  • Dirty beauty.
    Posted on

    I have worked for a lesser known retailer, Beauty Brands, who most of the employees were ex Ulta employees b/c they didn't like how terrible management was towards the employees themselves, but also b/c of all the shady business, like reselling returned products no one should ever buy due to sanitary reasons- even WITH "cleaning" it with alcohol- I think is still very unsanitary, not safe, and shamefully gross for the lack of transparency and honesty towards trusting customers. I do not believe Ulta headquarters is responsible, but the management, district management within is. They are the ones disregarding Ulta's own policies in order to reach sale goals, cut loss of products from returns to cut down shrinkage and ultimately comes down to greed of wanting "their" store to be the best. I hope not EVERY Ulta store does this and follows policies to the T, but I do know all too well some do practice this shady business. All I can say is I'm thankful to have worked at the beauty retail store I did b/c ALL returns were never returned to the floor! We need more in management who truly care about their customers instead of putting dollar signs first.

  • Anonymous
    Posted on

    I'm sorry but I don t know what ULTA she works for but this not! What we practice at our ULTA. We follow strict sanitation rules and do not resell used makeup ever! That manager should be fired! I'll tell you how Mary Dillon would never stand for this ever. Why are they reselling used makeup it doesn't come out of there pocket. I will be showing this post to my DM and will find out what ULTA did this girl work at. I'm sorry I think this story is so fabricated.

  • Anonymous
    Posted on

    I get the creeps just thinking about people who sell their used makeup online and about the people who dumpster dump for products in the retailers’ dumpsters and then keep them for their personal use or sell them online. It’s a disgustingly dirty practice that can spread disease and infection. As for retailers reselling returned products, that’s actually against the law—at least where I live. When I was young, we could not return any kind of personal grooming product. Needless to say, it made for a more thoughtful, selective purchase decision. Nowadays, though, many retailers have embraced a no questions asked return policy which encourages consumers to make purchases simply to try something and not because they really need or want it. The consumer’s attitude (and I’ve also heard sales associates push this sentiment) is, “Well, if I don’t like it, I’ll just return it.” That attitude creates a loss of revenu for the retailer because all those returned products are supposed to be tossed. It is especially costly during friends and family sales when people are more likely to give in to impulse purchasing and then end up returning hundreds—sometimes thousands—of dollars worth of products. Perhaps there needs to be greater consumer education about what happens to returned products and perhaps retailers need to rethink their no questions asked return policy. Ulta’s alleged practice is totally inexcusable and should be thoroughly investigated. As a cost cutting measure it doesn’t make a lot of fiscal sense. One lawsuit would easily wipe out any money that was saved by reselling a lipstick!

  • JD
    Posted on

    this is completely true! i have bought mascara from ulta and had to return it because it was obviously used! When i brought it to the associates attention she acted like it was not a big deal. That just reaffirms to me that this is common practice. Shameful!

  • this unacceptable
    Posted on

    Being a loyal/platinum shopper for the past 14 years... this is not unacceptable. I reached out to ulta via customer service for a response. I think ill make the trip to Sephora this weekend and spend my money there instead.

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