January 5, 2017

Ulta Dumpster Diving is Apparently a Thing


Have you heard about Ulta Dumpster Diving? It’s totally a thing. Earlier today, I posted about makeup returns being difficult and a lot of folks chimed in to relate that sales associates hated doing returns so much for a variety of different reasons but most important because returned items are a waste. It’s something that stores are unable to do much with. They can’t put it back on shelves unfortunately. Especially in the case of makeup right? I mean would you want to go into a store and buy a product that someone else returned? Likely not.

I’ve never worked in a major retail store. I worked at CVS when I was like 14 and I also worked at a fabric store when I was a teenager and of course, I’ve had the normal run of jobs as a college student but none at major department stores that put me in a position where I was dealing with returns or exchanges. Even when I worked at CVS, returns weren’t something I handled directly as typically we’d have to call a manager over to complete any return transaction (things are done different nowadays).

This means I’m a little in the dark about returns and how they work. I know stores aren’t likely to put stuff back on the shelf but I assumed the returned items would likely either be donated or perhaps purchased by a wholesaler of some sort.

But tossed directly in the garbage?!??!?! The thought never crossed my mind.

One of my guilty pleasures in life is watching vintage makeup commercials on youTube and searching for Ulta Dumpster Diving videos to watch. Seriously, this apparently an Olympian style sport for some people. According to videos on youTube, Ulta throws out thousands and thousands of dollars of makeup. Yup, right in the trash.

I honestly couldn’t picture myself climbing into a dumpster in search of makeup but these brave souls do it. There’s even a youTube video on, “How to Dumpster Dive at Ulta” but that video is a lot more realistic about findings. Most videos show people with hundreds of dollars in makeup finds but this particular video explained that it isn’t always like that and most cases you aren’t going to come away with major hauls.

So, what can you expect to find in an Ulta dumpster? Most of these youTubers show palettes from Tarte, Too Faced, Urban Decay, and other mid-range brands. Most of the items are relatively new and not even used.

I guess I have to have a little more sympathy when I’m doing that rare makeup return and get an attitude about it because lord knows I’d be throwing shade too if someone was returning something I knew was going right in the trash!


Have you heard about the Ulta Dumpster Diving phenomenon?

Would you consider doing it? As far as I know once you put out the trash it’s pretty much free reign so I don’t think anyone is doing anything illegal?! But also on the other hand it almost feels like stealing! In some videos people have had the cops called on them!

I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t dumpster dive for makeup!

About the Muse

Isabella MuseIsabella is just an average everyday geeky girl who doesn’t blend her eyeshadow correctly, wears too much blush, and hopes she never finds her holy grail products because she likes the thrill of the chase so much. Her mission is to bring you super honest reviews on makeup, skincare, fragrance and all things beauty. She’s in no way an expert on the topic and she sure as hell isn’t a super model. But she’s passionate about makeup and is seeking like-minded individuals that like pina coladas, getting caught in the rain, and ones that enjoy spending hundreds of dollars at Sephora without feeling buyer’s remorse. If you’re that person feel free to reach out and leave a comment or follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Bloglovin‘.

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  • Sarah

    I have been on YouTube and saw several videos about this. I can only say, stop posting. The stores are going to start locking their dumpsters. I want to try this, but I would be soooooo embarrassed if someone caught me. But, if you do it, please don’t post it, no matter how tempting it may be. The stores will catch on. Just my stupid 2 cents.

    • Elizabeth

      Omg yesssss, that is exactly what I was thinking. Also I really hope it is legal unless there is a no trespassing sign. I tried it today and well before i went i called a local police department to see if dumpster diving is legal and the lady sounded like she had an attitude she was like NO. I was trying to confirm too, and she was like nope no dumpster diving is allowed. But i personally was iffy cause from reading a bunch of articles and watching youtube videos it seemed like it was legal. Anyway i looked for myself bin was totally open away from the building and had no sign . Happy hunting to all ^.^

      • Secret ulta girl

        I work at ulta and they WILL prosecute you. ITs up to the business to press charges, and ulta will. And at our store we ruin all the makeup and everything before we put it in. Also for some reason people assume stealing testers is okay. They will prosecute you for however much the item is. And anything over $20 is a felony offense…be careful

        • M Worley

          Haha anything over $20 is a felony..?! What kind of a crazy place do you live in? Here in Virginia the felony amount is $200+, and that’s in the case of an actual, direct theft. But with dumpster diving it is different, as you aren’t stealing from inside an established place of business, but rather taking from the dumpster things that were relinquished by the store and thrown away into the trash ,which is public domain unless otherwise posted (you can tell if it’s public by whether or not a search warrant is required to search it). Also, Ulta CANNOT prosecute a diver, unless that diver happens to live in a town/city where there is an ordinance specifying that it is illegal to disturb a NON RESIDENTIAL (important) trash receptacle. If no such ordinance or statute exists, it’s fair game, as long as you aren’t violating any trespassing laws on private property. If the dumpster is gated, locked, or touching the building, it’s considered private, but so long as it is a normal dumpster out in the open and not directly touching the building it’s no one’s and everyones. Diving helps our planet by reducing the space taken up in landfills ,and decreasing the amount of chemicals or otherwise harmful products that are seeping into the earth. it helps people get excited about recycling and reusing, and that enthusiasm can last a lifetime and pass down to their children. Lastly, as in my case, I dive to rescue useable things from an otherwise certain demise, and use what I need, and donate the rest to good causes. My local women’s shelter is always thrilled when I come around to give them a case of shampoo or a bunch of nail polish or whatever I happen to find in donatable condition. I was once stopped by a guard and I told him that I am searching for things to donate to the shelter, as these women are starting over in their lives, and if they choose to wear makeup or whatever makes them feel empowered i want to help however I can. He was happy to move along and let me proceed. So I don’t know where you live secret Ulta girl, and I guess it’s possible that where you are Ulta can press charges, but most everywhere that is not so. Certain towns and counties have rules so check before diving and be prepared to be stopped and to explain yourself intelligently and respectfully.

        • jessie

          they cant do anything its called public domain brush up on the law

          • SweetP

            If the dumpster isn’t locked up or pushed completely against the building than all trash is considered public property. The only company actually known to frequently prosecute is walmart. Other than that in my state and others I’ve researched.. it has to be over 500-1000$ for it to be a felony but that’s stealing from the store not the dumpster. I’ve been caught in Colorado at Ulta and other stores and the most that hapened was they checked my paperwork and told me to be careful.

    • Vanessa

      OMLL IKKKRRR that’s why most ultras use trash compactors for the disposal of their make up. Or if not that, they lock up their trashcans in a small gated area. I just went to an ulta today with my cousins, and they’re were no trash cans in sight, only trash compactors in a gated area.

  • Bonnie

    We often had to throw away books/magazines at the bookstore I worked at (they would have us rip the covers off of magazines/paperbacks for returns but force us to throw away the rest). What a shame. Recycling wasn’t as big then so…

    Anyway, this is such a strange trend! Not sure I would trust–in fact, I know I wouldn’t–makeup that had been in the trash for sanitary reasons.

    • Robin

      Yep! One of my first jobs was at a bookstore. We used to give away “stripped’ books and mags of the covers. The covers were sent to the publishers for a credit. Bookstores and, at the time, the music stores were the only retailers that could send back merchandise to the publishers for credit. We would give the stripped books and mags to hospitals, hospices, etc… until the publishers found out these stripped books were being sold. If you have a paperback book, you would see a disclaimer in the front of the book about purchasing stripped books. So instead if just tearing off the front cover, we had to tear the books/mags into sections and trash them. I did see people going dumpster diving for books before, but it was out of our control. I felt if they wanted to read something that bad, have at it.

      Will say it was gross to strip the adult mags; talk about photo shopping! Yikes! (It was equal for both the men’s mags and the women mags).

      I wouldn’t dumpster dive for makeup; my guess is that they can’t give it to charities since the makeup could have been altered not to mention just gross.

      • Bonnie

        Good point, Robin–that’s why we weren’t allowed to donate the books/mags, either (because of people reselling). I certainly took many of the mags home, but the books mainly weren’t to my taste.

        I miss working at a bookstore sometimes!

  • diane

    i would not dive into a dumpster for makeup! no way. I know returns get thrown out and it is so sad. I worked at a Lush years ago for a little bit and the other co-workers and I would take the returns from the garbage that looked pretty much new. We weren’t supposed to, but it’s trash why waste it

    • Isabella Muse

      omg my heart is crushed! Lush tosses things in the garbage too!?

    • Lorraine. E.R

      When I “auditioned” at lush they seemed to have more than one trash, one for trash and one for products, behind the counter…so in theory if some employees wanted to intercept the thrown away products they would have been clean.

      • Sarah

        “Auditioned” at Lush for an 8.00 an hour job? I am beginning to dislike this company more and more. Pushy sales people, over priced merchandise and now auditions! Yup, I think I’m done.

        • Rebecca C Floyd

          Yep, I’ve watched a lot of videos of disgruntled Lush employees. Most of the time I feel like their complaints are legit.

        • Lorraine E.R

          Yes, they had 3 of us auditioning (working for free) competing for one position. And it did pay about that much, I don’t remember the exact $. I was young and just wanted some retail experience in that general area of interest bc I was in beauty school but ended up tending bar and waiting tables instead.

          • A

            Lush isn’t the only place that does that… I once “auditioned” at Zara for an entire WEEK. I was treated so badly and the management essentially complained that one of the other auditioning girls and I were too big for their uniforms (which was untrue because they were custom ordered) so I ended up leaving before the five days were up. We got paid a small amount, but I didn’t need an abusive employer for a part-time job.

            Several years later, had a similar experience when I was scheduled for a “job interview” at an event-planning company. I showed up and they told me to start moving furniture. Turns out the “interview” was a month of free labor at parties, and if they liked me I could get paid $9.00/hour after that. I turned around and walked out.

  • Kimmwc03

    I heard dumpster diving is illegal in some places (but I think it is more of a safety issue). I’d never do this even for brand-new Chanel or YSL makeup.

    • Isabella Muse

      I haven’t a clue, is it? I’m going to google haha! I wouldn’t either. hell, it could be 10,000 worth of makeup and no way am I crawling around in trash to get my hands on it, thanks but no.

      • Elaena

        It’s legal in some places and not in others you have to call your city and find out what the ordinances are there’s no real simple way to just Google whether it’s legal or not. I don’t dive Ulta but I do Dive

  • Lindsey

    No, just….NO! I couldn’t and I wouldn’t. Those who dumpster dive for makeup could be putting themselves at risk for infections, don’t you think? Though it is sad returns get thrown out

    • shana

      That’s if they’re just climbing into a dumpster without any sanitary care and using products no matter what lol. You should wear gloves when going through everything, and then sanitize your hands afterwards anyways. I was actually pretty surprised to find how clean business dumpsters are! Everything’s just in bags. The grossest thing in there is just half eaten food and tissues. Just wear gloves and it’s fine 🙂

      If you find makeup, you have to treat it with care too. Eyeshadow and other pressed powder is super easy to clean. You clean the entire outside with soap/water and then alcohol. Then the surface of the powder you rub alcohol over with a cotton pad to strip off the first layer. Anything with a pump or tube is generally fine, just sanitize the part where product comes out. Lipstick is iffy….liquid lipstick or lipgloss with a wand is a no unless it’s still sealed. Lipstick in a tube can be sanitized. Mascara is obviously a no, unless it’s sealed…and even then, I’d probably skip it.

      I totally get the initial feeling of being grossed out about it, but once you look into it more it’s actually super cool and a great way to recycle!

  • Louie

    I work for a beauty retailer…not Ulta…and we don’t throw away products. We damage out anything used and ship it out. This is so gross…I would be so scared of getting an infection. I cringe when people put their fingers in products…or put makeup on without first disinfecting. Maybe I’m to weird about germs.

  • Maria

    Some of the Sephora and Ulta stores have started intentionally destroying what they throw out to prevent this. I don’t think I could ever do that – seems like a really tough way to get some makeup. As for diving and selling I have a hard time believing that it is so profitable as to be worth getting in a mall dumpster for.

    • Robin

      I wonder if they try to return it to Ulta or wherever to get money back or a credit? If they found a palette for example, would they try to return it for credit?

      • Jessica Long

        Returning those items IS ILLEGAL it is called theft by deception, it is the reason most products are marked or destroyed before trashing and You can be prosecuted for it!

      • shana

        Some skeezy people do resell or return what they’ve found without disclosing that it’s from a dumpster. That’s a pretty small faction of people though, honestly. Most people that dive just keep it for themselves or give things to friends, and some people do sell items (fully sanitized and with disclosure on it being a dumpster fine) for a small profit.

      • Melissa Joynt

        You have to have a receipt, if no receipt they want your account at that store for proof of purchase or they will not accept the return.

    • Lorraine E.R

      That’s kinda sad. If I worked there I would feel guilty doing that because I feel like if someone wants it badly enough to go into the dumpsters for it then they deserve it, and it’s only being destroyed otherwise when people could actually have it and use it (but I get it’s a job and you have to put personal feelings aside!)

  • Petpeeve

    I have dumpster dived at ulta and if you know how to repress and sanitize palettes it’s amazing the things you find. I only stopped because I stopped finding things

    • shana

      I’ve just started diving, what’s the best day to go in your opinion? Like is there a set day for returns? I ask this with confidence that I would never encroach on your own diving territory since I live in the middle of nowhere haha.

  • Miranda wood

    I couldn’t do it!! I rearely ever shop a clearence rack – a dumpster?? Nope! Not even for high end makeup- people who do this kudos to them–each to his own right?? O

  • Michelle

    I work at Sephora and we have a special bin for damaged returns. They get sent back to sephora garbage land or something. Same thing when I worked at sunglass hut! some 500$ glasses could be broken, but easily fixed but we still had to send them back with the appropriate receipts back to luxottica.

    • Isabella Muse

      That’s how I thought it happened. That you had to account for all returns and they’d be sent back and maybe they’d be sold to wholesalers or something after that!

      • Courtney Brooke

        That is how it happens at Sephora but not Ulta (as of yet that I know of) I personally have never jumped into a dumpster at Ulta because my boyfriend does it for me. I won’t use or keep testers of any product. On one particular dive my bf found a Nyx display with testers and sealed baked eyeshadows (about 15 assorted colors), he found a 3.4oz Kate Spade Live Colorfully Sunshine in the box, Strivectin (unused), 3 Too Faced palettes (unused), tons of Clinique samples and travel sized items (I think were for one of their 7 piece makeup deals, and he found me this really awesome benefit display cloth that I still have put up some where 🙂 That was my best haul courtesy of my bf. But if he had grabbed everything it would have been much bigger but he wasn’t about to go through the garbage bags that had hairdye dumped in them.! At our Ulta they use hairdye to destroy the products.. It’s really sad to me to see all the awesome products destroyed 🙁

  • Curious Charlie

    That sounds crazy! Pretty sure once you hop in with the trash you are trash… Also isn’t it illegal?

    • Isabella Muse

      I wouldn’t call anyone trash. There are plenty of homeless people out there who are going through the trash in order to get something to eat. This doesn’t translate as they are trash. None of these girls/guys featured in the video aren’t either. Kind of harsh to call people trash! :-/ Not sure about it being legal or illegal, I was under the assumption once it was put on the street as garbage it was free reign. But dumpsters might have separate laws.

      • Heather

        Thanks for your comment–I work with the homeless, and I’ve never met a person who didn’t matter.

        People are never trash. Full stop.


        Have a lovely day!

        • Isabella Muse

          Heather, you are a star! You’re doing something awesome in this world. And I agree completely. EVERYONE matters. 🙂 xoxo!

      • shana

        Thank you for responding to that so kindly, Muse. What a horrible comment to make. I’m lucky enough to dive just for luxury items like makeup because I can’t afford it otherwise, but there are plenty of people that have to do it just to survive. That doesn’t make any of us ‘trash’.

        And I greatly appreciate your attitude on the topic in general and openness to discussing it. It’s not for you, but you don’t look down on those that do it. A great attitude to have 🙂

        • Isabella Muse

          No need for thanks Shana, it’s only the truth. I wouldn’t do it to be honest because one I’m paranoid someone will arrest me and like I’d end up on the news because I have that kind of weird luck! And two I’m a germ a phobe and I’d just be squeaked out about the entire thing. BUT YOU ARE NOT TRASH if you’re dumpster diving. I always remind myself that everyone has a story this basically translates into, don’t judge someone without knowing their story. Please fear no judgement from me if you’re dumpster diving and p.s. you did break my heart saying you can’t afford otherwise. And that’s just makeup, imagine people who have to eat from the trash 🙁 Go ahead and email me your info if you feel safe giving it to me and I’ll get a special packaging sent to you (it might take a hot minute because if nothing else I’m slow about getting to the post office) with some beauty goodies. I appreciate your attitude for understanding why myself and others here aren’t really into doing it. Thanks for not thinking I’m some sort of snob! P.S> Be careful! 😀 I don’t want to hear you were arrested haha! I might have to bail your butt out of jail xoxo!

        • Shana

          Girl I feel ya! Makeup is expensive and this is a really great way of saving money and the planet at the same time. It takes guts to get in those dumpsters!

  • Christina D.

    This reminds me of the unpleasant encounter I had returning an item at the Sephora-Inside-JC Penney. I rarely return anything, but on this occasion, I truly hated the item in question — in fact, so did you Muse! — and so I brought the completely unused and still-in-package palette back. I was extra careful not to touch the eye shadows so there would be no issue getting a refund. As soon as the “associates” got their hands on it, they tore open the packaging, swatched it all over themselves, and passed it around to the other “associates”. In the meantime, they were asking me for all kinds of ID, whereas that never happened to me in a real Sephora. It totally irritated me that I took care not to turn the item into garbage, but the JC Penney folks had no problem trashing it all the while being somewhat rude to me.

    • Isabella Muse

      I’ve had this happen. I returned a lipgloss once, unused, unopened and I clearly stated that and she opened it and swatched it lol! I actually sat there with a WTF look on my face.

      • Karen

        As a customer, this is actually reassuring to me. I’ve seen people post online about how they order counterfeit makeup from shady companies like Wish or Alibaba, then once it gets here, they go buy the real thing, swap in the counterfeit to the real packaging, and return the counterfeit, keeping the real one.

        You never know what people do with something, even if it only left the store for a few minutes. With product that goes on my face, especially near my eyes or lips, I’d rather them not take any chances.

        • Randi MacDonald

          I thought alibaba was “bulk” orders. I’ve ordered meal prepping containers from them, but had to get 300 of them. ( I resold 200 of them for the price I paid).

          • Karen M Cook

            There are more and more sites like it that will sell single items. Wish has Naked palette knockoffs for $8 that are almost impossible to tell are counterfeits unless you really know what you’re looking for.

  • Codename Duchess

    Trashing good product is definitely common in the retail world. I used to work at a video store way back when and several times a year we’d get a list of DVDs, games and other items to slash (so they wouldn’t be any good to dumpster divers!) and trash. It used to really piss me off. So much waste! Surely a lot of that stuff could have been donated to a library or a charity that distributes such things. Managers weren’t even allowed to let employees “rescue” items destined for the dumpster. Corporate considered that stealing (though some managers defied this policy).

    I have not and likely would not dumpster dive at Ulta, but only because I’m a chicken. The trash part doesn’t gross me out and I don’t see any moral problem with reclaiming items that have been trashed, but I’d be too scared of getting caught.

    • Isabella Muse

      I think I kind of get that you can’t take that stuff as employee, it does kind of feel like stealing but it’s also horrible you have to trash it. I don’t know why they don’t donate it. I always assumed it was tagged and either donated or was sold to wholesale places to resell. I probably wouldn’t, I mean if there’s like food and stuff in the bag with the makeup I’d be grossed out!

      • Codename Duchess

        I guess I’m less grossed out by this because I’ve done this kind of job, and at least at my store our trashed product was not thrown away in the same trash can that we kept behind the counter for random trash like soda cups, food wrappers, paper, etc. We used separate bags for merch, and if Ulta is throwing stuff away en masse (which the top video makes it appear as if they are since there are multiples of the same palettes in her dumpster hail) I bet they do too. I wouldn’t go through a bag of mixed trash to “liberate” a few makeup items, but I wouldn’t turn up my nose at a bag filled with just product that they’re trashing. If it’s in a trash bag anyway, it’s not like other stuff in the dumpster has touched it. Retail stores throw away merchandise that has never been used just to clear space for new items. I’m not 100% certain that Ulta does this, but this is such a common practice in the retail world I’d honestly be surprised if they didn’t do this with clearance items that don’t sell. I’d rather see that stuff wind up in the hands of adventurous beauty lovers than in a landfill.

  • Liz

    Oh my goodness I have seen those videos!! It’s so wild. I am pretty sure going into private dumpsters is against the law. I think it’s considered trespassing because the dumpster is on private property. It’s not the same thing as picking up a piece of furniture or something someone has left on the curb for the trash pick-up.

    I used to be a supervisor at Macy’s and people returned things, mainly clothing, in pretty rough shape and we had to put in like a defective area in the stockrooms but I never knew what ever actually happened to it. One time someone returned one of those $250 North Face Parkas and it had the tags on it and everything but had this horrible food smell, very strong — so bad we had to move it away from the cashwrap and there is no way we could put it back out with other clothing so we had to put it in the discard area. I always wonder what happened to that jacket, but regardless of what happens to the returned products I don’t think it’s a valid excuse to give the customer an attitude about it.

    • Isabella Muse

      You’re likely right! I have no idea what the laws are but it almost feels like stealing.

      • shana

        It’s generally legal in the US–once it’s in the dumpster, it’s no longer their property. However the rules vary by state and county.

        • Janine

          Reading everything on the Internet I discovered it is legal to dumpster dive on government property but not on private property, against building wall, signs posted prohibiting, and/or when it is enclosed (ex. Behind wall, fenced, …). I was slightly interested especially when I saw one had its own dumpster. Not anymore. I don’t like the repercussions.

          • Isabella Muse

            thanks Janine for doing the google leg work haha!

    • Carol G

      I worked at Macy’s at the Clinique counter. We had to damage out the item in the computer and attach the tag to the item. It was placed in the damages drawer and then once a week the cosmetics manager would gather everything and check it against the list of damaged items she printed from the register. Everything had to match. Then, they had a special bin or big drum marked Hazardous Waste on it ( because cosmetics are considered Hazardous Waste) and then when that drum was full they would call a company and they would pick it up and incinerate it. I can’t believe Ulta throws their stuff in the trash. Huge OSHA violation. That is going into landfills. Very shameful on their part!

      • Thiel

        I don’t know about where you’re at, but where I’m at, cosmetics are not considered hazardous waste, and are perfectly acceptable to land-fill. Since you mention OSHA, I assume you’re in the U.S. like I am, so I wonder if things like that vary from state to state.

  • blee

    I would not do it. I saw a TV show that people dumpster dived at a food store, The food was NOT passed the date to toss so it was okay to eat it?? I’ll pay for mine off the shelf. 🙂
    ITA we are not trash – A VERY HIGH PRICE WAS PAID FOR US <3

    • Isabella Muse

      extreme cheapskates! OMG that really grossed me out. WOULD NOT do that. One girl did in NYC! Does she not know the rats are everywhere!??!?!?!??!?!?!??! People are not trash 🙂 Even if they are digging in the trash.

  • Christina D.

    You just reminded me of a relatively recent instance at Ulta. I ordered a palette from Ulta that came damaged. But since the palette was part of a value set, and came with eyeliner and mascara, I returned those as well. They took everything back without an issue but the salesperson took the eyeliner and mascara, put a new skew label on them (they didn’t have a skew # on them because they were part of the set), and said she was going to put them back on the floor to sell. WHAT?

    • Sara E.

      Hopefully she was going to put the SKU them for when they do damages and have to scan everything in. Hopefully

    • Jenn S.

      That’s odd, because usually items in a kit will say somewhere on them “item not labeled for resale,”

  • stephanie

    I used to work at a pretty high end beauty store and when someone would return something we had to open the packaging and physically dump out the product, squeeze out the tube of whatever, etc so this didn’t happen!

  • Ashley

    Hey Muse!

    I work for a brand that’s carried at both Ulta & Sephora. I know that for Sephora, when products are returned to them in store, they will return those items to us (and of course charge us for them). We actually don’t put returned products back into our inventory because we can’t be sure if they were used. So they get trashed as soon as they arrive to our warehouse. With Ulta, they have a built in returns and damages allowance that’s automatically deducted from their orders so when they get returns, they don’t send them back to us because the value of the item is already accounted for.

    Does that make sense? Of course I can only speak for the way my company handles returns. I’m not sure how it works with anyone else.

    • Isabella Muse

      Hey Ashley! This is how I thought returns worked, I thought they would be returned to their respectable brands but actually I didn’t think they got trashed, I assumed they might be donated or perhaps sold to wholesalers or something. So sad they are trashed 🙁 That totally makes sense, thanks for sharing insider secrets haha 😀 Are we allowed to ask which brand you work for, I’m nosy 😀

  • Lorraine. E.R

    Oh man. If I knew I wouldn’t get in trouble I’d consider it. It is such a shame that it gets trashed!

  • melanie

    say what??? I have never heard of this!!! I often thought returns are sent back to the distributor or something. This is total disgusting not to mention all the added germs and diseases. Dumpsters are filthy…… I am not that desperate to have cosmetics. I guess people who buy cosmetics off of ebay and like should beware. YUCK

    • Isabella Muse

      that’s what I thought and maybe like sold off the wholesalers or something?

    • Sarah S.

      I thought the exact same thing! I will only ever buy cosmetics from official retailers because if you get it from Amazon or Ebay or even a makeup exchange site, maybe somebody had dumpster-dived to get it…

  • Sarah

    ugh, gross. I won’t buy makeup at the drugstore that has been opened for any reason. This is why all the stores (Including the Ulta) in the shopping center I worked in for a while all had trash compactors and sealed dumpsters that were hauled away in their entirety. Returns that were not re sellable but otherwise in good condition were donated (along with seasonal stuff we could not sell), granted I worked at a craft store so we’re talking about boxes of crayons that are missing a few, stuff like that. But severely defective or damaged Items were destroyed.

  • Sara E.

    When I worked at Ulta something’s were DIF (destroy in field) and other things were to be sent back to the vendor. I hated wasting that much product, I guess because we can’t verify if it’s been tampered with we couldn’t donate it. We did a pretty good job of destroying them just because of all the dumpster diving. People at all hours would be back there and usually when you threaten to call the cops they left pretty quickly. It’s just so gross with all the usual trash that’s been thrown in the dumpster and hair from the salon, bathroom trash. Gross why would you risk it. Yuck.

    • Lorraine E.R

      Money is why people risk it. If you can’t afford stuff you really want and this doesn’t bother you but the wasting of the product does, then I can see it.

      • Isabella Muse

        money aside, I think some people do it because they like the thrill of it! 😀

  • E

    Walgreens does the same, everything returned that has been opened/used get wrote off and then just tossed in dumpster. Def wouldn’t consider it safe to dig back out which is probably why it’s illegal and most places tend to have locks on their dumpsters. I mean if it’s not safe to sell then you probably shouldn’t be digging it out of the dumpster, even if you think it’s a deal because it’s free. Things that haven’t been used or open go back on the shelf though, and we only get partial credit back for things that are written off and trashed. Could be why they’re snobs when you try to return something.

  • Michelle

    I got bombarded with Dumpster Dive videos about a few months back on YouTube. And like the abyss that YouTube can be I was sucked in for hours watching these videos. I just kept thinking how unsanitary it was and how you could catch something really nasty like a MRSA infection or something. I don’t even use make testers at a store, even if they claim to be “cleaned” as there are some rather nasty skin infections you can get. I also don’t return much makeup because I know I hate using testers and don’t want to abuse a return policy, but touching makeup others have touch or used just gives me the “ickies!”

  • Cat

    In my state it is a health code violation to put returned used or opened makeup and skincare back on the shelf. The same rule applies when a customer decides to create a tester for skincare and makeup products that don’t have one. The product must be thrown out. Some retailers consider the second situation to be a form of grazing.

  • Danielle

    Well, as they say, one person’s trash is another’s treasure! (Those videos freak me out though.)

  • Jay

    When I worked at a clothing store, we would sometimes get recalls or call-backs on certain items. We were instructed to slash the items apart with scissors and box cutters before throwing them in the dumpster so no one would take them out of the trash.

  • Heidi

    I’d love to get some high-end makeup on the cheap, but that’s not just makeup in the dumpster. There’s also old food packaging, empty drink cups, used Kleenex and tampons in there, too, and god knows what else. I wouldn’t want anything that was in close contact with all that anywhere near my face. I love makeup, but there’s limits!

  • Cindy

    I’ve never heard of this. EW. I’d never even consider it. I have no problem returning things that don’t work for me or if I change my mind. I don’t remember attitude from associates, but if I get any, I really don’t care. It’s my $$!

  • isabella

    There was a story a few years ago about F21 or was it HM ?
    tossing clothing that people would take, then they started destroying them so no one would take them. That set off a firestorm about donation etc.

    My first job after I got married I worked at a dept store in FL, and the dept manager often had to physically destroy items that were slightly damaged the employees were not allowed to take them even at a discount.

    seems so wasteful,

    there are so many people going without

    • Kristina

      This is such a good point! There should be a recycling program or something set up where gently used – but obviously sanitized – products could be donated to a women’s shelter or something. I know the one by me only accepts sealed makeup but maybe if they had a deal with a corporation or something they could work something out.

  • BabyBeans

    On one hand it is sooo tempting to find some expensive products but I wouldn’t use anything unless it looks like it wasn’t used already. =/ It’s just not worth it, though, getting caught would be embarassing and I might not find much. When I worked at a chain store a while ago I was sad to hear that a stuffed lion that had two inches of a seam open would just ne tossed. What a waste!

  • Ari

    When I worked at Ulta, it was always heartbreaking seeing the returns! One of our managers would go through the returns a few times a week, and maybe it’s because I’m both a makeup nerd and frightfully poor, but I remember feeling almost physically sick watching him destroy beautiful UD eyeshadows, smash barely swatched high-end blushes, and dump out tons of foundations, expensive skincare, perfumes….! It’s such a waste! But it was sadly necessary, both as a hygienic issue as well as to deter both dumpster diving and staff members from taking the returned makeup (as if the fear of being fired if caught on any of the numerous cameras or during bag checks wasn’t enough of a threat!). I understand why people return makeup, I do it too, but it is a really sad thing to think about. Oh consumerism!

  • Laurie

    One of the videos has the diver casually tossing bottles of Perricone skincare, saying there were lots of them. That line is horribly expensive I could never do the diving, but I’d be glad to supervise!

  • Kayla

    Ulta employees are supposed to damage all returned and unusable products. They’re literally required to dump out and break stuff, so people don’t dumpster dive. FYI, if you’re caught, they are supposed to call the police because it’s considers trespassing and stealing!

  • shana

    I just tried this for the first time last week, it was actually pretty cool. We weren’t super well-prepared as we hadn’t done it before, but it was a good learning experience for doing it again in the future. It was right after christmas so the dumpster was full of decorations. I actually took home a cool round sign that I found lol. The dumpster was really tall and me and my friend are both short and we had no ladder so we couldn’t just jump in, so we just rummaged around in what we could reach. It seemed like someone had already been there, though. The dumpster was pretty full but there wasn’t anything good. We put everything back how we found it (I hate people that leave a mess tbh) and decided to go get back in the car and scope out elsewhere.

    WELL. We then learned a very important lesson lmao. NEVER BRING YOUR PHONE ON A DUMPSTER DIVE. Basically we were halfway home before we realized my friend’s phone was missing. We had to go back and then she literally had to jump into the dumpster because find a phone was telling us her phone was riiiiight in front of us lol. We finally found it and the painfully obvious (but obviously overlooked) ‘never bring your phone on a dumpster dive’ rule was born.

    It actually wasn’t gross at all. The dumpsters were all relatively clean and all I got on my glove was blueberry from a smoothie someone had thrown out lol. And it smelled like Subway because apparently at this Ulta they eat massive amounts of subs haha.

    I’m a huge makeup lover, but I’m also disabled and have very little income. I also love the idea of rescuing makeup that’s being thrown away. As long as I can sanitize it, I’m game. People can say ‘ew’ all they want, but when you don’t have money to spend then why not? It’s legal in the US, but individual laws vary by state, county, etc. Just be careful and if you do get caught…do what the cops say. Explain what you’re doing and if they ask you to leave, leave.

    It sucks that a lot of places have to destroy the stuff before throwing it out. I do understand it to an extent–they don’t want divers finding them and re-selling them for full price or returning them. But it sucks nonetheless.

    • Lorraine E.R

      I had never heard of this before and I was seriously tempted reading this post but after watching the videos, idk. I’d have to find someone to come with and I’m super short too so it’d be hard to get in and out plus the police around where the ultas are here don’t play. If it wasn’t breaking a law and I could find a friend, maybe I’d go though! I just love makeup so much and $ is so tight. Good luck with your future excursions!

    • anonymous

      I used to dumpster dive well over a decade ago when I lived in a larger city and I was dirt poor. I am short as well. The key to being able to score things without getting into the dumpster is to carry some kind of tool on a long handle. I had a miniature garden hoe type thing that was on a long handle that I had purchased for a couple of bucks in Big Lots. The prongs were good for grabbing onto trash bags and pulling them closer as well as helping to pick up various objects. Some people invest in a grabber tool similar to what disabled people purchase to help them pick stuff up from the floor. It has like a pincer thingy on one end and then a control for it on the end you hold in your hand.

      I tried diving at a Sephora once with no luck. Places where I had really good luck were Bath & Body Works, random Hallmark shops, and Linens N Things (which is no longer in existence). Once at a Bath & Body Works I pulled an entire barrel full of body mists, shower gels, etc out of the dumpster. I often found people’s unused birthday gifts…someone would put a shower gel, body lotion, and a beanie baby into a gift bag to give someone on their birthday and apparently the recipients would just come exchange it for something else they wanted. Then the whole gift would be thrown away intact. I found so many beanie babies that way that you wouldn’t believe it.

  • Francesca Zawaydeh

    I grew up in San Francisco, and went to college in Santa Cruz, California. These are areas where dumpster diving is VERY normal. Not only is it considered totally normal, it’s considered completely wasteful some of the things that people throw away. If I couldn’t afford to buy makeup, and it really made me happy…and I saw a dumpster full of perfectly good eyeshadow (some not even touched) hell yeah I’d jump in there! Sephora has the same practice, but because most Sephoras are inside malls, you’d have to dig through some SERIOUS garbage (on private property) in order to get to it. I not only think dumpster diving is cool/normal/nothing special, I think more people should do it just to see the unREAL amounts of waste.

  • Justin

    I don’t care if it’s brand new never touched product in the shrink wrap I would NEVER climb in a dumpster. I’d really be questioning the direction of my life if I was one of them. Cosmetics get returned a lot unfortunately that’s one reason there’s so much mark up on them. I have the urge to scrub down with Purell after watching those videos

  • Agona

    I was told (not sure how true it is) that returned items get used on the floor for demos/swatch displays.

    …they really should donate new or gently used items to woman abuse shelters or those charities that help sex workers. It depends on the state, but some states will allow those type of donations for those charities because those women literally escape their situations with barely the clothes on their backs and appreciate any type of donation, even if it is gently used.

    Also, whether rooting through trash is legal or illegal entirely depends on the state and sometimes, local city ordinances.

  • Christina

    I had a friend years back who volunteered at a local animal shelter and she and a few of the other volunteers would dumpster dive at a local nationally known pet store b/c they would throw out brand new collars, leashes, etc (can’t remember what the reasoning for that was). They would then take the procured items to the shelter. I was totally ok w/ that! I just couldn’t bring myself to join them, so I’d just donate money or pet food – LOL!

    • Isabella Muse

      oh my freaking god. I’d dumpster dive for my local animal shelter! That is the nicest thing I ever heard! Incredible. I’d weed through other people’s crap to get food, collars, etc for furbabies 🙂

  • LaLa

    I used to work at Ulta and employees are supposed to damage the palettes and lip palettes, as in take a pen or pencil and break it off completely for no product to be in it. Lipglosses as well should be thrown away without the wand so dumpster divers have a harder time finding products. Apparently most employees are not doing their job and people getting free make up, totally gross I wouldn’t dumpster dive either!

  • Randi MacDonald

    When I go to Ulta, I actually park my car about 1/4mile away at a Nissan dealer to charge it( I have a LEAF). I end up walking by the dumpster. I’ve peaked in and it looks absolutely disgusting to me. I’d never, ever dive in. I’ve heard that the employees are supposed to totally destroy the makeup before dumping it out.

  • meg

    I currently live in a very poor place, where many, if not most, people go through trash daily to find food or other items. I make a few different piles of trash- a nice box of things that might be useful to someone (like washed out jars or bottles), a bag for actual trash, and then a compost pile in the back yard. I keep the nicer things separate because I would hate for someone to have to rummage through my gross trash just to get to a jar or something (well, they still do end up going through the garbage dumbs, but at least I can make my garbage a little nicer to go through). Things like mascara and old medicines I take great care to dispose of very well and properly- I’m sure that someone would consider that a “good” find, and I would hate for someone to get sick using it. So I destroy things that that.

    I’ve also lived in very posh areas where my neighbors did the same, and I scored a couple of really great picture frames, innumerable books, and some oriental rugs from the “good” pile that kindly neighbors left out on the curb.

    I suppose in the grand scheme of things, returned makeup from an Ulta dumpster in the US probably isn’t so bad…but I wouldn’t want to take any chances. You can get some really bad eye infections from seemingly “clean” eye products. Now, a shower gel or hand wash on the other hand…

    • Isabella Muse

      Meg, you’re amazing. That’s the most thoughtful thing I ever heard in my life. I can’t believe you sort your trash that way. Wow. Just wow. I applaud you. That’s super amazing! Incredible!

  • Kimmyyy

    I worked at a big animal store chain for a long time, as well as several other big retail chains, and I can confirm that we tossed out a variety of perfectly good products. When the cashier was processing the return, there were different options you could pick depending on the condition of the thing they were returning. If it was an item that was basically brand new (unopened food, cat fountain, dog toy, etc), we would just put them back on the shelf. If it was an item with something very minor wrong with it, and it was pricier, the cashier could pick that option and the register would print a ticket that would allow us to ship it back so the company could fix it. If it was something that “could not” be fixed (ex: cracked aquarium), we were told to destroy it completely and trash it. For example: if we had a glass aquarium with a crack, even if it was completely repairable, we were supposed to throw it in the garbage after ruining the item even further (in this case, breaking it completely). We had people that would check our dumpsters nightly to see what we’d trash. At several of the stores I worked at, we had managers (including myself) that would just put those things that were fixable/usable beside the dumpster so anyone who wanted it could take it, so it wasn’t wasted. I set aside so many cracked tanks for myself over the years that I just fixed myself and used for my reptiles and amphibians, or gave to friends; and I couldn’t even tell you how many things like barely “damaged” cat trees/dog/cat toys/beds/bowls, opened bags of food that were perfectly good, and misc other items I set aside so that our animal rescue people could come grab them and make use of it all. It’s ridiculous.

    As for dumpster diving for makeup, I admit that I’ve been intrigued by it. There are plenty of ways to sanitize things so they could be usable, depending on what it is. I would never touch anything but powder products though, as those seem the easiest to disinfect. You couldn’t pay me to use a cream or liquid product that had been opened and potentially used.

  • Silvia

    Well is a great way to meet a raccoon! I love makeup and dig often and find cool items at Target clearances and such but make sure it hasn’t been opened and is intact the packaging. I would not dive for anything in the trash us just plain gross and is only makeup anyways. It’ll be a different need if you are starving and had to feed a kid now that’s a real need but for pretty makeup no way I find it disgusting! Someone could have thrown a dog poop in there, loose food items just gross! Is also a shame so much waste goes on whether from makeup industry or restaurants when some people badly need it. I always donate all my things, clothes in excellent shape when my kids were small, furniture, kitchen items and try to avoid returning things because of this situation. I know Panera in Santa Monica after training at the high school track for marathons we used to go before closing and have coffee, soup, etc. they would donate left over bread to the homeless. I wish more business would help out this way. So much waste when people are in need specially food and clothing. Sad.
    But no for makeup although it sounds tempting I wouldn’t! Just plain gross.

  • Christine

    I thought returned items to Sephora that were almost new were shipped out to be used as testers? I returned some mascara and a lipstick (only swiped once), and I asked the man working at the cashier what happened to them. He said they would use those items as testers.

  • VAdoglover4

    If folks want to dive into a dumpster for makeup, then that’s their thing. What I’m surprised with is the wastefulness of Ulta. Throughout college, I worked for Ester Lauder at a local department store. We a customer returned an item, we had to damage it out and it went in a bin with other damaged Cosmetics. At the time, we had to return the item for reimbursement, so not sure how Ulta handles their return reimbursements from the vendors. I know there are ladies who can’t afford the high end makeup, but it’s still stealing because I believe that dumpster and it’s contents still belong to the company. There are plenty of fabulous drug store brands making top notch products. I’m not sure where the idea came from where we think we should have things that we can’t afford, so we steal them?? I mean, when we see people in areas where rioting is occurring, most people are appalled by the blatant theft, but the perpetrators look different from the Ulta dumpster divers, so it is ok….NOT!

    • Zovesta

      I do get your point! I’d just like to add, as an accounting student, companies have a certain expense category (which they budget for) for returns and discounts, which is then subtracted from their profits in that period. I assume that’s how it works at ULTA, too, if that was your question.

    • M Worley

      As per federal law, the contents of a dumpster have been forfeited by the person/company who threw it away, and once in a dumpster not gated, locked, or otherwise noted as being private property, become part of the public domain. Some counties or cities make their own ordinances making the act of digging through a dumpster illegal, but as for the contents they are discarded and considered belonging to no one and everyone, in most places. Check out the freegan laws, this was the main act that led to the federal proclamation that the trash is public, which came about because of incidents of evidence being thrown out in a case because it was found in the trash which is readily accessible to most anyone, and no search warrant is needed for a search. There is actually a federal law making it technically illegal to throw away any mass amount of product that could be used by someone in need, especially food but there is gray area over person care items like shampoo etc.

  • Anna

    I live in Greece where returns are not a thing (apart from stores like Zara and the lot, that have their own policies). You can exchange the gifts though and for make up it has to be unopened.
    The other thing is that all beauty products have testers, so you can totally test a foundation or a concealer let’s say and find your match and not buy in the blind like you would in CVS for example.

    When I lived briefly in the US I returned only 2 used items: a single eyeshadow and a nail polish. I always wondered what happened to the returns and I hoped that they would be recycled, but now I know that they are trashed!

  • Zovesta

    I have dumpster dived before. I prefer the recycling bins (we have huuuuge ones that could probably fit 20 adults standing up in them), as all I ever pop in for are newspapers as dog pee pads (free!) or cardboard boxes for storage (can also get these behind Dollar General, and I only grab the clean ones). It’s not a big deal to me. But – I dunno. A $40 palette in the box? Hell yes, I’d dumpster dive for that. A $8 opened lipstick? I’ll pass. =P

  • Karina

    Sephora does not throw away returns in the trash. I have worked there for over 5 years (in management as well), and absolutely no damaged or returned items are put in the trash. So if you’re considering dumpster diving at Sephora, don’t waste your time–you won’t find anything!

  • Michele Rodriguez

    There is nothing wrong with dumpster diving. People and businesses throw away stuff that could be giving to the less fortunate. Have you ever spoken to a true dumpster diver? I’m guessing but the crude comments NO. Dumpster divers are not thieves. We don’t walk into a store and steal. A majority f us do not take more then necessary. We take what we need and don’t leave a mess. Divers come from all backgrounds. Before you choose to judge may I recommend that you walk in there shoes first. Makeup divers are new but diving is not.

  • Diva diving

    In Ohio anything over $500 is a felony, iv never heard of anything over $20 being a felony. I’ve looked up Ohio laws and some city’s and states have different laws but I’ve heard as long as the dumpster is not against the building and is not locked your allowed to do as you please. Check your city and state laws to be sure before risking any charges. Good luck girls hope you all find some good stuff.

  • Warning

    Tampons and more TAMPONS in the ulta trash people. Don’t buy DD makeup! Makeup mixed in with used tampons.