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Photography Hazel Gaskin

Inside the make-up addicted hoarder community on Reddit

We explore how some people are using beauty products to bring them comfort during these uncertain times

In March as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, stores were forced to shut their doors. There was a scarcity of certainty with no vaccine, treatment, or reopening dates in sight, so naturally people panicked. Some people coped by buying enough toilet paper to last them the next decade, while others clamoured for instant yeast, yarn, and even bidets. Psychologists boil this down to one thing: when people feel uncertain, they focus on the things that bring them certainty. 

For one community of beauty fanatics, nothing offered peace of mind quite like lipstick, hyaluronic acid, and eyeshadow. A hub for beauty fanatics, the Makeup Addiction subreddit has garnered more than two million members over the last 10 years. By providing space for make-up fans to share photos, ask questions, and discuss the industry, the forum has created a community that is both welcoming and a veritable feast of knowledge. 

Though the last three months have been dominated by conversations regarding the current pandemic, the relentless barrage of sales and whether stockpiling cosmetics, skincare, and everything between is also necessary. “Will this pandemic stop you from buying new make-up?” one Redditor asked in May. “I’m buying so much more make-up now. Not having to go into the office means I can wear my full gothic glam face every day,” another responded.

In a report released by Poshly in March, which surveyed 1000 respondents on their buying habits during the coronavirus outbreak, 51 per cent said they were stocking up on skincare. Meanwhile, 25 per cent of participants noted that they’re still ordering eye make-up, 24 per cent are stocking up on face make-up (like foundation and concealer), 18 per cent are continuing to buy lipsticks and 14 per cent are purchasing eyebrow products.

These buying habits coincide with a renewed focus on DIY projects, with 23 per cent of participants admitting they’ve had to become their own beauty therapist because of the crisis. The document also suggests that for some, make-up is a stress reliever. “I don’t feel my best without doing my make-up everyday,” reads a quote from the report. “Working from home I feel ugly... But I also don’t see any need to get ready.” 

It may come as a surprise that an industry marketing luxury products continues to thrive despite the economic downturn. “One might say there’s less of a need for some beauty products because we’re going out less,” Chris Ventry, vice president of consumer and retail practice at SSA & Company, told Retail Dive. “But, Zoom necessitates proper clothing attire and accessories and make-up. And with salons closed, people will be doing more transitional maintenance at home.”

If you take a look at many of the beauty enthusiast reddit groups like Skincare Rehab and Makeup Rehab members are prioritising cosmetics more than ever before. “I’ve found myself taking part in more online ordering,” a Redditor who only identified herself as u/skater_jirik explains. “Before the lockdown, I had only ever ordered make-up online twice, but since quarantine began I’ve placed six or seven orders.” When asked why, she admits that it filled the void of “physically going into the store – plus I wasn’t spending as much on gas and other expenses so I splurged a bit.”

On the other side of the world, Evie stocked up on her go-to products soon as the pandemic hit. As a 24-year-old living in Hobart, Tasmania, which is located off the mainland of Australia her retail options have always been limited. Without a Sephora in the state, she often turns to the MAC counter of her local department store or Mecca, the “Australian equivalent of Ulta,” which opened its doors just two years ago. Most retailers, like Sephora and Ulta have had slower shipping times than usual due to newly enacted safety measures. Meanwhile, California brands like ColourPop Cosmetics were required to suspend shipping altogether.  

With these stores closing without warning, Evie jumped online to get ahead of shipping delays and dwindling inventory. “(Buying make-up) was my first thought when I found out quarantine could last for six months,” Evie admits. It helped “achieve a sense of normalcy” among the chaos. “I missed putting it on so now I’ll wear make-up if I’m just going to the supermarket or if my brother and his girlfriend come over, whereas pre-COVID I probably wouldn’t have bothered.”

When asked what she bought, Evie links to a Reddit post on r/MakeupFlatlays where she shared her April haul. “Product list; Stila Stay All Day Liner in Intense Labrodite — meant to (buy) black, don’t drink and online shop,” she quips. Rounding out her list is a mascara, concealer, and bronzer from Hourglass; Summer Friday’s Super Amino cleansing gel, a pot of Clinique Moisture Surge hydrator, and a hair mask from Omorovicza. That was the first of many purchases. “Since then I bought six eyeshadow palettes and an eyeshadow primer.”

Toilet paper hoarders are a dime a dozen, but the same can’t be said for make-up collectors. Evie unexpectedly found herself in the minority after she asked her fellow beauty Redditors whether they had been stocking up on products during the pandemic. “I already have a glut of product at home anyway,” one user responded. Another joked they didn’t need more make-up but would “kill for some Lysol wipes and Ajax.” 

Many confessed that overwhelming feelings of guilt have helped keep new makeup purchases at bay. Meanwhile others conceded that the pandemic had put their spending habits into perspective. But elsewhere, people are sharing their splurges. In March on r/SkincareAddicts, one user shared that she had come home to her boyfriend asking whether she had picked up food in light of the US government declaring a state of emergency. “I stood there awkwardly with my moisturisers and skincare serums. Guess that’s one thing I won’t run out of?” she wrote above a photo of the eight products she had brought home from The Ordinary. 

And on r/MakeupAddiction others are admitting that more free time means more reasons to wear a full face and get creative. “Being stuck inside all day is letting my creativity with make-up run wild,” lxurenlaflare shares. “I’ve placed a huge order with ABH and another from Beautylish.”

“Being stuck inside all day is letting my creativity with make-up run wild. I’ve placed a huge order with ABH and another from Beautylish” – lxurenlaflare, r/MakeupAddiction

Jess, 26, who has been doing drag make-up for two years, started applying their own stage make-up as a 13-year-old in the theatre. Their drag persona Spank Knightly gives them the freedom to create looks that meld together Guy Fawkes, Willy Wonka, Lord Farquaad, and Bert from Sesame Street. Though, quarantine has put a dent in their supplies. “I’ve been experimenting a lot with make-up and different looks,” says Jess. “I’m using more bold colours and I’m changing the contours of my face in vastly different ways than I previously did. I have a lot of time on my hands now so I have a lot more time to dedicate.”

As a self-professed “try before you by kinda person” quarantine has been quite prohibitive for them. “Once the pandemic hit, I obviously couldn’t go out to a store because Illinois did a total lockdown.” They stocked up on large packs of make-up wipes, a bunch of concealers, setting powder, primer, and “clown white” foundation.

While the lockdown has been a somewhat positive and creative time for some, others have felt bombarded by sales and promotions. “My friends and family would always comment on how excessive my make-up collection was. So last year I decided to do a low buy,” a user on r/MakeupRehab shared. “I set up a few rules, like only rebuying products that I ran out of... but during this coronavirus outbreak (with) all the brands doing sales/promotions I know I’m vulnerable to buying make-up to make myself feel better.”

“This pandemic has certainly shown that craft, hobby, and make-up companies are no different in exploiting an opportunity. I’m definitely refusing to support companies that do not support their employees during this scary time. Their lives and safety are more important than my craft” – Jess

Rashmika, a 20-year-old from Milwaukee says she also used to struggle with regulating her spending but the recent boom in clearance sales has left her feeling a little sour. “While I do understand why the beauty industry is doing all these sales, I feel that their tactics are incredibly predatory,” she explains. “Every single commercial is ‘oh you need this foundation’ or ‘get this palette ASAP!!’ Which I think is especially tone-deaf when people are struggling to pay rent and buy groceries.” When asked whether she has been motivated to buy anything, she confesses that “after the first wave of ‘please buy our stuff’ emails, nothing has really been tempting.”

Jess agrees, admitting that the way brands are reacting to the crisis is likely to inform how and where they spend their money in a post-COVID 19 world. “I mean, capitalists are gonna capitalise and this pandemic has certainly shown that craft, hobby, and make-up companies are no different in exploiting an opportunity,” they lament. “It’s also kind of shameful that these companies pawn out some low-level employees and put their health at risk without so much as hazard pay. I’m definitely refusing to – or at least trying to – support companies that do not support their employees during this scary time. Their lives and safety are more important than my craft.”