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Recession-Proof Beauty: The Swap Meet

Welcome back to my series on recession-proof beauty. I've already written about how to keep your beauty spending under control, but if you want to get beauty products for free, there's another way: swap them. I know some of you are skeeved out by this idea, but if you follow a few guidelines, it's a great way to purge unused products from your stash and pick up a few goodies at the same time. The biggest community for doing so is Makeupalley, which has 236,830 items up for swap today. As you can imagine, you can find just about anything there, so I'll show you how to make the most of its enormous swapping opportunities.

The concept is pretty simple. After signing up for an account, you can list your unwanted beauty items for swap. Then you can browse the up-for-grabs swap lists of other members. When you see something you're interested in, contact the member to see if she's game for a swap. If it's a fit, you'll both ship out the goods and leave a "token" — similar to eBay's feedback forum — for each other.

Of course, there are a few etiquette and sanitation guidelines you should follow. To find out what they are,


What to swap: Okay, first things first: Your emerald-green Wet 'n' Wild eye shadow? Nobody wants it. Sorry. When listing items to swap, you'll have better luck if you offer boutique brands (MAC and Nars are popular; drugstore brands aren't). And only list products that are in new or like-new condition; testing a lipstick on your hand once is fine, but don't list a half-used bottle of shampoo. To make your listing stand out, be honest about the product's condition and consider taking pictures.

What to look for: You can find a lot of brand-new items on Makeupalley, but many have been tried once or twice. Personally, I'd be fine with swapping items that can easily be sanitized, such as perfume or creams in a sealed pump bottle. I'm a little less inclined to go for lip gloss (since the wand can't be cleaned), and I'd never go for used mascara. Fragrances abound, particularly in sample sizes.

How to make an offer: Read the swapper's profile. Some swappers are willing to swap for all kinds of items, but others only want to swap for items on their wish list. Then, make contact, and be realistic in your swap offer. "I'll take your Phillip Lim Nars palette if you want my Boucheron perfume sample" is not a fair swap. But "How about my new Nars Dolce Vita lipstick, Stila Kitten eye shadow, and Lancome nail polish?" is a tempting one.

Ship the goods! This part is easy — just wrap and mail your swap item promptly. To be sure that your item arrives in one piece, wrap it with bubble wrap. And while it's not required to send a few extra goodies (fragrance samples, etc.), not doing so is considered a bit déclassé. After you've received your swap, then leave feedback in the form of a token. From there, you can enjoy a new-to-you beauty product — and all you've had to pay is the cost of shipping.

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