Sorry, Sephora, the free samples are getting out of control. 

By Katie Holdefehr
Updated January 28, 2019
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Free beauty samples of shampoo and conditioner from hotel
Credit: HowardOates/Getty Images

Like most of America, I recently embarked on a Marie Kondo Netflix show-inspired decluttering spree. As all eight episodes played in the background, cheering me on with each folded t-shirt and decluttered kitchen drawer, I tackled my overflowing collections of craft supplies, jewelry, and beauty products. Some of my stash was no surprise to me (of course I had collected two boxes full of embroidery floss, even though I haven't embroidered since middle school), while other finds were a little more shocking: where did all of these beauty samples come from? As someone with sensitive skin, I generally avoid trying new products, yet as I decluttered, I found body wash packets strewn across my desk, upwards of 20 assorted face masks, a plethora of shampoo and conditioner minis. I knew I had a problem when I discovered a tiny sample of NARS cult-classic Orgasm blush—a product I already own two full-size versions of.

Now, a week after my own decluttering spree, a recent New York Times article on the hoarding of Sephora (and Birchbox, and Kiehl's) samples assures me that I'm not alone. The author, Jolie Kerr, along with over 100 commenters, confess to collecting a ridiculous amount of samples. And while the allure of the free beauty sample needs no explanation, many of us have finally reached our limit. If the stash is taking over your medicine cabinet or you never actually use these mini miracle products, it's time to cull the collection. The article offers many helpful tips, and after going through the process recently myself, I have a few more tricks to try. Take a deep breath, open up your medicine cabinet, and get ready to declutter.

Consider the Expiration Dates

When you're clearing out your pantry, food that's past its prime is the first thing to go. Well, the same idea holds true for beauty products. Need a cheat sheet? Consult our guide to makeup and beauty product expiration dates, which lists how long different products last. Those mini bottles of shampoo and conditioner only last for about three years, so if you still have samples from your honeymoon ten years ago, it's time to toss them out. And that mini mascara you tried a few times and then kept for a few years? It's an eye infection waiting to happen—throw it away.

While you may be fine if you use an expired beauty product, for those with sensitive skin, it can be dangerous. True story: I once brought along a mini body lotion sample I'd had for a few years on a trip to the Cayman Islands. The result was a full-body rash that kept me covered up and off the beach. Don't let free beauty samples ruin your vacation—check the chart!

It's Not Just the Samples

As I was curating my beauty stash, I found that it wasn't just samples I'd collected, but also some full-size products I simply didn't use. While it's theoretically easier to let go of products you got for free, giving away those you spent money on is even harder. But if the product didn't work for you, you decided you don't like the smell, or it simply didn't fit into your beauty routine, there's no point in holding on to it. Luckily, you don't need to send these products to the landfill—donate them to someone who will put them to use.

Where to Donate Beauty Products

First all of, make sure that the products you're donating aren't past their expiration dates. Then, consider which organization makes the most sense for the type of products you have. Have a stash of mini shampoos, soaps, and lotions? Most homeless shelters will accept them (give them a call first to check). For makeup and perfume, Kerr suggests donating them to Dress for Success, or you can bring them to your local domestic violence and abuse shelter. You can also donate unused products to Beauty Bus, an organization that provides free beauty products and in-home beauty services to those with serious illnesses.

It's Worth Recycling Your Empties, Too

As you're going through your beauty stash, you may find you have a bunch of almost-empty products you've been hanging onto. While you can toss cleaned plastic bottles into your normal recycling bin, there are several companies that will accept these empties, and even offer discounts or freebies in return. For every five pots you return to LUSH stores, you'll get a free face mask. Bring a Le Labo fragrance bottle back to the store for a refill and you'll get a 20-percent product discount. Origins was one of the first brands to start a beauty product recycling program, and they accept empties from any brand. Drop off empties from any brand at L'Occitane and you'll receive 20 percent off one full-size product purchased that day.

Use the Samples You Have

Once I went through my collection, I moved all of the products I actually wanted to try to their appropriate location. The hair mask sample went in the shower, and the face mask sample stayed out on my bathroom counter where I wouldn't forget about it. Depending upon the size of your collection, using these samples could save you money. After one NYT commenter read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she decided to use all of the beauty samples she had. The result: "I did not have to buy soap, shampoo, or body cream for 2 years," she writes.

Set Up a System

Get a designated container for all of the minis. I chose a clear zippered pouch ($8, and filled it with shampoos and conditioners I plan to pack on upcoming trips. When the collection outgrows the container, it's time to donate, recycle, toss, or use them. With a system in place, it will be much easier to keep the beauty sample hoarding in check.