Skip to main content

What is the true cost of beauty?

According to a 2017 survey, American women, on average, will spend thousands of dollars on beauty products each year. And our wallets aren’t the only thing hurting from overconsumption of cosmetics. On the health front, experts are concerned that women are damaging their skin by using too many beauty products. And on the eco level, the rise of increasingly niche, single-use products is taking a toll on our environment. What’s a girl to do?

Enter the Project Pan movement. It’s a growing community centered on a simple idea with a big impact: either using up an entire product or at least “hitting pan” on a palette (using enough that you can see the bottom of the pan holding your product). Not only does making the most of what you already own help to save money and save the environment, it encourages creativity, as participants seek to learn new ways to use old favorites.

The r/ProjectPan reddit has over 5,000 members and #projectpan on Instagram includes over 400,000 posts. Women everywhere are sharing photos of their progress using up everything from eye shadow to sunscreen, plus swapping tips on how to stretch their stash even further by repurposing products. It’s an entirely different mentality than that of the beauty industry, where advertisers spend billions of dollars every year to convince us to spend even more.

Now don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with spending money (or even splurging!) on our appearance. Little acts of self-care, like taking the time to put on makeup, can boost your mood and your confidence. And that’s what Project Pan is all about. It’s not about cutting beauty out of our lives; it’s about learning to appreciate it even more. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach; Project Pan enthusiasts will tell you that the point is to have fun. If a product simply does not work for you, it’s okay to give it to a friend or throw it away.

Project Pan challenges can work for make-up minimalists and maximalists alike. Different challenges can help you hit different goals. Here are just a few examples:

For the beauty guru. If you are a beauty professional or enthusiast, chances are you have a pretty fully-stocked collection. You might want to try the Beauty No Buy challenge, where the goal is to avoid purchasing new items and only restock on items you already own and use. Some participants use this as an opportunity to take a tally of what they already own and to decide whether to scale down. The upside of this challenge is that when it’s over, you will likely have a better sense of what brands you actually use on a daily basis, and you can make better-informed purchases in the future.

For the environmentalist. If your goal is to go green, try the Beauty No Buy challenge, but with a different goal in mind. Instead of focusing on paring down, focus on freeing up your stash to make room for more clean and environmentally friendly brands. You can also focus on eliminating plastic from your collection.

For someone who wants to grab-and-go. Project Pan presents the perfect opportunity to assemble a capsule make-up kit. Select just a handful of products that you will need for the month or for the season and store them in a small, travel-ready bag. This challenge will empower you not only to use the items you own but to craft looks that are appropriate and comfortable for the season, like skipping the heavy foundation for summer and increasing your sunscreen use. You might also use this challenge to see if there are any products you are using that you don’t really need—like a setting powder that does little to preserve your make-up or a blush that is barely visible on you.

For the creative. There are plenty of themed Project Pan challenges to try too, which is great if you like to experiment with make-up and try different colors and looks. Beauty YouTube is a great place to look into how to use up a specific palette you’re struggling with (like this one here); you can also Google things like tips for how to use commonly neglected eye shadow shades like white, black, and blue.

Besides the specific challenges, the Project Pan community is a treasure trove of tips for making your products go farther, last longer, and take on a new life. Here are just a few such tips:

  • Use water when applying a chalky eye shadow to prevent fallout.
  • Layer eye shadows to create a new shade from ones you rarely use.
  • Multitask: use lip color on your cheeks, eye shadow as a highlighter, etc.

The message behind Project Pan is also a good reminder to check the expiration dates on your beauty products, sunscreen, and the like. Old makeup can go rancid, but even worse, an expired item might give you an infection—and no one wants that!

The exciting thing about Project Pan is how it can be adapted to your needs and goals. If you want to save money to invest in a luxury product, focus on using up what you own so you can start saving up for that big-ticket item. If you want to try out some new and exciting looks, experiment with the products you own but rarely use. And if you just want to get more bang for your buck from your makeup, the encouragement of the Project Pan community will help you to re-envision what a beauty collection can look like: half-used and fully loved!

So get started, and see what you can hit pan on!