The Trauma of the Discontinued Lip Gloss

Trigger warning: this article discusses the death of several lip glosses and one eyeshadow.

Adeline Dimond


Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

I remember where I was when I learned of the death of Estée Lauder’s Matte Mocha lipstick, a dark, dusty purplish brown that stuck to your lips like a layer of crazy glue. It was 1990, I was in college at a fancy liberal arts school, and my friends and I had deemed it the only acceptable color to go along with our vintage rayon dresses and Doc Marten boots. Matte Mocha was the perfect send up of the traditional red lip: dark and dramatic, but a little dead inside too. We wore it along with a perfume called Antonia’s Flowers and created a small army that looked and smelled exactly the same.

One day my friend Ali and I walked to the local mall to replenish our supply. The woman behind the makeup counter at John Wanamaker’s paused, trying to figure out how to explain the bad news. She settled on ripping the Band-aid right off because she simply said “we don’t have anymore and we never will. It’s been discontinued. A customer just bought our last 24 tubes.”

I was 19 years old at the time, and the idea that a company would discontinue a product was deeply confusing. I grew up with products that never went away: Pop-tarts, Oreo cookies, Fritos. I wasn’t an economics whiz but I knew the concept of supply-and-demand, so how could Estée Lauder do this if there was still a demand for Matte Mocha, especially such an emotional, desperate demand? Didn’t the fact that some genius hoarder bought 24 tubes mean anything?

Now, years later, I know that it doesn’t mean anything at all. For some inexplicable reason, cosmetic companies discontinue colors and products we come to rely on all the time. They don’t seem to be aware of the trauma this causes. A MAC spokesperson — one of the only companies to explain the phenomenon, apparently — claimed it’s to make room for new innovations. But please: makeup companies should know that no matter what era we’re in, we just want to look fresh and healthy, like we just went on a brisk walk, or even spent the day getting nailed. Bright eyes, rosie cheeks, shiny lips a little darker than their natural color (sort of like our other lips, which I don’t think is a coinkydink).