I never knew how truly dependent a person could be on the perfect product until Estee Lauder abruptly discontinued a lipstick I’d been wearing every day for three years.
The color in question was Lustrous Pink. One day I stopped by a counter to restock, like I had every month prior for three consecutive years (I went through a tube a month—that’s how much I loved and wore this shade), and was informed it had been pulled from every counter in America. That seemed a little dramatic, but apparently, it’s what happens when an item is discontinued: the counters are informed of the discontinuation and instructed to send back every sample and product they have on hand to corporate headquarters for archiving.
What I went through over the ensuing months (and then years) to attempt to track down and eventually replace the discontinued lipstick is slightly insane, but a testament to the enduring effect that an amazing beauty product can have in our lives.
Ahead, my real-life experience with what it’s like when your holy grail beauty product suddenly gets discontinued. May this never, ever happen to you, my friends.
My holy grail lipstick was the most perfect shade of pink I’ve ever seen: Estee Lauder Signature Lipstick ($22) in Lustrous Pink. It was a semi-sheer color that I could, and did, wear at all hours of the day—at work, at night, even at the gym. It blended perfectly with my natural lip color to enhance, plump, and give a sexy hint of shimmer and shine.
Like most holy grail products, my particular affinity for it was personal. It had to do with my particular skin tone, my particular eye color, the particular features that the shade brought out, and my taste in aesthetics. Some people’s signature lip color is nude, or matte red (hi, Gwen Stefani). For me, it was this irreplaceable semi-sheer baby pink that I couldn’t have dreamed up if I’d tried.
I was addicted to it, and honestly did not feel like myself without it on my lips (spoiler alert: I still don’t). I would reapply constantly and had at least one tube on my person 24/7. In my pocket, in my purse, I was never without my Lustrous Pink.
When I went to restock one day, as usual, the representative at the Estee Lauder counter informed me they didn’t have any Lustrous Pink left, there—or anywhere. She called around to five neighboring counters at various local department stores and the story was the same: it had been discontinued, and counters are required to send back any stock they have left at the time of the discontinuation. None had any.
I was completely distraught and panicked, but confident I’d be able to find some left somewhere in the country. I didn’t really have a plan but refused to believe that every Lustrous Pink that had ever existed was suddenly unattainable. I knew I’d stumble upon a gold mine somewhere—if nowhere else, the internet. The internet would have to have some, right?
At first, I simply didn’t believe my days of Lustrous Pink were over. I thought that I’d find a counter somewhere that just hadn’t gotten the memo. I thought if I tried enough counters in person, I’d find one that had been slow to send the samples back; or maybe one that had made a mistake and would look behind the counter to discover 20 Lustrous Pinks sitting around for my purchasing.
I also thought that maybe Estee Lauder’s online store wouldn’t have pulled the color yet, even if the counters had. So I went home that day ready to purchase a lifetime supply’s worth online, only to find it “unavailable” everywhere.
It wasn’t until I drove to no less than ten different department stores hoping to find the one counter that had accidental stock left—and was denied at each one—that the reality of the discontinuation set in.
At this point, like all beauty fanatics in a bind, I turned to eBay. There was no guarantee that the products claiming to be Lustrous Pink weren’t counterfeit, but I had to try something. I purchased three tubes from an individual seller claiming they’d bought a bunch before the shade was discontinued (so risky and sketchy, I know), and wasn’t even surprised to find they were blatant fakes when they finally came.
At this time I had a friend who lived in Puerto Rico and knew my saga, and volunteered to check some Estee Lauder counters there for my coveted color. Shockingly, she found three Lustrous Pinks at a JCPenny in San Juan, and shipped them to me like the saint that she is. It felt surreal to be holding three pristine tubes of my favorite lipstick in my hands, but also strange since I knew I’d have to save and parcel them…for the rest of my life. I went from reapplying the lipstick 400 times a day, to questioning whether an event or moment was “worth it” to warrant using the finite amount of Lustrous Pink I now had left.
Even after my friend sent me the three tubes from Puerto Rico, I never stopped checking Estee Lauder counters at department stores I found myself in for months afterward—because why not? I still harbored the hope that there might be a mistaken tube or tubes out there somewhere, so why not take two minutes to check? At the big Bloomingdales flagship in New York City three months after the discontinuation, a brand representative finally told me about the existence of their Gone But Not Forgotten program—an actual department that handles discontinued shades for consumer purchasing.
I called immediately and was told that if they could find my color I could purchase six—the maximum number of tubes they allow you to buy in one order. I obviously gave my credit card number for six tubes, spinning with delight at my good fortune. Those six plus my Puerto Rican three could at least get me through the next five years if I was really restrictive, I thought. I couldn’t think past that, because a future without this color in my life just wasn’t imaginable so it was easier to not think about.
And then I got the email from the customer service representative with whom I’d spoken: “while we are often able to locate discontinued products for our consumers, I have conducted a thorough search of our inventory, and unfortunately there are no more pieces of Signature Lipstick in Lustrous Pink. The credit card that you provided will not be charged.”
Even at Gone But Not Forgotten—the corporate discontinuation department of the brand itself—Lustrous Pink was nowhere to be found. It had been erased, and GBNF had been my final hope.
Throughout my grieving process, many people had told me to just have the shade matched, either by Estee Lauder or a different brand. I am here to tell you that I’ve tried. I’ve given it six solid attempts. I tried TopShop lipstick in Pillow Talk—too candy-colored. Then Nars Roman Holiday—too dark. I tried cock tailing, layering NARS Babydoll lip gloss over Pillow Talk to get the ever-so-subtle sheen Lustrous Pink had. Nothing has worked and quite frankly, nothing has come close to filling Lustrous Pink’s place.
I eventually went back to the Estee Lauder counter to try to find a comparable match. They have beautiful other shades, but none even in the same family as this beautiful, soft, baby pink I miss so much. It was my forever color. That one shade or formula—whether face wash, lotion, foundation, eyeliner, mascara, bronzer, lipstick, or any number of other items—that works so perfectly for your wants and needs and preferences that you don’t know what you’d do if the company responsible for its existence ever stopped making it.
I’m aware that I can’t even really write how perfect the color was and how much a part of my daily identity and self-confidence it was without sounding ridiculous. But clearly, the existence of a department within a cosmetic company called “Gone But Not Forgotten” proves that other people have similar reactions to favorite products being discontinued—enough to warrant an infrastructure for it.
Though I’m still not over it and feel like I never will be, I also use my remaining three tubes of the color with reckless abandon, because life is short. They’re each already half-way done (for some reason my method has been to evenly deplete them at the same time, versus completely using up one at a time). I want to save some for my wedding day, and still feel slightly hostage to the finite amount that I have left, but also prefer pretending that the tubes will last forever. It’s too final to think that I’ll ever actually have to face the day when my pinky finger scoops up the last bit of Lustrous Pink left on earth. So I guess you could stay I still live each day in denial.
For now, all I can think is that I’m lucky my two other holy grail products haven’t been discontinued—Armani’s Luminous Silk Foundation ($64), and Diorshow Mascara ($25). And I’m still hoping against all hope that one day Estee Lauder decides to bring back Lustrous Pink.