If you've been dying to use your makeup products before they expire, you should consider joining Project Pan. The beauty community exists on Instagram, YouTube, and Reddit and invites you to mindfully use items in your collection and post regular updates of products you've "hit pan" on. If you're curious to know more about the nitty-gritty of this challenge, we spoke with two members of the community to share their Project Pan tips and personal experience with other beauty lovers.
What is Project Pan?
Project Pan is an ongoing challenge primarily held on YouTube, Instagram, and Reddit. Similar to showcasing your product empties (empty beauty product packaging), Project Pan documents the process of people slowly going through their existing makeup products until they see the bottom of the "pan" or packaging.
For Cara, who goes by Carrotstick Beauty on YouTube and Instagram where she posts regular updates about her panning progress, her journey as a panner started when she saw herself buying more products in response to the Western beauty YouTubers she religiously watched. “They were always promoting [new products],” she said, mentioning the beauty hauls trend of yesteryears. Her collection eventually became so big that it came to the point where she needed to reduce it.
A beauty addict since she was 12, Cara has been buying makeup and skincare for years and religiously watching YouTube videos surrounding that deep love for beauty. She shared that she'd show off her lipstick collection that she'd always carry in her bag to friends and was "in denial" that was already hoarding products. She had back-ups of her backup products. It was around 2018 that she noticed people becoming more mindful of the products they were using and collecting and it sparked her own introspection.
For Ella, who posts about her Project Pan progress on Instagram, joining the community was a response to the numerous beauty launches coming out seemingly every day. "I felt overwhelmed with the constant beauty releases in the market and often felt sucked into the hype," she shared, saying she used to be an impulsive buyer and "not the most practical spender". "I first encountered the movement on Instagram in 2018 and felt fascinated about the idea of makeup actually being used up."
People join the Project Pan community for different reasons. "The overall goal of the community is pretty simple — finishing products," Ella summarised. "Then it can get personal for different people."
In Cara's case, the ultimate goal was "to use the products that I have and test how long it really takes to finish them up". She continued, "You'd think that an eyeshadow is only a few grams of product and that's too little, but it actually takes a long time to use." This exercise changed her mindset and helped to remind her that she still has products in her collection that she can use before buying new ones.
"Now I just buy, as much as possible, the stuff I want to buy. But since I'm also a content creator, there are times that I have to buy [a product] for a review," Cara explained.
How to pan the right way
There's no "right" way to do this challenge and everyone does it differently. But the simple strategy across panners, or people doing Project Pan, is picking out a product they'll use every time they apply their makeup. From there, they incorporate variations such as using one eyeshadow shade every day or using a product in different ways. It's all up to you and your daily makeup habits.
For example, Cara likes to plan out her Project Pan for a year and focuses on products she knows that she will be able to use a lot. She doesn't focus on just one category, like using up all her blushes or bronzers in one go. Instead, she chooses stuff that she can use to make an entire makeup look. If she doesn't like the product or she's already happy with her progress in hitting pan on an item, that's when she swaps it out for another product on her panning list.
Similar to Cara, Ella's Project Pan is a year-long process. "I plan at the beginning of the year and then I have informal checkpoints throughout the year," she shared. "I usually choose older products to ensure they don’t expire. But I also make sure to choose products I truly enjoy."
The pressures of panning
A fun way to be more sustainable
While Project Pan didn't start out as a sustainability project per se, it certainly has some similar connotations. It encourages panners to be more conscientious of the products they're choosing to buy vis-a-vis their current stash. The fewer products bought, the fewer packaging will find their way to landfills and seas. However, Cara also pointed out that just because you're doing Project Pan doesn't necessarily mean you're no longer buying new products. It's really up to the individual.
"Project Pan instilled intentionality in me," Ella agreed. It also taught her to make wise decisions in buying makeup, which prevents her from purchasing a product that she won’t use and potentially just become clutter in her room.
Some products' packaging, like powder compacts and glass skincare bottles, can be reused to repot other makeup for travelling or repurposed as decor. "I keep them for two reasons. I either repurpose them as best as I could or just stare at them! It is so satisfying and inspiring to look at a finished makeup product," Ella mused.
However, some products do come in single-use packaging and sachets so it doesn't necessarily help the environment once you use them up. Usually, these would end up in the trash. There are other packaging that cannot be repurposed like cardboard eyeshadow palettes. In Cara's case, she doesn't see herself reusing a product with an applicator, like concealers.
Using expired products — yay or nay?
Of course, it's inevitable that you'd come across a product close to expiring and want to include it in a Project Pan challenge. Would you do it? The answer is, it depends.
"I would use expired makeup, especially powders because I'm more lenient when it comes to these," Cara shared, adding that her skin is pretty resilient. However, she's warier with liquid formulas like mascaras, liquid foundations, and skincare. If a product's consistency, smell, or appearance starts to change, she'd rather throw it away than risk causing a skin reaction.
If you do think that you won't be using the expired product, another tip from Ella is donating it to organisations that accept these expired items and repurpose them. She mentioned Silent Beads PH, an org that turns expired coloured makeup into painting pigments. If a product isn't close to expiry but you want to declutter before embarking on Project Pan, you can also donate them to foundations to distribute to their female beneficiaries. Just check that your donations are gently used before you drop them off.
Want to join the Project Pan community?
If you're interested in trying Project Pan, the best thing to do is just take the first step and choose one product you'll religiously use every day.
"It’s a fun way of using up your products while getting inspired by people who are on the same journey," Ella said. "I learned a lot about consumerism and intentionality. I can confidently say I’ve gotten wiser since I started."
"Don't force yourself to use products that you don't like because it's not going to be fun for you," Cara advised. "Try to use products that you like because that will give you the most fulfilment, in my opinion."
If you ever feel demotivated about any lack of progress, they have some words of wisdom too. "Project Pan will really test your patience but don't let it pressure you," Cara said. "If you're getting bored, try to theme it out, assess your collection, and see what works best for you."
So, beauty lovers, if you want to make a dent in your stash, Project Pan may just be the beauty challenge to inspire you. Just remember to have fun and enjoy the process. After all, makeup — from buying to applying and wearing to finishing — is about having fun.
(Cover photo from: @ellapans)
P.S. Here are some ways to make your beauty routine more sustainable.