Contaminated by Its Prior Use: Strategies to Design and Market Refurbished Personal Care Products

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Refurbishment is an effective circular strategy to lengthen a product’s lifetime. However, refurbished products that are intimately used, such as personal care products, cause a feeling of unease in consumers because they are perceived to be contaminated. In 15 in-depth online interviews with female users of intense pulsed light (IPL) device living in the Netherlands, we explored why consumers have contamination concerns regarding an IPL device and proposed strategies to decrease these. Participants felt that refurbished personal care products with signs of wear-and-tear were a riskier choice and expected that the device would malfunction, have a shorter product lifetime, and would be contaminated due to the previous use. Based on the location and amount of wear-and-tear, participants made inferences on how the prior user had treated the device. While light wear-and-tear indicated normal use, heavy wear-and-tear was interpreted as a sign of bad treatment by the previous user. To keep refurbished personal care products at their highest value, we suggest five design strategies to minimize contamination concerns by designing a product that smells and looks hygienic after multiple lifecycles: (1) using colors that evoke associations with hygiene, (2) making signs of wear-and-tear less visible, (3) using smooth (cleanable) materials, (4) minimizing the number of split lines in the product, and (5) giving refurbished products a clean product smell. For refurbished personal care products with signs of wear-and-tear that cannot be eliminated, we propose mitigating consumers’ contamination concerns with marketing strategies, such as fostering a good brand image, offering refurbished products at a lower price, with an extended warranty, and underlining expert check-ups and standards during refurbishment.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
JournalCircular Economy and Sustainability
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • sustainable consumption
  • Refurbishment
  • contamination
  • personal care products
  • product appearance
  • Circular economy (CE)


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