You've probably heard of clothing swaps, book swaps, maybe even plant swaps. The concept is simple: Gather a group of people, bring your new or gently used fill-in-the-blank, and trade it for someone else's more appealing fill-in-the-blank. Just about anything is swappable, as long as there's someone willing to swap with you.

So why not beauty products?

Most of us have amassed a few "mistakes" -- the mismatched foundation, the unflattering shade of lipstick, those gift-with-purchases that you thought you wanted but never did use. Instead of letting them collect dust in the back of a drawer, consider hosting a beauty swap.

Some fellow product junkies and I decided to give it a try. We invited friends to trade in their castoffs. Everyone came armed with a handful of new or barely used goods, from yellow nail polish to bottles of perfume. We organized the products into designated areas (hair, makeup, skin care, fragrance) and let the swapping begin.

Surprisingly, chaos did not ensue. That's the beauty of limiting a swap to friends: Everyone plays nice and goes home happy.

Katie Najjar took a chance on a deep berry lip stain she probably wouldn't have purchased otherwise. Laura Nelli of Nelle Handbags scored several fall eye shadow palettes ("the perfect shades for contouring!"). And beauty blogger Kara Nesvig found just the red-orange lipstick she had been looking for. It was fun, eco-friendly and heavy on the party favors.

If you'd like to host your own beauty swap, see the tips on E5.

BFFs only: Because beauty products are a bit more personal than, say, paperbacks, you'll probably want to limit the group to good friends (i.e., people whose shampoo you'd be comfortable sharing). For variety and manageability, aim for about 10 people.

Go paperless: To reduce, re-use, recycle, we sent paperless invitations, using Red Stamp's new iPhone app ( Calling or sending simple e-mails works, as well.

What to bring: Barely used or new makeup, skin care, hair care, fragrance and accessories. To have enough to swap, ask everyone to bring at least five products.

What not to bring: "Personal care products, particularly those containing water, can be a breeding ground for bacteria," warns makeup artist and educator Julie Swenson of the Beauty Lounge. Avoid swapping jars of used moisturizer, eye cream or anything you dip your fingers into. Mascara and lip gloss also are off-limits because they're too hard to disinfect.

Keep it clean: "All lipsticks and pencils need to be sprayed or dipped in alcohol, then scraped or sharpened," says Amy Presson of Jett Makeup. "Spritz powder, eye shadow and blush with a professional sanitizing spray." She likes Beauty So Clean (

Simple essentials: Use the makeup counter as your guide and have plenty of tissues, Q-tips, disposable applicators, rubbing alcohol or sanitizing sprays and, of course, mirrors.

Stickers or handwritten signs help keep products organized. Don't worry about shopping bags -- guests can use the same bags they brought to the swap.

Location, location: Hold your swap in a home, the party room of a condo or a private room at a bar or restaurant. Make sure you have the space to display the merchandise.

What to serve: A single signature drink or wine, soda and water is fine. Messy food and makeup don't mix, so keep snacks simple or wait until the swapping is done to dig in to something more substantial.

Organize for ease: To make shopping easier, group products either by type (hair care, skin care, etc.) or value.

If you assign values, give each guest tickets or tokens as currency to "spend" at the swap. But it's much simpler to just let each guest take as many products as she brought to the swap.

No leftovers: Donate any unopened, unclaimed products to a local shelter.

Minneapolis-based lifestyle writer Elizabeth Dehn is the founder of