Posting polish, potions and pongs
February 12, 2013 8:52 AM   Subscribe

I found out at the post office today that it is no longer possible to ship nail varnish or perfume (containing alcohol) from the UK to overseas. What are the rules the other way around? I asked at the counter but the lady selling me my stamp didn't seem to be sure.

I'm not in the market for online shopping/swapping just now - or a good while to be honest - but I have in the past ordered perfume decants as a Christmas gift (pre the USPS price hike that would have made Guerlain even more expensive), swapped product on MakeUpAlley, and gazed at pretty indie polishes from the US and Australia. If in the future I want to order myself some perfume samples, or have a funny turn and decide that it would be a really good idea to paint a dog's toenails, can I still do this? I was told that it was only outbound packages that are liable to be scanned/destroyed and that other countries could post whatever they wanted and it would get to my door, but it seems odd that we would restrict things one way and not the other. The leaflet I saw only covered outbound mail, but a beauty blogger friend on Twitter said it works both ways. I'm confused!

It may all be a plot by the Illuminati to keep OPI at £12 a bottle and China Glaze at £7 for UK consumers, but it would be good to know if we can still order things from overseas without enraging our lizard overlords.
posted by mippy to Shopping (6 answers total)
Just to be clear, it's strictly not about sending prohibited goods overseas. You can't send the prohibited items you mentioned within the UK either. As a consumer.

As a business, you can send nail varnish, and alcohol up to 70% ABV within the UK. There are heavier restrictions for businesses posting stuff abroad.

The Post Office has a handy guide to restrictions in other countries.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:22 AM on February 12, 2013

Response by poster: Wow, really? I know you can buy the stuff online because I've done it, but I did NOT know that I wouldn't be allowed to send it to a friend elsewhere in the country. I have a few un-needed beauty products I wanted to give to a good home - it seems odd that I can't even swap/trade/give away by post within the UK. I guess I'll have to pass them off in person to friends. I've also bought enamel and acrylic paints from eBay private sellers years ago that were sent Royal strange.

The major swapping boards for cosmetics I know of are based in the US and Ireland, and for perfume in the US so that sucks for everyone involved - especially as Irish prices are unbelievably expensive. There's a similar situation here with US brands and the UK - it's often cheaper to buy overseas and pay the extra shipping than walk into a store down the road and buy it in person.

I have seen recently stores selling nail varnish from the US and Australia which say they ship to the UK. There also still seems to be a lot on eBay, from business sellers. Are all of these just crossing their fingers and hoping overseas mail doesn't detect it?
posted by mippy at 9:33 AM on February 12, 2013

A swapper AND a MeFite! Love it!

Although I live in the US I've been following the chatter on MUA quite closely, because I was contemplating swapping my vintage Diorling for some Carnal Flower from a girl in the UK. My impression is that UKers can still receive prohibited items, you just cannot send them (domestically or abroad).

Hopefully someone enterprising swapper will obtain a license and start a courier service.
posted by acidic at 9:48 AM on February 12, 2013

The USPS website says that you aren't supposed to ship nail polish using international mail.

That and perfume are listed on the hazardous materials tab. People can probably send it and get away with it but I'm not sure what kinds of fines or other trouble the senders woudl get if caught.
posted by oneear at 10:04 AM on February 12, 2013

The USPS website says that you aren't supposed to ship nail polish using international mail.

US people can most certainly send out nail polish and perfume if its labelled as something else. They don't scan & confiscate, as the UK is doing now. The only question is whether the UK will accept the package and allow it to be delivered, and I believe the answer is yes. So... Yes on shopping, no on swapping.
posted by acidic at 10:46 AM on February 12, 2013

You can send nail varnish to UK customers as a personal or a business customer of Royal Mail but it has to meet the prohibited (dangerous) goods restrictions - in particular labelling.

Some overseas suppliers are unaware of the labelling issue and their standard practices when shipping might not include labels adequate for the parcel to arrive in the UK.

Due to air freight restrictions, you may need to adjust which international carrier takes it from overseas to the UK.


Nail varnish, perfumes and aftershaves are allowed in the UK but subject to packaging, volume, quantity and labelling restrictions. Please see

Nail varnish, polish and gel (solvent and water-based)

Volume per item must not exceed 30ml. No more than four bottles of nail varnish can be sent in any one package. Bottles of nail varnish must be placed in strong outer packaging and be so packed, secured or cushioned in such a way that they cannot break, be punctured or leak their contents into the outer packaging.

An ID8000 label must be applied ( see example ID8000 label Opens in new window ). The sender’s name and return address must be clearly visible on the outer packaging.

In February 2013 (before the small volume internal/to UK nail varnish issues noted above had been clarified) I looked into the situation - information and links at

INTERNATIONAL from the UK - UK customers (personal or business) can't send nail polish or remover out of the UK by royal mail, as it takes standard air routes out of the country, and international flight regulations now prohibit it. A carrier which takes dangerous goods (by sea) is required, but the international shipping restrictions are tightening up and it is unclear how long any trans-ocean shipper will take volatiles in mixed postal freight. (Shipping regulations are being altered in 2013 and 2014.)

Nail varnish might be awkard (and disadvantage small UK traders who aren't in a position to do bulk ocean deliveries to intermediate international stockists) but lithium batteries are even more restricted.
posted by a_llusive at 3:28 AM on September 12, 2013

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