At the makeup counter: a basic guide

I know a lot of people take risks buying unknown products at the drugstore just because they don’t feel comfortable at the makeup counter. It’s natural that it would be intimidating, especially in a large department store where there are half a dozen (or more) counters selling brands of makeup you don’t know anything about at prices ranging from slightly above drugstore pricing up to “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” Aside from which, matching colors for yourself can be challenging and takes a lot of practice. Even with having been a fashion addict most of my life, I still feel a bit nervous and awkward sometimes when shopping for higher-end makeup. So here are a few tips to make it easier.

1. Know a little something about your skin type. You don’t have to be able to give a full-on analysis, but know what the basic tendencies are, whether it gets dry and flaky or breaks out or gets shiny and oily, or whether you get patches of all of the above. That’s going to tell a salesperson what kind of products will work for you.

2. Be willing to be honest with a salesperson about your habits. Don’t try to BS and say that you’re a product fiend who’s tried everything if most days you’re proud of yourself for scrounging up the spoons to wash your face and put on lip gloss. If you prefer your makeup routine to be low-maintenance, tell the salesperson so, and a good rep will show you products that fit your lifestyle, rather than expecting you to change to fit the makeup.

3. If you’re looking for subtle, natural looks, brands like Clinique and Bobbi Brown will be a good fit for you. Try brands like MAC and Smashbox if you’re looking to play around with bold color choices. Look at what the salesperson is wearing, and that will give you a good idea of the aesthetic of the brand.

4. If you’re OK with having the salesperson/makeup artist put makeup on you, then you’re going to get better results than if you try to test stuff out on your hand. I’ve picked up a lot of good tips that way that have helped me with my own makeup routine. Plus, picking out colors for yourself can be hard, and it helps to have a second set of eyes on it.

5. If you get your makeup done, and you like the results, it’s generally assumed that you’ll buy at least one of the products that was used on you. If that’s not an option at the time, make sure you get a business card and a list of the products used so that you can come back for them. Most people working in cosmetics work on commission, so it’s kind of rude to know you’re not planning on buying anything, not disclose it to the salesperson, and let them tie up their time with you while they could be working with a paying customer and making money. Don’t feel pressured to buy everything that was used, but do consider buying at least one product if you can, and if you can’t at the moment, make sure the sales associate gets credit for the sale when you come back for it. That said, if you asked for a natural, subtle look and ended up painted up like a Kardashian and feeling like you’re wearing a mask, feel free to walk out empty-handed without guilt. It’s like tipping in a restaurant–it’s good manners, unless you’re really dissatisfied with what you got.

6. Don’t be afraid to voice your own opinion. It’s OK to say, “I really don’t like how that looks on me,” or “I really don’t care to try that color.” Just because you’re not the “expert” or the “professional” doesn’t mean that you’re not the one who is planning to wear the product, and if you’re the one paying for it and wearing it, then you get the final decision. The best salespeople (I have to mention Toni at the BeneFit counter at Belk at SouthPark here) will actually ask you what you think of colors before putting them on you, and will collaborate with you to find a look that meets your needs.

7. While you’re getting your makeup done, ask questions. You want to be able to reproduce the look at home. Whether it’s about the brushes being used or about how to choose a color, if you don’t know how to do something, it’s OK to ask.

I know I’m not the only one who’s been intimidated while shopping for cosmetics, but there are ways to handle it that will cut down on the stress and help you get what you need. It just takes some confidence, some basic knowledge, and the willingness to ask for help.


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