How to Get What You Want at the Makeup Counter


The glass cases, the ladies in black, the bustling shoppers -- department store counters can be daunting. Not anymore. Follow our handy guide before you hit the stores and you can keep the experience fun and easy.

If you’re a seasoned pro and know what you need, a quick trip to Sephora or an online visit to a site (like our Online Boutique!) are quick, easy solutions. But if you want a little more hand-holding and guidance, your local department store is a great option. Some of the most talented artists and friendliest salespersons work at department stores, and if you’re looking for a new foundation (or anything else), they can be invaluable.

Communication is key

Establish what you’re going in for: to explore new stuff from your favorite brand? To get matched for your perfect foundation shade? To learn about the latest skincare? Or maybe you just want to replenish your mascara. Know this before you walk in so you can effectively communicate your objective. Good phrases to use:

“Thanks, but I’m just playing around for now. I’ll let you know if I have any questions.”

“I just need to grab a couple of my staples real quick. Here’s what I need: [...]”

“Can you tell me about [product I saw in a magazine/on TV/etc.]?”

Consider the other side of the counter

Obviously you’re never obligated to purchase something you don’t want or need, but be careful not to waste a salesperson’s time if you don’t intend to buy. If you just want to look at shades before you buy them online, you need to communicate this to them so they will leave you to your own devices rather than waste their time trying to sell you something. You wouldn’t go into a restaurant and take up a table ordering water for hours, would you?

If they spend a lot of time with you and you absolutely don’t find what you need, thank them for their time, ask for their name or get their business card, and (if they’ve been helpful and you like them, of course) tell them that you’ll come back to them when you need help next time. Don’t feel bad about not spending money if you both tried to find something and couldn’t. It happens.

Sample etiquette

Don’t just go to a counter because you want free stuff. If that’s your aim, sign up for Birchbox or Beauty Bar’s Sample Society. For $10-15 a month, they’ll send you deluxe samples in the mail. It’s not exactly free, but it’s cheap and fun and a great way to try things you might not otherwise have picked out.

However, it’s perfectly legitimate to want to try things before you buy them. This way you can make sure a product works for you and that you don’t have an allergic reaction. If you have a specific product in mind, you can express this to the salesperson by saying something like, “I’m looking to get matched for a foundation and take home a couple of samples so I can figure out which one I like best.” That way everyone’s expectations are on the same page, and the salesperson can show you a few different foundations without doing a long, involved application/demonstration process. They will give you their name or their card, and you should go back to that salesperson if you end up wanting to purchase one of those products.

How to get a makeover

The idea behind this service is that you can try new products and learn tips and tricks from a makeup artist. You can use the services for a big night out, but remember that it is expected that you will buy the products that you love. You should expect to buy 2-3 items minimum.

Think of it like this: not purchasing after a makeover is like going to a fancy restaurant and not tipping. Nobody is going to chase after you screaming about the check, but it’s worse than impolite. If you’re not willing to drop money, ask a skilled friend to do your makeup instead.

All this may sound daunting, but in the end, it’s simple: just be a good person. Respect other people’s time. Communicate your objectives clearly and politely, and don’t let anyone push you around. If you just follow those guidelines, you’ll have a ball at the makeup counter, walk away with some great stuff, and nobody will groan when they see you walking up to the counter next time!