We know that the women (and men) behind the makeup counter at a department store (or in the aisles at Sephora) can seem intimidating in their all-black attire, but trust us, they're capable of making you look totally gorgeous, whether it's for a big holiday party or just for fun. And the best part is that it'll cost you almost nothing (more on that later). To help you get the most out of your cosmetics counter experience, we grilled Julie Monti, Business Manager at the Benefit counter for Bloomingdale's SoHo and Gilbert Soliz from the Sephora PRO Beauty Team, for their best advice.
Do your homework.
Sitting down at a random counter and trusting the salesperson who's working that day with your makeover is a bad idea. If you're going to a department store, it's key to identify which brand you're most drawn to. Then, look for a makeup artist at that counter whose makeup you admire. It also helps to watch them in action on another client. This way, you can get an idea of their skill level and application style. You can even take it a step further and set up a consultation to really get to know them and the brand.
Make an appointment.
Unless you're able to go to the counter before lunchtime during the week (that's when the stores are the least crowded), you should book an appointment to guarantee time with the makeup artist of your choice and maintain their undivided attention.
Show and tell.
Just like hairstylists, makeup artists love it when you bring in photos of the look you want to achieve. This provides them with an explicit reference since a smoky eye can have several interpretations. If you don't have a specific look in mind, the artist will probably ask you if you want something for day or night, what facial features you like best, and how long you spend on your makeup everyday. The more info you share, the better equipped the artist will be to give you a look that you love.
You have an expert at your disposal so now's the time to ask your burning makeup questions. You can even bring along your makeup bag and brushes. He or she will be more than happy to show you new ways to use your loot and make suggestions on what you should keep and what you should toss.
Watch and learn.
As much as we all love a dramatic reveal at the end of a makeover, you won't be able to replicate the look on your own if you don't follow the application process with a mirror. Plus, you'll be able to monitor the artist's work so there won't be that awkward "it's just not really me" moment.
Keep it clean.
Any reputable cosmetics counter or beauty retailer (such as Sephora) has strict rules about sanitation, so you shouldn't have to worry about the "ick" factor. That said, make sure that the artist is using disposable sponges, cotton swabs, and mascara wands. All powder brushes should be cleaned in front of you with antibacterial spray and the top layer of any cream product (especially lipstick) should be wiped down with alcohol and have the top layer scraped off.
Ask for samples.
Samples are a great commitment-free way to try a product before you buy it, so don't feel shy about asking your artist to send you home with some freebies.
Say thank you.
While it's true that a makeover is free, if an artist spends a significant amount of time giving you a look that you love, you should buy something. [Editor's Note: We also like to offer a $20 tip, but that's up to you.] Another way to show your appreciation for a job well done: share your thoughts with the manager or complete an online survey.
Be a good customer.
Between perfume pushers trying to spray you senseless and aggressive salespeople urging you to buy the latest miracle cream, the cosmetics floor of any department store can is overrun with questionable interpersonal skills. However, customers are just as guilty of behaving badly. Our experts were too diplomatic to tell you what NOT to do, so we're going to do it for them:
Put your phone away. Imagine how difficult it is to apply liquid liner to someone who is text messaging.
Wait your turn. While walk-ins are always welcome, you shouldn't expect to sit down in a chair immediately on a Saturday afternoon, especially during the holiday season.
Ask before you test. Unless a product clearly says, "Tester" on the tube, check with a salesperson before you stick your finger in it or open the packaging.
Don't get greedy with the samples. Samples are a great commitment-free way to try a product, and most brands will offer up freebies, especially if you buy something. But keep in mind that quantities are limited and like trick-or-treating on Halloween, it's often one or two items per customer.