Makeup Tip: Go Sample Crazy When You’re Looking for a New Foundation

Published in: Face, Makeup, Makeup Tips/How To

go sample crazy

Whenever I go to Sephora or Ulta or to a beauty counter at the mall, and I’m looking for a new foundation, I’m that person who leaves with a purse full of samples.


No, seriously. It’s like “No sample left behind!” ๐Ÿ™‚

The main reason I do this is not because I’m super chintzy (although I can see how it would be entirely possible to exist solely on samples if one were extra crafty and bound and determined), but because when it comes to foundation, I don’t always knock it out of the park on the first try. Sometimes it takes me a few swings to find the right match.

Try to get samples of the neighboring shades

I always ask for samples — as many as I can get — of the neighboring foundation shades around the one that looks like my closest match in the store. That way I can test them all at home to find the one that looks best on me in natural light, see how each one wears throughout the day, and also see how they all look in pics.


Plus, you just never know if a formula is going to oxidize and darken on your skin throughout the day. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve tried a shade that seemed to match me perfectly in the store, only to have it look totally wackadoo a few hours later, and that’s when it’s nice to have a sample of the next lighter shade on hand.

Is it weird or embarrassing to ask for handfuls of samples? No, I don’t think so. The worst that can happen is they’ll say no.

I think of it as research. You want to find your best possible match, and you don’t have to settle for less than that. Sometimes I’ll tell the person helping me right away that I intend to test a bunch of colors before I commit to one.

Oh! — and I think it really helps to make friends with a sales associate at your favorite store or counter. At the Sephora in my town, I always look for my friend Nee-nee, and she totally hooks me up! When I do finally find a shade I like and come back to the store, I make an effort to find her and tell her thank you for her help. Then when I get to the register with my purchase, I always tell them that Nee-nee helped me, and she was awesome-sauce! Or, if I see a manager around, I’ll give them a quick word of positive feedback for her.

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,



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  1. Lulle says:

    It’s really the way to go if you don’t want to end up with the wrong shade, but I feel like many SAs are kind of possessive with samples. It’s silly if you ask me because letting people find their right match (rather than pushing them to buy the shade they determined, often in poor lighting) should avoid a lot of unnecessary returns.
    Lulle recently posted … Exuviance Daily Protector SPF 50 Giveaway!

    • Ra says:

      They want you to find your match and not return things, but they also want you to make a purchase after putting so much time into you. Then on top of it it’s a fairly time consuming process to make multiple samples, especially if the store is busy and there’s other customers waiting. It’s a weird situation.

  2. Merche says:

    Hi from Spain! Love your blog, I read it each day.

  3. Great idea if you live somewhere where the sales people are generous with samples and don’t mind giving you one even if you’re not buying anything at the time…
    Kiss & Make-up recently posted … Review | MAC Electric Cool Eye Shadow in Photosphere + Infra-Violet

  4. Kim says:

    I’m very jealous of you lucky ladies who live in the civilized world and have access to beauty stores. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Seriously, though, whenever I’m in a Sephora, I always forget to get samples. I usually just grab the same-old, same old. That said, the next time I hit up a Chanel counter to restock Le Volume, I’m sooooo getting a sample of that tinted moisturizer. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. India says:

    Weird thing, but I have more than 40 foundation samples lying around, but I have gotten them all from those magazine inserts lol. I feel so bad throwing them away regardless of how different the shade is.
    India recently posted … News and New Products #1

  6. Kwmechelle says:

    I tend to do this with expensive beauty products as well. Currently, I’m testing a Dr Dennis Gross under eye serum. I’m still not sure how I feel about it, yet. It’s mad expensive but gets rave reviews. It might take me a minute to bite the bullet on this one. As for foundations, great advice. They always seem to oxidize on me throughout the day. Even though they look spot on in the store. Never thought to get samples of the surrounding shades as well. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Ra says:

      Eye products are hard. Most of them don’t get results for at least 2-4 weeks.

      • Kwmechelle says:

        Right? This is why I went to two different locations so I could have enough products to test for 2 weeks. And wouldn’t you know it, I finally saw results this morning. Just as I ran out of my samples. Pretty impressed with this stuff. Gonna go to Sephora, close my eyes, & buy it. ๐Ÿ˜Š

  7. Emmy says:

    I literally have to rehearse my lines before asking for samples lol! The SA’s here ain’t very friendly. We don’t even have Sephora where I live. Isn’t that sad? ๐Ÿ™
    Emmy recently posted … EOTD: For The Love Of Butterflies!

  8. gio says:

    What perfect timing! I’m going shopping for a new foundation tomorrow, so I’ll definitely try this. In Italy SAs are pretty possessive with their samples, but I’m in London now, so hopefully they’ll be more helpful here.
    gio recently posted … 5 Fashion Myths You Must Stop Believing Now

  9. Tatiana says:

    I always feel really weird asking for samples. And I hate having to emphasize that I would like more than one color to try. I have been color matched all over the board. I’ve had three different MU artists/SA tell me that I’m three different undertones in the same foundation. You’re beige, no you’re ochre, no you’re definitely ivory. Which one is it, guys? I really hate when the MU artist applies the foundation in store, it looks great and an hour or two later it’s emphasized my pores and lines so much that I look like a haggard witch. Finding a good foundation has never been easy, but I find as I get older and my skin has changed that it’s even harder to find one that sits well and looks natural on my skin. #olderladyproblems
    For now, I think I’m just going to take a break from looking.

  10. Ashleigh says:

    That’s a good tip Karen! I actually have two high end foundations sitting around that I rarely use because I didn’t ask for samples before I bought them… :/ I learned my lesson and have asked for samples of a couple others I’ve had my eye on, but I should really get in the habit of doing it every. single. time.

  11. Laura says:

    Oh man, samples are absolutely the way to go for foundation. Unfortunately I’ve recently moved and my new local Sephora is nothing like my old fave! The SAs are weirdly possessive about samples. I think perhaps since my new area mall is often frequented my teenage sample-happy hordes they’re a little wary? I mean, I love that they must think I’m younger than I am (bless u good skincare routine) but I just really want to make sure I have the right foundation color lol
    Laura recently posted … Summer Sheers~ ck One Color Shine Lipsticks!

  12. Trude says:

    I really need to hike up my big girl panties and just start doing this! I’m so dang fair, and a ginger, that most of the time it’s probably not going to match. But at least Sephora has a good return policy. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Trude recently posted … August Desktop Background

  13. Erin says:

    My Sephora is pretty stingy. They don’t like giving you more than 3 samples TOTAL per visit. I just got a sample of the new MUFE foundie in the lightest red shade. The lightest yellow shade is nice for me for winter but is a touch too light I think for right now.
    Erin recently posted … Milbrandt 2014 Traditions Rosรฉ

  14. Fancie says:

    I do this with my clients all the time! I don’t know why but the lighting in stores can have your makeup looking totally different than it does in natural lighting. Sometimes the difference is insane lol. Taking a few samples definitely makes things a little easier. Great tip, Karen!

  15. mel says:

    It’s so hard to get samples at the Sephora near me – they never even offer anything at check out for VIBs. I end up picking up the bottles to chase down a sales person. I have better luck at department store makeup counters.

    • Ra says:

      Just ask for samples at the store. They have them, you just have to ask. They don’t have a great selection though and it’s rarely perfume.

  16. Pamela says:

    I am a sample whore and I’m not afraid to admit it. Luckily my local Sephora obliges my cheap tendencies. I get up to three foundation samples and I always ask for fragrance samples. I have been known to live off fragrance samples for years. Trust me, I used to buy every perfume that I liked…then I ended up falling out of love and stuck with a nearly full bottle of expensive juice. Aargh! So I just started asking for samples to satisfy my fickleness. The other day I was at Ulta and asked “Did you get any new fragrance samples?” The cashier handed over a mini bottle of Calyx by Clinique! What a score! I told my husband that I’ve saved us so much money asking for samples that we can send our sons to college! He just shakes his head…

    • Ra says:

      I hate people like you. Don’t come into my store.

      • Karen says:

        Hi Ra,

        I hate the word “hate” in polite conversation, and with all due respect, Ra, unless you’re part owner of your store, the policies are ultimately set by the company.

        IMHO, the customer has every right to ask for as many samples as they feel they need to make an informed purchase decision. Hopefully they use common sense and don’t take advantage of the situation, but how the store handles the request is up to the store. Good management should enact policies designed to protect the employees, making it clear how they should handle situations where a customer asks for a ton of samples.

      • BrodieWitch says:

        Um…isn’t it your *job* to help customers? As long as they are not snotty or rude do your job!

        • Ra says:

          Customers imply buying things not loitering. When client’s don’t purchase, and continue to come in for the same things, they are essentially stealing. The stores pay for the products that they open to give samples. They are not free for the store. Yes, its taken into the consideration of the overhead but the idea is that they’ll eventually buy. When a customer doesn’t and knowingly goes in to not buy, its essentially justified stealing. If you like it enough to get the sample multiple times just buy it or get a roller ball. If you’re so fickle and so cheap you won’t do that, you’re a thief.

    • Pamela says:

      That’s why I said I get “up to 3 samples”. This Sephora has their rules and I abide by them. I would never, ever go into a store and demand that the SA go outside the boundaries of the policy and give me samples for every foundation or anything else. Again, having worked retail, I’ve seen people request…DEMAND just that. Now, that made me want to kick their butts out of the store.

      • Ra says:

        That’s true. People do get demanding! We also get people who bring their own containers and empty out the entire contents of products as they walk around and “shop”. 3-5 samples is a fair request, especially for new products and things you’re looking to buy. Don’t get me wrong, I sample stuff and I understand the desire to try things for a few days at home. But knowingly sampling the same things over and over, just buy the dang thing. I know Sephora has a great return policy. I’ve returned 6 month old gel eyeliners (they dried up after 3 uses?!) and the store didn’t even blink. I always get store credit anyway, I know i’ll shop there again.

  17. Ra says:

    As a makeup store employee, this is annoying as hell! Even if we color match you it takes A LOT of time to make each sample. And if you’re taking neighboring shades on top of it, it is a lot of work. At least try to know which brand or formula you want if you’re going to come in and do this kind of thing. While it may eventually lead to a purchase, there’s usually several other costumers also waiting. It’s not just annoying, it’s kind of rude to hog someone like that. If you’re going to go on a sample binge, try to make sure the place isn’t crazy busy.

    • Pamela says:

      I spent many, many years working in retail so I know not to be rude or annoying when shopping. I am always courteous and I never demand a sample. Trust me, I hate when customers demand things and won’t take no for an answer or says “Do you know how much money I spend here?” Again, I spent over 20 years in retail! When it comes to foundation or skincare I ask for samples because I am interested in it and may purchase. But fragrance is another story. It’s too damn expensive to purchase a bottle and then after a few months it no longer takes you to that happy place.

      • Ra says:

        I agree with you on the foundation but not on the fragrance. If you like it enough to wear it for more than a month then you should purchase it. This is coming as a consumer, not a retail worker. This is the same concept of buying a dress, wearing it to a party and returning it the next day. It doesn’t matter how you justify it, it’s morally wrong. You shouldn’t return the dress nor should you keep taking samples when you know you like something enough to wear it several times. I’ve had fragrances for years that I rotate through each season and they are still good. You can easily fall back in love with the fragrance months later.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Ra,

      I can sympathize with you in how difficult it must be sometimes when your store is busy, etc., and I’m sure that not all store locations handle samples the same way (because I’ve seen it firsthand), but from a customer’s standpoint, I have no qualms about asking for as many samples as I think I might need.

      It’s up to the associate, and the store’s policy and training, to figure out how they want to handle it, but when I go in as a customer, I’m concerned about not wasting my time or money on the wrong shades. That’s my priority.

      It’s sort of a dueling objectives kind of thing, so it’s not an easy relationship. The store wants to make a quick sale because time is money for them, which I totally understand, but the customer wants to get the right product and not waste their time or money.

      Like a lot of things, I think it comes down to common sense. If the store is crazy busy, like you said, then that’s definitely not the right time to go sample crazy, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with a customer asking for as many samples as they think they might need. In fact I think it’s a good idea. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Ra says:

        Yes, common sense is key. Unfortunately, the customer isn’t usually tuned into the fact that 3-5 more customers have just walked in are asking for 16 shades also. As a beauty junkie myself, I take samples but I’m also considerate of the fact that I probably don’t need 3 of each. Take the time in store, go check the color in natural sun, and you’ll be more satisfied with the products you’ll take home.

  18. Casey says:

    I love samples! If the person I’m talking to seems nice I ask for empty little containers to save for travel. I’m also obsessed with getting perfume samples and I like to get as many as I can. I think Sephora is more generous with fragrance samples than other products. Once I found a bowl of the tiny perfume atomizers at Nordstrom and took like, ten when no one was looking. They’re just so cute.

  19. Lancy says:

    Karen, I’ve a stash full of mismatched lighter or darker shade of foundations with me. I’m really following your idea from the next time whenever I hit a counter! I’d definitely ask for samples before buying a foundation ๐Ÿ™‚

    Have a great day!
    Lancy recently posted … Maybelline Color Show Lipstick : Cherry Crush, Orange Icon Review, Swatches, FOTD

  20. Erica says:

    Karen, this is one of the best ideas I’ve heard all week. Getting corresponding foundation shades near your complexion is a great idea. Like others have mentioned, one shade doesn’t always match and it makes perfect sense to get alternative shades near your skintone. I always get swatches (just got the new Marc Jacobs and MUFE HD samples) because foundation is very expensive.

  21. nancy says:

    I’ll be going sample crazy at Sephora, but after today’s Epic Rewards Epic Fraud, I’ll make a point to purchase elsewhere.

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