What’s Your Best Advice for Someone Headed to a Makeup Counter for the First Time?

Published in: Just For Fun

The NARS Boutique on Fillmore Street in San Francisco

The NARS Boutique on Fillmore Street in San Francisco

Bring a buddy. That’s my first advice. Someone who knows a little bit about beauty, because if you’re completely new to makeup, a makeup counter with hundreds or thousands of colors and products crammed into a small space can be downright intimidating, and a buddy can offer moral support and valuable input (like helping you decide between similar products or encouraging you to stick to your budget).

You can make a day of it and go out to lunch or coffee before or after. 🙂


I’d also suggest…

1. Knowing your beauty goals

What would you like to achieve? Is there an eye look you’d like to learn or a concern you have (dry/oily skin, hyper-pigmentation, under-eye circles, how to contour)?

Having something specific in mind, even if it’s just one thing, will help the makeup artists/sales associates help you.

2. Bring pics

Smartphones have really helped with this. Bringing pics of looks you like will really, really help. A picture’s worth a thousand words.

3. Gauge your skill level

You might want to let the artist know where you’re coming from in terms of your skill level. Even though it’s your first visit (or, one of your first) to a makeup counter, do you ever wear makeup at home? What do you wear? Are you comfortable with blending? Do you ever wear cat eyes or smokey looks?

Knowing what you can already do, and what you’re comfortable with, will help the person assisting you.

4. You can always go back later

Even though the temptation’s there (this, I know), you do not have to buy every single product. 🙂 Or any of them at all. It’s just one counter! There are plenty of other counters to try.

Lastly, if you have a good rapport with someone helping you, you can always go back to them and learn even more later.

What about you? What’s the best advice you could give to someone headed to a makeup counter for the first time?

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,



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  1. Don’t blindly trust the woman or man at the counter. I work at a shopping mall amidst a ton of beauty counters, and the things some of the people working there tell their clients, oh man… I often feel like stepping in, lol. So I agree that bringing a make-up savvy friend is a good idea!
    Kiss & Make-up recently posted … Review | Revlon Evening Opulence collection fall & winter 2013/14

  2. Natalie says:

    These tips are awesome Karen! I wish I had this list when I first started getting into makeup, it can be very overwhelming at first.

    My biggest advice is to buy what excites you. Don’t buy 20 brown eyeshadows when green is what makes your heart go pitter patter. You can make what excites you wearable, don’t compromise.
    Natalie recently posted … Make Up For Ever Full Cover Concealer will Hide your Biggest Secrets

  3. Chris25 says:

    Some already said this, but don’t trust the salespeople fully. They want to sell you product, not necessarily help you. Think about what you came there to buy. Did you want a foundation? Did you need new brushes? There will be times when you realize that you don’t need an expensive concealer and just need that high end powder. Also, try to make a list and do research beforehand. Beauty blogs are very helpful with this.
    Chris25 recently posted … Revlon Parfumerie Scented Nail Enamel Swatches

  4. Kat says:

    Yup! Trust me, most people at counters just want you to buy the most expensive thing possible. Its what you’re trained to do, especially since a lot of them are paid commission.

  5. Chaitra says:

    A very helpful post Karen 🙂 Before purchasing a product, i read up about it on many beauty & makeup blogs. I do my research online before going to the store. So i already kinda know what to buy and what to avoid. it is always helpful to have an idea about what products a store sells before stepping in! 🙂
    Chaitra recently posted … Cherry Chatters #4: French Vanilla Cake et al.

  6. I used to work for a large makeup counter YEARS ago, and I can tell you, they want their salespeople to up-sell their customers and that you should never let a customer go with just one item. It drove me crazy which is why I left the commission retail biz and became a freelance artist who doesn’t sell any products, just my services! But what I would say, is that gravitate towards the counter artist that looks most like what you would like to look like. I know it seems like judging a book by its cover but you will usually get the best product recommendations from someone whose look you admire. I love your advice on bringing pics of inspiration to a counter – pictures speak a thousand words!

  7. Zharlynne says:

    I agree with other commenters. Never go to a beauty counter on a whim, that will lead to impulse purchases. If possible google specific brands or products, visit blogs and beauty brand websites. Be specific in what you’re looking for. That way you won’t be overwhelmed and bombarded with product information. Some sales people are dishonest, just out to make a sale. Never get bullied into making a purchase. If you’re on the fence of a product request a sample. Don’t be shy to ask questions and voice concerns. In the end you’re gonna purchase a product that you should want to use, that will make you look and feel confident in yourself.

  8. gabi says:

    I’d say not to let yourself be mesmerized by new products and to stick to the classics.

  9. BETSY says:

    I’d second the notion- do not feel compelled to buy everything that is pressed upon you. Yes, the salespeople can have good advice but YOU are your own best judge of what you like and look flattering in! I’d also say, go for the basics; a foundation/concealer that makes your skin great, a great brow product, mascara and blush. Get an eyeshadow and eyeliner that makes your heart sing! The rest is gravy- Tabs gravy!

    P.S. This all doesn’t have to cost a fortune either! Since I make it a rule to replace my mascara every 3-4 months, L’oreal’s Voluminous mascara (under $10.00), is my go-to. I still have found nothing better. And while I love terrific makeup brushes, clean fingers so a better job for some things for me- like foundation application and cream blush.

    • musical says:

      “The rest is gravy-Tabs gravy!”

      You made my day, Betsy! <3

      • Karen says:

        You guys, speaking of gravy…I have a funny story. So, on Thanksgiving I gave Tabs some turkey and gravy to eat. Just so he could have a little something special too. 🙂 Well, he licked ALL of the gravy off of the turkey (seriously, every last drop!) and left the meat in his dish. That cat REALLY loves his gravy, LOL.

        • musical says:

          Mrrow, mrrow (meaning Tabs has good taste!) =^.^=

          Seriously, i have a serious crush on him. Every time i open my browser and see the “tabs”, i think of Tabster :).

  10. Melissa says:

    I always tell my newbie friends not to freak out about the price of department store stuff. Some of them are like “$20 for a mascara?” and while I agree that there are certain things I won’t buy (like single eyeshadows – I always get palettes; better value), in general the quality and longevity of department store makeup is sooooo much better than most drugstore brands. So I say buy a few things every now and then rather than trying to amass an entire beauty collection in one afternoon. (But I also have suggestions for great mid-range brands too.)

  11. Meredith says:

    My advice is to look at the website of the brands you are planning to visit ahead of time so you have a general idea of what the prices are like. It beats having to ask the sales person “how much is it” each time they show you something.

    • Lorraine says:

      That is a valuable bit of advice! I love how the SAs eyes start glazing over the 3rd time you ask that. Then comes the big ignore! LOL

  12. Sydney says:

    Ask an assistant for help and what you need for a complete look and have them show you how to do it then buy what you like

  13. Fro says:

    Always check the makeup in a few different lightings. In the store, outside, by a window..! It can really drastically change things!

  14. Brooke says:

    I have quite a few, actually. First of all, I am a review junkie – If I know what kind of item I am looking for, I go to sites that I trust, such as this blog 🙂 Granted, reviews aren’t going to be 100% fool proof because everyone is different, but you can at least get a general consensus. Secondly, ask for samples – For some reason I always assumed that you could never get samples because that’s the purpose of testers or people that work there who offer to “try it on you” were for. I finally got fed up with being “color matched” and then getting home and saying “WTF? This looks awful!” so I started being “that person” and asking for samples first before buying -it’s a lot less hassle. Somebody also already mentioned this, but I agree 100% – never put all of your trust in the person working behind the counter/at the store. Go with your gut whether you are a beginner or a seasoned makeup addict 🙂

  15. hanna says:

    This is great advice. Especially since I shop a lot!
    hanna recently posted … Outfit: Oasap Wave Print Knit Skirt

  16. Kiara says:

    If it’s a person who is used to only wearing mascara, gloss and maybe eyeliner, I’d tell them to be a bit open minded and not immediately reject the idea of wearing foundation, contour or eyeshadow, I know a lot of people who think this way. Maybe start small by buying a light frosty eyeshadow, a light coverage foundation but don’t go crazy and buy something you know you won’t ever use. And totally agree with the picture tip. ;P

  17. fancie says:

    Very great advice Karen! Especially the part about having a goal and bringing a friend. The first thing I thought about was making a list. I love checking out as many swatches and reviews online before going in stores to check things out. It’s easy to get off track or end up with things you don’t need when you aren’t prepared. Bringing a friend is a really great idea too because it offers a second, honest opinion and they can help you navigate better. Great post!
    fancie recently posted … MAC Punk Couture Collection

  18. musical says:

    Awesome tips, Karen! I also agree with “Kiss and makeup” about not blindly trusting… Sometimes sales reps have their own stereotypical opinion of a suitable product for your “type”. Trust your own eyes on how a product looks on you!

    Hey Karen, remember we were talking about shimmery shadows and how they make me look “tired” (likely because the focus goes on dark circles, and using concealer makes my face look “flat”/contourless)… and you had asked if i wear different colors together and stick with a single shade… I just wear one shade. Thank you in advance :). <3

    • Karen says:

      Hey Musical,

      Okay, so, you can try a couple of different things. Pop a matte shade in the crease (you can use your bronzer or a matte blush that you like) and do a shimmer on the lid. The contrast of the shimmer against the matte may help to make it look less flat and add more life to your eye look. Also try using a shimmer in the inner corner — a shimmery pink, beige, or gold can do amazing things to perk your eyes up. You can use something like a pencil brush to really get it in there precisely.

      • musical says:

        Thank you, Karen! <3

        Just test drove this look and it werks! I used my matte bronzer from the Laura Mercier kit, along with Woodwinked (applied with a blending brush on the lid), and bit in the inner corner-looks perfect! No need for any concealer!

  19. Lorraine says:

    Go when it is not busy. Ask for samples of products you are really interested in. Do some online research before and after. Promise yourself not to buy anything the first time out and likewise commit to find an SA you connect with, get her/his card and hours then come back to make your final, informed, non-pressured purchase.

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