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Seven Tactics for a Beauty Counter Makeover

How to master the aisles of Sephora, ULTA or any department store beauty section. 

Walk into any department store and you’re swamped by well-meaning but ballsy beauty advisors luring you with irresistible come-ons. I am still a total sucker for “love your bag/ dress/sunglasses/hair color” despite an advanced degree in customer resistance. Fall is a particularly seductive time to browse the beauty bars. You’re desperate for something new and figure a little makeup and skincare is cheaper than taking the escalator to the floors where you can do some serious damage. What’s key is to not feel obligated to BUY! This is, however, an excellent time to use the department store as a virtual beauty school to learn seven new tricks and experiment.

1. Do your homework online.
Dump out your makeup bag and decide what seriously needs an update. Then scroll through your favorite makeup brands online for news in textures and colors. Make a list of what you want to try. Should you upgrade your mattes to shimmery shadows? Switch to metallic gel liner instead of pencils? Try wearing a real lipstick instead of pinky gloss?

2. Smile at but ignore the beauty pimps patrolling the aisles. Instead, stroll straight over to a brand that’s “you.”
This saves time, tears and remorse when you get home or back to work with a face full of makeup you hate. No clue what “you” is anymore? Want polished neutrals? Try Bobbi Brown or Laura Mercier. Trendy runway colors? Head for M.A.C., Chanel, or Dior. Love a sun-kissed look? Straight to Giorgio Armani or Guerlain.

3. Go mornings when the store has just opened and traffic is minimal.
The advisors are just gearing up and will be eager to use you for demos to attract other customers.

4. Look for a makeup artist who has the look you’re after or who’s doing a makeup you like on someone else ...
... just to make sure you’re speaking the same language. Ask her what she’s wearing on her own face—if she starts listing thirteen products, move on. If she says “An easy everyday look—just a few products”... sit.

5. State exactly what you want. Never say “I’m just looking” or “What’s new?”
Instead, lead the witness. For example you might say, “I want to learn how to do a smoky eye with the Bobbi Brown Nude Eye Palette” or “Which liner makes a cat-eye easy?” or “I need to brighten my skin but I don’t want to change my foundation. I hear a clear pink blush is good,” or just “My foundation is too heavy, I want something sheer but not too shiny.” Remember you are trying at this point not buying.

6. Stay on topic.
If your beauty advisor starts piling on the shadows and concealer and talking face creams, say, “I only have a few minutes—can we just stick to what I really need?” Or “Thanks, but I just want to learn the details about applying this liner.”

7. Play fair but get the most out of it.
Counter advisors have sales quotas and you are also taking up her time. If she offers to do your entire makeup free say yes but pepper the ten or fifteen minutes with questions instead of passively sitting there. Interrogation is fair here. “Why are you using that kind of brush? Should I sweep the blush up or just around the apples? What if I hate lip liner—I don’t like the look.” Keep looking in a large counter hand mirror as things progress. If you hate it, say so, “This is so not me—can we take it down a notch?” Don’t be shy. Ask for samples and say you have a sister who would love this—can you have doubles?

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