How To Navigate The Makeup Counter

Burberry cosmetic display at Nordstrom

Every few years it’s a good idea to look at the new makeup offerings and update your look. The maze of shiny displays with eager salespeople promising miracles… can be intimidating and confusing. Navigating this minefield and coming out with what you want can be challenging.

Last week I got caught in the grip of an enthusiastic salesperson and left looking more like a drag queen than beauty queen. I just sat like a deer in the headlights and got painted beyond an inch of my life.

Am I the only woman who follows her own lip line? Sure I’ve played with the proportion a little bit, but this was joker material…in bright Red!

Since I failed so miserably last week… I’ve put together a few tips for the next time I’m you’re getting a department store makeover.


 Bring pictures

Cut pictures from magazines of some looks and products you’ve seen and wanted to try. This helps give the salesperson a baseline to start from.


Have them apply makeup to just one side  

Then you apply it to the other side to see if you like working with it. This also gives you a chance to practice their application technique. If you can’t make the same magic happen at the makeup counter, you won’t be able to at home.


Use their hand mirror

Hold it up to watch their progress and also take it outside to check the color and texture. What looks like gleam at the counter could be a grease slick in the daylight. That soft color shadow you like in the store, may look harsh in daylight.


 Be honest

If you  won’t bother applying an eye primer, face primer, plus a serum before foundation, don’t have her  apply them. It’ll change how the other makeup and foundation looks…which defeats your purpose. If she starts to explain something and you don’t understand, tell her!


Tell her what you’re currently using

The makeup artist is judging how much you’re willing to spend based on what you’ve previously spent. Why have her demonstrate a $200 product if you’d never spend the money on it? Don’t waste her time or yours.


Speak up

If you don’t like what’s being put on your face be sure to say so, right away. Give them the opportunity to try something else that you may love!


Don’t Feel Guilty!

If you honestly don’t like, want or need what you’ve sampled, don’t feel pressured to buy it.


Dior makeup counter
As a final caveat… if the salesperson makes you a sample of a product from an open jar, the germ quotient will be sky-high. It’s safest to use sealed, premade samples, or one’s that are made from a pump bottle.

I returned a few things today but kept the eyebrow kit. Funny thing about my eyebrows, they just keep shrinking and migrating south,

In the category of  unnecessary trivia and who cares…

” eyebrow-hair transplant requests are up 25% in New York.”

                                              ~plastic surgeon, Andrew Jacono


 When’s the last time you updated your makeup or technique?
I’m still not winning them!


  1. Julie Traxler says:

    I just love your “layperson” advice! As we age, it is hard to find beauty advice. There are so many areas that you have touched on where I need help.🤓. My sister and I trade secrets, but she is 10 years younger .
    We both have skin that is sensitive with acne scarring. I find that a tinted sunscreen works well for me most days. On special occasions, I use a full coverage bb foundation that works well. My eyebrows are another story! Soft surroundings has a nice powder system that seems to be good for me, but not perfect.
    Thanks again for all you do.

  2. I had my eyebrows micro bladed. It has to be the best thing I have ever done for myself, I love it so much! I struggled with thin and very short eyebrows for years. I had always tinted my own with hair color and a q-tip, very easy. I feel I look younger as well.

  3. Barbara Stevens says:

    Speaking of disappearing eyebrows…I had recently read a Prevention Magazine article about beauty habits that make you look older. They suggested getting your brows dyed…Professionally. How hard could it be to do it myself? I looked at a couple of YouTube videos, took myself off to Sally Beauty Supply and chose a very light brown shade of brow dye. (I am blonde-ish) Well, I followed the directions to a T and was HORRIFIED to see the results. My eyebrows were black, I resembled a perpetually surprised clown. Trying everything from peroxide to bleach(!) to hair color remover did nothing. My husband, daughter, and son took one look at me and burst out laughing…Even the dog was laughing at me. When I ventured out in public, even the salespeople’s lips were twitching as they attempted to suppress their smiles. Fortunately I’m not particularly vain and I do have a sense of humor, but it was a humiliating and hilarious month before the dye wore off. I will be looking into the Jane Iredale Brow Kit.

  4. I have the good fortune to have unblemished & great skin, however, the under-eye area is making me crazy. I hate using concealer as it tends to show up much lighter but at this point I need the light anyway. I love love love NARS products for color and skincare. But I still use the old Max Factor Pancake Makeup that one puts on with a wet sponge, it gives great coverage to anything. When I worked at Sak’s 5th Avenue every now and then we might have time to have our makeup done by one of the ladies in cosmetics. They never did what I wanted, but it was a new take of the look of the day, which didn’t work for me at all. So I know what you mean. xx’s

  5. I had my face “done” about a month ago at one of my favorite department stores and by one of my favorite brands. (Dior!)

    It was fun.

    But… When I got out into the natural light, as is usually the case when someone applies makeup at the counter, it was way OVER-done!

    I ended up going back a week later and trying to apply one of the products myself, while there, and using much less. I didn’t purchase the five things (I knew I would never use), but I did purchase one – which I’ve managed myself a few times since, and it’s been great!

    I love your idea of having them do one side of the face only. (I’m going to keep that in mind for the next time I sit to get painted.)

    Wonderful tips in this post.

    1. That’s the trick. Finding the things you will use and not feeling pressured to buy more.

  6. At 60 years young, I am no longer intimidated by makeup counter “pros”. If…and it’s a big “if”, I decide to let them try their hand, I begin the conversation with “I do not want to leave this chair looking like the Whore of Babylon”! I feel your pain. Been there, done that, don’t need to put myself through the humiliation again.

    1. Those are great guidelines to give them!!

  7. This is a lovely post with smart advice. I play with makeup at home but really don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve dreamed of the kind of experience you describe but don’t think it’s available to me. Darn!

    1. It should be available to you! Check with your local beauty counter. I’m guessing Mac would be a great place to start.

  8. These are excellent suggestions, Jennifer. I have never thought of taking a photo of a look I want to create. I’m always afraid I’ll be looking like the joker so I tend to avoid the counter. I did have a partial makeup redo in Paris a couple of years ago. It felt decadent and very French. Like you I am careful about the public jars of lotions and potions. You always have such good ideas! The new digs are looking fabulous!

    1. Thanks my friend. I can take no credit for how this looks. All of it goes to my blog designer, who thank goodness is wonderful.

  9. Great tips as always, Jen. I used to LIVE at Macy’s makeup counters when I was … let’s just say not as mature. 😉 So long ago that Macy’s was still Burdines in Florida. 😉
    These days I cannot stand the pressure and sales tactics. It’s ridiculous to even walk through those counters.
    Would love it if you shared an eyebrow post.

    1. That’s a great idea my friend! We all do seem to have eyebrow “issues”.
      Thank you so very much for my wonderful gift. It was perfect!
      Much love

  10. I seldom frequent the makeup counter any more, but your tips are spot on. Perhaps it would also be helpful to have a “makeup artist” who understands that women of a certain age do not necessarily want to look like a clown, nor do we want to spend the time it takes to look like a clown.

  11. Hi Jennifer, I like your rules:):) I always remind my patients that these women are first and foremost SALES people. Some have a make up artist “back ground” and others are self taught. The lighting is tough at the make up counter. I advise women to try things on and then take a look in natural light. You can always wear the make up “out” and then come back another day if you choose to purchase it.

    AND WATCH those sample containers ~ yes:) they can be little germ factories!

    1. Couldn’t agree more! Some if those makeup “artists” have zero training and skill. I’m always surprised to see samples scooped out of open jars. Makes me cringe!

  12. Super tips Jennifer. Also it is not always a good idea to get your makeup done at the makeup counter for a special event for many of the reasons you mentioned!

    The Arts by Karena

  13. You always make me smile, Jennifer, mixed with sage advice.

  14. Good advice. I only ever let the Chanel
    Ladies at me and they seem to use a fairly light hand…

    1. A light hand is what this gal was missing. I looked like she used a trowel to apply the foundation. Never a good look.

  15. Great tips, Jennifer! I always make it clear when I sit down with a Sales Associate or makeup artist that I have a quick, minimal look most days and would be looking for products that fit in with that. I can’t tell you how many have ignored my caveats like “do NOT bother with frosted eye shadow; I will not buy or wear it” and they lose out on sales when they don’t listen. Sometimes they’ve been instructed to push a particular product to everyone. I do like the ones who get where I’m coming from and take me just a little bit outside my comfort zone. Navy eyeliner? Now my favorite. But I do also often learn some new tricks from makeup artists, which is the best part.

    1. I agree about venturing slightly outside our comfort zone. Otherwise, what’s the point? Navy eyeliner….food for thought and experimentation.

  16. I have the Jane Iredale eyebrow kit but have my brows coloured…it is odd that they are disappearing so fast. Even odder that I can live without colouring my hair now but not my brows!
    I have had a few make up sessions but prefer to keep my make up to a minimum. I think as we age it is more flattering to wear less…have you checked out Lisa Eldridge’s make over of a senior model? It is a lovely soft look. She has a fabulous website on YouTube.

    1. I’ve just rediscovered the Jane Iredale Pure Brow Colour in a mascara type wand. It colors the hair and sets it in place. Perfect…but I need to add a powder or pencil to fill in the thin spots as well. I have to keep color in my brows or I disappear!

  17. Bluebooby says:

    I have actually only had some one put, take off, put another, take off, lipstick..oh and once the lady did a beautiful blush then told me they ere out of stock nd it was discontinued. Sigh. I have started doing the eyeliner in my lash line and just a nude color, to hide varicose vein (am I the only one that has them on their eyelids?!). And then lipstick. I like it.

    1. I have veins on my eyelids too. We must just be the lucky ones:) It’s amazing how many times they put something on us that’s out of stock! Don’t they realize I’ll just toddle down the mall to another Department store for it? Duh!

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