8 Things Makeup Counter Clerks Won’t Tell You

makeup counter clerk
makeup counter clerk

By Petra Guglielmetti

Whether you're a well-versed makeup maven or someone who's nervous about accepting a free sample of a new product, it can be hard to read the pretty people who sell cosmetics at department stores. Was their enthusiasm about that lipstick you tried on genuine, or were they giggling behind your back? Is that wrinkle cream they're raving about really worth the triple-digit price? And are those "try-me" makeup samples totally unsanitary? Here are some things makeup counter clerks don't tell you. Photo Credit: Getty Images

We know when you're only here for free samples.

"Telling who's going to buy and who's just browsing becomes a fun game of basic psychology," says New York City makeup artist Raychel Wade, who got her start working behind makeup counters. "While there are always surprises, you get a general sense of how to tell the difference." If you're tempted to keep stopping by for free samples, bear in mind: Cosmetics-counter employees might ignore seeming cheapskates. "I regularly see salespeople walk away from a customer or not offer much help to her if they don't think they'll make a sale," says Christa, who works makeup duty at a luxury department store in New York City.

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You could find a better product at the next counter over-or at the drugstore!

You usually buy beauty products from a few different brands when you shop at the drugstore-that's because one brand doesn't make all of the best formulas for your skin type or coloring. Yet when you're parked at a department-store counter, it's easy to believe that one brand can fulfill all your needs, especially when stocking up earns you a free gift. "We make it seem like we have the best of everything, and we really don't," admits Christa. Hey, it's their job! But off the record, department store makeup artists will admit that your money may be better spent on the cheapie stuff. For example: "Drugstores carry amazing mascaras, but it wasn't my job to direct customers that way," says Wade. "At the end of the day, I was working for the brand, not the customer." That said, you can sometimes tell which products are duds because salespeople won't go out of their way to mention them. "You're not going to work hard to sell products you don't like because if the client ends up hating them, she's won't buy from you again," Christa explains. Try asking the clerk to name her top three products in the line-chances are, these truly perform well.

We only shampoo the brushes a couple times a week, and that lip gloss is a petri dish.

Just think how many cheeks that blush brush touches in one day-and how laborious it is to thoroughly clean and dry one of those things. Conscientious makeup counter workers do all they can to keep the inherent ick factor in check-wiping lipsticks with alcohol before each use, misting brushes with solvent, offering cotton swabs for customers to apply countertop samples. But they admit that these measures only go so far; clueless customers dip their fingers directly into the lip gloss before clerks catch them. "The biggest issue is face creams, when clients don't use a Q-Tip and just dig in," Christa says. "Usually when I see this happen, I toss the jar right away, but do I do so 100 percent of the time? No."

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We expect you to buy at least three products in exchange for that makeover.

Most stores don't charge to apply makeup, so there's an unspoken expectation that customers who get dolled up for free purchase at least three products so the salesperson can collect commission. "Clients shouldn't feel obligated to buy if they're 'pulled' from the aisles or are generally looking at the line," says Wade. "However, if you make an appointment with a makeup artist at the counter, either buy a few items or give a $20 tip, if the store permits tipping." Overlook this courtesy, and you're better off avoiding that beauty counter for a while. "If you become known as a freeloader, word gets around quickly, and the customer service you receive will reflect that!" says Wade.

You can return makeup you don't like, even if you've opened it.

While different stores set different return policies, most cosmetics counters will accept returns within a reasonable amount of time for almost any reason you give-even if it's just that a foundation suddenly looked orange when you wore it in actual daylight vs. under the fluorescents. But most salespeople won't share this, since returns are taken out of their commission. "But you shouldn't ever feel guilty about a return," says Wade. "It's hard to know how your skin will react or if you'll still like a color when you get home."

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This white lab coat doesn't mean I know the first thing about skin.

Some brands create the illusion of dermatological expertise by having clerks wear white coats like doctors wear and using scientific lingo in their marketing, but don't be fooled. "Not all salespeople are skincare experts who can recognize the difference between, say, acne and rosacea and what those two different skin types need," says beauty expert Paula Begoun, author of Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter without Me. "They don't know how to read an ingredients label or understand what a product can or can't do." If you have a serious skin issue, visit a dermatologist; he or she can give you the real scoop on how to clear up problems and recommend product ingredients to try and avoid.

What I say this wrinkle cream will do-and what's printed on its bottle-might be blatantly untrue.

When it comes to all those space-age skincare potions, some of the science cited at beauty counters is legit, and some is not-unfortunately, not all salespeople can separate fact from fiction for you because they don't have enough info to distinguish between true and false claims themselves; even if they suspect something isn't accurate, it's their job to communicate the company line. On top of that, it's surprisingly easy for brands to make claims on bottles and in ads that aren't backed up by solid research: With a few exceptions, only the ingredient list on a product's packaging is strictly regulated by the FDA. "More often than not, companies say what they like and the FDA doesn't notice, or by the time they do catch it, the company has dropped that advertising campaign," says Begoun. So before you shell out big bucks on skincare, do your research, and take anything the salesperson says with a grain (or handful) of salt.

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If I say your current favorite products are bad, don't trust anything else I say.

When it comes to cosmetics, many beauty counter workers really are pros who have experience with a variety of products-and they'll give you honest advice along with their pitch. That includes admitting when you should stick with your current products versus switching to theirs. "If my client already uses a Laura Mercier eyeliner, I'm not going to show her my line's eyeliner because I know hers is better," says Christa. For a conscientious salesperson, the goal isn't to sell you tons of stuff you don't need and then never see you again, but rather to make you a repeat customer by giving you trustworthy advice and product recommendations when you need them. "When the customer feels you're being honest, she's more likely to come back for more," says Wade. However, if a makeup artist says every product you currently use should be replaced and that all of her products will be perfect on you, be skeptical; such claims are a red flag that the clerk is looking to cash in on commissions.

Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.

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