9 Secrets from the Makeup Counter

I'll freely admit I spend way too much time at department store makeup counters. But can you blame me? You get to play with new products, get free makeovers, and hear compliments like "that lipstick looks amazing, you've got the prettiest mouth."

Of course, it's not all rosy comments and free spritzes of perfume. After the initial chitchat comes the hard sell and I usually walk away spending more than I really should have (or can even afford). How do they do that?

After yet another afternoon at the makeup counters -- and another lipstick purchase I really did not need to make -- I decided to do some digging, and see just what tricks these makeup saleswomen have up their sleeves that get me to buy some much stuff. What I found: some truly shocking surprises (you'll see what I mean).

Keep reading to find out what really happens behind the counter, why your free makeover isn't free at all, and other secrets makeup counter salespeople don't want you to know.


Secret no. 1: They know when you're just trying to snag a free sample

When I see a beauty counter salesperson giving out free samples of something (say, an eye cream), I'll "curiously" approach her and take a few packets, acting as if I've never seen eye cream before. I'm sure you've done this too. But here's the thing: They know exactly what we're up to.

That's why most salespeople will only give you about three days worth of product, max. "We are not supplying their skin care, we are just letting them touch, feel, and smell," says a former counter worker. And "some beauty advisers won't waste product on someone who won't buy," she adds.

Secret no. 2: That "free" makeover isn't actually free

Let's face it. If they're this overprotective of their samples, what makes you think they're actually going to give you a free makeover with no strings attached? Besides, makeup artists at counters work on commission. So even though they'll do your makeup for free, you can bet they're expecting you to buy the products.

In fact, one former counter makeup artist says "it's not courteous to get a free makeover when you have no intention of buying." Just something to keep in mind for the next time you're passing a makeup counter and that nice lady asks you if you want a free makeover.
Of course, not all counters are the same.

Secret no. 3: It's way easier to get a refund than you think

In case you do end up getting sucked into a makeover and buying a ton of stuff you don't want, here's a little secret: You can get a refund on almost any product. Yep, even if it's been used or "tested" more than once.

Every store has a different return policy, but most big department stores like Nordstrom and Macy's are notorious for giving full refunds or store credit back for products. One salesperson says that Nordstrom's policies are so lax that they were even giving cash back to a man they knew was stealing perfumes off the counter of the nearby Macy's and "returning" them to Nordstrom. Why? Because "they didn't want to make a scene in the store."

Secret no. 4: They're not really beauty experts

Notice how most makeup counter salespeople wear white lab coats or all black (typical makeup artist attire)? This is a planned scheme to convince you they are "experts," says a former counter worker. Fact is, they're anything but. Makeup counter workers are trained in sales, not product knowledge.

According to our source, this means that they "make stuff up" or share their "limited experience" of what they do know. And "most beauty advisors know a little more than what the average woman does about beauty," she says.

Secret no. 5: The compliments are fake

If you love it when a salesperson compliments you now "how pretty" you are or "how amazing" your skin is, you can stop feeling so special. They recite these lines to everyone, because it draws them to their counter.

"Usually if I compliment them, they open up about what they are looking for," says one former makeup artist. With this little "boost" from a "beauty expert," even self-conscious women are more likely to talk to her about their skin or makeup concerns and buy products.

Secret no. 6: They won't be honest about scary ingredients

Ever heard of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy? Makeup counter salespeople know it well. In fact, even if a specific ingredient in a product you're interested in has "scared the public" (ie: the media scare over parabens), the salesperson won't mention the ingredient when selling it to you, says one beauty counter veteran.

Secret no. 7: The counters are germ-infested

If you've ever walked right up to the counter, grabbed a lipstick tester, and put it right to your lips, you might want to re-think your method. The testers on the makeup counter are filled with germs and bacteria.

"No matter how many times a day the sales rep cleans them, people love to come stick their dirty fingers in the colors," says one former Estee Lauder artist. And then there are the makeup brushes. While most makeup artists clean them after each customer, "you should never trust a brush that isn't yours," she adds.

Secret no. 8: They won't waste their time on drugstore product users

The first question a beauty counter salesperson asks you is usually: "Which products are you currently using?" This is to judge how much money you're going to spend with them. "If you tell me that you use a 3-in-1 cleanser from the drugstore, I know you don't want to spend a lot of time or money," says one counter worker. In turn, they'll decide on the spot how much time they'll spend (or "waste") on you.

Secret no. 9: They gossip about you behind your back

Makeup artists are stuck behind a makeup counter all day, so the only fun they can have is to gossip about you once you leave. "If we get a particularly weird customer we may laugh about it for weeks," says one former makeup artist. "I used to have my family in stitches at dinner telling them the customer stories of the day. There are weird people out there!" she says

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