Best free makeover for a makeup newbie?
September 23, 2006 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Which department store makeup counter will provide me with the best makeup tips and tools? I need some serious help, but I'm not trying to look like a clown.

Throughout my life, I've played around a tiny bit with makeup, but it's just never worked right for me. These days, I'll put on some matte foundation (I have very oily skin) and some Chapstick, and call it a day. However, as I get a bit older (well, 22) and start to enter the work force, I'm realizing that I could benefit from some more makeup. Problem is, I have no idea how to do it right.

I would like to go to a makeup counter and get one of those free "makeovers" where they just pressure you to buy their makeup, but I want to make it worth my while. I've seen the results of these makeovers before, and some of them tend to be... a bit much. I'm very much interested in a natural, classy look, just something to accentuate what's already going on in my features. So, in your experience, which makeup counters offer the best makeover experiences, especially for actually teaching you techniques?

I've heard many good things about Clinique. This isn't really a department store, but I also love what I've seen of Sephora; do they do free makeovers? I'm around DC, if that makes a difference.

Also, if I do one of these makeovers/consultations, any tips on how to deal with potentially aggressive salespeople? I may indeed end up buying the makeup they use, but I don't want to get bullied into it if I'm not interested.

Thanks ahead of time!
posted by sarahsynonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (28 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I would go to Sephora if I were you - there, you'll find a much wider variety of quality makeup brands. They do free makeovers, and you can certainly stress that you're looking for a natural look.

Personally, I do not like Clinique makeup, at all. If you were to limit yourself to a single brand, I would choose M.A.C. They have wonderful products and great colors. I also like Bare Escentuals, but maybe not so much for a novice makeup wearer.

I know Bare Escentuals is available in Sephora, but I don't believe that M.A.C. is. Both brands have their own stores as well, and M.A.C. is also available in most department stores.
posted by discokitty at 8:34 AM on September 23, 2006

i was never taught how to do makeup, and had to learn myself. i would check out prescriptives. i have the same fear as you, and find that their makeup looks the most natural. clinique is also a good plan. i would stick to a nice department store counter as opposed to sephora, as ive found more hard sell tactics there. one other hint, if you are looking for a foundation or a powder, have them put some on and then borrow a mirror and go outside. see what it looks like in natural light.

i rarely use makeup, but when i do, i use a very small amount of concealer, this powder, a bit of brown/black mascara and some sort of gloss based lipstick like this from stila. if im feeling fancy, i might throw in some neutral colored eye make up.

in terms of being taught techniques, i know that some day spas who do makeup also offer lessons. you might want to look into that. personally, id stay away from MAC. its very heavy makeup. lastly, this book is fun and helpful.
posted by fillsthepews at 8:46 AM on September 23, 2006

one last thing, if you go to a place like nordstroms, they should have an excellent return policy if you go home and find out you dont like it. look into it.
posted by fillsthepews at 8:47 AM on September 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

I second Prescriptives.
posted by nimsey lou at 8:49 AM on September 23, 2006

IANAMA, but...I do all my friends and relatives on the sly for big occasions.

Prescriptives, MAC, Clinique-- they all have their good and bad points. Prescriptives can look even less makeup than your real face sometimes. Clinique might be a little old lady. MAC can have some huge, garish colors.

As for a makeover, if you have a Bobbi Brown or Laura Mercier, I suggest them. They have the most natural makeup that actually highlights and does not wash out (that is the problem I have found with some Prescriptives, but if you try and have good results, good on you!). I have suggested the Bobbi Brown bridal compact before, as bridal makeup should be by definition subtle and conservative, which is good for the office.

However, the best way you will ever learn to do your own makeup is just by doing it. I have suggested this in similar threads before, but go to a drug store, buy a few cheapo colors in eye, lip and cheek, and at home some night when youa re not going out, do your face up. Make yourself look like a complete clown, slather the makeup on, but get to know your face. You will quickly see what will look good and what will not-- what eyeliner technique accentuates and which one makes you look clowny.

(I love Bare Minerals for foundation, and it is nearly foolproof to apply. Expensive, however, but one container will last for 6 or so months. )

I cannot suggest Kevyn Aucoin books enough. Order a few, peruse them for technique and style, and try try try.
posted by oflinkey at 9:06 AM on September 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sorry, that Bobbi Brown bridal link should be here.

Kevyn Aucoin books here and here.
posted by oflinkey at 9:14 AM on September 23, 2006

I second Bobbi Brown. Six years ago I had a special event coming up, and went to the Bobbi Brown counter at Nordstrom. I explained that I didn't wear make-up, and the special event, and they helped me, not only for the special event, but showed me how to use the same products for every day and look natural.
posted by slowstarter at 9:44 AM on September 23, 2006

I recommend MAC. I was pretty low-maintenance in the make-up department too, but after sitting down for a mini-make-over at MAC, I've since come around. I find their make-up artists very knowledgable and respectful, and they're generous with the samples for you to take home before committing to a full-size product.

I prefer a natural look as well and on most days, my routine includes applying MAC's StudioTech with their foundation brush for a smooth base. (I used to think make-up brushes were completely pointless and a waste of money until my make-over and I saw for myself how flawless the finish could be, plus, you use less product since it doesn't get soaked up into the sponge.) I use Benefit's Benetint on my cheeks for a hint of colour and some tinted lipgloss and I'm good to go. For a bit more drama, I'll apply MAC's Fluidline with their angled brush as an eyeliner and it stays put all day on my oily skin.
posted by phoenixc at 10:50 AM on September 23, 2006

I like MAC, but the suggestion of a spa isn't a bad one. They don't offer free make-up lessons, but as you're paying for the lesson, you don't get the high-pressure sell.

For high-end, I do like Lancome. Cause it smells nice. Yes, I said it, I like Lancome cause it smells nice.

Brushes can make a difference, but I like makeup I can put on with my fingertips. Cheaper and can be applied anywhere you can wash your hands.

Anyways, there's no need to be brand-loyal. I have countless lines in my make-up bag. If in the department stores, keep an eye out for the "free gift with purchase" offers. Sometimes those let you get a good bang for your buck. If you're at the counter getting a makeover, and all you like is the eyeshadow they've put on you, just buy the eyeshadow. Pick and choose, that's the name of the game with make-up. And just have fun with it, at 22 you're young enough to look great without anything on, so this should be seen as nothing but icing on the cake!
posted by Salmonberry at 11:12 AM on September 23, 2006

Origins worked pretty well for me. I don't know how I feel about their makeup quality, however.
posted by schroedinger at 11:40 AM on September 23, 2006

I've really liked all of the prescriptives products that I've used. I used to like origins, but seem to have developed some type of allergy after using it for a few years. Now I use a mix of Aveda and Prescriptives products, and my sensitive skin is very, very happy! Like others have said, try different brands and see what you like. . .it's just makeup - if you don't like what they apply at the counter, just wash it off and try something else! Have fun!
posted by jengineer at 11:54 AM on September 23, 2006

I would scout out all of the counters and find the saleslady whose makeup "sensibility" matches what you're looking for.

I have a fair amount of Clinique makeup, and almost everything they sell is something you can wear to work.

I also recently bought some MAC foundation and powder. I went with their sheerest option, and I'm pretty satisfied with how they look. The salesgirl was a bit heavy-handed when she applied it to show me how it would look, though.

When I was shopping for foundation and powder, I tried out LancĂ´me, and the saleslady was absolutely fantastic. She showed me step-by-step how to apply the makeup. I bought it, but when I went home and looked at it in a softer light, I looked like an orange. At $70, I couldn't justify keeping it, so I had to return it.
posted by anjamu at 12:09 PM on September 23, 2006


That is all you need to know.

And never, ever skimp on brushes. brushes are to makeup as knives are to a chef.

Also, there's about a thousand previous posts on this subject.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:19 PM on September 23, 2006

On successive days, go to different counters and explain that you'd like to check out their products, don't expect to be purchasing that very day, and ask to have your makeup done. Wear it for at least 4 hours, as some people have skin chemistry that does not go well with some makeup. For each makeover, rate it according to how it feels on your face, ease of application, cost, and take a before, immediately after and 4 hours later photo. Take a photo in the store, and in natural light, if possible.

Makeup is incredibly profitable, which is why it's in the front of the store, so do not feel bad about researching and trying products. Over time, you may find that drugstore versions of the products you like will work just fine, at a much lower cost. The biggest difference is packaging and fragrance.
posted by theora55 at 1:08 PM on September 23, 2006

I've heard great things about Bobbi Brown (really natural looking, etc) and Bare Escentuals (natural looking & feels like you aren't wearing makeup).

If you aren't sure what brand or line is best for you, I'd go to Sephora. I love that store & I cannot walk out of there without buying something. BUT, since they have so many different makeup lines, you can get the best of each line. Find a clerk who is wearing the "look" that you want, or a clerk that has really well-applied makeup, & tell them what you told us, that you want to find the right make up for work.

My favorite brand at Sephora is Stila -- natural colors & fun colors in really easy to use products. One of their best (imho) is their Color PushUps: cream blush/lipstick that you can use as eyeshadow too (I don't, but it's possible). Since you don't use much makeup right now, multitasking products might be really good for you. According to my friends the Color PushUp looks like a mini deoderant for your face, but what do they know!

As for being bullied into buying stuff, if there's a product they're pushing that you don't like, be specific about why you don't like it: the mascara is too gunky, the lipstick is too bold, you want more sheer (or vis versa). If it's something that you don't think you need (like a mattifying base before foundation, or anything that you just think is overkill) tell them that you'd like to keep your routine simple, or that you don't think you need the blue and the green mascara. Also, if you go in with specific goals (such as a good foundation for oily skin) you'll feel more comfortable saying "No, this isn't what I want"

And lastly, (I promise; I could talk forever about makeup) is that drugstore makeup is also really good quality. My problem is finding colors that look right on me, but when you can bring a lipstick you like for comparison, it's much easier to find a good color. Almay has eye makeup based on your eye color, which is a super easy way to find nice colors for yourself.
posted by good for you! at 1:39 PM on September 23, 2006

Makeup Alley is a great resource for researching specific products or brands, especially if you're looking to play around with drugstore makeup first - you might as well find out which ones will be worth buying. For example, Milani eyeshadows are only $2.99 each (and often on sale besides), but they're considered nearly as good as MAC's, which are $15 each. And, of course, you'll get opinions from those who aren't on commission. It requires free registration to look at the product reviews.

On an anecdotal note, keep in mind that although salespeople at makeup counters will of course be more familiar with makeup than you are, that doesn't mean they know what they're talking about. I went to Sephora last week on a whim and asked for a makeover, and told the consultant to "go to town" on my face (I generally know my way around a makeup bag but I just thought it would be fun to get a second opinon.) "Oh my god, you look great!!" she said when she was done, and I smiled wanly and scurried to the mall bathroom to scrub the mess off my face with hand soap and a paper towel. Also, as she was sweeping on the Bare Escentuals foundation, she informed me that "This is made of pure minerals, so it won't break you out," but the next day my reflection greeted me with three huge red zits. On the other hand, she was super nice and not pushy at all. But I guess my point is that if you hate the way you look when they're done, trust your own judgment. It'll still be beneficial, since you'll at least know what you don't like.
posted by granted at 3:34 PM on September 23, 2006

Oh, one thing about Sephora is that its myriad brands and products can seem completely overwhelming, even if you're not a makeup newbie. That's another reason to check out something like Makeup Alley first, so you can narrow down what you're looking for. Some of the products are genuinely awesome, and some are genuinely shit. But oh, how fun it is to experiment.
posted by granted at 3:39 PM on September 23, 2006

Don't buy right away. Other people said it above, I know. But it's important, especially for foundation and blush, because they not only look different according to the light, but they also can change color and sheen as the hours go by.

The salespeople will try to sell you skincare products and say that your make-up won't look good without them. If they tell you yhat you need to exfoliate, say "Thanks for the suggestion; I'm just looking at lip color today."

A given brand, no matter how broad their selection, will not necessarily have a color that's right for you. Once in my life, a Clinique counter person said, "Clinique doesn't have a foundation color you can wear." You can be between color groups for Prescriptives. It happens. Trust your instincts.

You will probably start out feeling comfortable with very subtle make-up; then in a few months, you might be ready for something less unobtrusive. No need to wear anything that makes you feel self-conscious.
posted by wryly at 4:52 PM on September 23, 2006

I went to a Clinique counter with my mother when I was ready to start wearing real makeup, and I've used some of their stuff ever since. Obviously, it makes no sense to stick to one brand -- I use Maybelline Great Lash mascara, my latest favorite eyeshadow is by CoverGirl, I really like one of L'Oreal's under-eye concealers even though most of their stuff is old-ladyish . . . you get the picture. I go for more of a natural/neutral look than for bright or obvious colors, but when I want something saturated, I agree with the MAC recommendations. But for day-to-day, Clinique is great for a professional look without being old-lady-ish.

I've been happy with Clinique's foundation and powder, and I use it pretty much exclusively. I have very oily skin, too. When I went the first time, I had just washed my face before going, so the woman doing it didn't believe me when I told her how bad my skin was; she gave me the normal-to-dry line (I-II). Just for fun, I went back to a Clinique counter a while later, and they put me on a whole different line especially for super-oily skin (III-IV). I had been used to fixing my makeup twice a day, but with this new stuff, I only have to blot occasionally.

I must have been in my early teens when I went the first time; it was obvious I was clueless, and the Clinique saleslady was amazingly helpful. She did everything step-by-step, made sure I could see what was happening, demonstrated techniques and let me practice them, wrote everything down, drew pictures of what goes where, and in what order, and how -- it was great. She spent a ton of time with us. And it wasn't a problem when I wound up getting only half the stuff she'd tried on me.

Wherever you go, if there are multiple ladies at the counter, pick the one with the best makeup (duh). Leave plenty of time -- you don't want to hurry her or worry yourself. And a week later, stop back at the same counter to be seen by someone else, to get a second opinion. Wear it when you go back so she can correct any mistakes you're making, too.

If you go for Clinique, just make sure you emphasize that yes, you know your skin, and you want one of the oily-skin lines. (The only other issue I've ever had with Clinique is that many stores don't stock my skin color, so I usually need to call ahead when I want to pick up more. But my color's pretty unusual, so YM probably will V.)
posted by booksandlibretti at 6:09 PM on September 23, 2006

I'd stay away from the makeup counter and go to a day spa or someplace with professional cosmetologists. Ask for a consult - specially around choice of colors. It will cost money, but set you on a reasonable path. Also look at Paula Begoun's book "Don't go to the Makeup Counter without Me. " The book shows you how stupid it is to pay for overpriced makeup when regular priced does the same job - except for foundations - that's the place to splurge.
posted by trii at 6:43 PM on September 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for the help, everyone! I haven't ventured out yet because you couldn't pay me to go to the mall on a weekend, but I'm definitely going to try a number of places over the next week. I can't wait to start experimenting and learning. :)
posted by sarahsynonymous at 6:58 PM on September 23, 2006

You're going to get (have gotten) a billion different answers here. You won't get any "one best" lesson from any particular "brand" but from a person who might work for any brand.

However, I gotta recommend MAC ;) . For everything except foundation...their palette is pretty limited for base so look elsewhere, but MAC is top of the line for everything else.

Look for someone who is wearing makeup on *their own face* that appeals to you. Then tell them you want a natural, understated, classy look. Or look for the gay man who is wearing a touch of eye makeup. There's one at almost every major MAC counter, and I've found that they do best.

Sephora carries a ton of makeup, but I avoid them like the plague. I had an amazingly shitty experience there. I radically changed my hair color and went for a new color palette and tried Sephora on numerous recommendations. I looked like an absolute clown and an asshole when the woman got done, and everyone in the store cooed over how great it was. Trust me, it wasn't just dramatic (I do dramatic or understated equally well). I seriously looked like a clown. It was the first time in years I didn't go to the MAC counter, and I regretted it. :)

Also, TIP the person who gives you the free makeup lesson and that way you won't feel obliged to buy any product (I'd tip $10, unless they spend an extraordinary amount of time, then more). Write down the name of everything on your face, then go home and think about it for a day. If you still love it in the morning, go back and buy some.
posted by digitalis at 9:27 PM on September 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Bobbi Brown counter in Nordstrom's at Tysons. Their people are skilled and patient, and their stuff is good but expensive. So take all the good advice here about having a few goals in mind when you go, and giving them firm instructions about what you're there for.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:25 PM on September 23, 2006

(I think Nordstrom is at Tyson's. Might be Tyson's II?)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:25 PM on September 23, 2006

And probably a better idea to go in during the week, not fight the weekend crowds. Go when the salespeople will not be busy, so they can take their time. Go when the most experienced person on staff chooses to have her hours, which will probably not be during the crazy weekends.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:36 PM on September 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

digitalis writes "Write down the name of everything on your face, then go home and think about it for a day."

At MAC, they do the first part for you. They'll draw up a chart of your face, listing the products and where/how they go.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:19 AM on September 24, 2006

If you're still checking, I have a specific recommendation for the Laura Mercier counters at Nordstrom (I've been to the one at Pentagon City and the one at Tysons a few times, and all of the women that have helped me have been great and completely understood when I asked for subtle makeup). The guys who work at Blue Mercury in Dupont Circle also usually have excellent suggestions. I usually avoid MAC b/c the colors are far too highly pigmented for the subtle look that I'm going for. When I first started wearing makeup, I went to the first counter where I liked the look that the makeup artist herself had. I figured if she could pull off the subtle look on herself, then she'd be able to give me good suggestions for myself. This is still how I generally do it :-)
posted by echo0720 at 1:03 PM on September 24, 2006

echoo, use less. Seriously. If the pigmentation is too strong, you're overloading your brush. I've been able to get very subtle effects with MAC.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:55 PM on September 26, 2006

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