…or “Why I, Cosmetic Salesperson and Respected Beauty Authority, am a Lying Liar who Tells Lies.”
Oooooh, a Henry Rollins reference! I’m timely as well as TOTES EDGY! Actually, I’m late for work, and this is the best I could do on short notice.
As a makeup artist who also works in retail, I have a lot of handy tips and tricks up my sleeve. My blogging background makes me want to share my secrets with everyone all the time, but the delicate politics of the store environment drives me to certain types of deceit. Here’s a look at what your makeup artist isn’t telling you:
1. Makeup is not magic.
I can’t tell you how many times a person has come up to me and described what they want, and it’s a product that does not exist. “I want a powder, that goes on evenly and doesn’t look dry and cakey (I have super dry skin). I don’t want it to get into my pores or break me out. I want it to be full coverage but look completely natural like bare skin. It needs to be quick and easy to apply and I don’t want to have to buy a brush. I also need it to be the sort of thing that you don’t have to wash off every night, because I don’t wash my face. I need a powder product that won’t show my wrinkles at all. If it could not be too dark, nor too light, that would be great, because I’m planning on going tanning. I want to look like the lady in the (photoshopped) picture, and I want to do it with ONE product…” I could go on.
The thing about makeup is that it is not magic. To look like the lady in the picture you’d need an arsenal of products before anybody even boots up Photoshop: primers, brushes, blending sponges, creams, powders, concealers, highlighters- and that’s not even mentioning that the subject of the photo, typically a model or actress, likely has the best and most thorough skincare regimen that money can buy (notice that I’m sidestepping the “good genes” argument, because I’ve worked on a few famous faces so I know that not only is it complete bunk, but it strips the agency away from people who would like to do the work necessary to improving their skin. Improvement is possible with the right tools, so people should not just give up and cover up because their cursed stars saddled them with so-called “bad genes.”). People in my stores hate to hear the truth: that makeup is 80% skincare. What your skin is like underneath the makeup informs everything about the finished product. If you’ve got things you’d like to cover up, you’d be better served spending the majority of your effort and budget on corrective skincare.
Also I am sick, sick to my very soul, of putting foundation on people who don’t do the bare minimum for their faces but expect nothing short of Photoshop magic from their makeup. It’s an exhausting, frustrating waste of time that always ends in me getting insulted and the customer leaving unhappy. And it’s a little bit gross:
So, I touch people’s faces a lot- A LOT. Think for a moment about what you expect a face to feel like: Soft, mostly hairless, fleshy, right? Well, what if I told you that, while striping someone for a foundation match, running my finger along a mug that’s covered in dead skin cells, yesterday’s makeup still visible, and is bone-dry from lack of moisturizer, what if I told you that- expecting velvety face-feel, it instead felt like the elephantine skin of an elbow? An ashy leg with shaving stubble? The palm of a rough, chapped, hardworking hand? I’m not trying to shame anyone, I’m not trying to say, “your skin is bad and you should feel bad!” but it’s really gross, dudes. If you can’t be arsed to wash your face and apply a little moisturizer, you probably shouldn’t be wearing makeup in the first place. Have you seen what’s in makeup? You don’t want to leave that stuff on all the time!
Aside from offending my delicate hands’ sensibilities, what do you expect the makeup to do, when it makes contact with a parched surface of months of piled-up dead skin cells? It sticks in gross, cakey patches that emphasize everything that’s not going well with the skin. Not a good look. What do you think the customer’s reaction to this is? To blame the makeup. To make me try another. And another. And another. And another. Nothing looks right. Nothing is ever going to look right. When I tell the client what the real problem is (bodies are weird! Skin is weird!) and how to fix it (exfoliate and moisturize!), they usually get mad and storm out of the store. It sucks to be me sometimes. So, often I lie. I just keep my tips to myself and try to talk the client into thinking one of the foundations we tried looks good. Or I’ll try to sell them a tinted moisturizer or BB cream so they’ll at least have *some* moisture.
In short: I do people a disservice every day, because they won’t let me help them in any meaningful way.
2. We layer our mascaras.
When clients come into the store and ask me what mascara I have on, I respond with a lie 90% of the time. Not because I’m trying to mislead, but because if I tell the truth, that I’m wearing THREE mascaras, the reaction will not be positive. People will: a) look at me incredulously as if THAT is the lie and that I’m trying to sell them more products; b) get a glazed, defeated look because they’re tired of the best-looking makeup being the most labor-intensive; c) throw me a jealous, disgusted look as if I’m a ridiculous and decadent moron- the Sultan of Sephora (or wherever) diving into a vault of cosmetics like Scrooge McDuck (they are not wrong). Yeah, OK, so I get some stuff for free, big whoop?* What am I gonna do, NOT use it? Anyway, I learned early on in my career that all the best makeup artists layer mascara to get editorial-worthy results, so I’ve been doing it since I was still on a drugstore budget. Try it, you’ll like it. We all do it. I do not work with one single person who uses one mascara at a time.
The recipe, this week at least, is: Dior maximizer (always), followed by Dior New Look, finished off with Lancome Hypnose Star.
* know that the glamorousness of my free makeup swag swagger is heavily tempered by all the times I’ve had to pick up people’s used tissues and earwax-sodden cotton swabs from around the store.
3. A good cat eye starts with pencil liner.
Noticing a theme yet? That more products = professional makeup artist results. Sad but true. I’ve had so many customers in stores ask if a product is really necessary, and, before I can respond, launch into a tirade accusing brands of just making up products that people do not need just to make money. This is true of many industries, I suppose, but I respect the makeup industry because it is largely free of bloat, even if it doesn’t appear that way to the casual observer.
The cateye is enigmatic due to its graphic simplicity, but anyone who’s attempted it knows that it’s much more difficult than it looks. The inherent difficulty is compounded by the widespread notion that it is a one-product operation. Not so. Most liquid eyeliners crack and separate when applied too heavily, but to get lashline-hugging accuracy with no pesky gaps, you would have to pass a liquid liner over the lashline several times. Which is why easy-to-apply pencil liner is the foundation to a successful cateye. It is also naturally more opaque than the liquid, and a deeper black is what you want when doing a cateye.
Do I tell all of my clients this? Not always. I can tell when a person will be quick to accuse me of “upselling” them or padding out their basket, so I keep this bit of information to myself. Isn’t that crazy? That in today’s consumer marketplace I have to lie to appear more genuine? Awful. Only the hardcore few who I know won’t be daunted get the full disclosure: eyeshadow primer, light dusting of powder, black eyeliner pencil on the lashline, finish with a swoop of black liquid- and there you have the perfect cateye eyeliner.
4. You don’t need full coverage foundation.
In all my years, I’ve helped only a handful women who actually needed full coverage foundation, but I’ve sold it to countless hundreds who swore they needed it, that their skin was so awful, and wouldn’t hear a good thing about themselves otherwise. For 90% of women, a medium-coverage foundation and a little concealer is all it takes to get a natural-looking, flawless face. Heavier foundation looks awkward and masklike when it’s unnecessary. But this isn’t really about the foundation, but about an underlying ugliness that beauty professionals are singularly privy to.
Women sometimes make hating on themselves look like a competitive sport. If I’m advising a group of women (in the retail environment, this is a service known as “giving a summit”) about something, and one starts in on herself, the others will invariably chime in trying to one-up each other in the self-deprecation department. A lot of them try to make it funny, but the attitude is so pervasive that it serves up nothing but Sads.
Take, for example, the oft-encountered scenario of a mother bringing her daughter in for her first foundation. It’s perfunctory to ask, “how much coverage do you want: light, medium, or full?” and the young girl (typically with flawless skin) grins the uncomfortable grin of someone put on the spot and playacting in a way they feel they’re supposed to perform in a given situation and answers “full coverage.” She knows she doesn’t need it (which is why she never pushes back when I suggest it’s not necessary), but she does know she’s supposed to flagellate herself upon the altar of beauty, to come to this holy place and admit that she is flawed, and to ask humbly that we should help her to shroud her hideousness… Not really, but sort of. Some women are taught to believe that accepting the good things about the way we look is to be boastful at worst (see also: the “so you think you’re really pretty” exchange between Caty and Regina in Mean Girls) or insufficiently modest at best (modesty being one of the most classically revered “feminine” traits).
There are a lot of people who believe that the beauty industry is somehow at odds with feminism, but even the most oblivious of makeup girls has had to stare this particular pathology in the face often enough to know that Something is Not Right Here. This knee-jerk self-hate at the makeup counter is a direct result of internalized misogyny and it is SO fucked up, and I am SO tired of it. Contrary to popular belief, to the people in the industry, the beauty industry is not about hating yourself or anyone else. It’s about playing up your best attributes and downplaying the things you’re not so fond of if possible, and doing it for yourself. I’m not going to come out and say makeup is empowering, but if used correctly it can be a patch. I’d like to do my part by every day encouraging those who would dog themselves to get real, and to look at makeup not as something that’s going to solve some “problem,” but as their way of taking back a little control of the narrative. I’ve taught women to use makeup to cover scars and birthmarks that held bad memories and came to define their self-image in a negative way. A little paint can turn a negative into a positive sometimes. I always want to end up on the side of positivity, but sometimes customers have to meet me halfway.
The whole thing is so exhausting, though, and cutting through somebody’s body dysmorphia and self-hate just to sell them the correct thing is pretty time-consuming. My time literally is money, I have astronomical goals to make in 4 hours or less, so typically I do not argue with flawless young people who want full-coverage. I shade match it and sell it and move on. :(
5. You do need a lipliner.
After I’ve spent the 20-to-30 minutes that it takes to help a client select her perfect red lipstick (it’s a lengthy process of removing lip product, sanitizing testers, trying on, removing, trying again…) I am invariably hit with the same question, “Do I need a lipliner with this?” Usually I cop to it, but there are inevitably times when I cave in to the temptation to lie. Yeah, if you’re going to wear red, or any color that’s far from your natural lip tone, you’ll need a liner to increase staying power and to keep the whole operation looking tidy.
So, why would I omit this information? You don’t have to be an expert to know what good lipstick is, all you have to do is try a few on and you’ll be well-versed in how to spot quality. I show high-end product (Dior, Givenchy, YSL, Hourglass) to any client who comes to me for lipstick, regardless of whether I think they’ll want to spend $30 on a tiny tube. Because every woman comes into the cosmetics store looking for the best thing, and I’m not going to show them what I know to be the best. When compared to the lower-end stuff (the price is usually only $5 different), there is a clear winner. They want that Dior red #999, because of course they do. It’s the best. But, in the end, I’ve just made some 18-year-old fall in love with a $30 lipstick and she only has a $50 gift card, but still needs to get her foundation, too. Am I going to tell her that in order to keep *my* lipstick looking supple and flawless, I’ve got a layer of balm ($23), waterproofing eyeshadow primer ($24), lip liner ($18) AND the aforementioned too-expensive luxury lipstick? Not always. I’m pretty good at reading people, and if I think she’ll back out of buying the lipstick if she knows the whole story, I’ll keep it to myself.
Not for the reasons you may think. I’m not trying to salvage a sale, I’m trying to salvage excitement. If she puts the pricier lipstick down and settles for store brand, she’s not going to be nearly as happy. She may not be satisfied with the shade, and it’s not going to wear as well. She won’t reach for it as often, it has significantly less chance of becoming a signature part of her personal style, which is what every woman secretly wants when choosing a lipstick. They want a color they can recommend glowingly to a friend. They want to pass the shade down to their daughter or little sister when she’s old enough. This is something that she’ll never get by compromising, and, as lofty as the dream is, it’s too often crashed by the mere mention of a $12 lipliner. So I let it go. Because she may have needed my eye and my years of experience to narrow down 2,000 SKUs to find her perfect shade, but the lipliner is something she can figure out on her own.
6. We like the way you look
Often, but not always, I break the ice with a customer by paying her a compliment. Usually I comment on hair, jewelry, shoes, and bags. Then later, during the consultation, I’ll compliment something more personal like eye color or skin or something. I enjoy boosting people’s confidence and maybe making their day a little brighter. This is not a sales tactic. That would be deeply cynical. This is a hard industry, but I still try to be 100% genuine whenever possible. I may say things about products that aren’t true (usually lies by omission, not telling a client the product she professes to LOVE is garbage), but I don’t say things about people that aren’t true. I couldn’t do this job if I didn’t see beauty in every one of my clients. Also, as I mentioned above in the foundation segment, a lot of clients think that dogging themselves is either paying us salesfolk a complement or building some kind of feminine camaraderie. I say FUNK DAT! Putting yourself down is not cool. Comparing yourself to Photoshopped images and surgically-enhanced starlets is not cool. I left a stable, better-paying REAL job with benefits to work in a highly unstable, nearly perk-free job because I love it. I’m good at it. I love using my very expensive, hard-won knowledge to help real women like me. Cut yourself some slack and cut me some slack. You’re beautiful. Shaddup!
7. Green-tinted primer/concealer is a gimmick
I hate green primer. It’s overpriced, overhyped, useless and stupid. In all my years, I’ve only seen green primer work on 3 people. The rest either didn’t need it or were visibly disfigured by the stuff. Unless you’re shooting a movie or a spread for a fashion mag under extremely unforgiving lighting, you do not need that green primer. All it does is make people with ruddy skin look sallow and jaundiced in person. Instead, up your skincare game with anti-inflammatory products, curb your bad habits (smoking, picking, scrubbing your skin to death), and get a better coverage foundation or help the one you have along with some concealer.
8. Don’t open that box
Just because you are in a store shopping and intending to spend your hard-earned money does not give you the right to investigate live products in the store. What, you ask, is a “live product?” It’s the thing inside the box that is for sale that is not the tester. The tester is for investigating, the boxed product is not. I totally buy your story that one time you bought something and took it home and the wrong thing was inside the box. I don’t doubt you. BUT, if you need to look inside the box, ask an associate to do it for you while you watch. Why? Not only so we can guarantee that you won’t use the live product as a tester (I’ve seen it! Hundreds of times! Thinking of that one eyeliner you bought that gave you pinkeye that time? Yeah, that’s because some shit-assed 16-year-old opened the box and jabbed it all up in her filthy mucus membranes. Thinking of that mascara you bought that was already dried out? Not a factory error. Instead, the error of some box-opening douchebag who opened the mascara, got air in it, and put it back on the shelf), but also because you will probably tear the box.
Associates know those little suckers well. We know how to open them with minimal-to-no damage. We know which end the seal is on. If you rip the seal, I will rip on you in the break room. Oh, and don’t think I didn’t see you rip one box open, check it, then put the ripped box back on the shelf and put the pristine one behind it in your basket. All because you couldn’t be arsed to read the shad name on the tester or the shelf. Dick. You know what happens to those ripped boxes? They get damaged out, thrown away. When you open, and subsequently tear, boxes of live product you might as well just shoplift it. That’s right, put it in your purse. We can’t sell product that has been visibly tampered with, so what you’re doing is as good as stealing. And then there’s the fact that you’re making a mess that we have to clean up and there are at least three sets of paperwork that have to be filled out for in-store damages. You are creating huge amounts of work and huge monetary losses for the store, which all could have been avoided if you just asked for help. Have some damn respect, and check your consumer entitlement at the door.
Also: next time you want to complain about the steadily rising cost of the cosmetics you buy, why don’t you do a mental inventory of all the ripped boxes you put on the shelf and the things you bought without trying that you had to return. All part of the cost of doing business!
9. That color doesn’t look good on you
If you’re the lady with the blue eyes and the fair skin with the aqua-colored eyeliner looking for a new shade of turquoise or cerulean and your salesgirl, for some reason, keeps suggesting a slate or brown or copper eyeliner, maybe you should take the hint. Maybe. We as salesbots cannot come right out and tell you that something looks bad on you, but take it from me: cartoon-colored liner with no other makeup and sure as shit no mascara is a terrible look. Earth tones are boring, sure, but there’s a learning curve to using bright colors. We will gladly sit you down and show you how, after we’ve shown you the most flattering day look for your coloring. Don’t take it as an insult, all things are possible in makeup and we want to help.
10. If I’m not offering you help, it could be because you’re beyond help.
If you’re looking at Clinique, Origins, or Bare Minerals and nobody is offering to help you, it’s because we all think/know you’re a lost cause. Not only are people who are into these brands cultishly, slavishly devoted to these brands, but they are also smug dicks about it. 90% of the time, and offer of assistance is met with a pitying smirk and a haughty, “oh no, honey, I think I’ve got it.” What these ladies don’t know is that these three brands are among the most universally reviled in the cosmetics industry. People who know about ingredients, efficacy and how to read labels, in short people who generally know what they’re talking about, know these brands to be overhyped, overpriced, and substandard to nearly everything else in the store. Each of these lines has maybe 3 decent products, but still nothing that any self-respecting artist would use as her first choice. So bravo, hunnnnyyyyyy, for having a shitty attitude to go with your shitty taste in cosmetics. Good luck getting someone to help you with a gratis eyebrow tutorial.