THE BLOG
09/05/2013 10:49 pm ET Updated Nov 05, 2013

10 Things a Makeup Counter Salesperson Doesn't Want You to Know

TotalBeauty.com released this interesting, if not slightly humorous, online article back in April, 2011, and I've always wanted to comment but felt like I was betraying my coven (take that any way you wish). Now that I've been on the client side of the cosmetic counter for about five years, I've become disconnected enough to be impartial. I'm armed with vivid memories of what goes on from both sides of those enticing glass cases and can give you my straight opinion.

While the TotalBeauty article was primarily negative, it's important to know that there are some lovely people behind those counters -- and then there are what we (in the biz) call "sharks." Hopefully you find an environment to shop in that isn't infested.

1. Germs are everywhere.

Sorry. This one is totally true. As is the fact that not all people wash their hands (with soap) after they use the bathroom. Yuck. Witnessing customers use spit to wipe their makeup off their faces and hands also fueled my obsession with hand sanitizer.

Always remember that nothing is sacred. Every product that touches a person, whether directly or indirectly, is susceptible to bacteria. For example, once a customer uses a mascara, its contaminated. It doesn't matter if the next thirty people use wands. Possibly the most contaminated and used tester product is lip gloss. Never, ever put a tester on your lips -- even with a lip brush.

Still, the cosmetic counter isn't a reenactment of Outbreak. You can still enjoy your makeover.

Be the early bird. Schedule your appointments early, preferably the first appointment of the day. Most of the time, brushes will be thoroughly clean then. By rush time (normally around lunch time), artists get lazy or rushed and don't have time to clean their brushes thoroughly.

Bring your own products. If it's a brand you love, bring your own products (from the line you're trying) and brushes. Personally, I would encourage customers to bring their existing makeup and I would do "Standing Makeovers" -- quick tips and a few product suggestions to update their look. This is perfect if you just need a refresher or want to add a few seasonal items. You can even ask the artist to create a colored chart for you in place of applying the makeup directly to your face.

The exception to this rule is foundation. Most salespeople, however, should be gracious enough to allow you to bring a small sample home to try for a day. This would eliminate improper color matching (lighting in department stores is the worst).

Speak up. If the artist knows you're wary about germs, they will naturally make a few more concessions to make sure you're comfortable. And if you aren't comfortable, you are not obligated to sit through the entire makeover. Just be polite and don't make a scene.

Use your hands. If you want to see how the colors would look on your skin tone, apply swatches to your fingertips and hold them up to your face. This will give you a rough idea without anything touching your face.

2. You can get a refund on almost anything. But that doesn't mean you should. Just because stores are liberal with their return policies, doesn't mean you should feel free to take advantage and return everything. I've had customers return items that are scraped clean. Seriously? You didn't like it? Throw away the empty container and buy something else. If you are a chronic returner, here's the solution: get samples (see #8).

This doesn't mean a salesperson has the right to be rude to you. If your return falls in the store's guidelines (every store varies), expect service with a smile.

3. They play on your insecurities. Beware. In every profession, there are all kinds of people. In the cosmetic world, there are those who are too quiet, too aggressive and those who are just right. As a rule, a good product specialist will help you focus on the positive and allow you to point out your challenges.

Although you may encounter the salesperson who says "This will clear up your haggard, old, spotty skin." (Okay, maybe not in those exact words, but you may feel like that's what they're saying). Don't take it personally; just move on.

4. They make things up.They do. I've heard fellow associates say things so ridiculous they made me want to laugh and scold them at the same time. What's even scarier to me is that customers believe them. I've heard stories about ancient mushroom cures, deep sea water (although that one is true) and more.

Be smart. If it's too good to be true, it is. It's makeup, not magic (sorry). Except for maybe La Mer moisturizing cream...

5. They pretend to be something they're not. TotalBeauty is blatantly targeting Clinique. Yes, Clinique specialists wear clinical white jackets and give off a clinical appearance, but it's a smart way to brand themselves. Would you rather they come to work in their regular clothes? In every business, appearances matter and you can't fault a cosmetic company for wanting to put forth a certain image. Honestly, I'm more afraid of (and inspired by) some of the MAC looks that they force their artists to wear than a couple of white coats.

For the record, there are lots of estheticians who work in cosmetics. The money is better.

6. The free makeover is not free. It is for the customer, but keep in mind that makeup applications done outside the department store generally start at around $50. Associates are expected to reach daily sales goals and someone is paying them to sell so be courteous. Don't B.S. the artist and pretend like you need a "new look" when you're looking for a "new look right now." Most specialists/artists who don't work on commission don't mind doing a free makeover now and then, especially if you're a regular customer. At the Shu Uemura counter, a lot of regular clients would pop in for a quick lash application (Shu lashes of course) or touch ups before heading up to the bar. We were more than happy to oblige.

Proms: Don't be surprised if there is a small charge for applications or if there is a cut-off to how many appointments are accepted. During prom season, counters get slammed with appointments and it has often become necessary to set limits to how many are booked.

Weddings: If it's just you, that's fine. If you have bridesmaids, flower girls, mothers, etc., hire a makeup artist.

Like every other courtesy, don't take advantage. Be gracious and appreciative. Because, no, it's not the salespersons job to "do your makeup." They were hired to "sell you makeup." Bottom line.

7. They judge you based on the products you use. Now that I'm just a civilian in the cosmetic world, I'm astounded by how condescending cosmetics salespeople can be. To judge a person, period, is probably the worst way to get a good sale. Yes, they are there to sell you cosmetics, but conscientious associates will sell you the right products based on your needs, not based on what you are currently using or how you look.

8. They keep an eye out for sample grifters. Again, poor salesmanship. It's not like they are buying the samples themselves. And the percentage of clients who abuse this privilege are far less than the salespeople who use excessive sampling and unearned gifts with purchase (GWPs) to keep their customers. I recently went to the Macy's Shiseido counter (in Pearlridge Center) and wanted to try a small single dose sample of foundation. I specifically asked for "just enough for one application" and was flat out denied. The associate even went to ask the other associate (by whispering behind the counter) if it was okay. I was told the tester was small and would run out. (Insert flabbergasted and annoyed look here.)

So I went to Nordstrom (which is really good at giving you little samples to try) to buy it. True story.

9. They keep their mouths shut. I don't think any salesperson is going to accentuate the negatives about their products. If you have a specific concern about ingredients, I don't think they would knowingly lie to you (some will). Plus, just ask for the box and look at the ingredients. Have a question? Take out your smart phone and Google it, check out my blog Cosmetic Monster or write it down, go home and do some research. Be a smart consumer. Not just with cosmetics, but with everything.

10. They talk about you behind your back. Totally. Believe it or not, just as there are some bad salespeople, there is such a thing as a difficult and sometimes infuriating customer. Its normal to vent about an event that frustrated or entertained you at work. It's fueled by after hour cocktails or lunch room conversation. It should never be done in front of other clients. Ever.

Be careful what you do and say at the counter. It may not be the most professional conduct, but it's not like salespeople are bound by client privilege.