Every day, it seems, new beauty products appear on the market, advertised to women as the newest! greatest! thing! they could ever apply to their face or body. Add to that ever-evolving high-tech ingredients, constantly changing trends and the fact that your skin just doesn't behave the way it did six months ago, and you'd have to spend eight hours a day researching your next eye cream to keep up with it all.
So what's the average girl to do when confronted with apparently infinite choices in makeup, skin-care and body-care products? (Other than reading her favourite magazines and websites, of course.) Enter the experts at the beauty counter.
Get free advice from the pros
You may not be able to research and play with the latest beauty products full-time, but the men and women working at beauty counters in department stores and retail locations do -- after all, that's how they make their living. "M.A.C artists are in a constant state of being trained," says Melissa Gibson, senior artist for M.A.C Cosmetics. "Customers are savvy and have expectations when they come into a store or counter. They want to know what is happening in the world of makeup and we like to make sure that we are on top of the trends."
And you may find that the staff know more than just skin care -- at some counters, you'll find expert lifestyle advice as well. At Origins, for instance, they educate beauty counter staff on more than just their products, says Therese DeBelder, executive director of Origins Global Education. "We also dedicate time on subjects like how to lead a healthy lifestyle, the principles of Dr. Andrew Weil, stress reduction and the use of essential oils," she says.
What you can get at the beauty counter
Services offered vary from brand to brand, but you'll usually be able to get tips on makeup application, advice on skin care for your type of skin, product suggestions, and even samples in some locations. Make sure to inquire at the counters of brands you're interested in to see what they offer.
At M.A.C counters, the three primary services are demos, applications and lessons. A demo is a quick application of one product -- for instance, says Gibson, an artist may show a customer how to apply a particular lipstick. An application, which must be prebooked for a small fee, lasts about an hour and, says Gibson, "is great for someone going to a special event such as a wedding, prom or charity event." A lesson, which lasts about 90 minutes, is more thorough and gives customers the chance to practise applying the product themselves. "Many times the artist will do one side of the face and get the customer to apply the product on the other side," says Gibson. "This is a great way to learn professional techniques that are suited to the individual."
Origins offers a number of complimentary services more oriented toward wellness, which last from 20 to 40 minutes and focus on specific lifestyle-related issues such as stress, lack of sleep or low energy and include a head massage and hand and arm massage. "These services help the guides to address a lifestyle challenge of the customer that affects her or his total well-being," says DeBelder, adding that the services allow customers to feel different products being used on their skin.
Do you have to buy?
At Origins, they try not to push products on customers. "We know very well that a customer who feels obliged to buy more products than he or she wants will never want to come back to the store anyway," says DeBelder. That being said, if you're spending a lot of time at a particular counter trying samples, and you obviously like the products, then the next step is generally to buy some to take home with you. "Usually if you are having an application or lesson there is more of an expectation to buy," says Gibson, adding, though, that M.A.C salespeople do not work on commission and that the most important thing is to find staff that you like and feel comfortable talking to. "My theory is that no matter where you shop, make sure you are being serviced by an artist first and a salesperson second," she says.
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Dos and don'ts at the beauty counter
Here are some dos and don'ts for getting the most out of your beauty counter experience.
DO be specific about what you're looking for. "Let the consultant know your likes and dislikes," says Gibson. "Let them know what you're looking for and if it's for something specific like an event or to match a certain colour."
DO ask a lot of questions. "Ask as many questions as you can so that you feel like you are with someone that is looking out for your needs and not just selling the latest item," says Gibson. DeBelder agrees. "If you want to buy the right cream or foundation for your skin," she says, "I recommend that you take the time to talk to the guide and offer as much information as is needed."
DON'T be afraid to state your opinion. "It is definitely more difficult if you have a customer who wants to leave all the decisions up to the artist," says Gibson.
DO make an appointment. Beauty counters can get busy, and the only way to ensure staff have enough time to focus on you is if you book them in advance. If you must visit at the last minute and need custom advice, try to visit during slow periods -- that means not showing up at lunchtime, after work or on Saturday afternoon.
DO make sure you know how to use the products you buy. "I think it is very important that customers inquire about the right usage of the products," says DeBelder. "Customers sometimes forget the order and frequency of usage of a product or they apply the product in a very wrong place."
DON'T buy a product you're not crazy about. "If you don't love what has been suggested," says Gibson, "then keep looking!"
DO have fun and keep an open mind. The ideal customer, says Gibson, is "anyone who is open to suggestion and works with the artist to make sure they get what they want. Makeup is fun," she adds, "and artists love when customers feel the same way!"
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