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Makeup Counter Etiquette: Tips From a Pro

Updated on February 3, 2009

Makeup Counter Etiquette

As a makeup artist who has been in the business for over 12 years, I have worked at my share of cosmetics counters (before being able to work as an independent contractor), and I have an immense amount of first-hand experience in what goes on at the counter. 

Since I need to maintain a well-stocked makeup kit I'm a frequent makeup shopper myself, and I've learned over the years how to navigate through the sometimes stressful world of makeup counters.

There is NO excuse for poor customer service--and cosmetics counters are notorious for this--but there are also many things a customer can do to ensure that they have a smooth transaction, get the help they need, and make the entire experience as pleasant as possible for themselves as well as the other customers.


Don't be intimidated by the makeup artists.

The makeup artists at cosmetics counters can sometimes be intimidating, especially when they're wearing as much makeup as a circus performer.  Keep in mind that they are advertising the products by wearing eye-catching colors.
The makeup artists at cosmetics counters can sometimes be intimidating, especially when they're wearing as much makeup as a circus performer. Keep in mind that they are advertising the products by wearing eye-catching colors.

Approaching the counter

Customers in a hurry often rush up to the counter and demand service without realizing there is a line, or ask for help from an artist who is already helping someone. To avoid these situations and other awkward moments, consider the following tips:

  • Take a look around first and asses the situation. Is there a line of women waiting to be helped? Does there seem to be a designated area to wait for assistance?
  • If an artist is busy doing someone's makeup, ask someone else for help. If no one else is available, expect to wait a few moments. Remember: customers are usually helped on a first-come-first served basis.
  • Don't be on your cell phone. This sends mixed signals. A salesperson may hesitate to assist you if you are talking on the phone because they don't know if they should interrupt your conversation or not.
  • Be patient. Makeup counters are often under-staffed, especially in today's economic situation.
  • Be polite. Yelling, "Can I get some help over here?!" is not going to get you the best service. If the salesperson has not noticed you (or acknowledged you), let them know you are waiting by saying, "Excuse me. . ."

If you honestly feel the makeup artists are ignoring you, helping other customers before you, or are being rude and unhelpful, do not be afraid to complain. If you don't feel comfortable asking for a manager right then, you can call the counter (or store) at a later date or write a letter. Poor customer service is unacceptable, and most counter managers want to know if their employees are driving customers away. Making them aware of the situation will most likely prompt them to take steps to resolve the problem by speaking to the person(s) involved or addressing customer service as an employee meeting. Remember: YOU are the customer; they should be making your visit a pleasant one.

Common sense tips

Here are a few more helpful tips that seem like "common sense" to those who work in cosmetics, but that the average customer may not know:

  • Only use testers on the back of your hand. Testers are sitting out for anyone to touch and are NOT sanitary. NEVER try a lipstick directly on your lips, or stick your bare finger into an eyeshadow. There are usually cotton swabs on hand to test product colors without touching them, and most counters will disinfect a lipstick for you or give you a clean gloss wand if you want to try something on. Always ask for assistance. If an (obiously untrained) salesperson offers to let youtry on a tester that has not been cleaned, always refuse.
  • Your colors WILL be discontinued.  It's inevitable.  Cosmetic companies change their colors with the seasons and are constantly discontinuing outdated items.  So if you fall in love with a color, buy two!   
  • Keep an eye on your kids. If you bring children to the counter, watch them closely! I have seen children stick fingers into entire rows of $70 blushes and ruin them, or bite the ends off of dirty tester lipsticks. If you choose to bring them with you, please make sure your kids don't destroy the counter while you are trying products on.
  • Keep an eye on your valuables. Women who are shopping or getting their makeup done are distracted, and unfortunately petty thieves have noticed this. Keep your purse on your shoulder rather than draping it over the arm of the makeup chair, and do not leave your other shopping bags unattended. I have dealt with many situations in which women lose their belongings this way.
  • NEVER step behind the counter or "help yourself" by pulling stock off of shelves that behind the counter (pulling product off of "open" units that are set out in the customer area is OK). Pay attention to which areas are only being used by staff and which are intended for customers. This is important because in most stores it is considered a security voilation for customers to enter restricted areas because you may unintentionally appear to be shoplifting.and you want to avoid any unecessary run-ins with the store security.
  • Be reasonable. If it's the holiday season and there is a line of 20 people waiting to be helped, the makeup artist is not going to be able to help you for long or give you her (or his) full attention. If you know you'll be needing plenty of help (and time), shop during less busy hours. Afternoons during the week are usually slow, and the artists will be able to give you more personal attention.
  • Remember: cosmetics counter workers are people too. Keep in mind that the person helping you may be at the end of an eight hour shift and her feet are probably killing her, or she may be starving and waiting for a co-worker to relieve her so she can take her lunch break. Makeup artists are human, and there will be times when they need to step away form the counter or hand you over to someone else.
  • Have fun! Relax and allow yourself to be pampered a bit. Sit down and try on a new lipstick or say yes to a hand massage using the latest cream while you chat with the gals at the counter. Deciding on cosmetic products can be difficult, but it doesn't have to be a chore.


Making sure you get what you want

Once you have the assistance of a makeup artist, be sure you communicate clearly so that you get what you want.  It helps if you've done your homework and know a bit about cosmetics and what you want before you shop, but even if you're a makeup novice you can be sure to get what you want by asking the right questions and giving the artist enough information about yourself to help them suggest products that will work best for you.  Here are my tips:

  • Have a list ready.  It's easy to get off track when you're standing in front of 150 eyeshadow colors, so write a list beforehand to keep you focused and what you came for.
  • Tell the artist about your skin.  Your skin is the canvas for your makeup, so everything depends on finding products that will work with your individual needs.  You may love a creamy eyeshadow color, but if you have oily skin it will end up running and creasing.  Telling the artist about your skin and it's unique character will help them steer you toward products that will wear well on you. 
  • Tell the artist a little about your lifestyle.  Are you a busy mom with only five minutes for makeup in the morning?  Or are you a makeup aficianado with drawers full of the latest product, who spends a good hour or so in front of the mirror?  This information will help quide the artist to show you products to suit your needs. 
  • Give your opinion.  If the artist tries a lipstick on you and you absolutely hate it, don't say, "it's nice," if you don't mean it. Now is not the time to keep your opinions to yourself.  Making your likes and dislikes clear will make the color selection process easier and faster. 
  • Ask questions.  The last thing you want is to get home and forget how to use the products, or to find out a product contains an ingredient you know you are allergic to, so don't be afraid to ask questions while you're at the counter.  And if the artist doesn't seem to know the answer, ask her if there is someone else she can ask who does.
  • If you're not sure, don't buy.  Are you unhappy with what the artist has demonsrated for you?  Do you feel that your questions have not been answered adequately?  If so, don't buy anything.  Don't feel pressured to purchase just because the artist has spent time helping you; if you haven't found anything that works for you than don't buy anything.  Come back later and have someone else assist you, or try another makeup line. 

Lastly, don't be afraid to ask for samples!  Most counters have a supply of samples just waiting to be given away.  And if there are no pre-made samples available the artist can often make one for you using tester product and tiny cosmetic containers. So, if you're unsure about the foundation or perfume you've tried on, don't buy it yet.  Instead, ask for a sample and try it out at home for a few days to see if it works for you.   

Knowing when to walk away

Ok, so you found what you came for, have had all of your makeup questions answered, and maybe even have a few samples to take with you.  Now you need to know when to walk away, because the ladies and guys) behind the counter have been trained to try to keep selling you more.  They have personal sales goals, counter goals, and commission to make (even the cosmetic lines that don't pay employees commission still give them a sales goal). They are also going to push you to buy the latest product, and will usualy do this whether or not it is something that will work for you. 

For example, while I was working for one well-known cosmetics line we were all asked to show every single customer a specific set of eyeshadows because they were new, regardless of whether the colors were flattering for them.  This is called "pushing" a product, and is a technique also used to clear out overstocked product. 

So if you came for a foundation and ended up having a salesgirl cover your eyes in glittery lime green shadow and then proceed to gush about how the color is "perfect" on you, just say no.  If there is a product that you like and everyone at the counter is telling you looks great but you're just not sure about, wait on it and then get the opinion of a respected friend whose taste you trust. Don't purchase comulsively.  Otherwise you could end up with a bagful of products you'll never use, and a possible trip back to the counter to return them.   Pay for what you came for and then walk away.

Still don't want to brave the counters? Shop online!


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    • profile image

      EPRO makeup & fashion school 

      9 years ago

      We absolutely love this article! So great of you to share your wisdome- we encourage all of our students and alumni to do the same- and if anyone is holding a dream of becoming a professional makeup artist, but just don´t have a professional school near by or can´t go class everyday due to work and/or family- don´t worry, we have designed a certificate program especially with you in mind:

      keep up the great work!

      Much Love,

      Tove Epro

    • profile image

      makeup fashion 

      10 years ago

      nice hub.. I like it very much.. very informative. thank you.. keep it up..

    • profile image

      Lisa Vaughn 

      10 years ago

      Dear Cosmetic Manager/Corporate Offices,

      My name is Lisa Vaughn and I am the Distribution Manager for the Tri-State

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      Lisa Vaughn

      Distribution Manager

      Lasting Beauty,LLC

      11 Wickham Avenue-Ste. 2

      Middletown, N.Y. 10940

      T: (845) 956-1244

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Thank you for pointing out that colors WILL probably be discontinued. I'm a makeup artist and it is very frustrating when clients come to find a discontinued color and feel like it is my fault that I don't have it. If I had it, I would sell it to them. Good tips to make every transaction smooth!


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