How to shop for makeup online


How to shop for makeup online

Shopping for makeup is fun – swatching all the colors, testing all the formulas, getting the sales associates at the counter to redo your face. But what about when you live in a retail dead zone and the makeup you want just isn’t anywhere nearby? I’m lucky enough to have a Sephora, a Macy’s and a Dillards in town, but some of the brands I like are only sold at department stores that have exactly zero locations in my entire state (seriously). That means I often have to turn to the internet for my beauty shopping, and I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way to keep me from ordering a bunch of stuff that I never use. Since the hardcore shopping season is almost upon us, here are some of the strategies I use.

Know your preferences

One of the big risks of ordering online is that you’ll buy something, excitedly tear open the box, try it on… and hate it. There’s always a chance that’ll happen, but you can minimize it by knowing which things you dislike or would be extra picky about. For example, I like to check out any face products with shimmer (blushes, highlighters, etc) in person to make sure they won’t do unfortunate things to my pores. Maybe you’re super choosy about warm-toned lipsticks, or have never tried green eyeshadow before – some real-life recon or at least heavy duty internet research might be in order before you hit submit on that online order.

Know your brands

Brands have personalities, or at least things that they generally do well. Knowing what those are and how you’re planning to use a particular product can steer you in the right direction. Looking for a soft natural look for the office? Laura Mercier and Burberry do that well. Something for a glam holiday function? Check out Dior or Tom Ford. Need something dramatic for a long night of partying? Urban Decay, NARS or Make Up For Ever might fit the bill. Now, of course you can’t pigeonhole each brand into a single type of look, but there are a lot of makeup options out there in the interwebs – having an idea of which brand excels at what you’re looking for can at least narrow things down a bit.

Not all photos are created equal

I think we’ve all had products where you look at it and think “that’s nothing like the photos!” Probably because getting accurate color reproduction on the web is somewhere between difficult and impossible – it’s affected by the photo’s lighting, the camera’s white balance, any Photoshop color correction, how the viewer’s monitor is calibrated, etc, etc. Even if you have perfectly-studio-lit photos viewed on perfectly-calibrated monitors, that’s still probably not the light you’re going to be seeing it in when you actually go to use it. So the moral of the story is, look at as many swatch photos as you can dig up. That can help give you a better idea of how something looks under different lighting and on different skin tones. You can find pictures of pretty much anything on Google Images. And if it’s a photo from a blog, you can always ask what lighting conditions the photos were taken in (for what it’s worth, most of mine are indoors using window light).

Reviews are your friends

I do reviews, so obviously I would say that, right? But it’s true, and actually one of the biggest reasons I like doing them. Retailers can only fit so much info on their product pages before things get cluttered, so they can’t cover every skin type/skintone/preference combination. Plus, ya know, of course they have an interest in making it sound like every product is totally perfect ;-) Hearing opinions from Jane Schmoe can usually give you a lot more detail about how the product is (color, wear time, what skin type it’s suited for, etc), especially if you happen to have things in common with Jane Schmoe. Google of course will help you find reviews about specific products, and there are a bunch of blogs that I follow (see the sidebar) because they talk about the types of things I’m interested in. You can also find great, if usually shorter, reviews in the ‘customer reviews’ section on lots of retailer webpages. And makeupalley (just go there).

Your internet friends are your friends

So reviews are great, but maybe you want some more one-on-one opinions? There are tons of really active makeup forums out there where everyone is just lurking in wait to tell you all about everything. Some of my favorites are on reddit, specktra and Sweet Makeup Temptations. People are usually more than willing to take swatch pictures, give reviews or tell you where to find things.

Pick the right store

And in case all your research fails – or you’re like me and addicted to trying out brand new stuff that has no reviews yet – you can always buy from a store with a generous return policy just in case. Sephora, for example, will take returns for any reason (as far as I know), Nordstrom has free shipping and returns all the time and Macy’s has great discounts as well, just visit and find out!

Don’t limit yourself to just big cosmetic/department stores either! I’ve gotten lots of good deals from and (they frequently have coupons), which are online-only stores. You can also check a brand’s website to see if there are any locations near you; Jouer, for example, doesn’t have any department store counters within a six-hour drive of me, but I recently discovered there’s a boutique that sells the line just about 45 minutes away.

What are your tips for buying online and getting it right the first time? The holidays are coming up, so I’m sure we can all use them!

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