Scared of the Cosmetic Counter?

Reader Jess commented on the Illamasqua video I posted, and said:

I need to shake up my makeup! I always feel a bit scared of the counter and everyone has such dramatic make up I feel too much like a wall flower to go there
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Jess is not alone – I am a hardened make up counter visitee, so very few counters intimidate me. However, many, many women are intimidated by counters – my mother point blank refused to go to the Creme De La Mer counter for my Christmas present and many of my friends grab my arm when we wonder through the make up floor in Harvey Nichols in a ‘can we go now’ gesture.

Here are the top few reasons why people hate going to make up counters:

1. Scary looking staff

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Looking like a scary transvestite-monster-beast thing when you work on a make up counter can be somewhat counter productive. Its either that or a luminous orange beast with long scary fake lashes in a white overcoat…you get my drift.

My less beauty obsessed friends find it (I quote) “scary” and “dodgy”. Just because you work in make up doesn’t mean you should slap in fifty thick layers and a sprinkle of glitter on top for the sake of it. It frightens me, it definitely will frighten your average woman who just wants a nice lipstick and blush and it gives small children nightmares.

Of course, make up artists are there to make things creative and innovative, but it should always be pretty or sexy as well, right? Dramatic-Pretty. Glittery-Pretty. Not just Dramatic-Terrifying-Is that a woman or not?

2. Rude staff

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Appearances aside, rude staff make buying things quite difficult. Rude staff are usually quite ignorant and have better things to do, like talk to their colleagues and try to push you out of the way so they can rearrange the displays.

I have met all kinds of nutty staff in my time and there is really no guarantee that just because you had a nice experience on one counter or with on member of staff that you will always get the same level of service on other counters. If anything I find it quite inconsistent – I have yet to find a brand that I think has amazing staff regardless of the counter you go to – that’s my truthful experience.

My favourite experience was with an Estee Lauder lady who refused to refund a bronzer which had a built in brush that leaked like mad. I took it in to show her and she wouldn’t have it even though when she clicked it shut, there was a fine cloud of brown particles floating in the air. Eventually she changed it but there is always that moment when you wonder if you look like a mad woman, and you other half has backed out so much that he’s halfway towards the car park, trying to disassociate himself with you.

3. The Hard sell

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When I was a child, I went to Hong Kong with my mother where I cooed over an Ulitma II lipstick in a beige (I was only about 14).

Within seconds, a number of vultures had swarmed about my mother and her pasty flesh, ready to make a killing. They got about £250 smackers from her, and if you think thats a lot now, think how much it was back then. Although I think make up counters are much better than they used to be with the hard sell, there are still instances of where you are made to feel awful if you don’t buy a number of items.

My last worst experience was on Trish McEvoy, where the lady was a little older and tried to make me buy a bag for and some eyeshadows when all I wanted was a plastic case for storing some Shu Uemura eyeshadows. I kept telling her all I wanted was the case and she kept insisting I take the pink zip up case with it and it was the last one in stock. In the end I had had enough and walked away buying nothing.

Have I ever been back to Trish? Nope.

4. Horrid makeovers

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I have perched my butt on many make up chairs and if I don’t look like coco the clown at the end of it, I am normally quite grateful.

Heavy handed SA’s, that gritted smile you give at the end – its not easy having someone paint on your face. I always have faith when an SA is enthusiastic but I really have had some scary make overs, which result in my rubbing everything off liked a crazed monkey once I have left the building.

Here’s a tip – don’t have a impromptu makeover first thing in the morning when you are going to spend all day shopping; don’t do it before a big do, and don’t do it before a date, or on your lunchbreak at work unless you have 1. make up remover wipes handy and 2. a little make up bag to re-do your maquillage.

So that’s the bad stuff. Here are some tips for coping on make up counters if you find it all traumatic….

5 Tips for coping on make up counters

1. Know thyself

Not all SA’s are monsters of course, but it is always good to know what you want from the end of the session and know your budget, and what you don’t want on your face.

If you say to the SA, I absolutely, positively do not want grey eyeshadow on because it reminds me of the fur of my dead rabbit, but they use it anyway, clearly they don’t deserve to make a sale.

Also don’t be afraid to question the SA/MUA if you are not sure if they are talking rubbish. I was unsure of a foundation I bought but the SA argued with me that it was the right colour – it really wasn’t and I had to fight for a refund. I have also been sold numerous things as Limited Edition when they weren’t – my point is that you are always free to check up on things when unsure. Taking a friend helps, an honest one who can be bought for the price of a cappuccino.

2. Take a photo

If you have a look in mind, take it in to show the SA/MUA. They may make a disaster out of it, but at least you had some kind of guidelines, and you will know not to ask them to do your bridal look.

3. Buy only what you want to

If you are happy with the make over, buying say a lipstick is usually polite. If you want to buy more then that’s great but don’t feel pressured too. It’s a horrid feeling to feel like you have been forced into buying something and in the UK its near impossible to return a cosmetic item just because you’ve changed your mind.

I have been here and ended up spending much more than I wanted too because the SA ended up telling me how vile my skin was and how much I needed this expensive skincare (I won’t say which brand, but you would be surprised, it’s not one of the ones I usually moan about).

Be firm if you need to be, it really is your own hard earned money (or it may not be, in which case, spend away!).

4. Take a break

After your makeover, you can always go for a walk, take a look outside or ask a friend before deciding. Especially with foundation; only very recently I bought one what was WAY to white for me because I didn’t go outside to check. Take a nice long walk and tell the SA you will be back once you’ve had a think about it.

5. Get a feel for the brand and the SA’s

Every counter is different and there are good and bad SA’s on every one. It could be a good idea to visit counters that emulate a look or feel you like and if you are finding it hard just to get a MUA’s attention, just walk away – there are plenty of counters to spend your hard earned money, right?

Some suggestions for counters you may prefer depending on what looks you like: (obviously, Bobbi Brown could put together a funky look for you, Illamasqua could do a natural look for you but I feel that certain brands have a greater selection of cosmetics to create the looks their brand image stands for)

For natural beauties: Bobbi Brown, Laura Mercier, Chanel

For funky looks: MAC, Illamasqua, Urban Decay

Soft, sparkly goodness: Givenchy, RMK, Dior

Good all rounders: Shu Uemura, Armani, YSL,

6. Keep in touch with good members of staff

If you find a make up artist who is talented, doesn’t do the hard sell on you, and makes the whole experience fun and makes you look amazing, don’t let go! (One was a girl called Vicki Booth who worked for Shu Uemura a few years ago – Wow to her natural eye make up and super, amazing curled lashes! Alas, I wish I got her number as I no longer know where in the world *sniff* she is. )

I find most counters have staff that are either completely sales people only, or have been trained on a make up course prior to the role, or have done a little trained with the company. Artists with natural, god given flair are hard to find, and these the ones that won’t freak out because you don’t have a crease or have downward facing lashes.

Jess?! Are you still there?! Hopefully this would have been for some help. I suggest a bag of make up, some simple face wipes, and a Saturday dedicated to sampling some make up counters and seeing what they come up with. I will be your chaperone! 😀


You can send reader questions by the way, about make up, skincare, products, haircare – and if I don’t know I will try to find an expert who does to answer it for you! Email – rowena AT

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  1. Blair says

    Hmmm, the MUA in Selfriges’ Giorgio Armani counter ignored me for maybe 15mins but I still stuck around to buy something from her. I’m indeed a sucker for punishment -.-

    • Row says

      Hey Blair

      I’ve done that before – if theres only one counter for a certain brand, what else can you do!!

  2. tammy says

    hey cosmetic candy
    i am really falling in love with your satirical, t0ngue in cheek posts especially this one! shameful to say, being a sincere and friendly buyer, i am afraid of cosmetic counter too..i fear of rude SA who mocks or simply ignore or talk u as “idiots!” when u are doing makeup selection or simply want to find out more before i commit urggh!!but you are such a confident babe who rubs new resounded spirit in me, what is there to be scared alright? just go, grab what you want and in between have fun with sincere SA who is all out to serve you, if not simply walk away – attitude!

    thanks for bringing new joy in my life. i love your blog and is a loyal fan now…!!

    • Row says

      Hi Tammy

      thanks so much!

      I think every woman feels intimidated sometimes. I remember going to HK and the service there is so different VERY PUSHY. Its scary and I don’t know how to run away from them!!!

  3. hanns says

    this is soooooo helpful! me too, scared of cosmetic counter ladies.there’s one time i was just looking around the items and she just pushed me to buy their products, so i end up buying the make up remover that does nothing!!!! arrggggh! i don’t even want to buy any thing from them, just want to look around.anyway, thanks for sharing! love your blog :)

  4. mg says

    i enjoyed your post it was funny,i understand why some people are scared cosmetic counters, after reading this i will do everything to make my customers feel comfortable, and hope that they would have the best experiance and make them feel better about themselves when they leave my counter as i am a manager for a cosmetic company i have had training both at college and by my company and have many happy and regular customers.xx