How to be a smart makeup buyer

Posted on January 19, 2017 under Thoughts

I’ve had a bunch of makeup reviews that I want to get up here, but I rely completely on natural lighting for my photos and it’s been unrelentingly dark and grey here lately. There are some really exciting new launches and new-to-me products that I want to showcase here, but today I’m going to improvise and share some of my tips on how to be a smart makeup buyer. These come both from my own experiences as an avid makeup consumer over the past four years as well as my professional experience working cosmetics retail for coming up on three years.

Research, research, research

We’ll start with the most obvious tip. There really are no guarantees when it comes to purchasing makeup. For whatever reason, a much-loved or super hyped product may not work out for you. Skin type and personal preferences play huge roles in our experiences of different products. But, obviously, the first step when it comes to becoming a smart beauty consumer is to cut down on impulse purchases. Buying blind isn’t guaranteed to lead to disappointment, but when you carefully research each product you buy you’ll have a better idea of what you can expect. I look for detailed reviews which clearly describe colour, formula, and application. I know that longwinded beauty reviews aren’t really the norm, but I appreciate a 1500 word lipstick review far more than one that’s just like, “I love this! It’s sooo pigmented and feels great.” The more details, the better – that way, I’m able to make a decision based on my preferences rather than the blogger’s. I mean, if I read a rave review of a lipstick that mentions that it has a very creamy, almost slippery formula, I’m probably not going to buy that product even if the blogger loves it, because I know I prefer a slightly dryer, longer-lasting formula.

Be aware of what you have in your collection

When you’re a makeup enthusiast and you have more products than you functionally need (inasmuch as you need any makeup products), it’s easy to forget what you already have. Most of us makeup hobbyists have probably been in the position of bringing home a new product only to realize that it’s pretty much the same as something we already own. I think this gets exacerbated further by the rise of eyeshadow palettes. Once you own a few neutral palettes, everything else just becomes different combinations of colours that you already own with a few new shades here and there. I rarely get inspired by new palettes anymore because I know that I own pretty much all the shades already – and I own way fewer eyeshadow palettes than your average YouTuber. It’s also easy for me personally to accumulate multiple lipsticks of the same shade. When I first got into makeup I kept buying fuchsias because that was a colour I was really into at the time and which I thought looked great on me. I think that sometimes we get caught up in hype and want to try a new product and so we buy a colour that we know we’ll like so we can try the formula. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do this if you really want to, but at this point I’m not going to buy something just to try it. I’ll buy it if it’s something I don’t already have, or if it’ll replace something I do have.

Don’t get fooled by packaging

I don’t mean not to let pretty packaging convince you to buy a product (which is also true, and which I need to get better at myself). The fact is that a lot of packaging is specifically designed to deceive you into thinking you’re getting more than you are. Lyn at Brutally Honest Beauty has a great series devoted to exposing this. I see this all the time with my customers. I can’t tell you how many times a customer has looked at the L’Oreal True Match foundation (not an affiliate link; there’s an image on the page for reference) and exclaimed at how small it is. They’re always shocked when I pick up a bottle of the True Match Lumi and tell them that it contains the same amount of product. Almost every foundation is 1oz (30mL); it’s one of the few types of makeup products with a very standardized size across brands. Bulky packaging might fool you into thinking you’re getting more, but with a few rare exceptions such as the MUFE Water Blend, you’re not!

This is the case with a lot of products.

From the packaging I’d assume that the two full-sized liquid lipsticks seen here contain about the same amount of product and that the mini Stila one contains about a third of the product of the full-size. (The tube is considerably smaller in all dimensions – it’s shorter and thinner.) However, the mini contains half the product of the full size (0.05 fl oz and 0.10 fl oz, respectively), and the hot pink Joe Fresh lipstick contains twice as much product as the Stila one, with 0.20 fl oz. You’d never know that just from looking at them!

Twist-up chubby lip pencils can be really convenient when it comes to application, but the packaging is also pretty deceptive as the product doesn’t go very far down in the tube. This Revlon Balm Stain contains 2.7g of product; the more standard Maybelline bullet lipstick has 4.2g.

While the NARS blush compact pictured here is clearly larger than the Sleek blush, the Sleek product actually contains 8g of product to NARS’ 4.8g.

Clearly, it’s incredibly hard to tell from packaging just how much you’re getting. If price per ounce or gram is a big concern for you when makeup shopping (which makes sense for products you’re likely to use up and repurchase regularly, such as foundation or eyeliner), your best bet is to actually read the label to see how much product you’re really getting! Packaging doesn’t tell much of a story when it comes to how much product it truly contains.

Know your ingredients

This mostly pertains to skincare, but having a good idea of the basics of ingredients can help you be a savvy shopper. Because I’m trained in skincare I can pick up any product, read the ingredients list, and have some idea about what it’s supposed to do and probably if it will work well for me. I know what ingredients do and what works for my skin. Being able to identify filler ingredients, irritants, ingredients that don’t mesh well together, and ingredients that work (or don’t work) for you really gives you a leg up with shopping. This is true for all cosmetics (you might know that you’re allergic to a specific pigment or that a common ingredient in many foundations breaks you out), but it really helps to have an understanding of this stuff when you’re purchasing skincare so you don’t have to go off the claims on the box. You definitely don’t have to be an expert in ingredients, but knowing a lot of the common ones will help you narrow down the field and can also help your sales associate make a great recommendation if you ask for help!

These are the things I personally do and keep in mind when I’m trying to shop mindfully. I’ve become much more picky with my makeup purchases as of late and I think that’s been working in my favour – I realized that there weren’t really any outstandingly bad makeup duds for me in 2016, which could be a fluke but which I like to believe has to do with my smarter consumption habits.

There are 8 responses to “How to be a smart makeup buyer”

  • Thanks for the shout-out! This is a great post. I need to work on all of these things. I had no idea that those two L’Oreal foundations were the same size! I am simultaneously surprised and not surprised at all.

    • You’re welcome and thanks. :) I think we could all stand to work on most if not all of these things – marketing is a slick machine and it really does work to undermine our common sense a lot of the time. I find it quite surprising that L’Oreal packages the original True Match like that; it really does appear a lot smaller than most foundations, but it’s just because it’s not overpackaged. It gives a more accurate representation of how much product you’re getting, but of course because we’re so used to bulky foundation bottles we think they’re ripping us off.

  • Great tips! It’s so easy to purchase what you like without realizing that you already have something that’s similar to it already in your collection! I’ve been much more mindful of what I have and have been making sure that if I purchase something new in my collection to go through and double check that I don’t have the same thing already… if I do then I decide to chuck something from my collection (whatever I rarely use!) Trying to keep the collection as small as possible!

    Lindsey Elyse | lindseyginge

    • I don’t want to institute a strict “one in, one out” policy, but I have been trying to generally only buy things that I have nothing like or that will replace something similar. I guess it just depends on what you use a lot and what you really like, but for example, I only need one bronzer and one contour product. Lipsticks, though… I need a lot. Haha.

  • It saddens me to think of all the thoughtful review-based makeup blogs that have vanished in the past few years. Swatches are all well and good, but there’s only so much that a swatch can reveal about performance, comfort, etc. I can’t help but wonder if the swatch culture on Instagram and other sites has contributed to people becoming less discriminating consumers.

    • It makes me sad too! Swatches can so easily be manipulated. Live swatches are much more helpful because then you can see how much the swatcher had to dig their finger into the product, how hard they pressed on their skin, etc. Even then, like you said, swatches only tell part of the story, especially if they’re finger swatches.

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