To Thine Own Face be True

Makeup counters can be scary places.  Full of products without visible price tags.  Lots of colors, each one in matte, gloss, shine. You look at your face and don’t know where to start, what looks good.

Tentatively you approach one of the immacutely made-up ladies behind the counter to get advice and help.  She asks you if you have a minute for her to do your face. You look at your watch, think what the hell, and say yes.  Before you know it, she has you sat down in a chair and is working her magic on your face, asking you some questions. You protest a couple of the colors because you know they don’t look good on you, but she forges ahead.  15 minutes later, she beams smugly, says you look just gorgeous, gives you a mirror and says, “What do you think?”


You look like Bozo the Hooker. 




Not wanting to hurt her feelings, you buy a few of the recommended products, take them home, trying to assure yourself that you can apply them better so it will be okay… really.  Off you go one morning with your new foundation, look in the rearview mirror on your way to work (the only good testing place for eyebrow pluckage prowess and foundation matching) and see the need to call in a helicoptor rescue squad to save your face from visible foundation line.  You promptly throw the whole kit and kaboodle in your drawer when you get home and never wear them again. I’ve been there many times. Years ago, I used to be shy and got bossed around by salespeople. It’s not certain when that changed, but over the last two decades, I’ve become known as “The Bitch.”  My friends and family ask me to make phone calls for them to obstinate businesses who aren’t playing fair with them. The key phrase in dealing with difficult people is “Listen, this is what I need you to do.” Use that whenever that salesperson is getting pushy with you, it is a big ole Stop Sign and reverses the pushing process. Needless to say, my experiences at the makeup counters are all positive now because I do not put up with crap products being pushed on me. It’s my money, I worked hard for it, and I’m willing to part with large chunks of it for the right thing, but I won’t spend a dime on something that won’t work for me. One well-placed scowl at the SA when she is pushing product, followed by a gracious smile when she reverses course and asks you what you’re thinking might work, usually does the trick.  Never be afraid to just walk away. It’s hard to do the first time, but gets easier with practice.  The makeup Counter is not a place where you want to practice seeing through a glass darkly.



 How do you become a Product Girl at the makeup counter?  I’m going to do a series of makeup tips in different areas to help those who are a little skeered by those ladies behind the counter so you can get what you want or at least know what to ask for.   

 How do you become a Product Girl at the makeup counter?  I’m going to do a series of makeup tips in different areas to help those who are a little skeered by those ladies behind the counter so you can get what you want or at least know what to ask for.   

We’ll start with the Rules for Buying Foundation:

  • Don’t try and save money here. You can get the cheap eyeshadows and eyeliners and other things, but foundation is the one thing that needs to be right, if you’re going to bother wearing it.  The difference in quality between a $10 foundation and a $45 foundation is huge, and $35 is just not a big deal in the big scheme of things.  I have heard the claim they are the same, and, I’m sorry, but I’ve slapped on the Cover Girl and then put on my favorite obscenely expensive foundation, and there is no comparison — one looks cheap and tacky on me (not saying people with great skin can’t pull off any foundation, but they probably are young or really don’t need foundation to begin with so anything looks good), and the other makes my aging skin glow.  There are some great foundations out there, my favorite is the Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk foundation. You can never go wrong with this one, it sticks to you and comes in great shades that melt into your face and give a pretty glow to any skin. Cle de peau and Chanel make great foundations too. There are other good ones in several lines, these are just the ones I am most familiar with, having tried probably 50 foundations over the last ten years and settled on  the GA as the best I’ve tried.
  • Use a foundation brush (Giorgio Armani has a great one, as does Prescriptives).  There is a big difference in how your foundation looks with the proper application. Get two brushes and wash them after each use. Tip — eBay has the Armani foundation brush for cheap, and I’m fairly certain they are fakes, but they are great fakes and work as well as the geniune article.
  • Get a sample of the foundation to take home and try in a couple of shades. Do not EVER buy right there in the store. If they don’trearview mirror.jpg have a sample or claim they can’t make one up, go to the next counter. The lighting at department store counters is crappy, and you have to do the rearview mirror test before you buy. This will tell you if your foundation matches or not.  Pluck your eyebrows while you’re checking the foundation. I may be the only person in the world that has my trusty Tweezermans in the glove box in the car.
  • If you tan in the summer, change your foundation color to a shade or two darker or switch to just a tinted lotion or tinted primer during the summer months.  Just please don’t go out with a lighter face than your body…. yuk!!!!
  • Apply a moisturizer first, then a foundation primer.  Smashbox primer and La Prairie Cellular Treatment Rose Illusion are both good.  Primers get your face ready for foundation and keep it from flaking.
  • Don’t let an SA or MA bully you into buying anything just on her opinion. You’re the one that has to wear this, and it’s your hard-earned money.
  • If you have beautifuly, glowy, even skin, um… what are you reading this for?  Please don’t muck up great skin with foundation.  Foundation is for us with imperfect skin. 
  • HarpStrings says:

    And I thought I was the only one with Tweezers in my glove compartment! The rear view mirror is the ONLY place for tweezing, makeup checking, etc. I do get some funny looks at the stoplights, though.

    I just discovered this website and I fell in love with it! You speak my language. I also have a lifelong romance with perfume. I seem to perceive emotion, texture and personality in fragrance offerings and I feel like I have found kindred spirits.

    Love the website and will return often. There is very little I just sit down and read, but the entertainment here is fabulous.

  • kuri says:

    Love this post! SAs really scare me so I spend my time browsing at cosmetic stores instead. Guess I’ll have to brave the dept. stores again in order to try out the higher end lines 😛

  • Pam says:

    Thank you, ladies, for the good advice and recs. I will definitely check these out. 🙂

  • Katie says:

    Marvelous tips, P!

    I’ve gravitated to Body & Soul’s powder foundation, but having good tools still applies in that case, too. I had used the NARS oil-free for a while, and actually that one worked better with sponge or fingers. I wonder if that has to do with consistency or slip? Dunno. Using a brush just did not quite work with that one.

    ” foundation is the one thing that needs to be right, if you’re going to bother wearing it.” AMEN! I’m always horrified to see folks wearing faces that either look vampiric-ly drained of blood, or else vaguely dirty orange-ish. Why??? Why would anyone bother!? Natural bad skin looks far better than a freakshow bad skin look!

    “The difference in quality between a $10 foundation and a $45 foundation is huge,”Well, I will make an exception for some people who happen to find a nice match with the Neutrogena ones… they make some really good colors, the texture tends to be good, and I think they overall are better than a few of the more expensive ones I’ve used.

    So with the baby butt skin comment, you’re really going to have to spill some EXACT details about what you’ve used in the past and what you’re currently using. I want baby butt skin, too!:d

  • chayaruchama says:

    Hello, Pam-

    I agree with Cheezwiz-

    One word of caution: the new L’Oreal one is rather oily and hard to blend, I would steer clear of it…

    If you have coupons, and don’t need a lot of coverage, the Neutrogena Mineral Sheers do very well, and are readily found.

    Bare Escentuals work well, but you have to be motivated to use the brush properly, and blend like mad-the Mineral Veil, though, is great over anything [or nothing], and looks natural.

    Hope this is helpful…

    For oilier skins, the Lancome new Teint Idole liquid foundation will last a long time and feel weightless.

  • Cheezwiz says:

    Hi Pam!

    The link March posted is indeed the brand I’m currently using. If you have a Sephora near you, you can request samples. If not,you can purchase generous samples very cheaply from e-bay sellers.

    If this particular brand doesn’t work for you, don’t despair! The mineral makeup market has exploded recently and there are now literally gazillions of manufacturers who are now offering high-quality products to consumers. Just type in “mineral make-up” in Google and you’ll see what I mean. I’m now in the process of branching out and exploring other brands to see the similarities/differences.

    Sorry for the off-topic interruption – back to our regularly scheduled perfume posts!:d

  • Pam says:

    Thank you for the link, March. This stuff looks like it might work. Thank you also for removing all my multiple posts. :-“

  • March says:

    Pam — oh, the pain of the multiple posts! I’ll go remove your extras… Sephora sells a very highly regarded mineral makeup line, here’s a link — maybe this is what Cheez is using…

  • Pam says:

    Cheezwhiz, if you read this, would you mind telling me a brand name that makes mineral powder make-up? This might be the ticket for me as well. Thanks.

  • Cheezwiz says:

    It was great reading about your make-up counter experiences Patty. Many times I have been cajoled into buying makeup out of guilt.

    I am also a life-long foundation junkie because I have such difficult skin: oily acne prone, with dry patches. The kicker is that my skin is pale pale pale! For some reason, the cosmetics industry assumes that only med-to dark complexioned women have trouble with oilies. Foundations are invariably too orange or yellow on me. Matte makeups look terrible on me. The lighter “glowy” formulas just slide off my face.
    I feel like I’ve tried every foundation on the market!

    In the past couple of years I’ve switched over to using mineral powder make-up, and it has made a world of difference on my skin. My pores are no longer clogged, and my skin is not as inflamed or acne prone. I don’t think I’ll be switching back to liquid foundation – even the high-end fancy ones!

  • Pam says:

    Thanks for the recs, Marchie. I’m in Podunkville, USA, where only some of the brands you listed are available. But I will check out the ones on your list that are at our one and only dept store. 🙂 Thanks again! PS: I envy you and Patty your dry skin.

  • carol says:

    You had me at “Bozo the Hooker.” Truly, there is no light so brutal and flaw-magnifying and shade-checking-worthy than the car’s.

    Enjoy the beach, Patty.. (sobs quietly into pillow in envy)

  • March says:

    Pam — I have dry skin, so I want a foundation that is not so matt-i-fying, if that makes sense. I look best in things called “luminous” or some other referent to a little glow without looking glittery. I am deeply in love with my Chanel Vitalumiere Satin foundation, which also has SPF 15. So try Chanel, Armani, Clarins, Lancome, Chantecaille, Prescriptives … I ended up choosing the Chanel mainly because it was clearly the best match for my skin tone (although P’s point is well taken that if you tan, you’ll need summer and winter foundation.) Also they try to sell you on blending two colors, which is just stupid, unless you’ve got the patience for it. My experience is that four out of five of them will look just WRONG (the wrong color), but they try to sell you anyway because that’s the closest they can get. And one of them will look great.

  • BBliss says:

    Great advice – and the rearview mirror is my best beauty tool – truly!

    I think Laura Mercier has a great foundation range – my sisters and I use the tinted moisturizer and my mother the foundation – we all have different skin types and coloring (go figure!). And yes, I got sucked in once at Bobbi Brown – had the whole yellowish-range-of-products and it looked…WRONG on me, too. My theory was it only works if you’re under camera lights which is not where I spend most of my time. Now if they made something that improved you under office fluorescents… might have more mass appeal \:d/

  • Pam says:

    Patty, these are such good tips. Thank you for posting these guidelines. I’m going to use your line about, “listen, this is what I need you to do. . .” That’s great. BTW, can you or anyone else recommend a foundation for oily, sensitive, middle age (mid-40s) skin? I’m currently using a Revlon but I’m thinking there’s something a lot better out there. TIA.

  • greeneyes says:

    Bozo the Hooker, indeed! Invariably, no matter the makeup counter, I end up with purple lids, gunky eyelashes, and coral (we’re talking your grandmother’s orange) lipstick. I have had only two good makeup counter experiences in my life, one at Lancome and one at Prescriptives. I thank my higher power every day for, because I don’t have to deal with SAs…but it’s getting time for new foundation, and you just can’t buy it online unless you know what you want…and I don’t. Great tips. Thanks Patty!

  • dinazad says:

    Oh dear, don’t I just remember a makeup I got at the Shiseido counter – made me look like the ninety-year old head of a geisha school (I was in my thirties then), with a white face that stopped at my jaw-line, making my normally pale “natural” skin look ruddy and inflamed! On the other hand, it was a first-class make-up I got at a Clarins counter which started my love affair with the Eclat Minute highlighter/corrector pen, so you *can” be lucky! Wish I’d had a wise mentor like you in my younger years – thanks for a great piece!

  • chaya ruchama says:

    Good morning, dear Patty-

    Rueful memories of youthful folly…I’m sure most of us have been there! Very well put-

    Now, many years later, when SA’s offer to “help” , I respond the same way I do to Jews for Jesus, visiting Mormons,or evangelical do-gooders: “Thank you so much for your offer, but I’m all set!”- as sweetly as I can manage…

    Conversely, when they approvingly comment on how nicely I’ve “done” my face, I comment cheerfully- “after 40 years of trial and error,you eventually get better at it”…

    And that sums it up, I guess-
    Self-knowledge eases the path a little-

    Thanks for the post!

  • March says:

    Sariah, if you put foundation on that flawless, luminous, glowing, dewy skin of yours I will spray Missoni all over you until you beg for mercy and promise never to do that again. You have the sort of skin that stops traffic.

    P — gawd, you should see her skin. Baby’s butt. I mean, I have good skin for my age, but THAT. Sigh…. you are SO right about the pricy foundation. I remember being completely amused by the idea that anyone would pay that money for foundation, until I tried some on at the Chanel counter, and said … Oh. My vote would be: don’t buy ANY of them right away, try three different high-end lines first. Have them do different shades on each side if you’re not sure about the match. Get them to write down the name/shade, because if you’re like me you won’t remember what it was. They’re always making me too yellow, to cover up the fact that I’m ruddy, but guess what? Yellow foundation looks really WEIRD on me, like jaundice. Worst Match for Me: Clinique, and at NM Bobbi Brown — I mean, they were so far off, and she’s got that yellow base thing going anyway, although I love some of their blushes and lip product.

  • sariah says:

    Thanks Patty! I am totally clueless about foundation, this will come in handy. Have a great vacation. I’m going to Quebec next week (excited). :d

  • Dusan says:

    Even though I don’t use (any) makeup, I laughed my head off reading your rearview window review! The pushiness of SAs doesn’t stop at the makeup counters, though, seeing as they also shove perfumes right in your face, most of which you know you’re going to hate even before they start brandishing the bottle at you.
    P, thanks for a great laugh, it was a great birthday gift :-). Hope you’re enjoying your holiday. Hugs