Here’s a fun question for today: How do you find new beauty products and decide which to buy? If you’re looking for a new mascara, for example, do you wade through tons of online reviews? Ask your makeup-wearing friends about their favorites? Pick up a mascara while you’re at the drugstore because you’ve heard good things about it?
While we’ve previously talked about overrated beauty products, beauty empties (the products you actually finish), and the best beauty store tips and tricks, we haven’t specifically discussed this before.
Here are some online resources to help you when you’re trying to find new beauty products:
Reviews on Ulta or Sephora: The most popular products on these sites have hundreds or even thousands of reviews, while others have zero. Customers occasionally include images, but I usually don’t find them helpful because people are often wearing multiple products and I can’t see the particular effect of the one I’m interested in. Customers also seem to frequently use filters or otherwise edit their images, which doesn’t help either.
The two companies’ reviews offer various “extras”; Sephora tells you the number of “Loves” for each item and gives the option to highlight reviews from your “Beauty Matches” (those who share your eye color, hair color, skin tone, and skin type), while Ulta shows the most commonly stated pros and cons (e.g., “blends easily” or “creases”), ranks the best uses (e.g., everyday, work), and categorizes the styles of the reviewers themselves (trendy, natural, or classic).
Amazon reviews: I hesitate to buy beauty items at Amazon now because of the reports of counterfeit products (although it definitely isn’t the only site facing this issue) as well as the number of fake reviews, which seems to be growing. (One of my favorite podcasts, Reply All, recently did an episode to answer “Why does it seem like Amazon has suddenly gotten a lot sketchier?” — it’s worth checking out.) To determine the authenticity of reviews for a certain product, try the website Fakespot, which we recently recommended. Still, Amazon often has the highest number of reviews — for everything from high-end to drugstore products — so I check it even when I’m planning to buy elsewhere.
MakeupAlley: In “internet time,” MakeupAlley, which offers product reviews and discussion boards, has been around forever — since 1999. It currently claims to have 2,742,851 reviews of 170,436 products. I’ve rarely used the site myself, but a few years ago, Racked (R.I.P.) published a piece on the site, which it called “the most secretive community of beauty obsessives.”
Reviews on a brand’s website: I don’t know if my instincts are correct here — let us know your thoughts — but I tend to give less weight to reviews I read on a beauty brand’s own site than the ones at general beauty retailers. I do this because specific-brand reviewers are an even more self-selected group than those who use sites like Sephora (or especially Amazon). I may be overanalyzing here — but unfortunately there’s no Fakespot tool for, say, Clinique.com.
r/MakeupAddiction (Reddit): I haven’t spent a lot of time in this subreddit (definitely less than I’ve spent in, um, r/catpranks), but I’ve heard it can be very helpful (along the lines of r/ABraThatFits, which we mentioned in our recent post on how to buy a bra). It seems like a good place to find honest, unbiased, unfiltered opinions on beauty products. You don’t have to sign up for a Reddit account to browse r/MakeupAddiction, but you do need one to post. (Be sure to read the guidelines for successful posts and the Newbie Guide.) Also check out r/Skincare Addiction — and just for fun, r/UnconventionalMakeup.
YouTube video reviews/tutorials: You probably know that there are many, many beauty videos on YouTube, including reviews, tutorials, and hauls. (If you are better about limiting your internet time than I am, you may not know that “Beauty YouTube” is a thriving subculture that even has its own scandals. Again, see Reply All.) Watching YouTube videos is a great way to see the products you’re considering in action — depending on the lighting quality and the YouTuber’s camera skills, knowledge/technique, and ability to get to the point. I recommend checking out videos by British makeup artist Wayne Goss, for one. Readers, do tell: Which beauty YouTubers do you watch?
Kat’s quick add: One way I find new beauty products is by subscribing to different subscription services. (Here’s my review of Play! by Sephora vs. Ipsy vs. Birchbox.) I’ve also been drawn to, say, a new lipstick or eyeliner because I read about it somewhere, liked the packaging or online copy, or saw a good sale. I love googling “[product name] + swatches” and reviewing all the different ones. There is something very zen about swatches!
How do you decide which new beauty products to buy? Which of the above resources have you used? Which sites’ online reviews do you trust? (Or do you skip reviews entirely?) Do you prefer to try before you buy, either with free samples or in-store testers? Which beauty purchases have you later regretted, whether they were impulse buys or researched?
Kat’s Short Makeup Routine
As of 2021, my short makeup routine is pretty boring — curled eyelashes + concealer + blush (Nars Orgasm) + powder, with a different lipstick and eyeliner depending on my mood. If I’m feeling extra fancy I’ll add mascara, highlighter, and/or do my brows with this cream and this brush (here’s my review). (I also add eye shadows in the “extra” days but it’s a huge variety, maybe 25 or so different ones.)
Some favorite lipsticks include Clinique (Graped Up & Voluminous Violet), NARS lipstick (Damage), Fenty (Goji Gang), NARS gloss (Orgasm, Fast Lane), and Clinique (Black Honey). I use this NYX lipliner (Natural) for almost all of them.
Favorite eyeliners include Chanel (Espresso), Urban Decay (Sabbath, Smoke), Clinique (Intense Chocolate & Plum), and this NYX liquid one.
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Kate, I get most of my recomendations for new beauty products from Marie Claire, and they have been good recomendations! The manageing partner told me I need to stay fresh and young b/c most of our cleints are men, and these days, we must satisfy the cleints. He said that he really likes my red lipstick, which I learned about from Grandma Leyeh, who years ago used red lipstick to attract men. It works! YAY!!!
I’m sorry, but I just have to say that you should not have to dress to attract clients. Your managing partner’s demands are highly inappropriate.
I have been trying to switch to clean products so lately detox market and credo market.
I have the Sephora subscription box. I enjoy trying out all the different stuff in the boxes. Some things I’ve bought full size.
Honestly from all of you!
I went through a stage a few years back where I decided to step up my game and start really trying out different things from department stores and buying more high-quality stuff, but I ultimately found that it was a hassle (since I don’t just happen to be at the nicer stores every week), I dreaded spending the money, and I really wasn’t noticing a big difference in the result.
So, now I’m back to just perusing the make-up section at my (fairly nice) regular grocery store for whatever looks good. When I want something new, I usually google around (with a “drug-store” qualifier). I get ideas here, too (thanks, whoever recommended Elf mascara a few weeks back! I’ll be buying that again!). If I had a bit more spare time to put into it, I’d probably try to spend some time searching for redhead-specific reviews, since my coloring does make things a little harder, but eh, I get by.
I check out the Best of Beauty recommendations on the Allure s!te
I love makeupalley for reading unsponsored reviews of specific makeup products. I also love the skincare addiction reddit forum for skincare reviews and recommendations.
Full of ideas
Buzzfeed posts give me good ideas but I try to find the items in store (or e-stores) not Amazon because of fakes
Dr Martin Huang
I usually just ask the salesperson to get what I want. Going through reviews are such a trouble unless I’m heading overseas and I definitely want to get something that I can’t get in my country.
I use topbox to test out new products and I am in a few beauty fb groups that we discuss and review products. More honest than other sites. I also chat with my friends. and I tend to talk to Sephora staff a lot. They are no pressure and know their stuff (at least the ones here in my area).
I wish Play by Sephora would come to Canada!
In addition to reading reviews and checking out YouTube tutorials, I look for smaller companies founded by dark-skinned WoC, especially when in search of certain products, like a nude-for-you lipstick. Mented Cosmetics has been great for work-appropriate nude lipsticks for me as a dark-skinned woman, and they even show a four-shade range of models for each color to show how they look on different skin tones.
I always look at Temptalia’s reviews! She’s only one person, so you don’t get a variety of input for different skin types, but she’s unbiased and very thorough.
Me too. I trust her ratings! It’s fun to follow someone who loves makeup. The community of followers also have great recommendations.
I really love reviews from Gothamista on Youtube, and I’ve recently become obsessed with K-beauty!