The Best Beauty Store Tips and Tricks

The best beauty store tips and tricks -- how to shop the store like a pro!Knowing the best beauty store tips and tricks can save you money, increase your chances of finding products you’ll really like, and even make shopping more fun. What are your favorite tricks for shopping for makeup, perfume, and other beauty products? Do you prefer buying online or in-store?

Before we get into our suggestions — and ask for yours, too — here’s one tip that, while it may be too obvious to include in our list below, could still spark an interesting discussion: Don’t assume that the adage “You get what you pay for” applies to all beauty products — that’s not always the case, as came up in our discussion a few years ago about overrated beauty products. Several years ago, I used to regularly buy Smashbox mascara at Sephora for $25–$30, and while I was happy with it, I now use a $7 mascara from Maybelline that I can just add to our grocery list when I need a new one. It works just as well, if not better, than the Smashbox one that costs four times more. It goes on really smoothly and significantly lengthens my lashes without any clumping. It lasts a long time, too (and I use the non-waterproof kind). I know this because … I’m too lazy/tired to take it off at night. (Oops.) So I know for certain that it still looks good almost 24 hours later.

Here are more beauty store tips and tricks:

1. Know the return policies before you buy. We’ve rounded up several:

  • Sephora: Return in-store purchases in “new or gently used” condition within 60 days with a receipt. Return online purchases by mail (60 days for a refund, 90 days for online store credit) or at a store with a receipt (60 days). Return criteria: “If you are not completely satisfied with a Sephora purchase or gift for any reason.” 
  • Ulta: Return in-store purchases (with “all original components” — I learned that the hard way) within 60 days with a receipt for a refund; after 60 days, you’ll get store credit. Return online purchases within 60 days for a refund; after 60 days, you’ll get a gift card or online gift card). Return criteria: “If you’re not completely satisfied with a product for any reason.” 
  • Nordstrom: Returns are handled on a typically generous “case-by-case basis” (beauty products don’t have their own rules) and the return policy doesn’t specify a time limit. You can return online purchases by mail or in-store, and customers have reported receiving refunds for unopened and opened beauty products.
  • CVS: Offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee on beauty products. You can return them, unopened or opened, with a receipt. Return criteria:If you’re dissatisfied for any reason.” 
  • Walgreens: “Returns for cosmetics or electronics are handled at the discretion of the store manager, usually in the form of a Walgreens gift card.”
  • Rite Aid: Offers the Rite Aid Money Back Beauty Guarantee. Return any opened or used beauty product with a receipt for a refund.
  • Target: “Most beauty items bought in stores or online can be returned, even if opened, within 90 days with your receipt, or up to 120 days if purchased with your Target REDcard™.

2. Be smart about trying on makeup at the store. Just think about how many people have used that tester. Even though you may always use those one-time applicators, the customer right before you might have applied the product directly to her face. A couple of years ago, The Chicago Tribune interviewed a dermatologist who has seen patients with “pinkeye, cold sores, bacterial infections, and boils” from using store product testers. She recommends applying makeup to your wrist or neck as opposed to your face. And in 2015, Good Morning America found some unpleasant results during lab tests of six stores’ testers. Bravo’s The Lookbook has several safety tips for trying makeup in the store (autoplay video), while Allure shares some great advice for trying on and choosing makeup at the store — specifically for concealer, blush, mascara, eyeliner, and other items. No matter how you end up using a tester, bringing your own baby wipes or wet wipes can help you remove each product before you move on to the next. (Virtual method: If you want to imagine how a certain product would look on you while staying 100% germ-free, check out the apps from Ulta and Sephora.)

3. If you shop at Sephora regularly (or even a couple of times a year), it’s worth it to sign up for the Sephora FLASH program. I just found out about this and wish I’d known before. Get a subscription to FLASH for just $10 and you’ll enjoy free, unlimited 2-day shipping for one year (no minimum purchase required). Otherwise, each order under $50 will cost you $5.95 in shipping. Just be aware that FLASH automatically renews at the end of the term. If you’re a VIB (Very Important Beauty Insider), which means you’ve joined the Beauty Insider rewards program and spend at least $350 during a calendar year, you can get Sephora FLASH for free.

4. Boost your chances of going home with a fragrance you’ll really like by knowing the right way to test perfume at the store. In an interview with PopSugar earlier this year, Stéphanie Bakouche of L’Artisan Parfumeur shared some really useful tips. Here’s some of her advice:

  • Spray perfume on a blotter from about 15 cm away, just once. Wait 30 seconds and then wave it in front of your nose rather than bring it right up to your face.
  • Don’t rub your wrists together after spraying a fragrance on yourself, even if that’s how everyone seems to try out perfume. It can break down the molecules and alter the scent of the product. (Who knew?) Instead, “touch one wrist against the other delicately,” says Bakouche.
  • In between different fragrances you’re sampling, sniff some coffee beans to neutralize the molecules in your nose from the last perfume and/or cleanse your palate by drinking water. Waiting a few minutes between each one also helps.

Readers, what are your favorite beauty store tips and tricks? Do you mostly buy makeup and other beauty products online or in brick-and-mortar stores? (Department stores, drugstores, beauty stores, grocery stores?) Have you signed up for any discount programs or other membership programs (e.g., Sephora FLASH) at beauty retailers? Are they worth it? Are you a VIB? 

Further Reading:

  • 10 Tips For Being a Pro at Shopping Beauty Products [Stylecaster]
  • Beauty Store Etiquette: The Correct (And Sanitary!) Way to Try Out Products While Shopping [InStyle]
  • 23 Insider Hacks from a Sephora Employee [The Krazy Coupon Lady]
  • 8 Shopping Secrets Ulta Employees Don’t Want You to Know [Byrdie]

This post contains affiliate links and Corporette® may earn commissions for purchases made through links in this post. For more details see here. Thank you so much for your support!

Image credit: Pixabay.

Do you know all the best beauty store tips and tricks? We rounded them up to give you the inside track on shopping for makeup -- like a pro (or at least a VIB or serious fan)!


  1. Has anyone watched Megyn Kelly’s new show? The reviews are saying that she’s staying away from politics and trying to be the next Oprah, but that sounds like a major makeover for her. I think she rose in fame on FOX by being a hot, conservative political analyst on TV who isn’t afraid to spar with guys like Newt G.

  2. Any chemists in the hive who can comment on whether smooshing wrists together really causes a molecular change to perfume? I’ve heard that before but always thought it sounded unlikely.

    • Anonymous :

      I don’t think the compounds in perfumes are big enough (protein sized?) to be affected much by physical action. Chemical reaction to the skin/body chemistry is a more likely factor in affecting perfume contents.

      • Anonymous :

        That is to say, I would imagine a compound would have to be protein sized before physical (vs chemical) action started to matter – but even then, you don’t end up cutting the protein molecule in half with your kitchen knife and have it turn into something else.

    • The answer is yes, rubbing your wrists together does cause a molecular change. It’s not from “smooshing” molecules, but because the friction of rubbing skin generates heat, which evaporates the delicate top notes of a perfume and will change the way it wears on one’s skin.

      -Flyby chemist

  3. A lesson I learn over and over. Don’t go for the free samples if you’re not going to use them. Unless they’re products you already use and need for travel sizes, they’re just going to collect dust in your cabinet. And it’s bad idea to take unfamiliar samples for travel because then you’re miles away from home with acne (ask me how I know)

    The samples I will always use at least once are lipstick and scent (which I spray on a piece of paper, not me). Everything else is a waste of resources.

    • New Tampanian :

      I always throw them in a bag I keep at home where I collect hotel minis and donate to a women’s shelter.

    • I use them for holiday stocking stuffers for my teenage niece/SIL/mom, otherwise yes, I really only ever hold onto perfume/lipstick/face wash samples

    • TO Lawyer :

      I take samples with me when I’m traveling, but there are occasions when I’m traveling for work for only one night, so it’s nice to have single-use things. (I will also use them if I think there’s a good chance I’ll be staying at a boy’s house and don’t want to pack for the occasion).

      I love using a fancy mask while I’m away in a hotel room by myself – it feels really luxurious.

  4. With Sephora, you can get samples of just about everything to take home. I always like to do that with masks or creams before I buy. Usually this isn’t the sort of thing that someone can try in the store so I don’t worry about germs as much (and I tend to go for stuff in a tube anyway since products keep better than way anyway).

  5. Sephora also gives samples of fragrances! I don’t know why but it’s such a game changer: often I’ll find that scents I liked in the store aren’t for me after taking them home and trying them out over a week, or I’ll be able to compare and realize that no, this really doesn’t smell different from a perfume I already have.

  6. One error kat – I believe you have to be VIB Rouge and spend $1000 in a calendar year to get flash for free. Also if you are VIB or VIB Rouge, there are sales twice a year – 15% off in April and 20% off in November. And, don’t forget Ulta. They have a much better rewards program than Sephora and carry both drugstore and high end. I currently have more than $100 worth of points banked that I can redeem for free products.

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