Headed to the Makeup Counter? Read These Etiquette Tips First

Updated 10/06/17

With row upon rows of Technicolor eye shadows, shimmery blushes, inky liners and silky powders just waiting to be tested out and (hopefully) brought home, the beauty counter is any girl’s version of makeup heaven. But before you get too swatch-happy, make sure you know your etiquette. Are you supposed to tip after a makeover? Can you try on the products yourself or do you have to ask for help each time? We spoke with an insider source at Barneys New York and asked her our most pressing beauty counter etiquette questions, so you can spend more time finding that perfect shade of lipstick, and less time worrying about protocol.


Click through the slideshow above to find out what you should do (and not do!) when visiting a makeup counter.

makeup counter etiquette

Be Patient & Polite

Feeling ignored by a salesperson may make you feel annoyed, but before you stomp off or say something rude, pause and take a deep breath. Chances are, even if the salesperson doesn’t look like they are directly interacting with another customer, they may still be working on something for someone else. Politely ask them if they are available to answer a couple of your questions or show you some products—if they say they are busy, ask them if you should come back at another time or if you can make an appointment.

Treat them with respect, and they will do the same for you!

Don’t: Use Your Fingers

This is the ultimate don’t. Though it may be tempting to stick your finger in an alluring eye shadow or lipstick hue, resist the temptation. Your fingers are full of germs, which can be easily spread through makeup—just think of the number of people testing products every day! “If you want to try something on, ask a sales associate to give you a disposable lip brush [or eye shadow sponge],” our source says. “Or, they can assist you by cleaning the product first with alcohol to keep everything sanitary.

It’s for your safety and the safety of others!”

Do: Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions—the people behind the makeup counter are there to help you, not intimidate you. Don’t know what BB cream is? Curious about a new eye shadow? Just ask. In most cases, they will be more than happy to answer questions and show you how a product looks when it’s applied. Just be conscious of their time—if you aren’t planning on buying anything, don’t bombard them with every makeup question under the sun. That’s what Byrdie editors are here for! 

Don’t: Only Go For Samples

Is there anything more enticing than a mini version of your favorite product? We all love samples, but keep in mind that the point of giving them out is to help you decide whether or not you want to purchase the full-sized product. “Typically, two to five samples are the norm,” our source says. “That way, you can use it for a few days and see how your skin reacts to the product after continued use.” Do not make the mistake of viewing the makeup counter as a way to get free beauty products or stock up on as many samples as possible—there are beauty box subscriptions for that.

Do: Ask For a Business Card

Sometimes, you go to a makeup counter truly wanting to buy something, but nothing seems to work out. In that case, don’t feel pressured to buy anything just because a salesperson has spent time with you. Instead, tell them you appreciate everything and ask for their business card so you can reach out to them if you change your mind, or have any questions in the future. 

Don’t: Tip—Buy Instead

How fun is getting a makeup counter makeover? Just remember that most salespeople have commission-based salaries and are not allowed to accept cash tips. “You are allowed to purchase products from them however, which will influence their commission,” our source says. If you are doing a full-face makeover, most counters suggest purchasing at least two items. 

Do: Have Fun & Experiment

Finally, don’t be afraid to have fun! It can be daunting to see the array of rainbow makeup colors, but let the beauty counter person guide you—that’s what they’re there for! Eyeing that navy mascara, but nervous to try it on yourself? Ask them to apply it with a clean spooly. Thinking about a vampy red lip but not sure which one works best with your skintone? Ask them to show you options! This is your time to experiment. Who knows? You might just find your newest Holy Grail product.


What has your experience been with buying makeup at beauty counters? Do you agree with our etiquette tips? Tell us in the comments!

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