Makeup Shopping Tips from a Retail Worker

Ugh…retail. If you work in retail you know the pain and struggle I’m going through. It is not fun, it can be really boring, and sometimes the people can be real assholes about things. I work for a drugstore chain in Ohio and I work in the Cosmetics department. It isn’t as glamorous as giving people makeovers at Ulta, or working at a Sephora but it does provide me with a bit of enjoyment when people ask me for makeup advice. It makes me sad when people who need the makeup advice don’t ask me for it though.

I don’t get as many makeup related questions as I’d like to but over the course of about 3 months I’ve figured out a few tips and tricks that might help you become a better shopper and makeup consumer.

1. Expiration Dates

The most important tip that I’ve found is expiration dates. If you’re like me then you don’t usually look to see if makeup has an expiration date on the packaging, that’s because most don’t. I’ve found that the most common products that have expiration dates are products with sunscreen or salicylic acid (acne medication). These are usually common on foundations, bb creams, and sometimes powders. However not all foundations will have these, which is unfortunate because even foundation without medication or sunscreen go bad.

Finding the expiration date can be a little tricky if it’s not on a box package. Expiration dates printed on glass bottles can rub off and you might not be able to tell when the expiration year is. These printed expiration dates usually have the month number and last 2 digits of the year such as 10/16 or they will have an abbreviated month name followed by the year such as JL 2016 (July). Expiration dates can also be lighted embossed on the bottle and not show up very clear. I generally have to wiggle the bottle around to catch the light different in order to see it. Expiration dates on tube packaging are usually on the front or back of the top of the tube where it is sealed.


If no numbers are present there might be a graphic that looks like a container with the lid open and something like 12M on it. This means the product is good up towards a certain number of months after being opened (in this example, 12 months after opening).


2. Separation

On the topic of expiration dates and some products not having them, sometimes you can just tell when a product is bad. Most cream products and nail polishes naturally separate because of the oils present. Give the product a good shake and if you still see separation the product is probably spoiled. If you also notice odd colors in the product such as a foundation having green, white, or black, areas in it, then it has molded. If something is a completely different color than what it usually is, then it has probably spoiled as well (Such as a green concealer turning yellow or white).

Nail polishes are a little harder to distinguish as they don’t really go bad, but they do separate.. All nail polishes separate at one point or another, that’s why we give a good shake before putting it on. Different colors in nail polish is more normal. For example if a light blue nail polish separates there will be some clear, then a darker blue, then the light blue. This is the nail polish base and the pigments separating. After shaking it it should redistribute. If it doesn’t it might have thickened. I usually open the polish after shaking it, give a small whiff, then apply it to my nail to test the consistency. If it goes on fairly smoothly then you’re good to go.

3. Pull from the back

 At my store stocking any new product that comes in means pulling the older ones to the front and putting the newer products behind it. This also means pulling some products that are close to their expiration date to the front so it can be bought and sold, kind of like produce. People also have a tendency to use and try products on from the front, so pulling from the back might get you a newer, non used products (like lipsticks). Pulling from the back doesn’t guarantee you’re getting the newest product as sometimes the products get shifted around, and products with expiration dates can get mixed up. So if you noticed an expiration date on a foundation, select from the back and pick the one with the farthest expiration date. You don’t want something that’s going to expire in a month or two but rather a year or two.

4. Don’t try on the products

This is for stores, like mine that don’t have testers. If you’re going to a makeup store or a makeup counter in a department store there is usually testers that you can use. I only say don’t try on the products because of spreading germs and because i’ve seen people try on a lipstick and then put it right back into the slot. It’s really gross. I can understand why people do it though because most store have a no return policy on makeup. People don’t want to pay for an expensive foundation and have it be the wrong skin color. But just think that there is going to eventually be someone that is going to purchase the product you tried and without knowing purchase a used and open product. Germs can spread quickly

and that’s not good for things that you are putting on your face.

Luckily my store has a return policy on makeup where you can purchase, use and return it, so you’re not missing out on much. Every store is different.

5. Sensor tags

At our store, if you look at the price label on the shelf there will be a S by the UPC number. The UPC number is the number that gets scanned at the register and basically tells the system what is being purchased. A S means that the product has a Sensor tag on it, which means if not disarmed it will make the sensors by the entrance and exit of the store go off. This can be scary because if it goes off, usually you’ll have to be stopped and have your shopping bags or purse searched and everyone stares at you like you stole something. I’ve had this happen to me. I had purchased something and was getting ready to walk out when the sensor went off. They checked the bag I had my purchases in and it didn’t go off. My purse of all things went off. Of course I hadn’t stolen anything but it had to get searched by the manager either way. I had to stand there and wait for the whole thing to be over with while they thought I was a criminal. It’s not cute.

Most products that have boxes and are above a certain price will have sensor tags on them. Sensor tags of course have to be concealed as much as possible so they won’t be tampered with. However there can be sensor tags on products that don’t have any packaging at all, like a bottle of lotion or face wash. If you notice the price label has an S then you know for sure it will be tagged. If the price seems a little high then there might also be sensor tags. Depending on the store and what products you’re buying you may or may not encounter a sensor tag. When getting checked out, sometimes the cashier doesn’t remove/or disable the sensor properly, causing you to beep as you walk out the store. If you notice your product has sensor tags, give a gentle reminder to the cashier to make sure they disable them all. This will save you the pain of possibly having to be searched unnecessarily.

These are the tips and advice i’ve found so far but i will update if I find anymore in the future. I’ve stocked and moved around makeup and beauty products as well as pulled expired products so this is all from my experience. And like i’ve said before every store is different, what happens in my store won’t necessarily apply to other stores. But hopefully these tips help to to be a smarter shopper and makeup consumer!


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