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The Sephora Shoppers’ Handbook

By Amalah

Hey Amy!
I’m going to Vegas baby! Which – more importantly – means, I’m going to Sephora baby! Now you may think, yeah, and? Perhaps you don’t realize the good life you live being in the vicinity of actual stores that sell useful, beloved – nay, coveted – products. See, I’m from a smallish town in the middle of the Canadian prairies. We have a Wal Mart, and … well, we have a Wal Mart. The nearest Sephora is all the way on the other side of the country in Ontario, so suffice it to say, all I’ve done so far is drool over the website (I’m not a very brave online shopper). I’m particularly interested in cosmetics and skin care (especially the Philosophy line you speak so highly of). My question is: how do I make the most of my shopping trip? I would like to talk to someone about the skincare products (I have some problems with acne), and also I would just love for someone to show me how to use makeup. The only lesson I ever got was from my non-makeup-wearing mom who gave me some clear lip gloss and compact powder when I was 13. I haven’t really changed my makeup routine since I started wearing makeup, and every attempt I’ve made at following the tips I’ve gleaned from What Not To Wear has gone wonky. What’s the best counter to visit for makeup application help and good, reasonably priced products? Help guide me oh wise one, in the ways of the Sephora shopping experience. I’m going at the end of the month, and I realize you’re away right now, and also, busy, so I’m not holding my breath on this one. But thanks anyway for all the great answers you’ve given to all the great questions that I didn’t even realize I’d wondered about!

You know, I totally take Sephora for granted. There are like, seventeen dozen Sephoras within driving distance from my house, and yet I get so many questions from women who have nothing but the website and a dream of actually walking those hallowed aisles.
It’s sort of like how every online friend I had kept talking about Lush. Lush Lush Lush Lush Lush. OMG, Lush. I’ll come visit you in DC, and we’ll go to Lush! And I had no freaking clue what they were talking about, but yes! Come to DC, and we’ll go to Lush! After I look it up in the phone book.
And it turned out to be right down the street from me, and I could not believe I’d lived so long without Lush, and I realized why people were making special trips to crash on my couch just so they could go to Lush and stock up on soap.And then I bought a gift set for my Manhattanite sister and niece, and surprise! They also did not know about Lush and why NYC tourists were flocking there in droves.
storesHdr-1.jpgSo this one’s for all the Sephoraless readers out there, for I know that deer-in-the-headlights feeling you can get the first time you visit.
First of all, Sephora does not have “counters.” It’s just a big old free-for-all of aisles, divided up by brand. Expect to see two entire walls of fragrance (one for women, one for men), and then cosmetics in one part of the store and skincare and hair products in another. (I’ve never been to the Vegas Sephora so I don’t know the exact layout, but they’re all fairly similar.) While most stores carry the same brands, bigger stores carry more and there are some differences in the brand line-up at smaller stores.
First, wander around on your own and get your bearings. You’ll get asked if you want help by employees quite a bit, and if you want a makeup application lesson you can get that from pretty much any of them. Beware of employees who are only pushing one brand — you want someone who recommend their favorite products store-wide. (The Bare Escentuals line ALWAYS has a dedicated rep at my local Sephora, so watch out and don’t get suckered in.)
storesHdr-2.jpg There’s no pressure — just because they put something on you doesn’t mean you have to drop it in your basket. If you don’t like the eye makeup they use, just say something and they’ll whip it off and try again. If your person seems rushed or impatient, say you’d like to look around by yourself for a little while and then try someone else. (I’ve always gotten great help at Sephora, though. Am just trying to be annoyingly thorough.)
Also, be sure to give them some guidance on what you’re willing to spend. And that right there is why I have to be careful about my Sephora visits. I have the luxury of spacing them out, because stuff is not generally very cheap there. You put two tiny little things in your basket and they ring you up, charge you $90 and put your purchases in a bag the size of a postage stamp and you wonder what the hell just happened. For several items of makeup and say, a Philosophy gift set, it’s gonna be hard to stay under a couple hundred bucks. Sephora’s own line of makeup will be your cheapest option there, and the stuff is good, but strikingly similar to the store-brand line at Ulta, another huge cosmetics-and-skincare store that focuses more on the drugstore and mid-range brands instead of the high-end stuff Sephora sells. (There’s also an Ulta in Vegas, I believe, but not on the strip. It’s also worth a stop for the budget-conscious girl who doesn’t have one in her hometown.) (I used to go to the Ulta by my parents house every time I visited, but now we have one in Maryland. Yay!)
Anyway. Just have FUN at Sephora. You can test anything and everything out, and they provide clean tester brushes and sponges and makeup remover to let you play as long as you want. Get some good guidance and then buy what you believe you cannot live without, then write other things you try and love down for purchasing later from the web site. Check out the low-priced impulse buy stands near the registers for smaller sizes of things you might like and some Rosebud Salve. Ask if they have any free samples to include with your purchase.
And if you get there and decide that it’s not really all that, please don’t judge me for typing this many paragraphs about a damn store.

Published March 23, 2007. Last updated March 23, 2007.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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