In my time as a beauty-obsessed person, one of the most frequently asked questions I get from friends is, “How do you get stuff for free?” At first, I cringe a little. Since beauty writing has become a form of income for me, I do get certain products and services for free. However, it took a really long time to get to that point. And anyway, that’s not the point.
My friends are wondering how they can test and try all sorts of products for cheap or for absolutely nada. I understand; we’re all suffering under the pressure of thousands of dollars in loans and credit card debt and spending $40 on a highlighting powder can seem a little ridiculous.
If you’re interested in cultivating a new look, have a few products you’d like to try or just wanna get in the door in the beauty world, here are a few tried and true tips.
1. Make friends at beauty counters in department stores.
I recommend this over places like Sephora, which are sales-based and not necessarily client-based. Nothin’ wrong with that, but if you want to strike up a friendship with someone, go to your nearest Nordstrom or Bloomingdales, etc. I made some really amazing makeup artist friends via Nordstrom. Go visit them in the middle of the week during the morning or afternoon when it’s not as busy. Ask questions. Be interested. Let them play with your face. I used to tell them they could do whatever they wanted with my face and they loved that, because oftentimes women are asking for basic “no makeup” makeup. Buy things when you really love them. Refer your friends, your family, your mom to your favorite counter. Give him or her some business and some love and they’ll give it right back to you. They’ll learn what you like and dislike. They’ll slip extra samples in along with your purchase. They’ll call you if, say, the limited-edition NARS palettes are coming in in two days and you’ve been dying for one. Stop in and say hi when you’re around. When I needed something necessary like foundation, I’d often ask one of my counter friends to try a new lipstick/shadow/blush on my face while I was there. It’s good road testing for them and a chance to try something new for you.
2. Learn how to shop at Sephora.
I reached VIB Rouge status at Sephora this year, which means my mom (who shares my account) and I spend a lot of money there. This is for a reason: Sephora rules. If you’re going to be a repeat customer, absolutely sign up for their Beauty Insider program. It’s free, they don’t send a thousand emails and you get great benefits from it, like birthday gifts and products via the points program. Sephora also has an amazing return policy, so if something doesn’t work, you can bring it back and try something else. They’re really great about that, and that’s something that keeps me coming back.
Sephora is generous with samples. Ask an associate for a few perfume samples. I like to pack these when I travel. Tell them you’re looking for a new shade of foundation or concealer and they can give you a few days’ worth in a sample to take home. When you shop online, add their samples to your order–you get three free!
3. Join a beauty box program.
I did Birchbox ($10 a month) for a year or so, but have recently been more interested in the slightly more expensive Glossybox. There are a ton of options out there nowadays. In each box, you get a handful of pretty-large samples. Obviously this isn’t free, but sometimes you’ll get an Essie polish ($8 retail) or Tarte lip balm in your box. Hand out the products you don’t love to friends or family for good karma.
4. Have a swap!
I love doing beauty swaps. Invite some friends over and tell them to bring some products they’re tired of, or products they’ve fallen out of love with. Then lay them all out, have a couple drinks and get to swapping! Donate whatever doesn’t get taken. You never know what you’ll end up with.
5. Offer up your head.
This might be scary, but it could be magical too: Be a hair model! Perhaps the salon you frequent has an apprentice who needs a bleach-and-tone model; that’s how I got my last root touchup for just $20. Otherwise beauty schools are always looking for heads of hair and Craiglist can be a good resource too. This is great if you’re looking for a brand new look, but not so much if you’re afraid of change. Follow a few salons you like on Facebook and Twitter, because when they need hair models they’ll post about it.
6. Check out the discounters.
I don’t advise you buy skincare or shampoo at places like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s, but they’re a hotbed for cheap perfume and body lotion. (Seriously cheap–I just paid $7 for Madonna’s Truth or Dare.) Scour the clearance items at Target. Be thrifty! It just takes a little ingenuity.