Don't sit down at the first counter you see; walk around the store and decide which brand you're most drawn to. Like a natural approach? You'll probably feel comfortable at Bobbi Brown. Looking to experiment with color? Consider MAC. Even more important than the brand's aesthetic, though, is the makeup artist. Look for someone whose own makeup is beautifully applied. "But ask her who did it!" says makeup artist Rebecca Restrepo, who worked behind Lancôme and MAC counters before becoming a free agent. "If it was one of her colleagues, go to that person." And if you really want to do your research—or are considering a (probably bare-faced) male makeup artist—take a few minutes to observe the candidate working on someone else.
12. Be explicit...
A good makeup artist will pepper you with questions before he or she begins: Do you want a day or evening look? How much time do you spend on your makeup? What is your favorite feature? Are there certain products you want to avoid? If you aren't asked, offer up the information yourself. It seems obvious, but "the more you can articulate what you're looking for, the better the artist will know what to do for you," says makeup artist Pati Prema Dubroff.
13. ...But don't be rigid.
"I've had people sit in my chair and say, 'I don't like concealer, lip gloss is icky, don't do blush, and no eyeliner,'" says makeup artist Ramy Gafni, who worked at a Bobbi Brown counter before launching his own line. This isn't the way to get a flattering new look; offer guidance, but leave some leeway. You might discover that you look gorgeous in rosy lip gloss, or that the right concealer can brighten your whole face.
14. Time it right.
Try to head to the counter midweek—the earlier in the day the better, says Joan Poulton, vice president of education at Lancôme. You'll get more attention than you would on a hectic weekend afternoon. (Another bonus to showing up before lunch: Many counters give their makeup artists a sales goal for the day; they may exert more pressure to buy as the afternoon wears on.)
15. Be honest about your intentions.
If you're just window-shopping, say so, says Dubroff. Will you get the same time and attention you would have otherwise? If it's a busy day, probably not. But you won't feel sheepish when you walk away without a purchase. While there's no fee to sit down at a counter, "the unspoken agreement is that if you get a full makeover, you will buy something when it's over," says Gafni.
16. BYO makeup bag.
While you have a pro's attention, get input on the products you already use. "Even if it's makeup from other brands, we can show you how to use it more effectively," says Poulton. It can be especially helpful to bring your brushes: "We'll tell you which one is best for eyeliner, for blending, for lips," says Jenny Smith, a makeup artist at Nars.
17. Watch your steps...with a handheld mirror.
You'll give up the thrill of a "ta-da!" moment, but following along with the makeup artist will help you re-create the look. And you'll be able to nip in the bud any heavy-handed application. More interested in a lesson than perfection? Most makeup artists will hand over the brush—she does one eye; you try the other.
18. Keep it clean.
Insist on disposable sponges, Q-tips, and single-use mascara wands. Any nondisposable brush should be cleaned in front of you with an antibacterial spray. And lipstick should be spritzed with an alcohol solution and have the top layer scraped off—even when a one-use applicator is used.
Next: Read this advice before you get your next manicure