Americans love cosmetics, spending $7 billion annually just to look better, according to statistics in a YWCA report on the nation’s obsession with beauty.
Whether you purchase more — or less — makeup than the average woman, chances are you are overpaying. In fact, some estimates have found that the average markup on cosmetics is as high as 78 percent.
So here are eight surefire tips for bypassing inflated retail values:
1. Read weekly ads
Looking for weekly ads — both in print and online — is one of the best ways to stock up on beauty products when prices go down.
Check your local newspaper or ShopLocal.com for the latest ads from drugstore, big box and department store chains in your area. Visit the websites of specialty stores like Sephora and ULTA Beauty for their latest sales, coupons and promo codes.
2. Subscribe to email lists
Check the websites of your favorite cosmetics brands and retailers for an email sign-up option.
In the past week alone, I learned of a sitewide 40 percent off sale at makeup manufacturer ELF and a buy-one-get-one-free promo code from cosmetics company Paula’s Choice.
If you’re worried about these emails bombarding your inbox all day, create an email filter. I use Gmail’s filters, for example, to direct all retailer emails to automatically bypass my inbox and instead go into one folder that I check once a day.
3. Check the return policy
Getting stuck with makeup that looked good in the package but looks bad on you is an effective way to blow money.
So check retailers’ return policies before shopping their stores or websites, especially if you can’t try a product before buying it. We break down the best of these policies in “6 Retailers That Take The Sting Out Of Cosmetics Shopping.”
4. Read the ingredient list
Most verbiage from cosmetics companies is marketing malarkey.
Terms like “hypoallergenic” and “organic,” for example, are not defined or otherwise regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use on cosmetics packaging. So they mean essentially nothing in that context.
Federal law does, however, state that cosmetics labels must bear an ingredient list, making it perhaps the only useful part of the labels. Paula Begoun — the so-called “cosmetics cop” who formulates skin care products for Paula’s Choice — calls it a “far more reliable source of information than the product’s description and claims.”
So read it before buying — and read “8 Surprising Ways To Ruin Your Skin” to learn which ingredients to avoid.
5. Consider what you already have
Many women who wear makeup have a product — or drawer stuffed with such products — lying around that they abandoned after a few weeks or months for any of various reasons.
Take inventory of them before automatically spending more money. Ask yourself if you really need what you’re about to buy in light of your abandoned stash.
6. Consider what others already have
If you need more cosmetics, ask friends or relatives about their abandoned stashes and consider trading instead of spending.
Keep expiration dates in mind, however. Begoun and other experts say certain types of eye makeup should be tossed after a few months, for example.
Bacteria also can be spread when one person uses another’s makeup, so take a cue from professional makeup artists like Wayne Goss: The YouTube darling disinfects makeup by spraying it with rubbing alcohol. (Look for a higher concentration, like 90 percent instead of 70 percent, because it evaporates faster.)
7. Try a different brand
Allegiance to a single brand limits your choices while possibly expanding your expenses.
It definitely expands expenses when you’re loyal to a high-end brand or even a single high-end product.
With new makeup brands and lines launched seemingly monthly, though, it’s hard to justify spending dozens of dollars on a single product just because the manufacturer’s name is that of an industry celebrity.
Based on reviews from professional makeup artists, Begoun’s Beautypedia database, and the average Jane or John Doe with a blog or vlog, every brand offers star products — and duds. So check out reviews of drugstore brands before reaching for the expensive stuff again.
8. Get something extra for nothing
Some people swear they need a particular high-end product that essentially never goes on sale.
Others realize too late that their foundation bottle soon will be empty, and that no store has it on sale at the moment.
They still do not need to cave to retail value. As with other types of products, there are ways around paying full price for makeup. For example:
- Get cash back or another free perk by paying with a rewards credit card. Be sure to pay off your bill at the end of the month to avoid paying interest.
- Shop via a rebate website. (Check out “How to Make Money With Rebate Websites” to learn more.)
- Get freebies by purchasing online from retailers that offer free samples or travel-size products with virtually every order. Sephora is perhaps best known for this, always offering promo codes for various freebies. But ULTA Beauty and Nordstrom are also among stores that often hand out at least a couple of free samples with a purchase.