4 Bigtime Pitfalls of Buying Makeup Online & How to Avoid Them


Updated July 28, 2020

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This cosmetics marketing trends report says that 42% of women in the U.S. prefer buying makeup online. That number comes from a 2018 survey, though — long before anyone had heard of the coronavirus, social distancing, or shelter-in-place orders. Now that we’re all spending a lot more time at home, it’s likely that buying cosmetics online isn’t a preference — it’s a necessity.

The thing is, buying makeup online can be a minefield of problems, with the worst outcome being a drawer full of product you’ll never use. That’s frustrating and an enormous waste of your beauty budget. Don’t let it happen to you! Here’s a look at four pitfalls of buying makeup online and how to avoid them.

The 4 Problems (& Solutions) of Buying Makeup Online

1. The new foundation makes you look ill

Woman with unmatched makeup.

The wrong foundation color is never flattering. Too rosy and you look feverish; too much yellow and someone will ask if your liver is failing.

The normal way to avoid those mishaps is to try the color, either on your forearm or directly on your face. Even better, sit down in the beauty chair and have a stylist apply some options. Sadly, that in-person process has its own pitfalls. Depending on the lighting inside the store, you might look amazingly fresh and beautiful, right up until you walk outside. And then, suddenly, it’s like the sun’s pointing a big ole arrow at your face with a caption that reads, “Hey world, look! I’m wearing foundation!”

Solution: Use the foundation matrix

So if it’s tough to get the right foundation in a store, how the heck could you possibly find the right shade online? Doesn’t an online purchase guarantee total foundation failure? Not if you know about the foundation matrix, it doesn’t.

The Temptalia foundation matrix is nothing short of brilliant. Input a brand and shade of foundation you already know suits you, and the matrix matches you with an all-new foundation that has similar shading and undertones. Want to explore what other brands might work for you? Or see what shade you’d be in a hot new brand? The matrix can do either. The more known matches you add, the better the suggestions will be.

If you’re feeling really bold, look at your matches in the matrix, then walk into a Sephora and ask the sales associate for a shade recommendation in a specific brand. Compare the sales girl’s reco to your matrix matches and see who does it better.

2. The pigment looks totally different IRL

Collection of lipsticks

I have a mild obsession with lip color. If I find myself in possession of a Sephora or Target gift card, I’m almost definitely using that money on a new lipstick. My collection includes reds, mauves, berries, nudes, glossies, mattes. In a momentary lapse of judgment, I even brought home a ginger lip color once. (It was an awful match for me and I ended up returning it.)

But as we all know, a red from one brand looks totally different than a red from another brand. And that means buying lip color online is as risky as buying foundation online. You could easily end up looking like Courtney Love, thanks to an overly bold red, or Pam Anderson, if your new “nude” shade is really just a blah brown.

Solution: Know your undertones

When a lip color catches you off guard, it’s often related to how the color plays against your lip and skin color. One way to avoid that surprising clash is to know your undertones and shop accordingly. There’s not a lot that can go wrong when you understand your own undertones. There’s endless advice online (quizzes, YouTube videos, etc.) on how to determine whether you’re cool, warm or neutral, such as:

  • Look at the veins on your wrist. A green tone means warm, while a blue tone means cool. You might see bluish-green, too. That means you are neutral — hooray, the world is your oyster!
  • Put on a white t-shirt and hold a white sheet of paper next to your makeup-free face. If that paper casts a pink or blue hue on your skin, you’re cool as a cucumber. See yellows instead? Warm, baby.

If you’re cool, shop lip colors that have a purple, blue, or pink base. That means you’ll look for mauves, wines, berries, and cool reds with no hint of orange. As a warm, you’ll do best with orange-based colors like brick reds, corals, and peaches.  

Bonus: Check the color wheel for complementary eye color

If you’re looking to add complementary shades to the collection you already have on hand or you’re looking for inspo to avoid buying another brown shadow, use a good old-fashioned color wheel to see what unexpected combos might look nice with one another. Another advantage here — you’ll add some artistic vantage to your routine.

3. You get expired product

Expired foundation can separate and become hard to apply. Expired lipstick gets crumbly or even — gasp — moldy. Expired eye products can carry bacteria that can lead to infection. Generally, it’s a good idea to heed makeup expiration dates, especially when you start to notice a change in the texture or moisture level of the product.

Retail stores generally remove expired products from the shelves, but online stores can be less disciplined. It is a possibility that your online makeup order could be fulfilled with products that have already passed their expiration dates. Yuck.

Solution: Check the return policy first

This is a best practice for all online shopping but choose online shops with fast and liberal shipping and return policies. That way, you know you can get your money back for product that doesn’t meet your expectations.

You can also lean on the return policy to minimize color fails. Simply choose a couple options, and test each in the comfort of your own home. Don’t forget to check the product in outdoor lighting, too. Keep what works for you and send back what doesn’t. Sephora and Nordstrom are both good options because returns and exchanges are hassle-free.  

4. You get fake product

According to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), products purchased from third-party sellers on eBay, Walmart, Amazon, and Sears could be counterfeit. The GAO purchased 47 products online and 20 of them turned out to be fake. Worse, 13 of the 20 counterfeits were cosmetics — Urban Decay dupes, to be exact.

It’s one thing to carry a fake handbag, but quite another to put phony makeup on your face. It’s likely that fake product was formulated without regard for your health or safety.

Solution: Buy direct

You won’t get stuck with counterfeits if you always buy direct from the brand, or from an established retailer like Sephora or Nordstrom. It’s not worth taking a chance on those third-party Amazon and Walmart sellers. That’s not to say you can’t buy at all from Amazon. You still can, just buy directly from the brand’s Amazon store.

Buy makeup online, the right way

You may have to learn a few new tricks to manage the risks of buying makeup online — but you’ll be a better beauty shopper as a result. Plus, you’ll have the freedom to shop cosmetics from the couch, no pants required.

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By Catherine Brock

As a Southern California transplant now living in the Midwest, Catherine has turned layering into an art form and accepted that UGGs actually do have a place in the stylish lady's wardrobe. She's been featured in Woman's World Magazine, DrLaura.com, Refinery29, Wellness.com and has made appearances on ABC7 Chicago, FOX2News St. Louis, KCAL9 Los Angeles, Fox19 Cincinnati, WGN TV Chicago and WCPO TV Cincinnati.