Everything you need to know before shopping at Sephora during the pandemic
Makeup lovers rejoice: There's a way to shop safely!
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The holiday season is right around the corner! If you’re anything like me, you’re wondering how to snag the very best gifts for your friends and family while keeping safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. For the skincare and makeup lovers on your list, shopping restrictions pose a unique problem because, at Sephora especially, there’s an emphasis on trying everything in-store and taking samples home before you hand over your credit card.
Make no mistake: Shopping online is the safest bet for you right now, but if you want to visit Sephora’s makeup mecca to see colors in person or speak with a consultant, there are new precautions at the brick-and-mortar stores. How do I know that? Because it’s one of my happy places and I wanted to know how exactly a beauty retailer was handling pandemic survival mode—especially since I worked there for 6 years.
What I learned did not disappoint. Below is what you can expect to be different if you go shopping in person—and a few notes about all of the things that remained delightfully the same. Happy shopping!
1. Masks are a must
Before you can cross that hallowed threshold into beauty nirvana, a standard face covering (this includes your nose) is required. However, if you forgot yours at home, most stores have little stations set up out front where you can grab one on your way in.
2. You’ll get the spiel
If the person hanging out at the door passing out masks doesn’t recognize you, you’ll very likely get “The Talk.” It’s professionally done and guides you through all of the basics: Keep your mask on at all times and stay six feet apart from your fellow shopper; use as much of the hand sanitizer that’s stationed in every available nook and cranny of the store as you’d like; hands off the testers (more on this below); and try to follow the arrows on the ground so you don’t accidentally collide with someone else.
3. People are constantly cleaning
I mentioned it before, but it’s worth calling out that after every person finishes their transaction at the cashwrap, the whole thing is wiped down with a sanitizing agent. It might mean there’s a bit of a lag time between you and your turn with the cashier, but the safety measure is worth the extra time!
All around the store, usually once every other hour, Sephora employees (called cast members) wipe down their own immediate areas, so it isn’t just the cashwrap that gets the extra attention. This put me at ease immediately, because if you really think about it, it’s so easy to touch literally anything without thinking about it. I even saw one person—bless him—sanitizing the top of the sanitizer bottles. I never would have thought to do that, but they did, and I appreciated that.
4. You can’t touch the testers (but cast members can)
This one’s a biggy, and probably the hardest for anyone who loves Sephora to adapt to. Clients are strictly forbidden to touch any of the testers on the shelves, and for very good reason: they’re an unnecessary exposure to items another person may have touched or put on their bodies.
So how do you know what shade of foundation is right for you? How can you possibly be happy with a lipstick before you put it on? Luckily, the cast members can touch everything! This means you’ll have a great chance to talk to the experts in a safe and productive way, and you’ll still get to know all of the products—just without the tactile context we’re familiar with.
For example, when you find something you want to take a closer look at, each cast member has been taught how to show them to you a little differently than before: first, they’ll super sanitize the testers and likely swatch them on their own skin, just so you can see how the pigment looks when it mixes with warmth and the air. This isn’t necessarily new and should be familiar to anyone who’s shopped here before, but I mention it for everyone who might be a little shocked to see helpful cast members transforming their arms into little palettes for you. Powder bronzers, liquid concealers, bullet lipsticks—the works—will all be displayed for you on the cast member’s hand (or, if you have a lot you’d like to see, the better part of their arm).
If you want a closer look at how a shade will fit with your complexion specifically, cast members have pieces of plexiglass they can swatch the color onto, which they’ll then hold up next to the part of the body where you intend to wear it (with the obvious exception being anywhere hidden by your mask, which should stay firmly in place). This may not be quite as good as actually getting to feel the texture of the product on your skin, but it’s a great way for you to get a solid idea of how a makeup item may look on you without the potential exposure hazards.
Sadly, this also includes fragrance testers. No spritzing yourself, but like before, a cast member can spray you to your heart’s content (but, like, in moderation, please, because no one likes too much fragrance).
5. You’ll have to skip taking samples home
Another big one: unlike in normal times, cast members cannot make samples for you from the testers on the shelves. For me, this may be the greatest bummer. I love trying things without committing to the cost, and Sephora’s always been an amazing resource for that. However, the brands partnered with Sephora have come through with pre-packaged samples for a lot of their most popular products, and those can go home with you. This isn’t necessarily new, but it certainly felt like cast members had tons of them to show me, which tells me there may have been a push to get more sample-sized products out there for exactly this reason.
6. The return policy is just as awesome
Nothing has changed about Sephora’s impeccable return policy, which is a relief. Even with the plexiglass trick, it’s difficult to determine whether things like a lipstick or a concealer will dry down to the correct shade for you, but don’t worry—if it’s wrong, bring it back. Seriously! Bring it back with your receipt within the 30-day window for a full refund, no questions asked.
7. You can pick up in store
If you’re just not sold on all of the cool protocol changes above, consider Reserve Online and Pickup In Store (ROPIS) instead. You’ll be able pick all of the things you want and have it ready for you to grab the moment you are at the drop spot (usually right outside the door), and you won’t have to wait for shipping.
Another perk: Your favorite store location gets the credit for the purchase, which we all know helps our brick-and-mortar stores immensely, now more than ever. Also, it’s all the fun of online shopping and an excuse to get out of your house safely.
8. You still have access to the beauty gurus
Sephora is still, hands-down, full of the most intelligent and highly trained folks in the beauty bizz. From every single cast member to the brand representatives who travel from store to store to help out, if you are looking for someone to give you the best beauty education, trust the in-store experience. They’re the very best people to talk to if you’re uncertain about an ingredient or a trend, and they’re front-line experts on all of the new stuff hitting shelves.
On that note, a tangential (but not unimportant) reason to give your favorite store a visit is the sheer volume of newness exploding from the shelves that you’ll be able to learn about. Exclusive brands, such as One Size by Patrick Starrr, Rare by Selena Gomez, and Makeup by Mario by Mario Dedivanovic, are ready for you, and I can’t think of anyone better to teach you all about them than the folks at Sephora.
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