There’s an upside to being a beauty addict. Ever since I began spending the majority of my income on products to slap across my face, I’ve become an expert at gaming Sephora. The mall’s most ubiquitous makeup store offers plenty of freebies, samples, and rewards for frequent shoppers, and I’ve learned how to get the most out of all of them. Other people have airline miles and reward programs; I have my VIB Rouge.
In the process of becoming a Sephora master, I’ve worked with experts on curating a beauty routine, saved loads on buying travel products, and practically earned a degree from their beauty classes—all for free. And I’m here to teach you all mysecrets.
DECIDE RIGHT NOW, AT THE TOP OF THE YEAR, IF YOU WANT TO BE HIGH STATUS
The tippy-top of the Sephora status hierarchy is VIB Rouge, the honor given to those of us vain and insane enough to spend $1000 there in one calendar year. (Hi!) Perks include unlimited makeovers, exclusive discounts, special events, and free participation in Sephora’s Flash shipping program. Status lasts during the year you obtain it and the following year, so winter or early spring are the best times to decide if you’re going to take the plunge. If you live nowhere near a Sephora store or love an Ulta, fuck it, forget it. Same for if you regularly purchase Chanel, MAC, NYX or drugstore makeup. But if you shop Sephora often, you don’t want to blow $875 at Sephora and be left status-less.
COROLLARY: IF MORE THAN THREE OF YOUR FRIENDS ARE GETTING MARRIED THIS YEAR, YOU WANT STATUS
The relative perks of VIB Rouge are hotly contested, but it’s undeniable that free beauty consultations help when you’re going to a million weddings. If you plan your purchases carefully and wait until you hit status, you might be able to save the $75-$100 it costs to get your makeup done for someone else’s special day. (And that’s not even counting whoever else is getting married next year!)
SHOWER THE BENEFITS OF STATUS ON YOUR FRIENDS AND LOVED ONES.
Now, blowing 1K on foundation each year just to be in some dumb inner circle is totally not worth it. But if you shop smart, status is easier than you think. Just like with airline miles, you’re better off spending in the same place, so think of Sephora as your first stop whenever you need to buy presents year-round. The gift sets are amazing thank-yous or stocking stuffers, fancy face creams make fail-proof Mother’s Day presents, and your boss will definitely dig a bold red lipstick for the holidays instead of dumb gourmet hot cocoa. Even better? Everything is returnable, so even if you mess up, it’s like a gift card that’s more fun to open. So, even if you’re not a makeup connoisseur, you’ll easily reap all the benefits.
SWIPE THE STICKS
While I was at Sephora last year with my mom, she asked for a handful of mascara wands, which was hella weird. Ends up, it’s not because she’s a crazy germaphobe—it’s because they are the perfect eyebrow brush. Seriously! Simply pencil in your eyebrows or use dark shadow, and use these mini wands to fix it. And while you’re at it, grab a couple lip applicators, too—they’re perfect for applying lip stain in a hurry, and provide a smoother surface than a lip brush.
GET YOUR LEARN ON
Most Sunday mornings, I’m not at brunch but at my nearest Sephora, learning how to become a lipstick aficionado or smokey eye expert for absolutely free. Each two-hour Beauty Class (times vary by location) rotates between instruction from the store’s pros and applying the new techniques on yourself, so you really do walk away with some serious skills. Using the products will likely make you want to buy them, sure, but it’s in no way required. All you need to do to enroll is sign up for their beauty insider program—meaning you essentially trade an e-mail address for an expert-level contouring class. (Which, by the way, is fantastic.)
EARN EVEN MORE BEAUTY SCHOOLING THROUGH CAREFUL CALENDAR MANAGEMENT
If you’re a makeup neurotic like I am, you might live in fear that you’re applying lip liner wrong, or wonder desperately why your foundation isn’t as long-lasting as it claims. If so, Sephora’s Personal Beauty Advisor is your know-all beauty fairy godmother. The PBA program, which only exists in larger stores is one of the biggest hidden gems of Sephora: 90 minutes with a top-level beauty expert in a private room, plus one-on-one shopping sessions for whatever your worries may be. One snag: If you have VIB Rouge, this appointment can be scheduled for free, but if not, you’ll have to purchase $125 in makeup. Sure, it’s stiff price , but if you plan around when your high-ticket products need to be replenished, it’s essentially free face tutoring. Be mindful of your calendar, and you’ll master a custom-made beauty regimen.
DON’T BE SWAYED BY TRAVEL-SIZED PACKAGING
Oh, the checkout aisle of Sephora. It’s so goddamn tempting to grab a miniature primer or foundation for your next business trip, but don’t do it. The price-per-ounce of a travel sized product compared to a full-size is so ridiculous that, frankly, it should be illegal. Nothing makes me feel more like a little lady than having miniature bottles of everything ready to go, but unless you’re leaving town for a full week, the cost is not worth it. If you’re going on a short trip—one or two nights—stop by the store and get a tiny sample of foundation, primer and face cream. (Sephora employees are limited to giving you three samples.) Everything will be in a little baggie, ready to be popped in your carry-on, and you won’t have to stress the night before your trip trying to find tiny jars in your cabinet.
LOVE SUBSCRIPTION SAMPLE KITS? BUILD YOUR OWN
If you want to load up on trial-sized bonus gifts, the sample options are way better online than in store, and if your total is over $50, they’ll ship for free. The Beauty Deals page, which is slightly hard to find, lists every promotional code you can use, with most only available online. Since I stopped buying anything without getting some hand-picked freebies, I’ve amassed enough trial BB creams and foundations (in my exact shade!) to last me an entire month. Translation: I’ve gotten more much from shopping by this model than from my $10-a-month box of beauty surprises.
DON’T SLEEP ON HAIR CARE SAMPLES
As tricky as makeup is, nothing fills a product graveyard in your bathroom like cast-aside hair products, which are so different from person to person. So remember: there is nowhere else besides Sephora you can take home samples of hair care from. Consider buying your next hair dryer or straightener here, too—it could be just the thing to help bump you up to a whole new world of status.
NEVER, EVER THROW AWAY MAKEUP PACKAGING
Though they don’t advertise this, Sephora has customer service on par with Zappos. You can return almost anything to Sephora, new or used, within 60 days of purchase, so long as you have a receipt. Hate a foundation? No problem. Break out from a new night cream? All good! Sure, it feels weird to return a used item, but it’s way better than wasting your money on something you’ll never use. If you have a receipt, you can get a full refund, but no worries if you’re bad with paper slips—check out using your Beauty Insider account, and you’ll always have it on record.