Just how do you pick new make-up or perfume without trialling it in person? Why, with these 7 indispensable tips for online beauty shopping that minimise the risk of expensive mistakes.

As we head into the New 20s, the ability to have all our consumer whims sated in just one click has become the everyday norm, from groceries to fashion, all delivered direct to our door.

However, beauty has stubbornly remained one the last vestiges of in-store purchasing; the fear of choosing the wrong colour lipstick that looked great on your iPhone screen but not so much IRL; or the fragrance described in the online blurb as ‘having gourmand notes’ but ended up being more sickly than sweet, keeps us returning in-store to swatch and spritz before we buy.

Yet with the UK beauty industry valued at £27.2billion in 2018*, online make-up and skincare sites have had to get with the digital programme if they want a slice of the beauty pie, offering clever technology and good old fashioned customer service to ensure you get the right product, virtually.

Here are our top tips for navigating the world of online beauty buys.

Know your own skin

Knowing your own skin tone and type will help you narrow down the right products for you – if you need a session on counter to ‘upskill’ on your make-up lingo so that you can branch out on your own online, book one in. Are you a cool neutral or an olive mid-tone? Think of your base as an extension of your skincare; many foundations contain skin nourishing ingredients, so understanding what type of formula will suit your skin type is hugely important, whether it’s a hydrating serum for dry skin or a mattifying powder for an oily t-zone.

Find your colour palette

Beyond being able to successfully colour match your own skin tone, knowing the colours that compliment your colourings is extremely useful. While make-up is meant to be fun and explorative with no set rules, as a loose guide, fair skin tones suit cooler shades such as pale pastels, while medium/olive skins look great in warmer, richer hues: think jewel tones and metallics such as rose gold and bronze. Darker skin tones look great in this season’s on-trend neons and brights, as well as warm juicy berry shades.

Shade seeker

A great online tool if you’re looking to accurately colour-match your foundation is Findation. Simply search for the base or concealer you’re currently using, or have used in the past that blended well, and it will give you a shopping list of compatible shades from a wide range of brands such as Nars, Revlon, Bourjois, Chanel, Smashbox, Rimmel and MAC. You can buy with confidence, knowing you’ll get a compatible shade.

Get lippie

For a bit of fun, the inimitably chic Chanel Colour Matcher uses your web cam or iPhone camera to show you what its range of lipsticks would look like on – virtually. Great for exploring the tones that work for you, without the risk of expensive mistakes.

Beauty 101

With the rise in online beauty sales has come an increase in beauty bloggers – use them as a font of knowledge and a great place to start when researching your next buy. Find a beauty blogger with a similar skin tone to yours who swatches products on their own skin (or even better, does a tutorial) for an accurate preview of how it might suit you.

New Horizons

Beauty subscription boxes are a great way to discover new beauty brands and trial their products without investing too heavily in a full-size product. When signing up, you will usually be asked to fill in a questionnaire about your colourings and skin type to help ensure you are delivered products to flatter your tone. It’s a great way to sample outside your comfort zone and push your beauty boundaries.

Ask the expert…

Many online beauty sites offer a live chat functionality to allow you access to the experts. Just as you would on counter, pick their brains as to what they would recommend; do give them a brief, a budget – some even allow you to send a selfie so they can match their product recommendations to your colourings. Browsing larger sites can sometimes feel overwhelming, so allowing a personal shopper to edit together some ideas for you is a great (free) way to shop beauty online.

Final word of warning…

Be aware of beauty knock-offs online and always buy from a reputable retailer. General warning signs will be in the quality of the photography on the site and the packaging when it arrives. If you’re buying from a hugely discounted online store, or an end-of-line product, be aware that all beauty products have a sell-by date; look out for discolouration, separation or odour in case a product has spoiled.

Finally, always check an online retailer’s returns policy. To help consumers buy with confidence, many will offer free returns; however if the hygiene seal has been removed they will not refund, just like if you had bought it in-store.

*British Beauty Council


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By Lydia Mansi
January 2020