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12 insider secrets I learned working at Sephora

I visited my first Sephora store in Chicago when I was a young girl. It was like a real-life fantasy land, a candy store for beauty lovers that seemed to go on and on. I remember thinking, “I want to be one of these girls.” Fast forward to getting laid off from my graphic design job right before the holidays, which ultimately, and thankfully, led to me working at, you guessed it… Sephora!

Even though the uniform, er, costume, looked like something from Star Trek, I was so proud to wear that Prabal Gurung-designed tunic. I loved working at Sephora and though it was stressful at times, it played a hugely monumental role in my career as a beauty blogger and freelance makeup artist.

More: Sephora offers free makeup classes, who knew?

In my time there, I moved from Product Consultant to Operations Consultant to Senior Education Consultant. I soaked up every drop of knowledge that I could, just like a Boscia blotting sheet. I truly took advantage of my employee discount. I perfected and advanced my makeup skills tenfold. I learned the importance of skin care and graduated from Dove soap to Peter Thomas Roth. I learned how to make my eyebrows what they are today, thanks to a certain Anastasia of Beverly Hills. Sephora made me the woman I am today — a makeup monster — and I couldn’t be happier for it.

Now that I’ve experienced life on the red and black side, here are my ultimate rules for shopping at my first love, Sephora.

1. Try the custom makeover because it’s a steal

If you’re going to spend $50 or more, not hard to do at Sephora, why not schedule a custom makeover? This 45-minute session is free with a $50 purchase or completely free to VIB (Sephora’s version of VIP) members. You can grab your products, learn some tips and tricks and leave the store looking fab. Try scheduling this before a girls’ night or dinner but probably not before a job interview or first date, just in case you aren’t in love with the results. You’ll leave with so much more than just the products you came for!

2. Ask for samples

Ask for samples of the products you are truly interested in. There is no sense in you trying the $125 serum, just to say you did, falling in love with it and never having the real budget to purchase the full size. That’s like trying on the $20,000 wedding dress. If it doesn’t fit into your budget, it won’t fit into your routine. I loved making samples for people when I knew they were genuinely undecided or I knew once they tried a product, they’d love it. I would always suggest foundation samples.

Warning: You may think the employees won’t remember you, but oh, we will. Please don’t take advantage of policies or kindness. In the end, everyone loses. Fragrances are particularly prone to “refills” and it’s just silly really.

3. Buy the gift sets

These are almost always a crazy good value. They come out seasonally and are a great buy (for yourself or as gifts).

4. Don’t bother with travel sizes

They’re generally overpriced. Ask for a sample of the product you need, save the sample container and refill with your full size product at home when you need to travel.

5. Buy brushes in sets

You’ll save a lot by doing this vs. buying individually. The Sephora Pro brush line is of very high quality and any brush you pick up is sure to be a winner. I say this as a freelance makeup artist.

6. Don’t turn down the Beauty Insider card

There is literally no reason for you to not have this. It’s free, first of all, earns you points for deluxe samples, a free birthday gift and a discount at least once a year! The perks only get better as you move up to VIB and then VIB Rouge, for people with real problems.

7. Don’t sample products without asking an employee to sanitize it for you first

The things these eyes have seen. Just trust me on this.

8. Ask employees what they’re loving

As employees, we receive what is called gratis, a.k.a. “free stuff” and are permitted to take a set amount of samples on a weekly basis. This is specifically for us to become more versed in the products so we can share this information with clients. Every employee is likely trying a handful of products at any given moment and will be happy to share with you their personal faves!

9. About that return policy

If you don’t love a product, or the shade isn’t what you thought, by all means, return it and find the perfect pick. Employees don’t mind helping you find a product that you’ll love. But I’ve seen entire articles written about how to take advantage of Sephora’s generous return policy by returning half used products and shades when the trends change and you get tired of them. It infuriates me, to be honest, and is a very entitled attitude. When items are returned used, they are damaged out. They are destroyed. They go to complete waste.

More: 9 Best-selling lipsticks at Sephora

10. You can paint your nails at the nail bar

Look, it’s fine if you want to paint your nails at the nail bar, but please, for the love of all things holy, don’t drop that bottle.

11. Sephora’s generic brand is good quality

If you have to have a sample of Perricone’s $162 Cold Plasma but would never dream of spending that, fine, but do consider the Sephora skin care line. It’s affordable and has some really great options, particularly the Instant Moisturizer.

12. You can try products on with the “express service”

If you’ve always wondered what you’d look like in a bold lip, do just ask! An employee would love to show you, free of charge, as part of the 15-minute express services.

But please, whatever you do, please don’t take handfuls of the mascara wands and sponges. The store has to pay for those!

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