Shopping for Makeup Post COVID-19 Lockdown Will Never Be the Same

Retailers including Sephora, Nordstrom, and Ulta are all getting rid of in-store testers.

There are virtual try-ons, color descriptions, and customer reviews to help you buy a new foundation online. However, none of these tools can ever compare to an in-store makeup shopping experience.

Swatching your wrist with a foundation tester and actually applying it to your skin is a foolproof way to find the perfect shade and formula for you. But will makeup tester still be in stores post-COVID-19 lockdown?

That's a very good question.

Even though some stores are reopening as more and more states come out of stay-at-home orders this month, the U.S. government hasn't shared a definitive answer. As of May 22, the decision to keep and regulate makeup testers in stores is left up to the retailers themselves.

That being said, mass retailers, department stores, and boutiques are not taking the safety and hygiene of their customers and employees lightly.

"As we continue to reopen our doors to customers, more than anything, we want our customers and employees to feel safe in our stores," says Marcella Schlitt, Nordstrom national beauty director. "We've been paying close attention to guidance and directives from local and national authorities and are taking steps to ensure we're in alignment with those."

Here, top beauty retailers break down what to expect post-COVID-19 lockdown, and how they're responding to the pandemic by mandating higher safety standards in their stores.

Makeup Testers Will Be Gone for the Foreseeable Future

Across the board, Sephora, Ulta, Nordstrom, and SHEN Beauty are getting rid of communal makeup testers that customers can physically touch and apply on themselves.

"To ensure our guests' safety, product testers will no longer be available and are on display only to offer a truer sense of colors and textures," Kecia Steelman, chief store operations officer and president international at Ulta Beauty, shares.

However, while single use testers are being explored, they can be expensive for both brands and retailers to execute. "I have a few ideas, but I also need to work through it from a financial standpoint because my idea is going to be relatively going to be expensive if it comes into fruition," explains Jessica Richards, founder of SHEN Beauty. "There's also talk of brands providing one-time use testers for stores. But what about the smaller brands that can't afford to make them? Those are mostly the brands I work with."

While mass retailers may axe testers for all categories, boutiques might still allow them for skincare and body samples, but you won't be able to dispense them yourself. "Skincare and body care have pumps and you can drop it into the customer's hands, but it's the makeup that's concerning," Richards says.

Another option is offering take-home samples, which is what Nordstrom is doing.

Expect More Virtual Try-On Experiences

In lieu of in-store testers, some retailers are ramping up their digital try-on experiences. Ulta is expanding its GLAMlab offerings, a try-on experience within the Ulta Beauty app. "GLAMlab is an excellent way for guests to virtually try-on makeup products across categories such as eyeshadow, eyeliner, brows, lips, mascara, foundation, false eyelashes and even hair color — an experience you couldn't try in-store previously," Steelman shares.

Sephora also has its Virtual Artist tool in its app. This allows you to virtually try on eye, lip, and cheek makeup, plus full makeup looks created by Sephora experts.

As for in-store events, Nordstrom plans to move them online, too.

Most In-Store Services Will Be Suspended

On top of not being able to test makeup products yourself, don't expect mass retailers to give you makeup application demos. Nordstrom's also going one step further to pause all waxing, nail, and spa services.

On the other hand, Ulta is suspending brow and skin services, but will continue offer hair services in select locations. (Check your nearest Ulta store to see if it's included.) The retailer is also upping its in-store salon safety and hygiene practices.

"While we have always kept high quality safety standards, we have increased our measures and now require both the stylist and guest wear a face covering during appointments; associates will also wear gloves," Steelman shares. "We frequently clean and disinfect between each appointment and throughout the day; and salons are operating with limited capacity to help maintain social distancing where possible."

As for boutiques like SHEN Beauty that offer facials, waxing, makeup, and brow services, they will require their employees to have elevated training. Richards says that she is asking her staff to complete BARBICIDE training every six months, in addition to any other relevant teachings.

"My employee that does microblading and I were discussing how he may have to take an additional course once we can offer the service again," she says. "Since microblading creates a wound, it may need to be wrapped up afterwards like having a fresh tattoo wrapped in plastic because the virus is airborne. This would require an additional course on hygiene protocols for bandaging wounds."

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Stores Will Be Disinfected Throughout the Day

Every retailer InStyle spoke with said they are taking their already-high standards of cleanliness even further. Employees will deep clean and sanitize stores before, during, and after business hours. They will also participate in wellness checks prior to shifts and depending on the retailer, this may include include temperature checks.

Hand sanitizer will be provided throughout the stores, employees will wear face masks, and customers will be asked to do so too. Customer face masks may be mandated depending on state and region.

Social distancing measures will also be put in place, with markers to ensure people are kept six feet apart as well as limited occupancy.

While makeup shopping is going to be nothing like the way it used to be, what is certain is that your favorite retailers are constantly adapting as the situation changes, too.

"This situation is new for all of us, and we're going to be learning a lot as we go," says Schlitt. "We'll be adjusting our approach based on what we learn so we can continue to deliver great service to our customers while also doing everything we can to keep everyone safe."

The coronavirus pandemic is unfolding in real time, and guidelines change by the minute. We promise to give you the latest information at time of publishing, but please refer to the CDC and WHO for updates.

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