13 Things You’d Know Only If You've Worked A Retail Beauty Job

Though working as a beauty concierge was really just your standard no-degree-required customer service job, the people I worked with taught me so much.
Publish date:
September 20, 2013

In my short 23 years of life, I’ve worked a lot of jobs. I’ve spent most of my life feeling completely unqualified for and undeserving of every opportunity that’s ever presented itself to me. I joined the work force in 2006 as a lifeguard, wound up in retail in college, and now I’ve somehow managed to trick a university tech department that I’m qualified to be an “Information Technology Consultant,” despite the fact that my degree is in English Literature and Writing, and I am still trying to figure out how to use the printer in my new office. Just kidding! Kind of.

Anyway, this isn't about my inadequacy issues. It’s about the summer during which I worked at a high-end local makeup boutique/salon hybrid as a “beauty concierge.”

I suppose it’s just difficult to think about that experience without considering how undeserving I’ve often felt in my life, as this was one of those opportunities. I got the beauty concierge job in part because my AA sponsor worked at this particular high-end boutique and she put in a good word for me. Well, and she basically did my interview for me. The day before, she came over and helped me plan my outfit, down to my toenail polish.

Upon getting the job, I was thrilled. The perks were priceless. I was to get a yearly quota for gratis items of my choosing, additional gratis dollars whenever we met our weekend store-wide sales goals, and I’d get to follow makeup artists around all day, learning their ways and annoying the hell out of them.

My job was really more about fetching coffee, unpacking makeup orders, answering phones, and cleaning than it was the makeup apprenticeship I yearned for, but I learned a lot anyway. Below, I’ve listed my favorite lessons from my brief foray into the intersection of beauty and retail; some incredibly handy, some slightly obvious but still important, and others only vaguely useful but too interesting not to mention. Let me know what you think in the comments!


This might sound really basic to you pro-status xoVainers, but before working at the beauty boutique, all of my eyeshadows were some vague variation of Stila’s Kitten. I’d never tried so much as a blue liner. However, when it was slow, the makeup artists would treat me like their life-size Barbie and try all kinds of looks on me.

I found that basically anything can look good, provided you have time to play with it, take it off, start over, and play with it some more.

One of my current favorites is a shimmery peachy-pink shadow (a shade once considered “wild” to my pre-beauty boutique, color-virgin eyelids) all over paired with a maroon eyeshadow applied with a flat blush to line the lower lids. Other good combos: maroon and lime green (seriously), silver and brown, taupe and lavender... Pretty much anything that sounds weird and ugly. Play with colors and pairings! Being surprised is fun.


Every single makeup artist has her very own, should-be-patented, super-efficient brush washing method. There are 141,000 hits on YouTube for “Makeup Brush Clean Tutorial.” Guess what: They probably all work. Soap, water, shampoo, olive oil, brush cleaner--it doesn’t matter, as long as you’re washing them.


Unless you are using all super-heavy-duty, waterproof products, you need primer if you want to look good all day long. Since primer sits on your face all day, you should also try to find a formula that does double duty as a mattifier, moisturizer, anti-aging agent. One of my favorites is the CoverFX Mattifying Primer with Anti-Acne Treatment.


My manager at the beauty boutique was teased pretty frequently (albeit lovingly) by my coworkers for being a creature of habit. She had her makeup routine down to an exact science, and never varied in her product use, even when it came to lipstick. She always looked fantastic, though, so we couldn’t really blame her.

She once told me that her favorite blush was NARS Deep Throat, for the same reason the beauty media and pretty much the entire world love NARS Orgasm. Both shades are pretty much universally flattering. Deep Throat is the grown-up, less glittery, less pink, more peachy cousin to Orgasm. Orgasm is more intense, and Deep Throat is just as powerful, but more subdued.

I took a photo of both shades, along side the NYX blush I use prior to applying any powder blush. The combination has more staying power and looks more natural than either one on its own.


It’s good to have a small arsenal of trusty favorites that you rotate depending on the circumstances. I spent many years looking for that one perfect mascara that would complete me by making my lashes long and separated when I was going for a more minimal look, and sexy and voluptuous when I wanted to look more “done.” I came close with a lot of different formulas, but it’s just not possible to find one product that accomplishes both of those lofty goals perfectly.

Instead, you should have a go-to, wear-with-everything-T-shirt-bra mascara that you instinctively don most days; a two-inches-of-futuristic-gel-padding-cleavage mascara that remains pronounced through both an Instagram filter and the dim lighting at the outdoor hipster bar; a heavy-duty-sports-bra mascara that will survive an intense hot yoga class; and a light, barely-there, no-underwire mascara, just to keep things decent on your days off.


For a long, long, long time, I assumed these two phrases were one and the same. They aren’t!

Products that are oil-free can still contain comedogenic ingredients. Those of us with persnickety skin should be looking for both phrases on cosmetic labels.


NARS lipstick in Dolce Vita is just the perfect pinky-nude, your-lips-but-better shade. It’s the Deep Throat of lipsticks. Everyone who wears makeup ever should own this shade in at least one formula. My favorite is the Velvet Matte lip pencil, but it also comes in a gloss and a sheer lipstick.


Like, so obsessed that they all use pH wash on their business daily, eat Altoids obsessively, and leave trails of expensive, unique perfume everywhere they go. Oh, and smoking is basically forbidden.

I still smoked when I worked at the beauty boutique, and to get away with it I wore hoodies on my breaks in 85 degree weather, walked three blocks uphill so nobody would see me, and stood with my hand outstretched to the sky to avoid getting any smoke on my clothes, hair or skin, and lived in terror that some day someone would find out my dirty, decidedly non-beautiful secret. It probably would have been easier to just quit.

Now that I don’t smoke, I finally understand why my coworkers couldn’t stand the smell. Now that my sense of smell and circulation have been restored to humanoid levels, I can smell everything, all the time. EVERYTHING. So I spray myself with Lavanila’s Vanilla Coconut or Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb, depending on the season, and toss back Altoids all day long, even though I work in IT, where being pretty and smelling good provide the same functionality level as bringing my cat to the office.


When I went through my horrible, no-picture-lives-to-tell-the-tale early-sobriety pizzaface stage, I used only BareMinerals makeup on any part of my face that was prone to acne (so basically everything but my eyelids). After the acne began to clear up a bit, I began to notice that I looked great in the mirror, but my skin still looked so crappy in pictures. Keep in mind that this was more important then than it would be now, because we didn’t yet have Instagram to Amaro our imperfections away.

I asked one of the makeup artists about this, who told me that mineral makeup makes you shiny in pictures because the formulas are designed to be light-reflecting in a way that translates poorly onto film, simply because of the color properties of the ingredients in the formulas. These properties are, for the most part, invisible to the naked eye, which is why mineral foundations are still great for day-to-day use.


Model in a Bottle seals makeup. It’s like facial Aquanet. Throughout my summer at the beauty boutique, we had at least one bridal party every weekend, without fail. Each makeup artist had her own special favorite products for event makeup, but one thing was always the same--they always sealed the look with a spritz of Model in a Bottle.


Combining 3-free nail polishes (formulas that don’t contain toluene, formaldehyde, or dibutyl phlalate) with polishes that aren’t 3-free can ruin an otherwise perfectly good manicure.

It's a really common issue with this is using Seche Vite as a top coat (decidedly not 3-free) atop a 3-free formula like Zoya. The resulting manicure can have a weird consistency, or just not the fabled staying power and perfection that Seche Vite is known for.

If you must run around unzipping your pants and cracking open cans of Diet Coke immediately after painting your nails, Zoya Fast Drops are 3-free and will work much better with other 3-free formulas.


A lot of women go through life wearing mineral foundation upon BB cream upon tinted moisturizer, and that’s just not necessary. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re wearing “light” foundation by wearing it in four different forms at once.

I get it--liquid foundation is scary. But if you find one that truly works well for you, most other skin-enhancing products become almost superfluous. I wear Diorskin Forever Flawless Perfection (say that five times fast) because all I need are a few dabs of concealer and a fluff of powder after applying it to spend the rest of the day with pretty flawless-looking skin, for the most part.

Powder foundations, moisturizer/foundation combinations, and other “light” variations of foundation are designed for people who don’t want or need a lot of coverage. If you are trying to cover a lifetime’s worth of acne scars, go for the real deal and save yourself some time.


It starts with your brows. Then, the esthetician offers to do your upper lip for free because she’s bored. Suddenly, you’re looking in the mirror when you realize that the nearly-invisible layer of facial “hair” that covers your face is now totally lopsided and freakish. It looks weird to have those little tiny blonde guys living on your chin when your lip and unibrow are so bare, right? Then you might as well do your cheeks, while you’re at it. They’re absolutely covered in that offensive peach fuzz. The tops of your fingers are getting pretty unruly, too. TBQH, your chest has a few hairs that could go.

Next thing you know, you’re getting the inside of your ears and your big toes waxed along with your brows and bikini and shelling out $250 on a monthly schedule to maintain a smooth, hairless façade that lasts a week before beginning to grow back, and that not a single other soul ever notices.

Though working as a beauty concierge was really just your standard no-degree-required customer service/retail job with fancy perks, the women with whom I worked taught me endless lessons.

Have you ever worked for a beauty boutique or another type of cosmetics vendor? What tips did you learn? What is the most ridiculous job title you’ve had?