You know the old saying, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is"? Take the trend of beauty subscription boxes. For women who enjoy beauty products, samples have always been — and remain — our gateway drug to making purchases.
So why pay a monthly fee for a box that may include some products and brands we'd never want or use? Nothing doing. Free has a nice ring to it. You can get something for nothing (or nearly nothing). Here's how.
Use free smartphone beauty apps. You'll get unbiased consumer and pro reviews and virtual makeup try-ons with an uploaded image. And you can also comparison-shop for the best deal (for potential buys) and learn new skills with how-to tutorials ... all gratis. Try and why: With the Plum Perfect and Visada apps, you can scan a photo of yourself to edit down thousands of products and find your best shade and texture options. ShadeScout matches any Instagram photo for a virtual DIY test of Angela Bassett's or Diane Lane's makeup. Want a low-cost dupe for that $28 Chanel Le Vernis Nail Lacquer in Camellia? SuperDuper will find it, while Pretty in My Pocket (PRIMP) and Influenster can comparison-shop like personal shoppers with swatches and reviews. Beautylish and Bellashoot are shopping apps, but their videos and product feedback are spot-on. Thinking green? EWG's Skin Deep and Think Dirty rate everything from shampoo to face creams for potentially harmful ingredients.
Sample "shop" major department stores. Despite the rise in online shopping and store closings, retailers know women 50 and older love the touchy-feely experience of browsing. Stride into your nearest Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue or Neiman Marcus — because they want us back! Don't feel guilty or embarrassed asking — you need to feel, smell and experience a product — and brands know those little free packets and vials drive sales. Get more swag this way:
Do your online homework first. And always ask about something specific and new to show you're up on trends. Try something like: "I've heard about the new serum/eye cream/foundation/lipstick." Rotate brands and stores to max out the free samples because counter reps do alert one another to sample piggies. Register on store sites for special beauty week promotions and in-store giveaways.
Time your visit right. The best opportunities to score generously are during holidays; early in the a.m., when sales associates are fresh and amping up to start their day; and in the evening, when everyone is winding down.
Buy one small thing. OK, it's not totally free, but a counter-side makeup application or mini-makeover means you're expected to buy something. Write down all the products used — since the purchase implies you'll be back — and the sample bag will be a nice hefty one.
Sephora will give you free samples of any product you want. Just ask. The store "officially" offers three free ready-made samples with any purchase, but you can get freebies without buying. And be smart: Always ask for the most expensive products. With a Sephora expansion into J.C. Penney locations, the try-as-you-brand-hop formula (and no pushy sales people) has us hooked. Get a 15-minute free makeover at the in-store mirrored beauty bar while you're there.
Check out the new QVC TV channel called Beauty iQ. It's a 24-hour show that features products (of course!) — but what's more important is that there are beauty tutorials and lots of relevant content for mature women. Tune in when you can't sleep.
Be thrifty. Here's a cheapo shocker: Cut the bottom end off tubes of any cream product and scoop what's left with a knife or spoon into a clean plastic mini-sample jar or drugstore vitamin case. You won't believe how much stuff is inside an "empty."
For more beauty and style tips for women age 50+, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life and Love After 50 by Lois Joy Johnson and AARP's Beauty & Style issue.