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8 Secrets of Online Beauty Shoppers

Up your purchasing game with these tried-and-true tips

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These online shopping tips can help you find reliable products, useful reviews and savvy deals on beauty items.

Who can resist shopping online for a face cream, perfume or lipstick? To be honest, some of us are not total converts. Lots of us still enjoy and trust the in-store experience to some degree. Women age 50-plus fall into three types of e-commerce beauty shoppers: “the researchers,” who constantly browse online but make their final purchase in a store; “the testers,” who browse stores first and then buy online; and “the risk-takers,” who fearlessly do all browsing and purchasing online. Whichever category suits you best, my eight tips can boost your online beauty skills and confidence.

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1. Shop reliable sites for peace of mind

Unfortunately, beauty fakes that look like the real thing have infiltrated some major mass retail sites where individual sellers have access to the platform. Scams are also rampant on so-called beauty bargain pop-up sites. That familiar-looking eye cream, mask or makeup palette might have come from a filthy warehouse abroad, where a lack of regulations means that these counterfeit goods may contain potentially toxic ingredients. Stick to an individual brand’s own website — like esteelauder.com or lorealparisusa.com — or buy online from a reputable retailer such as Sephora, Ulta or Nordstrom. Don’t be a dupe dope!

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2. Read product reviews carefully for specific feedback

Instead of just looking for a four- or five-star rating, find reviews applicable to you and your concerns at 50-plus. For example: One customer reviewed a neck cream on sephora.com and said: “I’m a side sleeper and used to have those wrinkles on my upper chest area, but they are far less visible.” So relatable! A review of a mass brand foundation on ulta.com said: “I have a lot of sun damage and age — spots. Covers beautifully.” Your goal is to find product reviews with detailed satisfactory solutions. Some sites categorize reviews by age — but don’t resent that. Instead, use it to find helpful feedback. Even negative reviews are of value for revealing color, texture or performance disappointments. Scout online reviews of the same product at several sites — even if your final buy is elsewhere or in a brick-and-mortar store.

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3. Check for makeup shade accuracy

Laptop and smartphone screens can distort colors in extreme and misleading ways. This is one of the biggest reasons for product returns. A few sites have switched from tiny paint-chip squares to bigger or actual swipes of the product, enlarged clear product images (in and out of the package depending on brand), and added zoom features or makeup applied to faces to get a realistic color read (target.com and ulta.com do a great job of this, girlfriends!). Some provide extremely detailed information that demystifies the shade name. (Sephora.com explains that a shadow called Sultry is a “hybrid satin metallic finish warm chocolate brown.”) Some department and specialty stores and sites — such as Nordstrom, Sephora, Bobbi Brown, Clinique and MAC — also offer online chat sessions for consultations with experts as you browse.

4. Get more benefits from online drugstores and beauty chains

For those who check in regularly to online drugstores and beauty chains or belong to their insider beauty clubs, there are bonuses. You can get digital coupons, access to exclusive promotions and samples, rewards points, and tips at Walgreen’s Beauty Enthusiast Club, CVS Beauty Club or beauty retailer Ulta’s Ultamate Rewards program. Check out Harmon Discount, a subsidiary of Bed Bath & Beyond, for a broad selection of not-found-everywhere drugstore brands and items — such as Freeman facial masks, Dr. Teal’s foaming baths, decorative shower caps and hair wraps — at substantially reduced prices.

5. Look for online tutorials, not apps

Those iPhone foundation matching and virtual try-on apps might work for younger women who are into trendy looks, but not for us. Instead try instead YouTube and video beauty tutorials from experts such as Lisa EldridgeCharlotte TilburyVivienne SomersKerry-Lou HensonDominique Sachse and the youthful but so on-target African American makeup artist Jackie Aina. FYI: Tutorials for women of color who are 50-plus are underrepresented — let’s do something about that! You’ll find plenty of ideas to adapt, no matter what your features, skin tone, preference or age. The brow and foundation makeup how-tos alone are mesmerizing.

6. Solve skin care problems at a true online dermatologist site

Want board-certified dermatologist solutions and advice for conditions beyond the usual? If you have severe sun damage, hypersensitive or hyperpigmented skin, eczema or seborrheic dermatitis, then Dermstore — a subsidiary owned by Target — will be your new BFF. It offers professional-strength skin care and lines usually provided only at doctors’ offices. It’s where to find specialty brands — such as Obagi, Glytone and iS Clinical — and hard-to-find labels such as Dr. Hauschka and Intelligent Nutrients, and there are thousands of reviews by real customers that are organized by skin type, skin tone and age. For example, one reviewer of EltaMD Skin Care Tinted SPF 46 Sunscreen said: “I suffer from rosacea, and this helps my face look hydrated and flawless.” Check it out!

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7. Shop beauty supply stores

Salon pros and behind-the-scenes hair experts who work on photo shoots head for major professional suppliers such as Sally Beauty Supply or Ricky’s NYC. This is where you can find — at bargain prices — an old-school hard-shell bonnet dryer, the biggest selection of self-clip hair rollers, false lashes, magnifying mirrors, travel-size blow dryers and mini flat irons, botanical-scented paraffin wax for hands and feet, and every professional size and shape makeup brush.

8. Consider new tech habits

You might still shop in a store, but can save money and time this way: Scan barcodes for competitive pricing; opt to pay via a mobile app; check your smartphone for beauty sales information and promotions (even if your original goal is looking at shoes or trying on jeans); and avoid counter lines by asking if there are roving sales associates with digital scanners to pay.

For more beauty and style tips for women age 50-plus, 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.

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