Sunday, September 13, 2009

An off-topic rant about cosmetic retailers and their consumers

Author's warning: I am exhausted. This is both long and incoherent. :P

I do not work, nor have I ever worked, for a cosmetic company but I have worked at various aspects of customer service in my life and I understand that there are creepy/gross/weird things about any part of the industry. As a cosmetic consumer however, and a(n) (aforementioned) germaphobe, I must admit that I have a hard time dealing with some of the stuff I see whenever I enter MAC or Sephora or approach a major cosmetics counter in a department store. The employees at these establishments have my unending sympathy.

People are downright disgusting.

Today I had the opportunity to attend a MAC/Estee Lauder warehouse sale. Those of you on Specktra (or MUA) are probably familiar with these sales; major events designed to clear out product at reduced cost. All in all, it was an interesting experience. Weirdly efficient in its own right, it herded dutiful sheeple (myself included) through roped lines toward tables of products for testing, each with their own reference number. (For those of you unfamiliar with this process, it's almost like a scaled down version of IKEA; you find the product that you want on display, you write down the reference number, then you take it to another queue where an employee carts it from a collection of boxes.  Very efficient for someone who hates shopping, like myself.)

Ah, but here is where it gets gross.

I do not understand why, in such a scenario, (in any scenario, for that matter), it is appropriate for someone to pick up a lipstick tester from a table and smear it across their mouth. Or a dripping lip gloss wand.  I mean, what possesses someone to do that? Have they not thought about the hundreds of people who have likely done this before they got to it? Even if it didn't reach their mouth, it's surely reached their hands. Do these people also go around licking the floor?

While many of the actual products for sale are kept separate from the testers, there was one section of the warehouse that functioned sort of like a rummage sale. Here you could grab anything you wanted from these highly efficient bins and have them thrown together in one bag. Among the products available here was a mascara (I think DKNY but I'll admit I wasn't paying attention too closely.) These mascaras were in closed tubes, but sold unboxed and were easily available for anyone who wished to test them. 

And of course, people did.

Now, I understand the rationable behind wanting to try a product out before you buy it, but I cannot fathom how $3 is too much to pay for the privilege of trying mascara and preventing the possible spread of eye infections. Why would someone try a mascara only to toss it back in the bin available to everyone else? In what world is this appropriate?
. . . . . 
At Sephora recently I saw an older woman grabbing tester eyeliners off the display and lining her waterline. I've seen customers at MAC grab lipsticks, lipglosses, eyeliners - you name it - and apply them straight to their lips, eyes, face etc. without sanitizing anything. This is the type of behaviour (dare I say irrational and somewhat dangerous behaviour) that I'd expect from teenagers, but it rarely stops there.

I know that many people often become like kids in a candy store when they enter these establishments, but for Pete's sake - think of your health.

What are your thoughts on the cleanliness of cosmetic retailers (customers, retail establishments etc.)?

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Liz (iceomatic's nails) said...

I agree with you 100%! I worked in a salon/supply through high school and college. The things people did made my skin crawl. There are strict guidelines set up by state board. Do retailers try enforce them? Not always. Could they if they wanted to? I know sephora has all the tools people need to test products the right way. But, one person swatching a product the wrong way ruins it for everyone! I only swatch on my hand using a clean applicator!

Knowing a little about the right way to sanitize is a HUGE reason I do my own manicures/pedicures at home. It's disgusting to see even high end salons re-use tools without sanitizing! Ugh.. Everyone should learn the concept of asepsis! :)

I need to go wash my hands now. :)

paintedladyfingers said...

Even kids in a candy store don't put candy in their mouths for a moment, then stick it back in the display. At least I hope not.

féline-alizarine said...

Oh, I'm one of those weird people who do not all of the above, but some of it! And I left my teens about ten years ago... Now, I'm brought up by a doctor who dreaded touching door handles in public and always told me to wash my hands thoroughly every time I came home, and this almost obsessive germ-fighting behaviour was passed on to me. I'm fighting the fighting, trying to tell myself I'll end up more sick if I never come in contact with bacteria, than if I would just go on live my life without the concern... I'm still afraid of infections of all kinds, I do wash my hands multiple times a day and shower twice, but I also do eat in public places and try out lipstick in department stores. I still haven't gotten any serious diseases doing this, and I have none myself to pass on- and even if I did, I would presume that others can make decisions for themselves whether to use tester lipsticks and glosses orally or not.

This said, I'm glad to say that the MAC counters here in Stockholm provide one time use only wands for lipglosses, and encourages customers to try out!

Grace said...

I agree with you too. I never use the makeup testers on my face, I just try it on my hand with whatever they have to test with (one time use swabs etc). I'm just imagining all the bacteria you could plate if you tested one of those...and not to mention what a quick way to spread some viruses and fungi. H1N1 or cold sores anyone? Sorry, I have the awful picture of somebody getting herpes virus(oral kind) in their eye from a misused contaminated product.
Aside from the microbiological aspect, the whole idea of what you described is downright gross. Nothing like sharing dead skin cells/bodily fluids with strangers, right?

Regine said...

It happens all around the world. I call it the "shopping beast". People think they can forget about manners and normal acceptable behavior when doing shopping. It's like jungle law.

I used to work at H&M and believe it or not, there were women who tried g-strings and returned them to us once tried cause they didn't want them anymore. Even though we explained to our customers that it was not possible to try underwear, they sneaked to do it, and then gave us back the tried underwear. Unbelievable! I got so pissed after four months that I had to quit.

Remember to always wash your newly purchased undies!


Dee said...

My first thought was "thinning the herd". The gross-out testers won't be around as long as the rest of us, due to infections and whatever else they pick up.

mKat said...

I know that MAC sterilizes stuff if you ask them, and I will admit that I used to assume that they had everything under control, so whenever they wanted to test a product on me I'd let them. (Weird behaviour for a germaphobe, I know.) But I've seen women at MAC pick a lipstick off the display and apply it directly to their mouth only to put it right back on the display. Even if I'm just going to swatch it on my hand, I ask MUAs to sterilize it. I don't know where that mouth has been! :P (And no, I'm not saying "don't test products at cosmetic counters". I AM however suggesting that we need to be smart about it...and considerate of the people that come after us.)

I was at Sephora once for a makeup lesson and the artist offered to put mascara on me when she'd completed my eyes. She had a brand new tester wand and everything ready to do it and assured me that it was clean. But she was going to use the mascara that was on the display... the same mascaras I'd seen other customers use with the wand that came with it. I guess I looked sufficiently freaked out because she went into the drawers and pulled out a new product.

I agree with Liz's comments about the cleanliness of salons. I don't think I've ever given it much thought (because I've never made a habit of going to a salon for mani/pedis) but it's ample justification for learning how to do things yourself.

I'm sure that initially I was a horrible cosmetic counter customer. While I didn't necessarily grab lipsticks or eyeliners, I am fairly certain that I have swatched a few shadows with my fingers in my time. But after reading horror stories from artists on Specktra...I've been sure to change my ways.

I'm not a science major. If there are any science/med students around who can shed some light on the transmission of bacteria/viruses via cosmetic testers, I'd love to open the floor to them. In the meanwhile, I'll stand here becoming more and more grossed out and less and less inclined to even swatch things on my hands. :P

Lucy said...

Good God, don't these people read or watch TV. I would never put anything on my mouth or eyes. Viruses can spread so easily. I feel itchy and creeped out. I constanly wash my hands. I hate opening doors after I have washed my hands. I am really freaked out about the mascars being used and thrown back. What idiots! I don't mind your rant. I sometimes rant also.

augusta said...

your fears of using samples are completely valid and rational.

i was a bio major when i was an undergrad. and while i dont remember the hundreds of names of bacteria and viruses i was forced to memorize, i do remember that the main port of entry for bacteria and some viruses are the eyes and mouth.
lipstick,lipgloss, mascara, and other products that are applied to these areas should be avoided in my opinion, if your immune system is compromised. heck, i'd avoid them all together.

stores like sephora have single use applicators- i guess this seemingly reduces bacterial contamination. but who is to say that the person before you used the single-use applicator, but dipped said applicator into the makeup sample REPEATEDLY!. and what if that person has a cold sore, or herpes, or conjunctivitis!

if i want a sample from sephora, i ask for a deluxe sample (sealed samples that haven't been touched with dirty customer fingers). i use sephora in this example because i notice that most department stores (at least where i live) dont shell out samples anymore.

armed with the knowledge i know of bacteria, i am not a germaphobe, but i an not lax with my personal hygiene. i wash my hands,avoid rubbing my nose and eyes if my fingers are dirty etcetera etcetera. unfortunately, you cant count on others to do the same.

Anonymous said...

I know when i use the testers that those testers are most likely dirty. However, as I tend to swatch things on my hands, never swatch mascaras, and wipe off lip products as soon as I use them, I consider this an acceptable risk to take, especially when it saves me money. I would also like to ask if anyone knows how many people out of all the people with "risky" swatching practices actually gets sick from dirty samples? There are germs everywhere and you are never going to be able to avoid them all. Spending so much time being grossed out by the little things is a waste of time and some of the comments sound like they come from hardcore germophobes.

mKat said...

^ I already admitted that I'm a germaphobe and I am not ashamed to say that. :)

I'd also like to point out that SO many things that matter to some don't matter an iota to others and can be categorized as "wastes of time" so that was an unnecessary statement. However, if you'd like to make a contradictory point (as some here have done) then it is to our collective benefit that you keep it constructive.

I, for one, was not surprised to see you were the only one to respond anonymously.

mKat said...

Thank you for your insight, Augusta. Good things to know!

...I wonder how helpful MAC's "sterilization" techniques are.

flinty said...

Anonymous: I second what mKat implied about your anonymity.

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