Skip to content

5 Tips To Shop For Makeup Online, So You Can Find Your Perfect Shades

Variety of Red Lipsticks on a Peach Background
Image by Pixel Stories / Stocksy
May 28, 2020
Our editors have independently chosen the products listed on this page. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.

The reality is, it'll be a hot minute before we find ourselves roaming the aisles of beauty stores again—not to mention before we feel comfortable using testers. But beauty is arguably a sensorial experience: The scent and texture of the product are just as important as how it looks on your skin. That said, you may stick to trusty shades and familiar brands for the time being, but as summer rolls around, you may feel the need to fill your cosmetic bag with new seasonal offerings. Which raises the question: How can you find your perfect shades when you can't swatch in stores? 

Here, beauty experts offer their five foolproof tips to shop for makeup online. Add virtual swatching to the growing list of categories that fall under our new normal:  

This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.

The vein test

The key to shopping for makeup online? Identify your undertones. Your undertones say a lot about what shades might look best on you—from warm, neutral to cool formulas. Consider the trusty "vein test," where you check the color of the veins lining the inside of your wrists. This area doesn't get a lot of sun exposure, and the veins are closer to the surface of the skin, so you can better gauge the color.

Here's the verdict: If your veins are green, you likely have warm undertones. "Which means the skin has hints of gold or yellow," says Donya Fozoonmayeh, head data scientist at clean beauty e-tailer NakedPoppy. If you've got bluish-purple veins, you probably have cool undertones with hints of pink and blue in your skin. As for bluish-green veins? You likely have neutral undertones—these skin tones have hints of pink, red, gold, and blue, says Fozoonmayeh. 

Let's say you're in the market for a striking red lip (hey, we may be in quarantine, but sometimes a playful pop of color can help separate the days): If you have warm undertones, you'll want to opt for an orangy-red tinge, while those with cool undertones should look for a blue-toned red. Of course, it isn't entirely foolproof; there are some slight nuances, as every person's skin tone is unique. But you can definitely use your veins as a guide. 


Check your jewelry box.

There's a perfectly good reason you may gravitate toward dainty gold jewelry or love a chunky silver chain: "We tend to like jewelry that complements our natural coloring," explains Fozoonmayeh. It's by no means a hard and fast rule, but generally gold jewelry complements warm skin tones, while silver flatters cool skin tones (again, referring back to your undertones is key). Makeup artists feel the same way in terms of makeup: "Gold highlighters tend to look better on warm undertones, while silver highlighters can look better on cool undertones. Neutral skin tones can usually pull off both," adds Fozoonmayeh.

While it's not quite as easy as it seems (a highlighter may appear gold on the screen but has more of a pearl shimmer once it's applied on the skin, which actually makes it a better choice for someone with cool or neutral undertones), your choice in metals can say a lot about what makeup you should keep on your radar.

This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.

Mind your eye and hair color.

It's not that certain shades look bad with different hair and eye colors, per se, but choosing a makeup product can help enhance those features and make them pop. Take brown eyes, for example: "If you have brown eyes and brown hair, you can sweep your eyelids with a beige-brown shadow to add definition and bring out your brown eyes," explains Fozoonmayeh. On the flip side, people with green eyes may want to reach for a dusty rose shadow to make those emerald orbs look extra piercing. 

That's not to say every person with brown eyes should use the same shade—after all, there are subtle differences between cool, neutral, and warm browns, says Fozoonmayeh. You might have to experiment a bit here, as it's not an exact science. 


Consult the experts.  

Which brings us to our next point: Sometimes, it's best to leave it to the pros. While shade is important, there are so many other factors at play (think texture or ingredients), so it's important to take those into consideration when making purchases—and experts likely have tons of insight and experience to help you make that decision.

That said, take advantage of the many beauty services companies have to offer! Some offer real-time chat services, so you can heed expert advice while you browse (such as this clean beauty consultation). Other e-tailers take over the work entirely, with high-tech algorithms that evaluate each brand and consumer individually before curating a list of product matches (like this assessment). Don't be afraid to seek those companies out or even reach out to a favorite brand and ask for any advice—surely, they'd love to hear from you. 

This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.

Perhaps purchase multiple shades. 

If you're still stumped on what to choose, you might want to opt for a couple of shades to try out at home (you may even find that blending the two gives you the exact wash of color you're looking for). Just be mindful of certain company protocols—that includes return policies (to mind your wallet) and "damaging out" policies (to mind the environment). 

If a retailer enforces "damaging out," that means even if a product is returned unopened, they are required to dispose of the item in fear that it's been tampered with in some way. And while ensuring the hygiene of products is crucial, it does pose some environmental concerns: "There's already so much waste in the beauty industry, it's worth keeping in mind," says makeup artist Jenny Patinkin.

That's not to say you shouldn't experiment with different shades or use return policies to your advantage—just check the specific store's protocols. If the product is only going to get tossed, may we suggest gifting the subpar shade to a friend instead? 

The takeaway. 

We might not be able to see exactly how a product lies on our skin, but there are ways to predict how certain shades will turn out. Again, shade isn't everything when purchasing makeup (there are ingredient lists, textures, and fragrances to keep in mind as well), and it's usually an interplay of characteristics that may inspire you to choose one product over another. But these few rules of thumb are a great place to start—until we feel comfortable roaming the beauty aisles again.

This ad is displayed using third party content and we do not control its accessibility features.