Fashion & Beauty

Buying Makeup–Virtually

March 2, 2021

EACH TIME I walk by my neighborhood Sephora, I experience this Pavlovian response of wanting to go in to try SOMETHING. I ignore it. Too many people inside—probably—and I don’t need makeup enough to indulge in what I consider risky behavior, like trying on a lipstick even after it’s been swabbed in alcohol. We know online shopping has been going great guns, becoming ever more popular because of the pandemic. But how the heck do you buy a foundation or a bronzer online? It’s hard enough when you’re in a store trying on the actual product. Still, big makeup brands are betting that you’re willing to use their virtual apps to buy your gotta-have blush, mascara or lip gloss. You connect with the brand’s products via the camera on your phone or computer and see what you look like in L’Oreal’s Radiant Satin Blush in peony or MAC’s Lustre Lipstick in flamingo. Try and buy—or not. You don’t have to be a makeup lover to indulge. Think of it as an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours on a rainy, cold March afternoon.

Bobbi Brown’s Virtual Tool offers try-on choices in lipsticks, eye makeup and foundation. I’m about to run out of my tinted moisturizer so I decided to see whether their matte Skin Long-Wear Weightless Foundation ($49) could be a replacement. I connected with my phone camera and the app uploaded my face, adjusted for the lighting and searched for the best color match for my skin, which it determined was Golden Beige. A split screen then showed my face before and after applying. On either side were lighter, warmer, cooler and darker options that I presumed the app doesn’t like as much. I tried a second time and got a different match— Cool Beige, which I preferred for its more natural, less caked-on look. I don’t think any of the eyeliners I tried, whether pencil or liquid, on any of these virtual tools is ready for prime time. In my case the black, or blue or green lines looked as if they had a life of their own and weren’t quite connected to my eye lids. On the other hand, I give my virtual experience with the brand’s high-shine Lip Gloss in petal ($29) a thumbs-up. The

To give my winter-pallid skin a much-needed color boost, Bare Minerals’ Gen Nude Blonzer ($25), a combo of a rosy blush and glow bronzer, looked promising. The app directs you to take a picture of  yourself with the product on and then send yourself an e-mail. I liked how it looked but the results are, er, not so realistic, given that the Bare Minerals app, as well as Bobbi Brown’s and MAC’s, airbrush the photo, meaning no visible wrinkles! Anyhow, to avoid another mascara-buying expensive mistake, I took a pic of myself wearing the brand’s Strength and Length Serum-Infused Mascara ($22). Miraculously, it even managed to coat my lower lashes, which I have very few of.  So, if I bought it, would it really do that?? I also got all set to try their Correcting Concealer. Alas, it wasn’t included in the roster of try-on products.

I’ve always wanted to see how I’d look in false eyelashes without having to buy any. M.A.C. Cosmetics’ virtual app let me do that. I tried on a variety of fringes, most of which looked shockingly bad, never mind ridiculous. The 33 Ingenue Lash ($18) was the most subtle and didn’t make eyes look as if I were Twiggy, circa 1966. If faux lashes are not in your wheelhouse, you can also try the brand’s foundation, eyeshadow and lipstick, via the app.

L’Oreal Paris offers its Virtual Try-On tool for hair color and makeup. I thought I would look terrible with blonde hair, and I was correct. L’Oreal’s Feria Multi-Faceted Shimmering Color ($14.48) in deep bronzed brown with just a tinge of red brought some more light to my face—at least more than my faded salon color was providing. Emboldened by success, I thought Crème Permanent Triple Protection Hair Color  ($7.97, Amazon) in dark golden brown might also be flattering, and the package info said it excelled at covering gray. I didn’t really see much difference between the two, but if for some reason I can’t go to the salon again for weeks on end, I have options. I was getting used to the illusion of no wrinkles, but L’Oreal’s virtual tool left them in.


The Chanel Try On app works for select lip, eyeshadows and eyeliners in its product line. I flirted with the eyeliners but inevitably they looked too dark and unnatural. Eyeshadow colors looked more promising but I’ve never worn eyeshadow and am not likely to do so in the future. Even though most of us have not been bothering with lipsticks because of masks, I suspect we have some pent-up demand. Chanel’s hydrating, shiny Rouge Coco Flash ($40) is available in 35 colors, with evocative sounding-shades like Freeze, Flush and Pulse to try. The brand-new tool in Chanel’s virtual makeup arsenal is Lip Scanner. If you see a color that you like on someone’s face or in a magazine or in a beloved lipstick that’s been discontinued, this app will find a Chanel lipstick to match it. You can then test it out virtually with Chanel Try On. I took a photo of the nibs of an old favorite from Burberry. I got a more vivid version of the hue from Chanel. These apps are good but they’re not foolproof—yet.

—Janet Kelly

2 thoughts on “Buying Makeup–Virtually

  1. Nancy G says:

    I’ve never tried one of the virtual try-ons, but will give it a go. I, too, get antsy for new makeup come spring, though this year I’m limiting myself to mascara, eye liner and eyeshadow, for obvious reasons. But, by the middle or end of summer – new lipstick is hopefully on the horizon!!

    1. Janet Kelly says:

      I think by summer, if not before, you can get yourself a new lipstick!

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