Makeup Fridays: Shopping Guide (How to Pick Quality Cruelty-Free Products)

I hit a weird roadblock when I was planning this week’s post. I want these posts to be accessible to all beauty users, but sometimes I skip steps. (I think this is obvious to everyone who saw my second Makeup Friday, where I just dropped a crazy, bold red/blue eyeshadow look like, “Yep, everyone, go out and recreate this!”) I mean, my biggest frustration with the beauty community is that even though beauty gurus are amazingly talented, there are way more super speed “tutorials” than actual explanations on how to achieve their looks.

You want me to what?

Which can be a little (or sometimes, like, a lot) for someone to process, nevermind try to replicate.

This is why I slowed down and included what I know in the Makeup Dictionary, Makeup Tool Dictionary, Brush Guide, Eyeshadow Application Guide, and Foundation Guide. (As always, add your own expertise in the comments below so we can share intel!) But now I’m pausing like … okay. So I’ve shared what I know about using makeup, but what about getting makeup?

A very simplified version of shopping for makeup can fall into two categories. The I know what I need and I’m gonna go in and get out ASAP and the let’s take a moment and sample what the gods of coconut scented bronzer have to offer ooh and also is that a new lippie? Gotta give mad respect to both, but if you’re heading into any store, there are a few tricks you need stashed in your bag so let’s go over those now, shall we? They may not be new (or they may all!) but a refresher never hurt nobody.

1) If you’re on a budget, make a list of what you’re getting beforehand. This rule can go even if you’re not watching your coinz with a hawkeye. Sometimes you just want to splurge and that’s okay, treat yourself! But if you know that you tend to overspend, or are worried you might, before you step out the house write down exactly what you want.

  • The list doesn’t have to be specific, just a 1-2-3 of what you have your eyes on: and keep that list visible! Don’t jot it on a piece of paper you plan on cramming into your pocket and ignoring the moment the perfumed air of Sephora wafts across your nose. Try writing it across your hand, or taping it to the back of your method of payment. Hey, it works!
  • Remember the goal is not to shame yourself for overspending, but to know what you need. If you end up with an extra product, **that’s okay** but this way you won’t have bought it as a complete impulse of “I totally need this!” You’ll have reminders that no, you don’t need this, you just want it. And that’s okay, but you know the difference. And before you hand over your cash, you have a chance to contemplate NEED vs WANT.
No comment on how long my list is.

2) Look up reviews on products before you enter the store. If you don’t know the precise product you want (ex: you want a bronzer, but you’re not sure which brand) check out some community reviews before you hit the shops. This will give you third-party info on what works and what might not, arming you with intel so you don’t end up with something that just doesn’t click with your makeup wants.

  • First look at the product details. How does the company market the product? For example, a foundation might be branded as “lightweight, good for all skin types.” You can use this information to decide which product most closely aligns with your needs. Then check the product reviews to see if consumers agree on what the company claims. Sometimes that “good for all skin types” foundation actually builds up on dry patches, so you’ll want to avoid it if you have dry skin.
  • Don’t just look at the product ratings! One and two star products will most probably not be good, but three star and up could have low ratings for a variety of reasons. Also, sometimes a product has five stars — but it was only released a few days ago and there are only five or six reviews posted so far. At least skim the reviews to see what common problems/benefits are before making a decision.
  • A review does not have to be your final decision. Just like when a friend gives a new movie a poor rating and warns you’d be a fool to see it, you have every ability to give that film your own perspective.


3) Test out the products before you buy (in-store). This one should speak for itself. You want to get the best idea of what you’re purchasing before you actually purchase it. This is easy to do in Sephora and Ulta, because you’re provided with makeup wipes and applicator wands. But there are some things to keep in mind even when trying products in these stores, and ways you can safely test products in drugstores.


  • Many, many people test the products at Ulta and Sephora. That means many, many germs can end up in the Sephora and Ulta testers. So number one, don’t actually use the wand/applicator supplied with the tester because it is coated, I mean covered, in bacteria. Use the applicators supplied around the store.
  • Sephora (I have never been to an Ulta, but it’s my dream!) allows you to test out mascaras and eyeshadows. But I will caution you against actually putting these products on your eyes. In fact, do not use any eye products on or near to your eyes even with the store-supplied applicators. Your eyes are super fragile and it’s one thing to swipe a foundation sample on your cheek; it’s a whole other thing to try out mascara on your lashes. Instead, check the eyeshadow consistency/pigment etc. on your arm. You get the same results (you can find out if the product looks good/feels good) without putting your eye health at risk.
  • Try to use the better safe than sorry approach. Spritz some alcohol (Sephora has mini alcohol spray bottles, I want to assume Ulta does too) on a tissue and rub lightly on top of products before testing them. YES this might slightly affect the quality of the product but these are *testers* and they are there to give you an idea of the product. This is also how you will test a lipstick (not liquid lipsticks, regular lipsticks). First spray the lipstick with alcohol, then rub with a tissue to remove the top layer of product.
  • Take your swatch out of the store. The lighting in makeup stores is created to lie to you. It’s filtered to make your skin look better than ever and then right over the display cases, brighter than ever to highlight the makeup you should definitely buy! This means that any makeup you look at in makeup stores will NOT look the way it will when you step outside. And since most our time is probably not spent in a makeup store, it’s a good idea to step out and see the makeup in the light of day. So be sure to take your makeup swatches (though not the actual product!) outside the store and see if you still like how it looks (especially foundation!!).


  • These locations typically will not have any applicators for you to test products, even though a lot of the makeup items will have testers. So … should you put the lipsticks right on your lips? Noooooooooo, a million times no. In fact, I would caution you even against swiping the lipsticks on your hand right away. Take a tissue from your bag (try to come prepared and bring some with you) and wipe off the first layer of the product before testing on your arm. 
  • Another technique (a little more complicated) is to swipe some applicator wands from a Sephora/Ulta next time you go. You can also bring Q-tips from home. Use these to apply the (wiped down) products if you really want to test them fully.

4) Test the products out before you buy (at home). While drugstores don’t provide this option, Sephora at least will let you take home samples of certain products to try out at home. This is a great opportunity to see how your skin reacts with the product and how your other makeup products work with that new item. (Also, the samples last quite awhile, so you’re set for a bit.) Also, I do not know if other makeup stores allow taking home samples, but try asking!


  • Not all products can be samples. Most Sephora employees will not allow you to get a sample of liquid products with a wand applicator. This is because the sample they create for you comes from the actual tester sitting out in the store, and people will sometimes (even though you’re not supposed to) use the wand applicator on their face. This means germs on the applicator, and then when the applicator goes back in the bottle, germs in the bottle. AKA, they don’t want to give you a sample filled with bacteria. But if the liquid product has a squeeze top, then you’re set! This rule goes for any product that people can dip their hands in. NOTE: some employees might “break” the rule and give you a sample anyway. It’s your choice if you want to accept a sample like this. Also, you can’t get testers of pressed powders, because … how to scrape that into a bottle, right? Same for mascaras and eyeliners. You can probably deduce which products can be transferred into a sample by now, haha.

5) Now you’ve made your list, you’ve checked it twice, you’ve tested the product in the store and maybe even brought a sample home and reeeaallly made sure it’s what you want. Are you finally ready to fork over your money? Yes, it’s time to give away your cold, hard-earned cash. If you followed all those steps and the product agrees with your soul, then it’s certainly the one for you. But there is one more step and it’s not so much the one that should go last, but it’s the one I’m putting last for the sake of I think it’s super important. “How do I know if a product is cruelty-free?”

The entire list I have put together can apply to any shopper. Anyone can make a list, anyone can take samples home. And in the same way, a cruelty-free beauty lover can do these exact same steps. The only difference is, he or she will make sure that the products they research don’t test on animals. The easiest way to make sure the product you buy does not test on animals is to look the company up during your research phase (aka Step 2). You know you want a liquid lipstick, so when you peruse online for reviews, add the step of filtering out companies that are not cruelty free.

  • How do I know if a company is cruelty-free? Some companies will announce on their website or social media that they are “proudly cruelty free!” I always like to double check on my favourite cruelty-free websites: Cruelty-Free Kitty and Logical Harmony. If a brand is not on that list, I can assume they have not provided clear information that they do not test on animals *anywhere* (including third parties) and so I will not shop their brand.
  • After shopping cruelty-free for a while, you’ll develop a love for favourite brands and won’t even need the research phase. I always steer towards Anastasia Beverly Hills, tarte, TooFaced and *especially* NYX and e.l.f. and coloupop. But it’s always good to support new cruelty-free companies!

What if you feel like an impulse buy and end up at the store without any previous research? Now you want to be sure you get something cruelty-free, but you won’t have any lists or internet guides to help.

  • Look for the bunny! A lot of brands will be proud they are cruelty-free and include a bunny picture on the back of the product along with the words “cruelty-free.” This means they are certified (you can’t just put that bunny because you want!). I most often see the PETA bunny, but they all mean the same thing: an organization has certified this company is cruelty-free.


When you shop from a cruelty-free brand, you are telling that company “I believe you are doing the right thing by not testing on animals.” Companies listen to money far more than they listen to voices (whether we think this is the right way the corporate ear should work or not). I’m not here to tell you to shopping cruelty-free is the only way, but I hope this guide helps you see a way to do it.

Are you an impulse shopper or do you plan out your purchases? Let’s discuss below!

Stay lovely,
📷 = @shaniasquires

7 thoughts on “Makeup Fridays: Shopping Guide (How to Pick Quality Cruelty-Free Products)

  1. I actually make a list of things beforehand. When I go to Sephora (I don’t shop anywhere else for skin or hair care) I know what I need, and then I always ask for samples of new products that I want to try.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, I see. Do you have curly hair? (Assuming from the profile pic, haha). I’ve only found Lush products that work well with mine, and I need a lot of hydration since I straighten my hair often. But I love new product recommendations.


      2. I think I tried one thing by Living Proof, so they definitely have the brand stocked at the Sephora I go to. But I can’t remember my thoughts. I’ll have to see about a sample next time I go. I’ll admit Lush has few sulfate&silicone free products.


      3. Yeah, I’m really strict about no sulfates and no silicones, it’s something I love about Living Proof, all their products are sulfate and silicone free.


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