What Happened When One Woman Only Used In-Store Makeup Testers for a Week

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Lots of people go to beauty counters with the sole purpose of doing their makeup. We challenged one woman to only use makeup testers for a week.

Thursday nights, Sephora is a sea of women mooching makeup. I know because I’m one of them. You can tell by the furiousness with which we grab free sponges and dab our cheeks with blush, passive-aggressively fight over mirrors (smile, nod, say nothing). And no one — not even the superserious, black-clad Sephora employees — gives a shit.

See, we tester moochers are buoyed by power in numbers. Many of us wear the same hopeful, pre-Tinder-date glow (to be honest, that could also just be bronzer). And we exude a kind of faux modesty before diving into the testers, brazenly spritzing and blotting and curling as if we aren’t in public. Which of course we very much are.

Don’t get me wrong. I own my own makeup, of course, but it’s largely reserved for morning application. I hate to lug a bag of it around all day, and more importantly, I believe that every makeup routine should involve a healthy dose of “borrowing.” I’ve found there’s no other way for a Working Woman On the Go™ to easily combat all she might be dealing with at any given moment, from an oily T-zone to oily hair. At its very essence, makeup mooching is about efficiency.

But what would it mean to take this hobby to the next level? How easy would it be to forgo my own morning makeup routine in favor of relying solely on cosmetics that I don’t own? Allure asked me to conduct a weeklong experiment in which I’d embrace mooching not just as an occasional postwork activity but as a lifestyle. The rules were simple. In fact, there was just one: The only makeup that could touch my face for one week had to come from a tester. You know, the kind in a store.

Monday morning. I’m feeling confident — inspired, even. I’m digging the extra 20 minutes my new (lack of) morning routine has afforded me. I’m still convinced this week isn’t going to be that hard, as I don’t wear a ton of makeup (or so I thought). I mean, I don’t contour or wear false lashes. Easy, peasy.

Given that Sephora doesn’t open until after I’m due at the office, I emotionally plan for an uncomfortable morning. I notice that skipping the makeup step of my day makes me feel (look?) unprepared even though I’m as prepared as I ever am. I can’t let go of my association of a bare face with running late, or a bad hangover, or both.

I dash off to do the basics the first chance I get: my lunch break. Justified or not, the threat of pinkeye makes me resist mascara — the product I miss the most — but I am able to cobble together a bit of a face. On days one and two, I’m still enjoying having an entire store at my disposal, one that includes a pricey Kevyn Aucoin highlighter and Tom Ford lipstick I covet but don’t own.

On Wednesday night, I have a date. I decide to stop at Bloomingdale’s on my way. The second I push past the heavy glass doors, I’m overcome with Snooty Salespeople anxiety. Not wanting to linger too long at any one counter, I meander like a jewel thief might while casing the joint. First, M.A.C. for lipstick (a lovely berry shade). Then Chanel for some blush. Dior for eye shadow.

I really commit to the “I’m going to buy something, I swear!” role. Every time a salesperson so much as glances in my direction, I am sure to present that I’m definitely going to make a purchase. “I’m looking for a dark lip! For fall!” My lies are really enthusiastic. It’s exhausting. At Sephora, actually buying is beside the point; the prominent philosophy is that trying is just as important as buying. When Dominique Mandonnaud opened the first one in Limoges, France (then called Shop 8), in 1969, freeing makeup from the oppressive watch of snooty salesladies was the whole (revolutionary) point.

By the end of the week, I have come to accept the reality that women like me who “don’t wear a lot of makeup” actually do. The fact that I’m essentially stealing mine — legally, but still — every day has made me hyperaware of all the products I use. Appearing like you’re bare-faced is a scheme that involves lying to yourself and the part of the public that has eyes. It might not take a village to look “natural,” but it takes upwards of 16 products. That natural flush?

. The dewy glow? The Milk Holographic Stick.

Scampering around the cosmetics floor each day, I found myself pining for my neatly organized vanity, the tidy little arrangements I have for my lipsticks and liners. I longed for my brushes, located conveniently in a cup on the left. And frankly, I am sick of spending every lunch break not eating but looking for foundation.

Though I’ve tried all week, I haven’t been able to gain the kind of peace my morning ritual gives me. Maybe that’s because my new one entails being surrounded by a bunch of silent, passive-aggressive strangers. Though we don’t talk (the first rule of Tester Mooching: Do not talk about Tester Mooching), I can still feel women buzzing around me. There’s something calming about applying makeup alone in morning light, with nothing but quiet and a cup of coffee. And it’s also one of the few moments when I’m comforted by the familiarity of my own face — I’m not staring at a screen or overwhelmed by a stream of noise.

When Friday night arrives, I’m slightly panicky about going out without my own makeup arsenal to pull from. Even worse: I have reason to believe I will run into an ex at a party. I decide to stop at my favorite Sephora — the big one in Union Square. I’m going to need a great face to get through the night.

I identify the perfect intimidating lipstick shade (

) that makes me look like I’m out for blood. As I approach the mirror, I wonder about all the other women who have used this particular tester. I could be grossed out by the train of thought, but instead I try to summon their strength. These ladies probably know exactly what I’m going through; maybe they even used this very lipstick to inspire regret in someone who broke their heart.

Later that night, I see him at the bar. He tells me I look great. Ha, ha! I think maniacally as he politely adds, “Nice to see you.” He is cordial, and after a minute, he moves along. It’s a standard thing an ex says, and maybe he was just being courteous.

But something tells me the Jungle Red didn’t hurt.

A version of this article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Allure. To get your copy, head to newsstands or subscribe now.

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