Virtual make-up testing: Which brands are doing it well?

Thanks to new developments, buying make-up online just got a lot easier. But which brands are serving virtual face well?

Hair & Beauty

Before the start of the pandemic, most of us wouldn’t have dreamed of taking a punt on a new foundation without testing it first. But with last year’s unprecedented closure of non-essential shops, switching up our make-up became almost as tricky as navigating the pandemic itself. Luckily, while the nation was panic buying toilet rolls and swapping their office attire for loungewear, beauty brands were busy getting creative so we’d be able to find the correct shades and formulations virtually. And even now we’re out of lockdown and the shops are open again, it’s a convenient change to our lifestyle that we’re all for.

Yes, we now have a real choice between visiting the makeup counter in person or making an informed decision from the comfort of our sofas. Whether it’s a video call with an expert MUA or a virtual try-on tool that can show you exactly how a new lipstick shade will look on your own face (trust us, they’re really quite addictive), the latest virtual advancements from beauty brands mean that it’s never been easier to buy make-up online.

Here are some of our favourite virtual cosmetics stores to add to your must-visit list. Warning: you may find that you never need to visit your go-to make-up counter again...

Bobbi Brown virtual beauty consultations

Known for its innovations, it’s unsurprising that US mega brand Bobbi Brown has been quick off the mark with its virtual make-up service. If you’re looking for a new lipstick shade, liner or eye shadow, its Virtual Try-On tool means you can have fun colour matching on your own face – either with a photo or in real-time via your webcam. It removes a lot of the uncertainty when selecting new products online and you can see how each product looks on a similar-toned face as your own by selecting from five multi-ethnic models. All pluses – and that’s just the beginning! The brand has also piled in more features like 30-minute virtual consultation slots with its pro-MUAs; a line-up of free masterclasses covering everything from perfecting eyeliner to creating a five-minute routine; Live Video Chats for instant product advice and a Shade Finder quiz to match your undertone.

Spell verdict: Almost as good as visiting a makeup counter and invaluable for non-city dwellers. We don’t plan to log off anytime soon.

NARS Virtual beauty

Launched with much fanfare, Nars has gone one step further with its virtual shopping experience by making it look like you’re stepping inside one of its actual stores. Its physical shop and e-commerce hybrid is a shopping destination in its own right where you can try-on products virtually, book one-to-one artistry sessions, view MUA tutorials, get shade-matched and – of course – head to the till with your purchase. Beyond product discovery, there’s also a dedicated area with founder François Nars’ virtual photobiography. If you’re looking for a new foundation shade, for example, its Matchmaker tool makes it incredibly easy. Using your webcam or smartphone camera to capture your skin tone, the site takes out the hard work by recommending your perfect shade. You can see exactly how the product might look on your face once applied and also try out one shade cooler or deeper.

Spell verdict: As close to visiting a real store that you’re probably going to get when shopping online. It’s a big thumbs up from us.

MAC Virtual make-up

What’s most impressive about MAC’s online offering is the sheer number of products available to test via its virtual try-on tool. From lipstick and eyeshadow to foundation and mascara, you can trial over 800 products virtually via your webcam or by uploading a selfie. Earlier this year the brand also launched pre-bookable virtual consultations, giving fans free access to bespoke sessions with its industry-leading pro artists. So if you’ve never quite managed to nail winged eyeliner or want to find the best shade of red lipstick for your skin tone, these completely customisable (and complimentary) 30 or 60-minute slots are for you. There’s also a Chat Function for on-the-go product queries with its experts and video chat for a personalised face-to-face service, which isn’t too far off the experience you’d receive at one of its bricks-and-mortar stores on the high street.

Spell verdict: Browsing for products online has literally never been more fun. Plus, MAC’s virtual consultations are top notch.

Charlotte Tilbury virtual makeup

If you want to fine-tune your make-up techniques, Charlotte Tilbury’s site is the place to be. The brand offers a menu of free bookable 15-minute virtual consultations where you can speak to its experts to hone your skills. Choose from masterclasses such as its Supermodel Brow Clinic and Bridal Beauty Tips. Meanwhile, its Foundation Experts session will help you find your perfect base. Each can be booked directly on its site at a time and day to suit you. There’s also a choice of four longer sessions that delve into more detail, with prices starting from £25 (cost redeemable against product purchases). Whether you’d like to know how to create Hollywood cheekbones or want to make your eyes look bigger and brighter, its experts share techniques tailored for you. Charlotte Tilbury fans can also learn from the super- MUA herself via her live masterclasses.

Spell verdict: Personalised make-up tips from the comfort of our screen? We’re well and truly hooked.

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