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SPA WARS: The Ugly Truth About the Beauty Industry

Celeb Makeup Artist Lora Condon Comes to Our Collective Beauty Rescue

By Lynn N. Capri

Celebrity makeup artist, esthetician and consumer advocate (not to mention fierce female with a rapier sharp wit) Lora Condon, aka “The Beauty Buster,” is a recognized expert on revitalizing spa and cosmetic businesses. SPA WARS: The Ugly Truth About The Beauty Industry is her popular new memoir and call for greater integrity and transparency in the spa and beauty industries.  Says Heather Mikesall, Executive Editor of American Spa Magazine, “What Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000), by Anthony Bourdain, did for the culinary set, Lora Condon’s Spa Wars: The Ugly Truth About the Beauty Industry (2011) seeks to do for the spa set.” cover1-copy

So what is one of Lora’s best tips from Spa Wars?  It’s to be your own beauty advocate and be ready and willing to ask a lot of questions at the beauty counter.

Every woman has experienced it. You need a new lipstick or foundation so you head to the nearest department store to find one with the right color, texture and that special “je ne sais quoi” that makes you feel like you are bettering yourself every time you re-apply. With over a dozen counters at each store, and many stores to choose from, the array of options can be dazzling…and extremely overwhelming.  We become like kids in an over-stocked candy store trying to decide on the one or two treats our mothers have said we can buy. Add to the titillating selection that every perky girl in a lab coat is armed with a plethora of buzz words and marketing-tested phrases that will help close their sale and…EEEK!

With these 9 insider tips and questions, Lora breaks down the hype so that you can be your own beauty advocate at the makeup counter:

1. Ask for the ingredient list on the box or container and look for pore clogging or irritating ingredients including mineral oil, sodium laurel sulfate, SD alcohol, lanolin, paraffin, talc, witch hazel, menthol or peppermint in face products. Don’t take the saleswomen’s word for what is in the product: they will always tell you that there is nothing in it that could clog your pores or irritate your skin. They’d be fired otherwise.

2. What is the pH of the product? If it is an acid based product, you need the product to be 4 or below to really exfoliate. Most drug and department stores do not sell anything below a 5, which neutralizes the whole point of the product.

patricia-fields-0401-copy3. Can I return this product if I don’t like it? You can return almost anything, anywhere (yes, even the drug store) with no reason other than you don’t like it and it didn’t work for you.  Keep your receipts and credit card used for the purchase so it can be credited.

4. Are you licensed by the state for skin care?  The answer to this question will let you know how knowledgeable the salespeople behind the beauty counter are. It’s a good question to ask before you book a facial at the spa.

5. Can I go outside and look at this in the daylight? Store lighting is usually horrible and it is imperative that you be able to go outside and look at the color matching in natural light especially for foundation.

6. Do you know if this color is going to be discontinued or is it in a limited collection? If so, buy a few and stock up!

7. Can you spray alcohol on this lipstick and shave off the top layer before I use it? Also feel comfortable asking them to sharpen the pencil before you use it. Make sure they use a disposable mascara wand and only dip it once in the tester. If their mascara tester has the wand still attached, rest assured that someone else has already used it. Ask if they can open a new tester or just buy it and return it if you don’t like it. Many salespeople will open a new tester in order to ensure a sale and prevent returns. A disposable applicator should also be used for lip gloss. If customers are using the glosses, it is impossible to say if someone has double dipped.

8. Can you please sanitize that brush before you put it near my eye? Each counter should have alcohol or brush cleaner which they are supposed to use between each client. They are also supposed to thoroughly clean their brushes at night. Most counters do not do this because it is time consuming. Don’t be afraid to demand this simple request.

9. Can you make a face chart of the colors you just used and where you put them so I can replicate this at home? All counters have a face chart for this reason. If you’re not really buying, please don’t waste the salespersons time with this. Only do this if you are buying the products and won’t remember how the salesperson applied the colors and with which brushes.

For more on Lora Condon, her impressive list of accomplishments, clients, certifications, and TV appearances, and for more on Spa Wars, please visit

Pictured: Lora Condon.

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