Brick-and-mortar stores have had to come up with creative ways to reach customers during the coronavirus pandemic. For beauty retailers, that means connecting with their customers virtually.

Brands like Ashley Adams Beauty, Noleen Sliney, and Blushington, which offered in-studio and on-location makeup applications pre-pandemic, are now offering a variety of lessons over Zoom. I tried an hour-long course from Blushington and spoke to various makeup artists and beauty companies to see whether virtual classes are worth it, or if you’re better off watching a free YouTube tutorial.

Going Virtual

You might not wear as much makeup if most of your time is spent at home, but for some, it’s still a necessity. For me, makeup has always been a way to relax. Makeup artist Jennifer Duvall of JennySue Makeup says (in a Medium article) that putting on makeup allows her to have an outlet for creativity, a regular routine, and it helps build focus.

Duvall transitioned to private virtual lessons early in the pandemic. She’s been pleasantly surprised by the results. “I thought I could only do my private makeup lessons in person, which looking back now, actually limited me to just locals in and around Athens and the Atlanta, Georgia, area,” Duvall tells WIRED. “Already I have worked with women as far as Illinois, Arizona, to Rhode Island.”

Strangely enough, virtual lessons can also feel more hands-on and interactive. Where Duvall might have done half a client’s face in person before the pandemic and guided them the rest of the way, customers now have to make up their entire face themselves while watching Duvall through a screen. The extra practice, she believes, helps them learn quicker.

“It’s also been really fulfilling to interact and connect with women from all over, which is why I love doing makeup anyway,” Duvall says. “Especially when everything seems so tense and unpredictable right now, applying makeup is something we can control and can be a form of art therapy and self-care.”

YouTube is a great free resource, available at any time of day, with a seemingly endless supply of makeup tutorials and product reviews, but private virtual lessons with an expert are more personal and go a step further. Unlike the in-store experience, where beauticians will use their own pro-grade tools, virtual classes force you to use what’s already in your home, making it easier to re-create specific looks later on.

“One-on-one services and lessons allow for complete customization and personalized attention,” says Jackie Zupsic, a spokesperson for Glamsquad, an Uber-like service that offers on-demand beauty services with a focus on makeup, nail, and hair care. “Our [in-person] makeup tutorials, for example, allow clients to choose the specific skill, trend, or feature they want to learn, and Glamsquad’s beauty pros will demonstrate the technique on one side of your face and guide you in finishing the other.”

Glamsquad had to cease its operations early during the pandemic but also began offering virtual lessons. It has begun sending beauty experts back into people’s homes, though both clients and beauty professionals are now required to wear a face-covering during service. Makeup is still prohibited, and beauticians are required to wear gloves and a disposable apron. They must also get a Barbicide certification and follow Barbicide’s Covid-19 protocols.

Virtual one-on-one services might actually improve on the retail store experience. Depending on where you lived pre-pandemic, you may not have received the best beauty advice. Some Mac or Sephora employees might be professionals, but many are just people who like makeup, and they may not know the best tips for a diverse clientele.

Beauty Works

I took a virtual lesson with Blushington, a makeup store with locations in Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York City. The company offers 30-minute classes for $25, hour-long classes for $50, as well as packages and group options. You can choose from a few categories, like a crash course in skin care, learning how to do everyday makeup, or focusing on just your eyes. Or you can opt for a custom lesson if there’s something specific you really want to know, like finally mastering that popular chiseled look without looking muddy and cakey.

Makeup Classes Have Gone Virtualand We Tried One Out
Photograph: Blushington

I’m no expert, but I’ve been wearing makeup since middle school. I like to think I’ve got the basics down, including eye shadow. But my Blushington teacher, Sloane, showed me a technique I’ve never seen before. Instead of putting my transition shade directly on my crease and following the natural curve, she suggested I put it just above the crease and make almost a straight line out for my slightly hooded eyes. It instantly made my eyes look bigger and more refreshed.