If you've been using the same eyebrow pencil since Clinton was in office, it's time to shake up your beauty routine. Cosmetic counters, salons and makeup boutiques around the Twin Cities offer a surprising array of options, from a quick lipstick update to an in-depth skin-care lesson and a full-fledged makeover. Because every makeup artist is different, you should find one who makes you feel pretty -- not plastered in products. I took test runs with artists at MAC Cosmetics, Bobbi Brown, Sephora and a local beauty boutique, Smart and Chic. Here's what I found:
BYOM (BRING YOUR OWN MAKEUP)
I joined a half-dozen other women -- and their bulging cosmetic bags -- for a bring your own makeup class at Smart and Chic Beauty Lounge in northeast Minneapolis. We came with different skill sets, but the same question: Am I doing this right?
There to help us find the answer was Julie Swenson, owner, makeup artist and former Aveda educator. For the next two hours, she patiently led us through the maze of makeup we brought by using a workbook that included everything from defining your face shape to selecting the right shades for your skin tone.
Although we covered a ton of ground, Swenson's no-nonsense advice and hands-on demonstrations made it easy to digest. (Having a glass of wine didn't hurt, either.) Before long, we were practicing creating "smoky" eyes on each other. And I left wearing a shocking shade of red lipstick I would never have had the nerve to wear before.
SMART AND CHIC BEAUTY LOUNGE
20 University Av. NE., Mpls., 612-871-4482, www.smartandchicbeauty.com.
Cost: $25. Classes are held two Tuesday evenings a month. The next class is March 29. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a spot.
The look: Varies by participant. Some left wearing special-occasion makeup, others opted to focus on one area, such as their brows.
Pros: Being part of a group is fun, low-key and less intimidating than visiting a counter, especially if you go with a few friends.
Cons: Swenson's goal is to get you to DIY, so you may not get your makeup "done" by a pro.
POLISHED AND PROFESSIONAL
The MAC Cosmetics rep at Macy's was ultra-glam: shimmery skin, glossy lips, smoky eyes. Still, she seemed right at home showing me how to achieve a more classic, professional look. After taking stock of my current beauty routine, she decided on a mineral foundation, which gave me a flawless but surprisingly natural-looking coverage.
After applying blush, she showed me how to blend a powder slightly darker than my skin tone into the hollows of my cheeks to create a subtle contour. Bingo. Not only did I suddenly have cheekbones, I also looked 5 pounds slimmer.
She defined my eyes with a soft, chocolate-brown eyeliner and swiped my lips with a neutral shade. The finished look was me, only more polished.
16 metro locations, www.maccosmetics.com.
Cost: Free with $50 purchase
Look: A polished, flawless face suitable for the office or evening out.
Pros: The artist didn't overwhelm me with too many products and her techniques were easy to replicate at home.
Cons: Because the counter was understaffed, my makeup artist frequently had to stop the session to assist other customers.
FAST AND FOCUSED
Giant cosmetics chain Sephora offers free 15-minute "express services" to help customers master a specific beauty skill, such as a creating a cat eye or perfect lips. With spring on its way (it is on its way, right?), I chose the "blush and bronze."
My makeup artist started by asking me what blush shades I prefer, and how bronzed I wanted to go. She then disappeared into a sea of product and returned with a half-dozen options from a variety of brands.
Since my skin felt dry, she applied a creamy bronze stick instead of a powder. She then showed me how to lightly layer pale pink blush on top for a pop of color. When she was done, I looked sun-kissed, not fake-baked. She also jotted down the products she had used on a handy 3- by 5-inch card, which included a step-by-step blush tutorial.
6 metro locations, www.sephora.com.
Cost: Free 15-minute lessons.
Look: You can choose to focus on eyes, lashes, skin, concealer, foundation or blush/bronzer.
Pros: There's no pressure to buy because the consultants don't work on commission or for a particular brand. Focusing on one area is less intimidating than a full makeover. There are dozens of product lines to choose from.
Cons: The short lesson may not be ideal for beginners and the store can feel more chaotic than a cosmetics counter.
A GOOD-LOOKING EDUCATION
When I got to the Bobbi Brown counter at Bloomingdale's for my free makeup lesson, I was dog tired. In a preview to the undivided attention she would give me for the next hour, the makeup artist helped me with my bag and coat.
After explaining that one of Bobbi Brown's missions is to help women simplify their routines, she walked me through more steps than I could count. Even though I was impressed with her knowledge and educational approach, it was a lot to take in.
She also taught me how to match my foundation, and discovered that I had been wearing a shade too light. "Midwesterners tend to think they're paler than they actually are," she said. She applied a shimmery blush that I loved, and showed me how to fill in my sparse brows using an eye shadow that doubles as eyeliner. I wasn't excited about the lip gloss she chose, but overall the look was fresh and pretty.
8 metro locations, www.bobbibrowncosmetics. com.
Look: A fresh and natural face with light foundation, full brows and dewy cheeks.
Pros: The artist gave me her undivided attention and a surprisingly thorough overview of skin care, foundation matching and brow shaping.
Cons: She used an overwhelming number of products; at times I felt I was getting a sales pitch.
Minneapolis-based lifestyle expert Elizabeth Dehn is the founder of beautybets.com.