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Style on the Street / Beauty Insider

A lipstick challenge: Drugstore vs. department store

The cosmetics counters at a drugstore and high-end department store offer very different experiences. But which one will come up with the winning recommendation for a lipstick novice?

Can you tell where they bought theirs?

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Can you tell where they bought theirs?

WHEN AN EDITOR assigns you to hit two stores — one high-end and one low — and get recommendations on a new lipstick for spring, the eventual favorite seems like a foregone conclusion. But is it?

“What are you looking for?” asks the woman stationed at the makeup counter at Walgreens’ flagship store in Downtown Crossing, the least Walgreens Walgreens ever, by the way, with its airy vibe — and cosmetics you can try on.

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I know my response should be focused on lips. But when you’re shopping for makeup, it’s never that simple. What was I looking for? Total transformation in a tube.

“I don’t usually wear lipstick,” I confess.

Some salespeople would take that as a challenge, but mine doesn’t seem up for a conversion. “Try this,” she says, pointing to a $6.99 high-shine lip gloss from the British brand Boots’s No7 in a shade called “Glaze.” When I do, I’m frankly a little disappointed to see that I still look like me, but mauvier. “Can you recommend anything else?” She half-heartedly pulls out two $9.99 lipsticks — “Cranberry” and “Sugarplum” — but she’s pushing the gloss. “If you don’t usually wear anything, this is probably best.” The part of me still hoping for a metamorphosis dies a little. Less than five minutes later, including time at the cash register, I’m back on the street.

Wishing I’d worn something more stylish than North Face boots, I enter Barneys at Copley Square. Afterfeigning interest in the $95 candles while I gather confidence, I approach the cosmetics zone. “What are you looking for?” the makeup artist asks. That question is the only thing the two visits would have in common.

I explain my mission and she bops around gathering designer glosses and lacquers and stains. The goal, apparently, is to give my look some much-needed “pop.”

“Can I get you some water?” she asks, offering me a seat at the counter and getting to work. “You have fantastic lips,” she says. (Compliments are, after all, part of what you’re paying for when you buy pricey lipstick.)

Along with applying reds and pinks to my lips, she also smoothes a Giorgio Armani tinted moisturizer onto my skin and adds blush and mascara. Even the best lipstick is wasted on an undone face.

Half an hour later I’m back on the street, this time with a $65 plum-ish lip stain by Serge Lutens; a $30 Giorgio Armani pink lip gloss called “Flash Lacquer” that needs to be applied on top of the stain, but only in the middle of my lips, so as to create that sought-after “pop” but not too much of it; and the moisturizer and blush. Somehow I’ve managed to refuse the mascara.

So, which store wins? My eighth grader is pulling for Walgreens, explaining with a hand gesture that the Barneys look was “just too big.” My husband goes with Barneys. Apparently it is “more subtle.”

But in lips, as in life, some answers are elusive. Two weeks after my research trip I’m not actually reaching for either store’s lip products, but I am addicted to the tinted moisturizer I caved in and bought. It has just the amount of pop I need.

Beth Teitell is a Globe staff writer. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

ON THE SUNNY SIDE: More on leaving your classic red at home.

Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

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