My virtual makeover: The website that lets you try new looks absolutely free

By Sarah Hughes
Last updated at 8:21 AM on 12th October 2009

For every woman who is a dab hand at applying lipstick on a crowded train, there is one like me who can't apply it correctly while sitting in front of a bathroom mirror.

I barely know what foundation is, let alone work out how it might benefit me.

Luckily for those of us who are severely make-up challenged, help is at hand in the shape of website Hairstyles and Makeup - Virtual Makeover -

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The beauty site has launched an improved version of its virtual makeover tool, Makeover Studio, which allows users to open a free account, upload a photograph and then experiment with products from more than 40 different brands, from Chanel and Dior to Bobbi Brown and Lancome.

I decided to test the virtual makeover studio to its limits and uploaded a bleary-eyed four-weeks-after-new-baby photograph. It was a revelation.

Ever since my mother refused to buy me a Girl's World make-up mannequin when I was nine, I have been secretly consumed by the desire to possess one. Now, here was a website prepared with the next best thing.

Thirty time-wasting minutes were spent testing every shade of foundation from Nicola Roberts' white to Jordan orange, from creams that gave me an eerily perfect Thirties-style matt finish to those that gave me the sort of unblemished peaches-and- cream complexion that normally only heavy Photoshopping can create.

If the foundation was fun, then the eyes were even better. First, I got to correct my shabbily unplucked eyebrows, transforming them into sleek arches with a click (so much more enjoyable than the usual 15 to 20 minutes of masochistic agony at my local salon), then on to mascara, where every possible combination was offered from the barely noticeable to over-the-top Cleopatra-style batwing lashes.

It wasn't until I got to the lips that I hit the first major drawback. Trying to discover whether a close friend was right in their belief that I should try wearing darker lipstick, I clicked on a plum-coloured Giorgio Armani lipstick, only to be told this product was unavailable unless I paid for a year's unlimited access to the site.

Undaunted (and stingy by nature), I returned to the drawing board and my stand-by shade of pale pink.

Best of all, however, was the hair section. Ever wondered what you might look like with Audrey Tautou's Chanel crop or Jennifer Aniston's tousled mane? Well, wonder no more because Virtual Makeover allows you not simply to experiment with different styles and colours but, more entertainingly, to spend your time trying out celebrity hair-dos and don'ts.

Yet, although the virtual makeover application is great fun, is it really better than heading to a department store beauty counter and getting one-on-one advice?

Make-up professionals seem unconvinced, with one insisting that the website failed to account for the texture and experience of applying make-up in person.

Those connected with the website stress that its face-mapping technology allows for accurate portraits, while the ability to zoom in on parts of your face and the chance to check your image before and after add to the experience.

Yet ultimately I proved as bad at applying make-up to a virtual me as I am in real life, ending up with raccoon-ringed eyes and lopsidedly applied, overly pale pink lipstick.

And for all that the Makeover Studio offers customers the chance to buy the product they are testing on-line, the real enjoyment comes from messing around with the photographs - and if you're brave enough posting the results on the site for fellow makeover aficionados to judge.

It might not be as good as half an hour with a make-up expert, but it's the best internet time-waster I've come across.