Shopping Edit: Where to Buy Beauty
Even just a few years ago, shopping for beauty IRL was a lot like fulfilling a hair appointment: you may have left looking better, but sometimes it took several rolls in a barrel of nuanced insults to get there. Something changed. Maybe it was the advent of robust online competitors, or the general widened landscape of beauty retail, but shopping for skincare, makeup, and hair has taken a more comfortable, grassroots approach. I like that, because nothing turns me off more than a sales associate telling me that I absolutely need a certain serum to help with my enlarged pores (hey lady, I just stopped by for a bottle of nail polish, but thanks for the tip).
So I compiled a list of retailers that curate a welcome shopping experience. From online shops with exotic (and enticing) brands, stores you just have to visit for an arresting experience, to beauty destinations that leave plenty of cushion in your budget.
This super instructional online store puts the guesswork out of beauty—period. Each product on the site is accompanied with a handy video that quickly demonstrates how and more importantly why, you should use it. I’m also a big fan of their exceptionally niche collection of skincare and makeup offerings, which includes cult European brands.
- Go there for: Rouge Bunny Rouge Sea of Showers Highlighting Liquid (my favorite highlighter, seriously), and African Organics’ Pure Marula Oil (I use this at night when my skin needs extra nourishment—won’t clog pores and smells better than dessert).
Dermalogica brought me to Bluemercury many years ago, but the store’s thoughtfully culled beauty selection always keeps me coming back for more. Book an appointment in advance for a special treat: Bluemercury offers spa services, ranging from facials, to waxes, and makeup application.
- Go there for: Diptyque candles (worth every penny—I’m partial to Feu de Bois, which smells like a campfire, and Roses), and Dermalogica’s Clean Start Oil Clearing Matte Moisturizer SPF 15 (perfect for blemish-prone and oily skin).
I often talk about Paula’s Choice products on August Skin, and with good reason. Paula’s Choice consistently delivers the crème de la crème of skincare at easily digestible prices. While you’re on the e-tailor’s site, also stop by their “Beautypedia,” a guide that grades just about everything in the skincare aisle, both luxurious and economical. Paula’s Choice is one of my all time favorite skincare brands, period.
- Go there for: Resist C15 Super Booster (a powerful vitamin C serum that prevents dark spots and visible signs of aging); Resist Weekly Retexturizing Foaming Treatment 4% BHA (simply put, it’s a miracle product—apply at night and wake up to amazing skin); and Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment (coming soon to Paula’s Choice, but it’s so good, I had to tell you now).
The name Sephora is synonymous with beauty, which makes sense considering the international beauty boutique was the 20th century pioneer in offering prestige beauty outside of the department store. Nowadays, Sephora’s lenient return policy (making new products less daunting), accommodating rewards program (translating into free deluxe samples and access to coveted storewide sales), and diverse lineup of beauty add to its original allure.
- Go there for: makeup brushes (from their own stellar line to Make Up For Ever’s impressive collection) and nail polish (the $5 Sephora Collection lacquers are a steal).
This London import boasts an impressive array of boutique brands that read like a who’s who of luxury beauty. Physical stores are dotted around the US in a few cities, but the online store is always close by and open. Be sure to sign up for their rewards program as well, where every $100 spent translate into a $5 credit towards your next purchase.
- Go there for: Evologie’s Intensive Blemish Serum (one of the best spot treatments for acne), and Cane & Austin’s Retexturizing Treatment Pads (guaranteed for a radiant complexion).
CVS, Target, and Walmart are the national best bets for mass beauty at palatable prices. CVS ExtraCare cardholders are privy to major discounts, including almost weekly 20-25% price cuts (generally activated Thursday and good through Sunday), ExtraCare Savings (discounts ranging from $.50 to several dollars off of select products), and ExtraBucks (2% back in store credits earned from everyday CVS purchases). Better yet, look out for an additional $5 store credit for every $50 spent in the store on beauty.
Walmart truly has consistently low prices every day, there’s no denying it. And it’s the only store that carries Drew Barrymore’s Flower cosmetic line (which is pretty spectacular). On the other hand, Target has terrific sales, not to mention that they carry Sonia Kashuk (one of my favorite affordable brands of all time) and Carol’s Daughter.
- Go there for: RoC’s Multi Correxion 5 in 1 Moisturizer with SPF 30 (my current daily moisturizer with SPF), CVS’s Premium Cotton Rounds (a necessary tool to apply toner and 100 times better than a cotton ball), and Sonia Kashuk’s Eye on Neutral Shimmer 3 (a beautiful palette for everyday wear).
DermStore and SkinStore are two entirely different sites, but they follow a very similar formula and deliver an inventory that often overlaps (although DermStore seems to offer slightly more). Both are megaplexes for skincare, stocking hundreds of brands for pretty much any skincare need. I love it. SkinStore appears to host sales more often (usually 20% off site wide), but DermStore has its fair share of sales as well.
- Go there for: Glycolix Gly/Sal 5-2 Cleanser (brightens skin and fights acne—it’s the perfect cleanser) and Exuviance’s Performance Peel AP25 (a powerful peel that evens skin texture and tone).
There’s something about Nordstrom’s approachable elegance that makes it my favorite department store to shop for beauty. Sure, they sell $700 La Prairie serum and $400 gold cream, but you never feel like you’re having a “Pretty Woman” moment, which is in part due to genuinely friendly customer service and a healthy range of much more affordable brands as well. At the very least, make your way to Nordstrom’s epic annual beauty sale, which takes place every July.
- Go there for: Valmont’s Hydra3 Regenetic Serum (a super emollient serum that I use as a moisturizer in warm weather) and Clarins’ Double Serum Complete Age Control Concentrate (my not so secret weapon for radiant skin).
Ever try on fifty-eleven shades of foundation only to find that maybe one works (and only in the winter when you don’t have a tan)? Then you know what it’s like to shop for beauty as a woman of color, because let’s be frank, not all makeup, skin, and hair care is crafted to address our specific needs. Enter DooBop, an online boutique that curates its inventory with women of color in mind. The cherry on top is the site’s handful of experts that are armed to answer your beauty questions at an email’s notice.
- Go there for: Georgia’s Luxury Skin Oil (a super blendable oil that leaves skin glistening) and Iman’s BB Creme (a BB cream in a range of colors that are as diverse as we are).
Prestige and mass beauty had a baby and named it Ulta, which saved beauty lovers across America an extra trip to their local drugstore or beauty boutique. Their rewards program is pretty fantastic too, where points earned (1 point=$1 spent) become savings in future purchases (and look out for products where you can earn double or triple points).
- Go there for: NYX Automatic Lip Liner in Bare (or really any NYX lip product—they’re super affordable and long lasting) and Pür Minerals 4-in-1 Pressed Mineral Makeup SPF 15 (minimal to maximum coverage, and one of my favorite foundations).
A gift that never gets old—that’s Santa Maria Novella, of course—no mind that the brand is almost 800 years old. Celebrated by royals, international icons, and a healthy chunk of other names that fill history books, Santa Maria Novella is the apothecary of the millennium, literally. Scattered in just a few locations in the US, your best bet is their online shop, although it would be justifiably sane to go the distance to take a step inside their aromatic store.
- Go there for: the melograno bath salts (you’ll actually look forward to taking a bath, I promise), and melograno bar soap (a soap that actually moisturizes skin, imagine that).
I think beauty is fun, but say you want beauty to be F-U-N!!!, then Ricky’s is your store. The New York staple takes a refreshing approach to beauty that is the anti-department store. Featuring budget-hugging makeup and skincare from both drugstore and prestige price points, it’s hard not to find something to like. Thespians will be happy to know Ricky’s also sells stage makeup, and lots of it.
- Go there for: RickyColor Disco Sticks Lip Gloss Set (5 lipglosses for $20 is hard to beat) and RickyHome Drunk Brunch Hair, There, Every-wear Mist (because it smells like a fine Sunday afternoon).
Image via USA Today