This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
Gone are the days of awkwardly dodging up-sells at your local department store. Today, shopping for beauty is a personal, exploratory, and yes, even fun , experience. And thanks to the rise of beauty megastores and e-tailers, it’s never been easier.
In fact, it’s almost a little too easy. With so many options out there, how do you know where to shop for the best products and deals? Since the Refinery29 beauty editors sample products for free (we know, it’s a tough life), we polled beauty addicts who are using their own hard-earned cash on cosmetics. While many referenced the biggies (Ulta Beauty, Sephora), a few gave us some unexpected — and surprisingly economical — solutions that we’d never thought of before.
Ahead, everything you need for at-home DIY sheet masks, lasting lipsticks, cheap cotton rounds, and more.
Ulta is one of the rare retailers where you can find both high-end and drugstore items in one place — making it a favorite one-stop shop.
“I love that Ulta Beauty has an extensive collection of the Korean brand TonyMoly. The packaging is so freakin’ cute.” — Jessica
TonyMoly Panda’s Dream Brightening Eye Base, $12, available at Ulta Beauty.
“I really like the rewards program and service at Ulta, and things are always in stock. I like getting Redken’s Genius Wash for Medium Hair. The peppermint scent is invigorating, and the wash restores moisture and helps the color not to fade.” — Tia
Redken Genius Wash for Medium Hair, $44, available at Ulta Beauty.
There’s a reason this cosmetics hot spot has become a meme among the beauty-obsessed; it really is our grown-up version of a candy store. Even better? The amazing samples, gift sets, and awards programs it offers to loyal fans.
“Sephora has a great selection of products, and I love that you can test and try products before you purchase them. They also have reliable professionals who will provide unbiased reviews, especially for skin care! I love the Sephora blender. It’s a great sponge, especially for concealer under the eyes.” — Michaela
Sephora Collection The Perfectionist: Airbrush Sponge, $12, available at Sephora.
Many of those we polled raved about Sephora Favorites sets like this one. They’re a great way to save money and get a huge sampling of products for dirt-cheap. For example, this eye set is stocked with $134 worth of goods, but only costs $42. Score.
Sephora Favorites Extravagant Eyes, $42, available at Sephora.
The online retailer has almost everything you could possibly dream of — just be careful to buy only from authorized retailers. The gray market is real.
“I buy plain cotton mask sheets from Amazon, so I can apply toner or serum on the sheets to mask my skin for hydration.” — Rachel
uxcell Enlarged Cotton Facial Masks Sheets DIY Skin Care 50 pcs White, $7.26, available at Amazon.
“AMAZON FTW. I sometimes get drugstore items that are marked up in NYC stores, like Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash.” — Amanda
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash, $16.59, available on Amazon.
It’s also great for hard-to-find shades. “Revlon ColorStay in Ingenue is my go-to, and I can rarely find that color in the drugstore.” — Amanda
Revlon ColorStay Lacquer Balm in Ingenue, $8.27, available on Amazon.
While you need to be cautious about shopping for beauty at discount stores (some are unauthorized resellers), they’re great for generic staples like cotton rounds and Q-tips.
“Dollar Tree has good cotton rounds and they are only $1 for a roll. My mom always gives me three-packs of them from her local Dollar Tree whenever I see her.” — Meghan
Assured Cotton Rounds, $1, available at Dollar Tree.
We’ve written over and over again about how great the Target beauty section is, especially with new brands like Harry Josh, Pixi, and more added every day.
“Ever since I discovered Pixi Beauty in London while studying abroad, I’ve been obsessed with their Glow Tonic. I recently discovered they sell it at Target for $15, which I think is just a little bit less than the price in pounds, and it sure beats the cost of a flight to London.” — Erica
Pixi Glow Tonic, $15, available at Target.
The organic supermarket is great for natural skin care, including a wide variety of essential oils.
“I get Dr. Hauschka products (face toner, day cream, night cream, and serum) from Whole Foods. It can be on the pricey side, but lately there have been sales. And it works WONDERS on my skin.” — Amanda
Dr. Hauschka Facial Toner, $37, available at Dr. Hauschka.
Walmart really does have everything — including exclusive beauty brands like Drew Barrymore’s Flower Beauty.
This drugstore brand carries high-end, quality products — and they’re a hot commodity for many living in big cities. “When I go home, I love perusing the aisles of Walmart and Target for the brands that we don’t get here in NYC.” — Lisa
Flower Transforming Touch Powder-To-Creme Blush, $12.98, available at Walmart.
Another Walmart exclusive? Hard Candy, the makeup of our youth, which recently got an adult upgrade. This stain is a go-to for many thanks to its pretty, just-bitten effect.
Hard Candy All Matte Up Hydrating Lip Stain, $5, available at Walmart.
Bed Bath & Beyond
The “beyond” section is the best part of this superstore.
“It’s no secret that I love BB&B. I’ll usually stop by the beauty section to see what they might have. I usually get my cotton rounds here and face masks or Real Technique brushes.” — Jessica
Garnier Clean+ 8 oz. Shine Control Cleansing Gel, $5.99, available at Bed Bath & Beyond.
“These affordable brushes work like high-end options, for a fraction of the price.” — Jessica
Real Techniques Your Base/Flawless Foundation Brush, $7.99, available at Bed Bath & Beyond.
Let’s not forget: Walgreens also owns New York-based Duane Reade, which has a killer beauty section with brands like Vichy and Soap & Glory.
“I will never, ever buy expensive mascara when Maybelline’s Falsies mascara costs $8.” — Kaitlin
Maybelline Volum’ Express The Falsies Waterproof Mascara Very Black, $7.29, available at Walgreens.
“I also buy cheap nail polish, and buy the Seche Vite topcoat ($10) to go over it. Drugstore nail polish that looks like a gel manicure!” — Kaitlin
Wet n Wild MegaLast Salon Nail Color, $1.99, available at Walgreens.
“I’m 36 and a mom of one, and I don’t have time to pee these days. When I can’t get to Sephora, I head to Walgreens, which is near me. I literally can get everything from makeup to brushes to makeup wipes, plus some great eye products and lipsticks!” — Melissa
Maybelline Color Sensational Creamy Matte Lip Color, $7.29, available at Walgreens.
The K-beauty scene has fully arrived stateside — and this sampling site is a great way to discover the latest finds.
“I get a lot of my Korean skin care through Memebox, usually at really great discounts. One water serum I use is $30 in-store, around $12 on Meme.” — Julia
Honeybunny Propolis 40 Ampoule, $10, available at Memebox.
This powder that turns into a creamy face wash also came highly recommended.
Deep Water Multi-Use Powder Wash, $17, available at Memebox.
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