I happen to live fairly near one of the brick-and-mortar Ulta Beauty stores. I had never even heard of it until a couple of years ago when I began to receive their promotional mailings when the store first opened. I had been wishing for a Sephora store in my city for a long time, and when we finally did get one I was a bit disappointed. I had read about the way Sephora used to be, a veritable palace of perfume, so although I enjoyed the variety of cosmetics, the fragrance selection seemed to be not much better than one would find at a large department store. I expected Ulta to be about the same, but I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong.
The Ulta store was brightly lit and cheerful, in contrast to the dark and poorly lit Sephora I had visited. (I had wondered how they expected to sell cosmetics that way.) The store had pretty much the same range of prestige makeup and skin care brands as Sephora– Stila, Smashbox, Murad, etc. and a user-friendly display of fragrances that was in alphabetical order. Okay, that was all up in the front; what was in the back? Amazingly, it seemed as though two more entire stores were back there – a complete range of drugstore brand makeup and personal care items, priced below retail, and a truly stunning array of top hair care products, including more hair dryers than I had ever seen in one place before. Frederic Fekkai, Paul Mitchell, John Frieda, Redken, Matrix were all there, and quite a few I knew nothing about. A full service salon is attached to the store as well. To top it all off, a massive island in the center of the store contained Ulta’s store brand color cosmetics, and the selection was huge. Now this, I thought, is what I call a superstore.
The staff was friendly and not at all pushy, which at first I attributed to the store being newly opened, but it’s that way every time I go there. I always look forward to it, whether I am stocking up on goodies or just pop in for a drugstore item or two while I am out shopping for something else. (Not too long ago, my old hair dryer quit, and I got in on a door-buster special at Ulta for a Wigo pro quality tourmaline hair dryer – I paid $30, it normally sells for about $80. Have I mentioned how much I love Ulta?)
My favorite thing about Ulta is the fabulous deals you can get on their store brand cosmetics. I am a fan of their lipsticks, especially the Sheers, and they have frequent specials on all their color cosmetics. The lippies start at $8 and they are department store quality; I try to stock when they have a BOGO special, which is often. To illustrate the kind of value you can get by going for the store brands, I recently decided to change primers for summer. I really liked the Sally Hansen Natural Beauty Inspired By Carmindy Luminizing Face Primer I had been using, but in summer I am always too shiny, so I wanted to try something that would give my skin a more matte appearance for hot weather. Ulta was running a special on their store brand Professional Foundation Primer, which normally goes for $18. The special deal was buy two get two free, so I paid $36 for the lot. I had never tried it before, but I figured I would spend that amount for just one tube of Smashbox Photo Finish in the same one-ounce size. As it turned out, it seems to be my Holy Grail primer, as it has mattifying powders in it to cut shine, and it works equally well with mineral powder, tinted moisturizer or regular foundation. It’s not overly slick either, so if you need to put some concealer on after you apply makeup it blends in beautifully. With four pump bottles in my stash I should be good for the rest of the year at least.
If you don’t have a store nearby, they have a great Web site, free shipping with orders over $50 (with frequent $25 free shipping promos), and four free samples with every order. It really is one-stop shopping for everything except fragrance; like Sephora they have mainly mainstream scents, but a very nice range of them, and they do get the new releases right away so you can try what’s current. If you do live near one of the stores, I hope you are already shopping there – if not, I recommend it very highly. There are a lot more of them now than when I first walked into a store, so check the site’s Store Locator page to see what might be close to you.
Image source: Ulta Glam & Go 52-piece color set – if you can’t find a shade you like in here, you’re just not trying. From Ulta.com.