Face Off: Sephora vs. Ulta

Which beauty megastore offers more must-have products?

By Beth Levine April 18, 2016

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There isn’t a beauty-product-loving woman I know that doesn’t frequently vist both Sephora and Ulta more often than they'd like to admit. Both have many locations in Houston and both carry a mix of premium and mid-range brands (with Sephora tilting towards the high end, with Ulta offering drugstore brands and coveted coupons) so why go to one over the other? To compare, I'm putting them head-to-head (or should I say face to face?) when it comes to my favorite must-have products and see which one is the ultimate beauty destination.

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1. Must-have Face Wash – Aveeno Ultra Calming Foaming Cleanser

I have very sensitive skin. Ridiculously sensitive skin. This is literally the only wash I can use and I swear by it religiously.

Ulta: $7.99

Sephora: Not available (One of Sephora’s drawbacks is not carrying “drugstore” brands)

Point: Ulta

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2. Go-to Face Wipes – Josie Maran Bear Naked Wipes

Josie Maran started out as a model—she was even a spokesmodel for CoverGirl. She must have learned a few things there, because the girl makes some seriously kick-butt skincare products. Her face wipes are super gentle yet remove everything (and I mean everything) without having to vigorously rub your face—and a portion of the proceeds go to save the Polar Bears.

Ulta: Not available. This is actually one of several Josie Maran products that are exclusively at Sephora.

Sephora: $12

Point: Sephora 

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3. Eye Cream – Mario Badescu Hyaluronic Eye Cream

If you have not yet heard of or tried Mario Badescu products, you need to. It's simply one of the best skincare lines out there in addition to being well-priced. For a long time the line was only available online and at department stores until both Ulta and (randomly) Urban Outfitters started carrying it. I swear by this eye cream—hyaluronic acid is one of the most proven ingredients to keep skin plump and hydrated. The facial spray with aloe, herbs and rosewater is also one of my must-have items (hint: Keep it in the fridge so it’s cold, especially when you use it in the summer) and a steal at only $7.

Ulta: $18

Sephora: Not available—no Mario Badescu products are carried. (Why, Sephora? Why?)

Point: Ulta

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4. Eye Brightener – Laura Mercier Secret Brightening Powder

Do you get enough sleep? I know I don’t. This brightening powder is pricy but gives a brightening (but NOT sparkly) glow to your under-eye area that concealer just can't match. I have tried to find cheaper replacements (ELF makes one, as does Bare Escentuals) but nothing really works as well as this little container. At 45 years old, I can tell you this product really does take a few years off.

Ulta: Not available. Laura Mercier products are only available in more high-end stores.

Sephora: $25

Point: Sephora 

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5. Tinted Moisturizer – Stila Sheer Tinted Moisturizer Oil-Free SPF 20

It’s Houston. It’s hot and sweaty, like, a lot. Hence some of us need help evening out skin tone and covering blemishes but don't want to wear a full face of base. This tinted moisturizer does the trick. It comes in only five colors to choose from, but Stila has done an excellent job formulating their pigmentation so that the colors actually match your skin! It’s pricey but lasts a long time even if you (like me) use it every day.

Ulta: $34

Sephora: $34

Point: Tie 

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6. Lip Balm – Rosebud Perfume Co. Smith's Rosebud Salve

I am addicted to lip balm. I have three in my purse right now, one in my desk and one in my car (you know, in case of emergencies). Rosebud Perfume Co. Smith’s Rosebud Salve is a lifesaver. It comes in a pot or a squeeze tube and it's one of the best things you will ever put on your mouth, plus it's super affordable.

Ulta: $6

Sephora: $6

Point: Tie

As I suspected—due to the fact that I continue to shop at both stores—it’s a tie. Much like the great grocery store wars going on all over Houston, Ulta and Sephora are embroiled in a fierce battle over your skin. Until someone puts them right next to each other, I'll just have to make separate trips and go to both.

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