How to find the best beauty deals

Real Simple

No matter where you like to shop for beauty deals—from a drugstore to a flash sale—there are plenty of bargains. Here’s how to find them.

Photo: Nigel Cox

Drugstores

Best when: You want to stock up on staples or try low-price products with high-tech ingredients.

Drugstores are still the place to get the most bang for your buck, and the world of online coupons (which can be used on sites and in stores) has made them even more enticing. Also, the products are more cutting-edge than ever before. “As the demand for advanced ingredients, like retinols and vitamin C, has grown, brands sold at drugstores have found ways to include these ingredients at a reduced cost—it’s demand driving supply,” says Ron Robinson, the founder of BeautyStat.com.

To help customers navigate this growing pool of premium products, some drugstores, like CVS, are even hiring trained consultants to offer advice.

More from
Real Simple:

10 Makeup Mistakes That Can Age You

Is Mom's Beauty Advice Right?

Best Beauty Tips, Products, and Secrets

Drugstore Shopping Tips

Go international. Many U.S. drugstores now carry a selection of high-end products imported from other countries, such as the Finnish brand Lumene. They may cost less at drugstores here as the brands try to build consumer awareness.

Don’t be afraid of house brands. When a house-brand product is packaged very similarly to a brand-name one, it probably contains the same ingredients as its more famous twin. Think of them as generic pharmaceuticals, says Robinson—almost exactly alike, except for the price tag. Just make sure the first few ingredients are the same and in the same order.

Sometimes the best buys are right under your nose. You may have heard that the greatest values are often stocked on lower (read: less visible) shelves. However, this isn’t the case with house-brand items, says Joe Trimble, the owner of Encinal Market, in Alameda, California, and a 20-year veteran of the retail industry. That’s because drugstores make a larger profit on these items than they do on the name brands, so they want to make sure you grab them.

Be loyal. Join your drugstore’s loyalty program and increase your savings by combining store coupons with membership points. Most drugstores will credit points to your entire purchase at checkout (including full-price items), without subtracting the value of your coupons.

Speaking of coupons, make collecting them less labor-intensive. Coupons.com, RetailMeNot.com, and Red Plum.com all trawl the Web for drugstore deals and offer coupons that you can use at more than 100,000 chains and independent stores. (Some can be used in store, some only online; check the fine print.) While you’re on one of these sites, sign up for its e-mail list, which will give you access to members-only deals. For a little more effort, RecycleBank.com, a site that partners with big drugstore brands, like Kiss My Face and Pantene, doles out savings points when you make your routine more green—by doing things like pledging to reduce paper-towel usage and recycling containers. It’s a win-win: You save money and the planet.

Read blogs. To help you further parse all the offers, blogs like SundaySaver.com aggregate weekly deals that you can use in national stores like Target and Walmart. To dig deeper, check out store-specific blogs, like SimplyCVSShopping.com and IHeartRiteAid.com. Although not affiliated with the stores, they compile inside information on unadvertised deals, rebates, loyalty-program tips, and more.

Photo: Nigel Cox

Department Stores

Best when: You want in-depth information about a specific line or you’re making big-ticket purchases.

Ever wonder why you rarely see a sale at the beauty counter?

“The theory is that if people know that there could be a sale next week, they’ll be discouraged from making impulse buys now,” says Swan Sit, the director of online strategy for the Estée Lauder Companies. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t deals to be had. Department stores often offer promotions meant to buy store loyalty, such as generous gift sets and storewide rewards programs for credit-card holders. And you can’t beat department stores for one-on-one help with your questions about anything from dry skin to turquoise eyeliner.

Shopping Tips

Get friendly with your salesperson. This can land you on an e-mail or phone list, letting you in on promotions and helping you score samples. Regarding samples: Don’t be shy about asking for them. “It’s perfectly acceptable,” says Paco Underhill, the author of What Women Want: The Global Market Turns Female Friendly ($16, Yahoo! Shopping). “Tell the reps, ‘I have always enjoyed your brand.’ ” He adds that you may have better luck if you stick to the midpriced lines as opposed to luxury brands.

Another sample secret? Nordstrom department stores hand them out, whether or not you’re buying something, during its weekly Sample Saturdays. The samples change every week. Find out what’s being offered on the company’s Facebook page.

Hit up store events. Whether it’s an opportunity for a mini-facial or a shopping night, when cosmetics counters bring in outside reps, participating shoppers are usually rewarded with extra deals and samples. The same applies to training nights, when employees learn new techniques by practicing on volunteers. Ask a salesperson at your favorite counter when the next one will be held. “Employees are typically already trained and working under the careful eye of a supervisor, so the risk of a makeup disaster is low,” says Sit. More often than not, you’ll go home with a bag of free full-size products.

Be in the know about GWPs. Gifts with purchase, that is. Sites like MyGiftWithPurchase.com and gwpaddict.wordpress.com post what’s being offered at department stores across the country and on the Web. Stuck with a free lipstick that doesn’t suit you? Swap it for something you want at MakeupAlley.com, where members list their unwanted products. (A note to hard-core makeup junkies: You can also swap gently used products here. Stick to items that are easily sanitized, like pencils, which can be sharpened.)

Consider getting a credit card. Many department stores haven’t implemented club cards that reward shoppers with points that can be used toward future purchases. Why not? Because, in general, department stores already issue their own credit cards, which track how much you buy and, in many cases, offer increased savings for the best customers. Just be sure to pay the bill in full each month to avoid finance charges that could negate your savings.

Photo: Nigel Cox

Flash Sales

Best when: You’re hoping for a major deal on upscale goods or services and you’re willing to do some surfing, watching, and even waiting.

Flash sales have turned impulse buys into an online phenomenon: Sites offer deeply discounted and generally high-end products in limited quantities on a first-come, first-served basis. Deals at flash-sale sites, such as Gilt, Lifebooker, Ideeli, Groupon, LivingSocial, and Amazon’s MyHabit, can get you up to 90 percent off.

These sites often buy from their sources in bulk, allowing them to sell goods at a reduced price. You’ll find sales from established brands, but you can also score serious savings from up-and-comers. And you’ll even find deals from salons, since the sites offer coupons that can be put toward haircuts and facials.

Shopping Tips

Start at the bottom. Most visitors to flash-sale sites start snatching up bargains from the top of their screens. So if you do the opposite, you’ll have a better chance of scoring a steal.

Get on the waiting list. Although flash sales go by in, well, a flash, most sites have wait lists for particularly popular items that sell out fast. Your odds of nabbing a product off a wait list are higher than you might think, says Michelle Zara Evans, a senior manager at Gilt. Because flash-sale sites work directly with companies, they can often ask for more supply when an item is in high demand.

Surf strategically. Sunday nights are low-traffic times. To entice you to shop, sites sometimes offer additional discounts then.

Synch it up. Aggregators like Yipit.com track daily deals in more than 100 cities from flash-sale sites, such as  Lifebooker and Groupon, and send them to you in one e-mail.

Photo: Nigel Cox

Specialty Stores

Best when: You’re a beauty addict who wants a one-stop shop for staples as well as new products that you might have not even heard of. (Eyelash conditioner, anyone?)

National chains, like Sephora, Ulta, C.O. Bigelow, and Space NK, showcase thousands of lotions, potions, makeup lines, and tools in enticing, easy-to-access displays. Their goal? Getting you to make impulse buys. Your gain? The opportunity for major sampling. Bonus: Some have in-store salons.

Shopping Tips

Sample away. Indulge in Sephora’s 3 Free Samples policy. With every purchase, you’re entitled to (you guessed it) three freebies. This happens automatically online, but it’s true in the stores as well. All you have to do is ask.

Scan the checkout counter for travel-size products. Specialty stores are the best place to get travel-size versions of high-end products at equally diminutive prices—an economical option if you crave a lot of variety.

If you don’t like it, return it. Let’s face it—no matter how big the bargain, you aren’t saving anything if a product sits in your drawer unused. Letting you try before you buy is one way that specialty stores help you avoid mistake purchases, but they tend to have generous return policies, too. At Sephora and Ulta, bring even opened products back within 60 days with a receipt for full credit.

Swing by the salon. Specialty stores may offer beauty treatments for less than they cost at the local salon. In Ulta salons, for example, you’ll find hair-color services starting at $55 and buy-one, get-one-free facials.

Photo: Nigel Cox

TV Sales

Best when: You want to learn all about new products and lines and love to see the faces behind the brands but you don’t want to leave your living room.

Home-shopping networks, such as HSN, QVC, and ShopNBC, need to sell only limited amounts of inventory (enough for a host to offer during one TV appearance), so they’re often willing to bet on interesting specialty companies that may be too small, new, or niche to have wide-scale drugstore or department-store distribution. But bigger names, like Lancôme and Bobbi Brown, come for the free advertising, and they often price products lower here (where robust sales translate into future appearances). An extra bit of value: “There’s a big education component to this sort of shopping,” says lifestyle expert Danny Seo, who has sold products on television. “The programming teaches customers when and how to use the products so they get the most out of them.”

Shopping Tips

Secure a low rate. If one of your favorite products is a top value (look for “Today’s Special Value” on QVC’s site or on-air programming and “Today’s Special” on HSN’s), you can lock it in at the onetime-only low rate with auto-delivery. The networks will ship the product to you as often as you want at the initial discounted price, and you can cancel anytime you want. Free shipping is sometimes included.

Check the website. Go to the clearance section for deeper discounts on leftover merchandise that didn’t sell out on air. For seriously committed bargain hunters, forums such as TVShoppingQueens.com allow you to live-stream programming from all the major shopping channels at once so you can comparison-shop and find the best deals. You can even pay an expert a nominal fee to track down the best deals for you.

Use smartphone apps to get the deal you want. Television shopping networks, such as HSN, have apps (for both iPhone and Android) with special offers that aren’t available through their regularly scheduled programming. For example, live-stream HSN on your iPhone and you might win $50 off your next purchase if you jiggle your phone when you’re prompted. (It’s called the Shop2Win feature, and it comes with the app.)

Photo: Nigel Cox

4 Fabulous Freebies

1. Stop by any Estée Lauder counter to snag a free 10-day supply of your ideal foundation. Just say you’re interested in the iMatch Shade Finder program. (Available while supplies last.)

2. Visit Elizabeth Arden counters to receive complimentary two- to three-day supplies of liquid foundations. Make sure to ask the consultant for a sample of the company’s perfect shade. (Available while supplies last.)

3. A free 20-minute facial is yours when you visit any department-store Clarins counter in the United States.

4. Through Mac’s Back to Mac program, for every batch of six used containers of most MAC products that you bring back to the store, you’ll get a free lipstick of your choice.

Sorry you didn't like this comment. Please provide a reason below.

Are you sure?
Rating failed. Try again.
Request failed. Try again.
We will promote constructive and witty comments to the top, so everyone sees them!
Sorry, we can’t load comments right now. Try again.

    Recommended for You

    • Honey Boo Boo Talks Mama June's Incredible Transformation Following Weight Loss Surgery

      She said the change in her mother is so dramatic that people may think it's fake.

      Inside Edition
    • Bill Gates supposedly has long way to go to catch the real richest man in the world

      Coming in at around $86 billion, Bill Gates has ridden his Microsoft fortune straight to the top of the Forbes list of the world’s richest men. Then again, the business magazine doesn’t take into account ...

      MarketWatch q
    • Fit Mom Tammy Hembrow Shares a Photo of Her Loose Belly Skin Post-Baby

      Australian fitness trainer and mom-of-two Tammy Hembrow bounced back to having a flat tummy just weeks after giving birth to her second child, but she recently shared a photo that shows that her stomach isn’t perfect — and she’s totally fine with that. On Saturday, Hembrow posted a mirror selfie on Instagram that shows her holding her baby while wearing a crop top and gray leggings.

      People
    • CA: The Physical Collapse Of A Social State

      Welcome to California.  It is a state of a perfect set of laws – at least in the minds of those wedded to the legislative pursuit of social justice.  Under the one-party Democrat rules, spending on fairness tops $100 billion every year. Meanwhile, the basic infrastructure of the state, so necessary for the economy long and short term, is collapsing. The California legislature has been busy making the news these days.  They are determined to fight President Trump tooth and nail – and they are putting the taxpayers’ money where the legislature’s mouth is. California Democrat after Democrat has decried President Trump. The day after the election, a “Joint Statement from California Legislative Leaders

      Forbes q
    • Caretaker performed sexy dance on 100-year-old with dementia

      SANDUSKY, Ohio (AP) — A caretaker at an assisted living center who police say was filmed performing a sexually provocative dance on a 100-year-old resident was doing it as a prank and trying to make the man feel good, her attorney said.

      Associated Press
    • Here's how much money you should have saved at every age

      By age 30, you should have the equivalent of your salary saved.

      CNBC
    • 'Jeopardy!' Contestant Gets Away With Flipping Off America

      “Jeopardy!” just had its most hostile contestant since Sean Connery appeared on the “Saturday Night Live” version. During a “Jeopardy” College Championship match that aired Tuesday, host Alex Trebek thought he was asking contestant Viraj Mehta a simple question about pizza. This prompt would allow the Stanford student to launch into a hilarious anecdote, amusing the host and America. But the joke was on us ... What is ... he doing with that finger? It didn’t take long for Twitter to catch on. Was it intentional? As some on Twitter point out, Mehta held his finger out for about 7 seconds. If it’s not intentional, that guy is just asking for a finger cramp for no reason. The college student joins

      The Huffington Post q
    • The impact of the DeMarcus Cousins trade is getting worse for the Kings: 'If you burn an agent in this league, they do not forget'

      The Sacramento Kings stunned the NBA world by trading DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans...

      Business Insider
    • Mom’s Heartbreaking Photo of 10-Year-Old Son Shows Painful Reality of Cancer

      Drake, 10, in a photo meant to provide a raw depiction of what life is like for a cancer patient. This photo of a bald 10-year-old boy wearing a diaper and leaning on the bathroom sink with a pained look on his face is quickly going viral on Facebook. “The picture I’m posting is from this morning,” Drake’s mother captioned the image of her son, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia, “and before you scream and cry ‘Why would she post a picture of him in a pull up, the indecency’, well 1.

      Yahoo Beauty
    • Entertainment Tonight
    • U.S. Homeland Secretary Kelly warns Guatemalans to stay home

      By Luis Echeverria GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Wednesday told Guatemalans not to waste their money trying to get to the United States illegally, detailing how his department was cracking down on undocumented immigrants and would speed up deportations. Speaking after he greeted a plane full of Guatemalans deported back from the United States, Kelly said U.S. authorities were not carrying out mass deportations of immigrants and would follow the law.

      Reuters
    • Ivanka Trump Wore a $325 Coat From Her Own Company to Visit the Supreme Court (11 photos)

      Ivanka Trump might have stepped down from her fashion label, but that doesn’t mean her style game has suffered. Now that the 35-year-old daughter of President Donald Trump  has relocated to Washington, D.C., she’s often spotted in on-trend looks in her daily appearances from the White House to the Capitol Building (and the Trump Hotel too). From everyday work looks to extravagant gowns for upscale events, the first daughter’s outfits are generally always sophisticated and refined. Recently, the mother-of-three shared an image alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and her father wearing a sleek black dress — an sleek option she often sticks with. On the same day, the three participated in a discussion on women in business, a platform the 35-year-old mother is passionate about, and helped to launch The Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders. Check out some of her most recent looks. Slideshow: Melania Trump Style File  Read More:  Lara Trump Says She’s on #TeamIvanka With Tank Top Related:  Ivanka Trump Supporters Are Boycotting Nordstrom: #BuyIvanka Let’s keep in touch! Follow Yahoo Style + Beauty on   Facebook ,  Twitter ,  Instagram , and  Pinterest .

      Yahoo Style
    • China Moves To Put North Korea In Its Place

      In response to North Korea’s latest missile test, and perhaps to the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, China has declared it will cease coal imports from North Korea for the entirety of the year. Beijing’s threat to North Korea could significantly impact Pyongyang’s finances, already stretched as the North continually seeks ways around international sanctions. But it also shows the limits of Beijing’s actions toward North Korea. Even as China takes a more assertive role internationally, in finance, politics and even militarily, it views its global role — and potential responsibilities — far differently than the United States or earlier

      Forbes q
    • David Cassidy Opens Up About His ‘Beautiful’ Son — and Why He Doesn’t Have a Relationship with His Daughter

      After revealing that he has been battling dementia since 2015, David Cassidy is opening up about his complicated relationships with his two children – Beau and Katie. “I’ve never had a relationship with her,” Cassidy, 66, exclusively tells PEOPLE of his only daughter — who has appeared on Gossip Girl and Arrow. “I’m proud of her,” adds Cassidy.

      People
    • Papa John's stock crashes and it may all be because of the NFL

      Better sales. Better stock price. Not Papa John's.

      The Street q
    • Op-Ed: We moved from New Jersey to a villa in Costa Rica and we only pay $400 a month

      The comfortable American dream doesn't compare to this paradise town in Costa Rica, writes Frederick Haywood.

      CNBC
    • Nursing Home Worker Accused of Giving 100-Year-Old Man with Dementia a Lap Dance

      A 26-year-old former nursing home employee was charged after police say she performed a sexually provocative act involving a 100-year-old resident.

      Tribune
    • Deputy Responds To Girl, 19, Who Stole His Bike to Get Home Safely: 'It Had to be Scary For Her'

      A young woman who identified herself as "M" explained she had a 16-mile journey home, and was stranded "because of drunk boys, a dead phone and no money."

      Inside Edition
    • Entertainment Tonight
    • Jimmy Butler trade to Celtics hinges on Jae Crowder, according to report

      Crowder — and not the Nets’ picks — is the sticking point in the deal, according to one report. The Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls are hung up on a potential trade for All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler, according to NBA.com’s David Aldridge. The snag in the deal stems not from the draft picks, but from Boston’s unwillingness to move starting forward Jae Crowder, Aldridge reports.

      SB Nation q