Ulta vs. Sephora

My local Sephora and Ulta are within walking distance of each other, so when I’m headed that way to pick up beauty products, I often have to think about which one I want to go to. That got me thinking about the pros and cons of each store, since they retail in many of the same products. Here’s a complete list for the beauty lover in you.




  • Both high-end (NARS, Lancome) and mass market (Sally Hansen, Maybelline) products sold all in one place
  • Earn points to be used towards future purchases of your choice
  • You can sign up to get coupons in the mail


  • Coupons cannot ever be used on “prestige” brands…which are all the brands you’d want a coupon for–Elizabeth Arden, Lorac–i.e., the expensive high-end brands
  • You can’t try out all products; this applies to some of the mass market brands
  • Organization and layout of stores tends to be a little haphazard and crowded
  • Some stores don’t carry the full line of products from each high-end brand



  • You can try out all the products in the store
  • Earn points to be used towards free gifts, which are often very generous and a great value
  • Sometimes they give you free samples with your purchase, which don’t require points
  • Stores usually have an aesthetically pleasing and organized layout


  • You can’t apply your points toward purchases of your choice
  • They don’t sell any mass market brands

Pros for both are that the staff are generally knowledgeable, helpful, and professional. I often give Sephora staff my criteria for a product–“I need an under-eye concealer that works well on dry skin and doesn’t cost more than $20”–and they zip me right over to the appropriate product. Recently I got great assistance at Ulta, finding a cover-up for some hyperpigmentation on my face (post about that forthcoming). The staffer showed me several different products, with different levels of coverage, and then showed me how to apply it.

So here’s how I decide where to shop. If my shopping lists contains mass market products of any kind (Maybelline Falsies Mascara or Rimmel Exaggerate Eye Definer), I go to Ulta. No brainer. It saves me from going to Sephora and a drugstore, plus I get points for my mass market purchases. If I’m in the market for a prestige brand, but I don’t know quite what I want, I hit Sephora. Nice, clean layout that’s easier and less stressful to navigate when browsing. Other considerations–do you have your eye on a product that will be a big splurge? Make Ulta your go-to–you can build up those points and use them toward that purchase. Do you swear by NARS or Buxom or Laura Mercier? These brands are only available at Sephora so that makes your choice easy.

3 Responses to “Ulta vs. Sephora”
  1. Sarah says:

    I wish Sephora would change their points system, and just let points earned equal a discount later. I’d rather get a discount than a limited choice of products, albeit good products. Birchbox is great for collecting points for deep discounts.

    • Beth says:

      I agree. Although yesterday I scored a really sweet Tarte package. I guess the only good thing about their system is that it allows you try products/brands you might not otherwise go for. But yeah, I’d rather have a choice. :)

    • Kelly says: