Shopping abroad can be a pretty overwhelming experience, especially if you don't quite know what you're looking for. I left the UK with a pretty hefty list after scouring blogs and magazines for the best American beauty buys, however I found the internet a little bereft in terms of advice for purchasing in the US, especially at budget level. Here I will attempt to turn my own experience of beauty shopping in the States into advice for future shoppers in the hope that you won't quite be as unprepared as I was. See here for reviews of the products that I purchased.
Where to buy?
I was really impressed with the range of products in drugstores such as Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, and Duane Reade. Walmart is the Asda of America, but makes Asda look puny in comparison. You can buy just about anything there, fishing tackle, sat-navs, a giant bucket of cheesy balls, you name it. In terms of beauty and skincare, think BIG. They sell L'Oreal, Neutrogena, Maybelline, Revlon etc as well as American brands such as Cover Girl and Hard Candy. Walgreens is the stand alone pharmacy section of Walmart. I didn't see very many but they stock the same range as Walmart. I saw a lot of CVS's on the road, they're not as cheap as Walmart and Walgreens but still reasonably priced and with the same range of products. And if you're in New York then chances are you won't be able to walk down a block without spotting a Duane Reade. This pharmacy/newsagent/grab-and-go-lunch store is all over the Big Apple like a rash (albeit a good one). I was literally gobsmacked to see a wall of Essie polishes the size of a whole beauty aisle in Boots, and spotted French pharmacy favourites La Roche-Posay and Avene alongside up and coming Benefit-esque makeup brand The Balm, as well as lots of brands I'd never even heard of. If you're looking for more upmarket head to Sephora for brands such as Nars and Philosophy, or to department store beauty courts for MAC, Chanel, Bobbi Brown etc.
What are prices like?
So unbelievably cheap. On my first visit to Walmart I staggered out of the beauty aisle with my hands full of lip products and only spent $20. CVS, Duane Reade (in NY), Walmart and Walgreens are your best bets for budget beauty. Whilst the latter two tend to be cheaper than the first, they all made Boots look expensive in comparison. I managed to avoid the temptation of Sephora, and only succumbed to high-end when I treated myself to a MAC lipstick in Bloomingdales (when in
Rome New York...). If you're planning on buying your favourites from the likes of Maybelline, Revlon etc then head straight to a supersize Walmart where prices will have you stocking up on a years worth of mascara (Maybelline's bestselling Great Lash retails at less than $3), and marvelling over $8 Essie's.
What makeup should I buy?
If you're limited luggage-wise and want to make the most of your alotted space/weight then invest in brands unavailable in the UK, or stock up on ridiculously low-priced favourites. Maybelline, L'Oreal, and Revlon in particular are incredibly cheap in the States, usually less in dollars than the equivalent prices in pounds, ie. Something costing £8 in the UK would be about $6 (£4ish) in the US. If you're a MAC fan then you can't miss the opportunity to get a new lippy for the equivalent of £9. Most large cities and department stores have MAC stores aplently. Similarly, Kiehls skincare is really cheap in the States. Find them in stand alone stores and Macy's beauty courts. I invested in the bestselling Maybelline Baby Lips which I think came to the UK at about the same time I went on holiday, but they are cheaper in the US and available in different colour/flavour combinations. I also purchased an EOS lip balm (which as far as I know are either unavailable or really expensive at home), a Revlon Lip Butter (much cheaper and available in new colours) and L'Oreal's Telescopic Mascara (raved about but recently pulled from UK shelves).
What skincare should I buy?
I always stock up on organic skincare favourite Burt's Bees when I'm in the States. Although they are available in the UK they are so much cheaper in America. I love this brand, have never had any issues with their products, and always see amazing results. I purchased the Soap Bark and Chamomile Deep Cleansing Balm for $8, it retails at £12 in Boots. I also took the opportunity to try out Burt's Bees new spin off line 'Gud', investing in the Blood Orange Flower shampoo and conditioner. It's also worth checking out Neutrogena, they have a completely different range to the products available over here and are seen as more high-end/clinical than drugstore. They always have a lot of shelf space in Walmart and different ranges for different skin types. If you suffer from dry skin then I highly recommend buy some Cetaphil, it's available in the UK but the range in the US is enormous, and much cheaper.
What should I avoid?
Skincare-wise avoid French pharmacy brands (which are imported so pricey). On a whole stick to American brands for both beauty and skincare. Don't be tempted by the scent of a Lush store or sight of a No7 logo, both British imports (obviously) and so very expensive in the US. Don't buy anything that you can buy in the UK if it's not cheap/one of your favourites, being abroad is a good opportunity to check out new things so make the most of it. If you have sensitive skin then it's worth checking the ingredients lists of skincare and foundations. Obviously check for SLS and high alcohol content, but you might want to make a note of ingredients that are banned in the UK but that may be prevalent in US products.
Tips and hints:
-Write a list beforehand with the products and more specifically the shades/flavours that you want. Walmart is pretty overwhelming due to its sheer size so its always good to have a starting point.
-Have backups. Walmart may be taking over the world but hell they are nowhere near as good as UK supermarkets at keeping their shelves stocked. I hunted for Revlon's Kissable Balm Stain in Honey in Walmarts throughout the East Coast and it was sold out everywhere!
-Don't expect to find testers. I didn't encounter a single drugstore Stateside that had testers available, no idea why but this is even more reason to plan your purchases in advance!
-Tax. Some (most) States add tax on top of the price you see on the shelf's label. Although it's only usually no more than about 7% be prepared for your total to tot up to more than you anticipated. Alternatively only purchase in tax-free States.
-If money saving is your priority then stick to Walmart and Walgreens. I know I keep going on about them but they are significantly cheaper than CVS and Duane Reade if it's budget beauty you're after.
If you have any questions please comment below and I will try my best to answer them. Alternatively if you have any tips of your own I'd love to hear them! For similar posts and recommendations follow me on Wordpress or Bloglovin.