You guys know I’m an American expat; born & raised in New England, currently living in old England. I’m also a beauty blogger who reads other beauty blogs. And every so often a blogger will rave about their USA shopping experience and I’ll think: Damn, that sounds awesome! Why did I not take advantage of all this beauty amazingness when I was living in the USA?
So on my most recent trip back home (though it doesn’t really feel like ‘home’ anymore because I have two ‘homes’ now… it’s complicated, but I’m sure my expat friends will know what I mean!) I decided to have a beauty shopping binge fest and, fingers crossed, hoped to experience the awesomeness of what so many other beauty bloggers tell about.
No spoilers, here’s how it went…
First on my list was CVS, a pharmacy chain throughout much of the USA. Growing up this is where we filled our prescriptions, bought shampoos and body wash and, importantly, where I bought my first eye liner and bits of makeup. There are a few of these near my hometown, and one within a ten minute drive of my sister’s house where I was staying, so I figured I’d swing by first chance I could and have a wander.
This opportunity came on one of the first days when I realised my travel shampoo only had enough product left in the container for one wash (oops!) and that I’d forgotten to pack my facial sunscreen. So off to CVS I went, and I ended up walking out with a few things –
- OGX shampoo & conditioner: Yes, these are available in the UK (I’ve seen them at my local Waitrose!), but they’re cheaper in the USA and were on offer when I was shopping, so I didn’t really have any excuse to not get them. I think they were two for $10 – but don’t quote me on that!
- La Roche-Posay: This is a French brand and many of their products are available in the UK. However, I’ve not been able to find their Effaclar Clarifying Solution in this country, and I wanted to try it, so I bought it. As for the Anthelios facial sunscreen, well, it was probably about the same price as in the UK but I wanted to try it and so I did.
- Jergens: This is a brand I’d reached for time and again growing up – cheap as chips and it certainly does the trick when it comes to moisturising! When I was in store I saw they had some gradual tanning lotions on offer, so I picked up one of each (the normal and the +firming) to try. Sadly, Jergens is not easily available in the UK because the brand has withdrawn stock in this country.
Unlike the French beauty shopping experience I was not whisked around the store by someone who knew all the products inside and out. Instead, I was greeted when I came in and asked a couple of times if I needed help, but not in an overbearing way. The sales assistants were bloody brilliant about knowing where everything was – but not necessarily about what a product did. At the till I used my mom’s rewards card, which gave me loads of coupons, discounts, and money off future purchases – which I gave back to her, obviously!
Kiehl’s – originally an ‘old-world apothecary’ in 1861 in NYC’s East Side by the name of Brunswick Apotheke, it has transformed over the past 160 years into the skin care giant we know today. (If you want to know more about their heritage, their website has a nice timeline laying out the details.) Yes, we have Kiehl’s in the UK and yes, many of the same products are available. But have you seen the price difference? It’s pretty significant – even considering local state sales tax. (State sales tax is different from state to state, so just check what to expect before you travel – it’s not included in the price tag the way VAT is included in the UK!) And then there are some products available in the USA that aren’t available in the UK, so there’s always that to consider…
I ended up shopping online for Kiehl’s because I had a discount code, the opportunity to get a deluxe sample of the Creme de Corps, free express shipping and a few more sachet samples. Also, I knew exactly what I wanted to pick up so I figured I’d save myself a trip to the store and just have it delivered to my sister’s house. Job done!
In the past I have shopped at Kiehl’s in the USA in person (most recently when I visited NYC in December), and I always find the sales team to be the right amount of helpful: enough to answer questions and help me find what’s right for me, but not so eager that I feel uncomfortable just having a browse and seeing what’s available/new/etc.
Then came time for the luxury shopping experience at Sephora, which pretty much every beauty blogger in the UK that I read has (at some point) described as a type of beauty mecca.
I went to a few Sephora shops while I was in the USA, and sadly none of them had the Sunday Riley (easily available in the UK, significantly cheaper in the USA) or Kate Somerville (you can buy this brand online in the UK, but they’re much more affordable in the USA) products I wanted in store, and a couple of the smaller Sephora locations didn’t stock these brands. Because of this I ended up shopping online and getting a bunch of sample products to boot.
When I was in store I found the sales assistants very knowledgeable, though sometimes I felt a bit too looked after to be able to enjoy browsing.
And so, I’ve got a few pro-tips for you guys out of this if you find yourself heading to the USA on holidays –
- Do your research before you travel: a lot of brands are available on both sides of the Atlantic, and it’s worth finding out which side of the Atlantic the prices are better to make your money go as far as possible. It’s also worth seeing if there are any online sales you can take advantage of, and if you can have the order shipped to your hotel/friend’s house in the USA that you can collect once you’re there.
- CVS: do your research before buying and have an idea of what you’d like because the sales assistants don’t always know the products inside & out. Keep an eye out for sales/offers, get a rewards card, and you’ll easily be able to get some great bargains!
- Kiehl’s: their website nearly always has discount codes, free shipping offers, deluxe sample offers, etc. – so if you know what you want then it might be worth shopping online. If you’re not sure what you’re after or just want to browse, the in-store sales teams are really helpful for answering questions.
- Sephora: some of the smaller locations don’t stock every brand, and some products are exclusively available online; make sure you call ahead or check the website to avoid disappointment. They tend to be really knowledgable about products as well, so if you’re not sure what you need or want you can always ask and they’ll be able to help.