Battle of the Beauty Titans: Sephora vs. Ulta

Okay beauty lovers, have you ever wondered which is better between the two quintessential beauty shopping destinations?

SEPHORA vs. ULTA: courtesy of Wondering what each store has to offer? Well, look no further! ☺

Sephora store. Courtesy of Membership:


  • Level 1: Beauty Insider: (All benefits listed below we also apply for VIBs and VIB Rouge, no need to restate it all)
  • Requirements: None, just register online or in stores when making purchases
  • Gain 1 point for every dollar spent. Points may be redeemed for 100 and 500 point beauty gift sets that frequently rotate.
  • Points don’t expire.
  • During certain events, you will get double points for skin care purchases etc.
  • Birthday gift.
  • Level 2: VIB (Very Important Beauty Insider):
  • Spend $350 in a calendar year.
  • 1st “dibs” on new products—like those coveted Urban Decay Naked palettes. Or for the deal hunter, the Sephora online sale.
  • Private VIB shopping events (really not a big benefit unless you live in a larger city)
  • Seasonal VIB only gifts (for the past two years, I’ve received a coupon for $20 off my purchase of $50 or more…hello $34 UD Naked palettes!)
  • Level 3: VIB Rouge:
  • Spend $1000 in a calendar year.
  • Free shipping on all orders (if you live in the US or Canada)
  • Unlimited access to the beauty studio—meaning that you can get makeovers without minimum purchases
  • Special gifts—VIB rouge get larger Birthday gifts…I’m not sure about the other special gifts but that one I know for sure.

Inside an Ulta. Courtesy of


  • Level 1: ULTAmate Rewards:
  • No minimum purchase required, register in stores or online
  • Gain 1 point per dollar spent
  • Frequent double point promotions on specific purchases or for a period of time on all purchases
  • Points expire 1 year after they are earned
  • Redeem points on ANY item sold in the store (including prestige cosmetics and fragrances)
  • Birthday gift (non prestige brand)
  • Coupons
  • Level 2: Platinum Member:
  • Spend $400 in one year
  • Earn 1.25 points per $1 spent
  • Points NEVER expire
  • Birthday gift + $10 coupon to spend on ANY item
  • Point Redemption Breakdown:
  • 100 pts = $3 off
  • 250 pts = $8 off
  • 500 pts = $17.50 off
  • 750 pts = $30 off
  • 1000 pts = $50 off
  • 2000 pts = $125 off

So, who wins the Round 1—the membership perks battle? I would say that, Ulta comes out on top. The fact that the points can be redeemed on products of your choice rather than random deluxe sample sets is a huge plus. Minuses are that Ulta requires $400 to be spent each year before your points are free from expiring. On the plus side, Ulta frequently sends out coupons and has events that help points to build up more quickly. Also, twice a year they send out 20% off coupons to ALL members that are able to be used on prestige cosmetics as well as fragrance. That is a huge perk! Sephora’s greatest perks are obviously for the VIB Rouges…however many beauty lovers out there will likely find it challenging to spend $1000 per year at one cosmetics store only. Either way, being a member of both stores is a definite plus!



Sephora offers a Sephora brand cosmetic line that features more affordable cosmetic and beauty options for the savvy shopper. The quality of their products is average to above average. From my experience, I would say the shining stars from Sephora Collection’s line includes their cosmetic brushes/tools, liquid eyeliners, and mascara. I’m less impressed with their eye shadows, lipsticks, glosses, and blushes. However, they are still higher quality than much of what you will find in a drug store. Also, Sephora Collection allows you to try out beauty trends at a more affordable price before committing to a more expensive option.

Outside of the Sephora line of cosmetics, all other brands carried at the store are prestige brands. Think brands that you would find in a Nordstrom…not what you would find in a Neiman Marcus on Bergdorf Goodman’s…(i/e you can’t purchase La Mer from Sephora). Sephora has a large selection of fragrances and cosmetic lines as well as skin care and body lines. Think things like Clinique, Philosophy, and Origins. Cosmetic lines like Nars, Tarte, Urban Decay, Benefit, Laura Mercier, Stila, Smashbox, Bare Minerals, Make Up Forever, Fresh, Bite, Hourglass, Marc Jacobs, and Josie Maran among others.

In terms of fragrances, Sephora has a wide selection of prestige fragrances for him and for her. Sephora also carries Chloe and Chanel lines which is a huge plus in my opinion since Ulta carries neither of these brands.

*Note MAC cosmetics is not carried in any cosmetic stores. MAC operates as a cosmetic counter within Belk, at outlet stores like the cosmetics company stores, or as stand alone MAC cosmetic stores. Unfortunately for us MAC lovers, there is really no rewards program for those tubes of Ruby Woo.*


Ulta’s merchandise is more varied than Sephora’s because Ulta is divided into sections. About 50% of Ulta’s store is compiled of beloved drugstore brands, ULTA brand cosmetics, hair care and hair care tools. About 35 % of the store is dedicated to prestige cosmetics and prestige hair care as well as a hodge-podge of predominantly prestige fragrance with the addition of some celebrity perfumes (like the Justin Bieber, Rihanna, and Katy Perry fragrance lines). Ulta also has a hair salon that accounts for 15% of the rest of the store. I have never used the Ulta salon so I can’t speak for those services but they exist if you so choose to use them. The beauty of Ulta is that you can build points for the things that you need in your beauty bag that you might not find at Sephora. (Things like Matrix or Redken or Herbal Essences shampoos and conditioners, makeup remover, sunscreen, shower gel, hair dryers, hot tools, etc. Unfortunately, Ulta has a more limited range of prestige brands than Sephora but still has the heavy hitters like Benefit, Urban Decay, Bare Minerals, Stila, Smashbox, and Tarte. Ultra carries some prestige brands that Sephora does not sell. Brands like Lancome, IT cosmetics, Pur Minerals, and Lorac. Exploring these brands is well worth your time as there are true gems to be unearthed within them. Either way, the best way to shop is to know where you can purchase the things you are already planning on buying and letting those purchases come full circle by adding benefits in the form of points to your account. Round Two Winner? I’d say its a draw. Sephora has some of the best brands on the market, and fills in some of the gaps that Ulta misses. Ulta has beloved classic non-prestige/drug store brands that most consumers adore. My beauty bag is predominantly filled with prestige products. However I would never give up my Neutrogena make up remover or my EOS.

The Shopping Experience:



Let’s put it this way. After a long day doing whatever it is that has made your day long and/or exhausting, it can be refreshing to have beauty aficionados available to meet your needs. Unless its the holiday season, Sephora is typically a relaxing place. The lighting isn’t offensively bright, the store is laid out in a way that can be easily navigated. The products and displays are pretty. Everything is up for grabs in terms of trying out or testing. Sephora team members will make samples for you of any product that you desire. There is an atmosphere of taking care of the customer and offering them beauty tips. To some, Sephora may seem to come with a costly price tag, but you are getting a higher level of attention and a better overall shopping experience.



With any chain store, (yes, even Sephora) anecdotal impressions of the “time I waited in line for 45 minutes to purchase a tube of mascara” need to be taken with a grain of salt. I reside in a part of the country where long lines and massive crowds aren’t the norm. Despite where I live or what Ulta I shop at, I always seem to encounter a massive line whenever I am checking out. The workers seem busier and the atmosphere is that of walking into a Walgreens…but more panicked. Ulta team members are not casually hanging out at the make up counters ready to help you minimize your pores or master the art of the red lip. Perhaps a manager will ask if you are finding everything alright. This past weekend I had a team member approach me and help me find a great eye shadow brush. I was impressed…however I still had to wait in line for 20 minutes just the check out. It’s pretty much the norm at all of the Ulta stores I have shopped at. In terms of atmosphere, the lighting is bright just like a drugstore and the store is on the large side so it can be overwhelming to some people. Overall, if you’re looking for a more personal and inviting experience, Ulta might not be the place for you. The best strategy is to know what you’re looking for and become familiar with the lay out of your store. Overall though, shopping at Ulta lacks the “wow factor” of Sephora.

Round 3 winner: Sephora. The shopping experience is more enjoyable, personalized, and with better staffing, waiting in line is not a concern. Overall its a tie. Sephora and Ulta both bring different strengths to the table…or the beauty bag. The best way to use them to their full potential is to know what they offer and how it best fits with your shopping habits and preferences! Let me know what you think of these two retailers! Happy shopping ☺

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