Best Value at Sephora
September 11, 2008 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Ladies – Which Sephora products are really worth it?

I was given a gift card for my birthday, and would like to use it to purchase some makeup or other girly things that are a higher caliber than what I am used to.

Question: what products are available there that are worth every penny?

My makeup regime consists of light powder, eyeliner + mascara, and occasionally eyeshadow. I apply lip gloss during the day but have not given up on the idea that someday I might find a great lipstick.

I know that Sephora carries other commodities (skincare, perfume), but those are usually much more expensive and I don’t want to spend a crazy amount above what will be covered with the gift card, which has about $50 on it.

On the flip side, are there any tools or products that are available at Sephora but definitely not worth the price? Or is it all subjective? I live in NYC, by the way, so the stores carry a fuller range.
posted by amicamentis to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (46 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
I consider it all subjective, as there's nothing that I can get at Sephora that I can't get online, and sometimes cheaper. That being said, Sephora gives you a chance to try out things that you wouldn't normally look at, and really figure out which color is for you.

They will be able to help you find your great lipstick, and probably a concealer that you'll love. Benefit's Boing and Le Touche Eclat (while a highlighter) work great. Go check out MakeupAlley for more.
posted by msamye at 9:12 AM on September 11, 2008

If you decide to avoid the makeup route, I love philosophy brand shampoo sold by Sephora. If you like the idea of having shampoo smell like pumpkin pie or other comfort foods its definitely the way to go.
posted by metamush at 9:14 AM on September 11, 2008

The last thing I purchased at Sephora that I used ALL of (and will buy again) was some Vincent Longo pressed powder for the face. I think I bought the translucent variety. I was shopping for something to keep the shine off my face and make me look a little more put together. While I was browsing Sephora's shelves (in the big store on Broadway in NYC), a woman (middle-aged, wearing all black, seemed like she'd been hanging around in Soho since it was an edgy place for a young artist to live) started chatting me up and helping me try out products. She was some kind of beauty product ninja, and she was a big fan of the Vincent Longo powder. Now I am too. I like it because it's fine and light and doesn't cake up on your face at all.

I have a couple of Nars makeup products, too (eyeshadow and lipstick). I love the packaging and I like to keep them around because they make me feel rich. Sometimes I even wear them, but Nars stuff is very saturated with color, and I'm a neutral/barely-there girl when it comes to makeup usually, so they are more a luxury than a bang-for-buck type thing.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 9:17 AM on September 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

A number of the Sephoras still have the Napoleon Perdis cosmetics for 75% off. His Lip Patrol lipstick in Private Passion is a very sheer berry color, and it's pretty much the only makeup I wear. He also makes a high quality China Doll foundation, and a number of shadows and powders in fun colors that come out to about $5 each after the discount.
posted by abirae at 9:23 AM on September 11, 2008

Buy a good sunscreen from Philosophy or Shiseido; their formulas are less greasy and more photostable than the stuff at the drugstore. Also, Sephora has a generous return policy, so if you buy something and it doesn't work out you can always take it back.
posted by junkbox at 9:23 AM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've always heard their brushes are great.
posted by arnicae at 9:27 AM on September 11, 2008

I just got this Sephora-brand anti-shine primer/mattifier and really like it. I'm also a big fan of anything by Benefit.
posted by MsMolly at 9:30 AM on September 11, 2008

Enthusiastically seconding checking out MakeupAlley.

If you are interested in perfumes, I've seen quite a few for $40 and under at Sephora, including travel sizes of pricier fragrances, so don't rule them out. Pink Sugar is fairly inexpensive and popular (but really really sweet); I'm partial to Arrogance Mix's perfumes, but it looks like they may have been discontinued.

Urban Decay's Eyeshadow Primer Potion is the one product I've gotten at Sephora that has changed my life, I swear. You might be thinking, "psht, I don't need eyeshadow primer," and you probably don't, but it truly does make eyeshadow go on much more vibrantly and stay on perfectly for hours and hours.

I didn't get my Tweezerman tweezers at Sephora, but they are dramatically better than any other tweezers I have ever used.

Make Up For Ever eyeshadow has some fantastic shades, and the quality is great.

What hasn't impressed me: most of the haircare. The Ojon line is awful - stinky and greasy. Oscar Blandi dry shampoo didn't absorb into my roots and made me look like I had dandruff. I haven't had any complaints about Fekkai products, but they don't perform any better than anything from a drugstore.

I'd also steer clear of anything that has dramatic claims of improving skin or restoring micronutrients. I see those claims in Sephora catalogs all the time, and those are always the most expensive products, and they almost always turn out to be total bunk.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:37 AM on September 11, 2008 [5 favorites]

Again today I have reason to mention one of my secret shames...but over at Jezebel, there's a Sephora Spy series and it's worth a read. This one, The Dumbest Most Pore Cloggingly Ways to Waste Your Money at Sephora might help, and some of the others are potentially valuable in learning how to navigate the store to your best advantage.
posted by peagood at 9:48 AM on September 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm also a big fan of the Philosophy products - I'd rather be able to smell them before I buy them though, because while in theory smelling like a mojito might be nice, once I smelled it in reality I didn't buy it. They tend to have smaller sizes in themed three packs that might be a nice way to try a variety. So I prefer to get it there than online.

I belong to their frequent shoppers club, so I get free samples when I stock up on things. One of them was this Blinc Kiss Me mascara, and as someone who typically buys Cover Girl mascara, it was a revelation to me. I doubt I'd ever pay full price for it (without a gift card) but I love using it for special occasions.

Another sample I liked was the Murad Exfoliator - enough that I bought myself a bottle. It's a really mild exfoliator, and I liked that the "beads" were really small and no abrasive, yet did a really good job. I've noticed a big difference in my skin since I bought it, and you only need a wee bit to do the job - it's lasted a long time.
posted by librarianamy at 9:51 AM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Jezebel has a semi-regular Sephora Spy feature discussing the value of Sephora products and answering readers' questions - and seconding Makeup Alley as another great resource for finding girly stuff.
posted by grippycat at 9:52 AM on September 11, 2008

I am in love with The Supernatural, from Philosophy. It has SPF and makes my face feel really smooth and look (I can't believe I'm going to say this because I sound like a commercial) flawless. It's not very expensive and a little bit goes a very long way so it lasts awhile. I think it was cheaper in the store than it is on the website, although I bought it some time ago so that may no longer be the case.

I also really like Sephora's colorful duo eyeshadows. They can double as liner if you use a skinny angled brush.

If you can visit in person, the free in-store consultations are a very helpful way for you to find something you may be clueless about (which is how I discovered the above products). Don't feel obligated to buy -- they'll give you samples of the stuff you try on and you can go back later if you decide you like the product. I'm glad I took advantage of that service, because i would have ended up with some awful foundation if I had felt pressured to buy the first time I went in. I believe you can make an appointment for one of these sessions, but I've always just walked in and gotten one on the spot.
posted by k8lin at 9:52 AM on September 11, 2008

Peagood! You stole my brain!
posted by grippycat at 9:53 AM on September 11, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, these are fantastic suggestions, all! Please keep them coming...
posted by amicamentis at 9:53 AM on September 11, 2008

I like the lip stains from beintint.
posted by answergrape at 9:58 AM on September 11, 2008

In their own brand, they have fat eyeliners that are fantastic. Cheap, too. I always get compliments on the purple.

Cargo Cosmetics has fantastic lip gloss, with two shades in one pot.
posted by pised at 10:09 AM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

So far, the only Sephora product I have, but I adore, is the cuticle oil pen.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:13 AM on September 11, 2008

If you can hold off until November there should be a friends and family code for 25% off that you can use online. (There has been for the last several years) Check when the time gets closer.
posted by hindmost at 10:14 AM on September 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

peagood, I just checked out that Jezebel article. Interestingly enough, although they call the Shiseido Facial Cotton stupid and overpriced, it gets rave reviews on Makeup Alley. (Apparently $8.50 cotton squares really can be that freaking fabulous, go figure!)
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:22 AM on September 11, 2008

If I had to pick some "must-haves" it would be:

Jonathan Product Leave-in Glossing Cream. Always makes my hair look fabulous. I use it first thing in the morning and then to add shine/rejuvenate my hair in the evening if I am going out. My hair gets pretty puffy otherwise.

Laura Gellar Wonder Wand
. I asked for and received this for my birthday. I put it in the inner-corner of my eyes and under my brow bone to reflect light and mask my super-tiredness. I love it and the little bottle has lasted almost a year so far.

Blinc Kiss Me Mascara. I am currently using the Clinique version because it was a lot cheaper, but I cannot wait to go back. My mom and grandmom also use the Blinc mascara - we love it!

I also splurge on eye cream containing sun protection, like this one by DDF.

The next time I have some spare cash I am buying the shu uemura eyelash curler. Supposedly it is the best eyelash curler ever.

Like the others have mentioned, I use MakeupAlley extensively before making purchases. Sephora is great about giving samples too, so you can be sure your $50 doesn't go to waste.
posted by ml98tu at 10:23 AM on September 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I can speak for my wife in saying that she's a huge fan of the "Grace" products from the aforementioned Philosophy line. Expensive for what they are (then again what isn't in NY) but well within your $50 or less budget.
posted by genial at 10:36 AM on September 11, 2008

Their foundation primer is FANTASTIC. You get that professional look once you put your regular foundation or powder over it. I love it. I also love their dry shampoo products. It's a great quick fix for me in the morning when I have to catch the train. As far as parfumes, I suggest to get the little samples. They are fresh, sweet smelling. They have some cool novelty products such as adhesive nail colors which last for two weeks, they are awesome and eye color press-ons where you smooth the paper on your eyelids and then peel off. They have different color combinations too, I want to get that next. Happy Shopping!
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 10:40 AM on September 11, 2008

I also like the philosophy brand shampoos/body washes. I once had a sample of this Pure Grace Foaming Bath and Shower Cream which seriously just has an amazing soapy watery smell. It smelt so clean, but I would feel silly using the little money I have for that sort of stuff on something that smelled like soap. If I had a giftcard though I would get it in an instant.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:41 AM on September 11, 2008

Nars brand blushes... actually spending money on any powder blush you like is worth it, since cheaper blushes are usually adulterated with lots of talcum, causing you to need more and go through them more quickly. My "expensive" Nars blush has lasted forever and blends beautifully!
posted by pumpkin11 at 10:41 AM on September 11, 2008

This is timely...I just got an email from Sephora that they have launched ratings and reviews on their site. That may be useful to you in your shopping.
posted by ml98tu at 10:47 AM on September 11, 2008

The next time I have some spare cash I am buying the shu uemura eyelash curler. Supposedly it is the best eyelash curler ever.

Supposedly, but not really. I bought that contraption, opened the pretty box at home, ran to my mirror to make that weird orgasmic eye-popping face all women make while using an eyelash curler... and congratulated myself for spending $19 on a slightly shinier version of Revlon's trusty $6 staple.

However, I'm a true disciple of Tarte's Lights, Camera, Lashes mascara. Best. Mascara. Ever.
posted by zoomorphic at 11:13 AM on September 11, 2008

Thirding the Blinc Kiss Me Mascara
posted by krix at 11:26 AM on September 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

If you like powder, try one of the new mineral versions. They have a bunch at Sephora and if you find a helpful salesperson, you can try on a bunch of versions to see what you like. Make sure you're getting one without fillers. It actually works as a sunscreen and they have really great "starter kits" with powder and eyeshadow.

The Shu Uemura eyelash curler is actually worth it. It curls rather than "bends" the lashes.

A good brush, if you use powder or bronzer, is absolutely worth it. It will last for years and won't leave bristles everywhere.

The Nars Orgasm blush is seriously amazing on a number of different colour of skintones. The sometimes have a duo kit with the Orgasm blush on one side, and their bronzer on the other. It's pretty much the perfect little kit.

Have some lunch, walk around a bit, then go into the store. Don't go hungry or annoyed because it'll be overwhelming. If you go during a quieter time, the salespeople will be super devoted to you (usually) and I've found they are good about sticking to the budget ($50) or request ("new mascara"). Have fun!
posted by barnone at 11:28 AM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm a huge fan of the Sephora compact eyelash curler--unlike the giant scary metal things that I can't get close enough to my eye, this one is tiny (the size of a matchbox) and easier to use, curls my lashes better, and fits in my travel bag.

One other thing: In addition to letting you try just about everything on and giving lots of samples, Sephora has a very generous return policy. If you buy something and try it at home, then decide you don't like it, you can bring it back, no questions asked. This is great if you realize that the foundation/concealer/lipstick/blush/etc. seemed like the right shade in the store but is actually orange/brown/fuschia/neon/etc. in sunlight. I thought I'd put that out there to take some of the stress off that original purchase...
posted by Ms. Informed at 11:29 AM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Frederic Fekkai Glossing Creme. A little goes a very long way -- I've been using the travel-size tube for the past few months, and I have thick wavy hair down to the middle of my back, so if your hair is shorter or not ridiculously thick you can make that bitty little tube last even longer. I haven't even had time to get a haircut since January so my head is starting to look a bit ragged, but the Glossing Creme smooths out the frayed ends, adds a ton of shine and body, and makes my very faint natural highlights show up like whoa. I cannot recommend it enough. And it smells pretty.

(It's available at many other places besides Sephora, but it's the only place I've ever found the travel size. They tend to keep the travel sizes right near the register.)

Also, Tarte's gel blush sticks are pretty sweet. Like the Glossing Creme, a little goes a long way, so while they're a bit pricy you can make one last just about forever.
posted by palomar at 11:45 AM on September 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

The Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment is the best thing I have ever used on my lips; it makes them insanely soft, smells delicious, isn't sticky and doesn't have anything gross in it, the package is ecologically responsible and it's the most effective thing I've ever found to protect and heal chapped lips. It smells like lychee and feels like silk; your mouth could never be softer. I'm addicted to it and willing to sell books in order to buy it; you'll never use anything like chapstick or Burt's Bees again. Makeup colors come and go, and sometimes you get sick of perfume, but this stuff is like the love of a lifetime for me.

If I had a gift card for $50 to Sephora I would buy one of those and some of the basic Sephora brand stuff OR add on the Philosophy Hope in a Jar cream and pay a little over what the gift card covers... because really? Makeup is makeup and you can get decent makeup at the drug store, but good skin products that are really worth the money make a difference.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:56 AM on September 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Fourthing the Blinc Mascara and adding in the Smashbox Photo Finish foundation primer. I use the "light" version (for oily/ sensitive skin) and it's amazing- my makeup doesn't move, looks great and it's the first primer I've tried that didn't wreck my skin. The Urban Decay eyeshadow primer is wonderful as well.

Seriously, at least get a sample of the Kiss Me Mascara because it's the hands-down best beauty product I've ever used.
posted by Mamapotomus at 12:12 PM on September 11, 2008

Supposedly, but not really. I bought that contraption, opened the pretty box at home, ran to my mirror to make that weird orgasmic eye-popping face all women make while using an eyelash curler... and congratulated myself for spending $19 on a slightly shinier version of Revlon's trusty $6 staple.

I wonder if Shu Uemura changed their eyelash curler, because I have one from 6, 7 years ago that I love love love, and then I bought a replacement this year, figuring maybe I needed one, and the one I bought this year STUNK. I ended up returning it to Sephora (that's a good thing about them- nice return policy!) and I'm still using my old one.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:17 PM on September 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I used my last gift certificate on a set of basic brushes and a cleaner for the brushes. It completely knocked out the eye/skin irritation I was getting with the disposable ones. And they have held up for 1.5 years or so and still look new.
posted by jmchrist at 2:07 PM on September 11, 2008

I rarely use ALL of any particular kind of cosmetic, but here are some things I've used up and replaced - Stila Lip Gloss (the twist pen with a brush) in Blackberry, Benetint under-eye cream in Lemon Aid (if you have dark circles), Stila Natural Finish foundation in color "D", Benetint Eye Bright pencil (use it on the inside corners of your eyes), Stila eyeshadows in Bouquet and Poise. A LOT of other things get old before they get used up :(
posted by ersatzkat at 4:24 PM on September 11, 2008

I just used my $50 gift card for Sephora last week and bought the new Givenchy mascara that has a wand that looks like a cat o' nine tails and I love love LOOOOVE it!! I have short, stick straight lashes that even the Shu won't curl and this mascara gives me long full fanned out lashes. Absolutely worth every penny!!

I also like the Too Faced eyeshadow primer better than Urban Decay Primer Potion, you can smooth it on with your finger rather than the sponge applicator that UDPP has.
posted by hollygoheavy at 4:34 PM on September 11, 2008

Nowadays department stores have a poor selection of perfumes (real perfumes, not things with Paris Hilton's face on them). Sephora is one place with a good selection and testers of everything.
posted by acrasis at 5:01 PM on September 11, 2008

I always make room in my budget for Philosophy Hope in a Jar (I seriously can't believe no one has mentioned it yet), Benefit BadGal Lash mascara, and Benefit Dallas blush/bronzer (can't rave enough about this product). Not the spendiest items, but so amazing, and there is NO drug store substitute.

Other products I love include Philosophy's Purity Made Simple facewash and The Microdelivery Exfoliating Wash (the peel is great, too, but expensive), and the aforementioned She Uemura eyelash curler.
posted by messylissa at 5:14 PM on September 11, 2008

I'm a huge fan of NARS products and can put my hand on my heart and say that many of them are the best I've ever used. Laguna powder bronzer will make you look all warm and healthy. Orgasm blush is a cult product for good reason, though I have both Orgasm and another blush calloed Desire, which I love. NARS sheer lipstick in Dolce Vita would suit almost anyone - it's absolutely lovely. Put these three items together and you will blow your gift card budget, but you will have avery nice simple make-up routine which will just make you look pretty and healthy. NARS is very expensive, there's no denying it, but I have honestly never owned finer cosmetics.

I completely endorse the recommendation that you pick up YSL's Touché Eclat. This is the only thing I absolutely have to wear every day... it all starts with Touché for me.

One more tip.... Dior's Diorshow Mascara in Blackout is the best mascara I've ever used. I know people love Maybelline, but it stings my eyes and is generally a poor quality product IMO. Diorshow is where it's at.

Stilla make very nice products too - I love the lip products in particular, but the packaging is a bit too girly for my tastes.

God, I love Sephora. We don't have it here in Australia, and the last time I was in LA I went absolutely berserk. I strongly believe that with many make-up items, you get what you pay for.

Personally, I would stay clear of Napoleon products, even at discount. I think them heinous. A matter of taste, I think.

Best bang for your fifty bucks?: YSL's Touché Eclat
posted by lottie at 6:03 PM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Bliss Body Butter or a good set of make up brushes (the most expensive you can afford with your gift card. They'll last forever and work so much better).
posted by agentwills at 6:26 PM on September 11, 2008

Benefit's Dandelion is my #1 must-have beauty product.
posted by mynameisluka at 6:57 PM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I love Smashbox eyeshadows. They are really vibrant and stay on all day.
As for mascara, I'm personally a fan of Too Faced Lash Injection.

Man, I wish someone would give me a Sephora gift card...
posted by rebel_rebel at 7:18 PM on September 11, 2008

The i.d. mineral series. You'll save a lot if you buy the i.d. "Bare Minerals" starter kit rather than buying the pieces individually. I was wary of the whole mineral makeup thing, so I went into Sephora and asked to be shown how it worked. The woman helping me spent twenty minutes explaining everything she was doing while she gave me a complete makeup job that looked entirely natural and lovely when she was done. It was freaky how well it worked. All of the Sephora stores provide this free service and the staff is really knowledgeable.

I also recommend their store-brand make-up brushes, Murad's SPF 15 sheer tint sunblock, dr. brandt's lineless cream, and the i.d. bare vitamins skin "revver-upper" skin cream.

For eyeshadows and blushes, I like Nars, Smashbox, and Cargo.

But, for my money, the best mascara on the market is Great Lash by Maybelline in the pink and green tube. You can get it at the drug store. ;)
posted by tzikeh at 8:50 PM on September 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Amazing recommendations, thanks! Now the problem will be how to narrow down my list...
posted by amicamentis at 5:40 AM on September 12, 2008

Urban Decay Eye Shadow Primer Potion, $16. Worth every penny. Makes it HARD to get your eyeshadow off at the end of the day--you'll need to use a make up remover! But it means that you can now buy any cheap drug store eye shadow whose color you fancy, because the formula won't matter--this stuff keeps ANY shadow from fading or creasing. It's like shellac but more comfortable. Seriously...I'm Asian with oily lids and could never make eye make up worth the trouble or money because it'd disappear 30 minutes later...until I heard through the grape vine how awesome this stuff is.

Tweezerman tweezers. Well known for being spendy but worth it because they cut your tweezing time noticeably by getting every little hair the first time every time.

Philosophy's delicious smelling gelees are excellent travel companions--the single bottle serves as shampoo, conditioner, and body wash all in one. Also, they smell great so you feel pampered and homey while traveling, but the scent doesn't last once you get out of the shower so you don't have to worry about being overpoweringly scented.

As for brands in general, I really like Cargo for eye shadows that are interesting but totally flattering and long-lasting. LORAC too. And if you wanna get spendy or go glamor puss, I hear good stuff about Nars for lips and Dior for eyes. Kevyn Aucoin makes excellent make up tools--brushes and eyelash curlers, etc.
posted by ifjuly at 3:26 PM on September 12, 2008

jesus, i need to read before i post, huh? i'm just echoing metroid baby, apparently...

and i agree with the comment about sephora brand make up brushes. relatively cheap and very good/effective.
posted by ifjuly at 3:39 PM on September 12, 2008

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