Ulta vs. Sephora: Which Beauty Store Should You Shop At?

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Is the jury out on which of these brands should earn your business? Use this at-a-glance guide to decide which best meets your beauty needs.

Running low on your favorite foundation? Dying to try the latest mascara trending on TikTok? Then it’s time to head to one of the two most popular beauty stores across the country—but how do you decide when the choice is Ulta vs. Sephora?

The answer comes down to personal preference on a variety of criteria, from shopping experience and loyalty perks to social responsibility and return policies. We did all the research to help you decide which brand is right for you. (Of course, there are plenty of beauty buffs who happily shop at both. Life’s too short to pledge your loyalty to just one store!)

There’s never been a better time to shop than right now, thanks to all the great Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. Scroll to the end to find some extra holiday cheer, aka the best Sephora and Ulta Black Friday deals for 2022.

Ulta Beauty vs. Sephora: What’s the difference?

History

Ulta Beauty

Founded in 1990, Ulta Beauty is the nation’s largest beauty retailer, with more than 1,300 stores across all 50 states, and the recently launched Ulta Beauty at Target in 100 Target locations. It sells over 25,000 products across more than 600 brands. The Ulta Beauty Charitable Foundation has donated approximately $22 million to nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls.

Sephora

Sephora opened its first store in New York City in 1998. Today, there are more than 500 stores across the Americas. Like Ulta Beauty, Sephora offers more than 25,000 products, but across a pared-down selection of 340 brands. Sephora has supported over 200,000 women and girls with product donations through its partnership with Project Glimmer. In 2020, Sephora launched a Charity Awards initiative to support organizations that provide critical aid in its communities. Here’s how to score a free perfume at Sephora.

Store atmosphere

Ulta Beauty

When you walk into an Ulta Beauty store, you’re typically greeted by a helpful associate, a laid-back vibe and brightly-lit merchandise that’s organized in a convenient way. Ulta Beauty is ultra-approachable—perhaps this is because it carries both high-end and drugstore products, catering to beauty mavens and bargain hunters alike.

Sephora

Walking into Sephora is like stepping inside the pages of a trendy beauty magazine—you’re immediately surrounded by tempting displays of all the hottest brands that lure you right in. The chic Sephora beauty advisors are incredibly knowledgeable about products, ingredients, application tips and trends, and are happy to offer helpful suggestions. Online customers don’t lose this expert touch, as they can chat with a live beauty advisor for real-time advice.

Salon and makeup services

Ulta Beauty

The Salon at Ulta Beauty offers color, cuts, blowouts, texture and conditioning treatments, lash extensions, makeup lessons and applications, brow and wax services and facials. These appointments are a great way to test out new products before you buy them! Ulta Beauty also offers in-store ear piercing services at select locations.

As for makeup, it’s not always easy to figure out what makeup colors will look good on you, especially when shopping online. Ulta Beauty ‘s GlamLab virtual try-on experience takes the guesswork out of shopping for new products. QR codes throughout the store allow customers to try on over 10,000 products through the magic of their phone’s camera. The feature is available on the go on the Ulta Beauty app, too.

Sephora

Sephora offers a variety of services in most stores. Paid skincare and makeup services usually range from 15 to 90 minutes from touch-ups and makeovers to quick-fix facials. Paid services include Feature Focus, Ultimate Glam, Perk Face and Lip HydraFacial treatments. There’s also an online Hair Care Finder quiz to help you zero in on the best solutions to tame your tresses. In stores, you can ask to use a complexion matching AI tool called Color iQ that will find your perfect makeup shades, factoring in undertones, depth and saturation.

Ways to shop

Ulta Beauty

Aside from its physical locations, you can also shop Ulta Beauty online and at Target. This partnership allows guests the opportunity to discover new prestige brands while they shop Target’s standard beauty offerings. Each “shop-in-shop” is near the existing Target beauty section, and features specialized displays, discovery zones and on-trend, season-specific products.

Sephora

There’s no shortage of ways to shop at Sephora, including in stores, online (look for curbside pick-up and same-day delivery!) and at Kohl’s. The brand has opened 600 Sephora at Kohl’s locations, and recently announced the rollout of Sephora at Kohl’s shops to all 1,100+ Kohl’s stores nationwide.

Return policy

Ulta Beauty

Don’t love what you bought? As long as it’s been less than 60 days and you have all the original components, you’ll receive a full refund or exchange. If you’ve lost your receipt, Ulta Beauty can locate purchases made using your Ultamate Rewards member ID (more on that later). Otherwise, you’ll receive an in-store credit.

Sephora

In most cases, Sephora allows customers to return new or gently used products for a full refund if returned within 30 days of purchase. Returns that are made from 31-60 days after purchase are eligible for online credit or store credit. In order to complete the return, you must have a proof of purchase. You can also return by mail using a pre-paid shipping label.

Brands and products

Both Ulta Beauty and Sephora have all the latest products, including top lipsticks, concealers, makeup brushes, and even the highly coveted Dyson Airwrap.

Ulta Beauty

The prestige products exclusive to Ulta Beauty include: Elemis, Elaluz by Camila Coelho, Kate Spade, Kylie Cosmetics, Michael Kors, Moschino, OSEA and UOMA Beauty. Ulta Beauty also carries Anastasia Beverly Hills, Bobbi Brown, Burberry, Chanel, Chloe, Coach, Dior, Dyson, Dolce & Gabbana, Fenty Beauty, Foreo, Givenchy, Gucci, Hourglass, Jimmy Choo, Lancome, Marc Jacobs, Mugler, Olaplex, Peter Thomas Roth, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Shiseido, T3, Tom Ford, Valentino, Versace and Yves Saint Laurent.

Sephora

From exclusive-to-Sephora brands like Dr. Jart+ and GXVE BY Gwen Stefani, to a wider selection of luxe lines, Sephora’s focus is on higher-end beauty products. Sephora also carries Anastasia Beverly Hills, bareMinerals, beautyblender, Boy Smells, Briogeo, Bumble and Bumble, Burberry, Charlotte Tilbury, Curlsmith, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Drybar, Dyson, FOREO, Givenchy, Gucci, Hermes, Jimmy Choo, JLo Beauty, Juicy Coture, L’Occitane, Lancome, Olaplex, Olehenriksen, Pureology, Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez, Ries, Simihaze Beauty, Skylar, T3, Tom Ford, Urban Decay, Valentino, Versace and Yves Saint Laurent.

Rewards program

Who doesn’t love being rewarded for loyalty? When it comes to the great Ulta vs. Sephora debate, both companies know how to win the hearts (and wallets) of their customers.

Ulta Beauty

Ulta Beauty ‘s Ultamate Rewards loyalty program allows customers to earn one point for every $1 spent on products or services. Once your purchases add up to $500, you’ll reach Platinum level, and you’ll receive 1.25 points per dollar spent. At $1,200 you’ll reach Diamond level, and earn 1.5 points per dollar. Redeem your points on any product or service.

Additional loyalty program perks include member-exclusive communications and offers, double points during your birthday month and a free gift on your birthday. The Ulta Beauty app helps you track your points balance. Points expire at the end of the quarter one year after the date they were earned, but if you maintain Platinum or Diamond status, your points will never expire.

Sephora

Sephora’s Insider program features three tiers of membership: Beauty Insider, V.I.B. (Very Important Beauty Insider), and Rouge. Each tier rewards members with points for their purchases, which can be redeemed for a variety of products. They’ll also provide access to certain promotions and savings events throughout the year. Highest-tier Rouge members can attend special events, receive gifts and get first access to new and limited edition products. Rouge members also get first dibs on sales events. Everyone gets to pick from three beauty gifts on their birthday month, no purchase required.

Customers can also opt to use their points to support charitable organizations through the Charity Rewards Program. The Sephora app provides access to previews and promotions, too. All unredeemed Sephora Beauty Insider Points expire after 12 months of inactivity from the program member’s account; however, points for all active BI members do roll over.

Shipping

Ulta Beauty

Ulta.com ships to all 50 states. Orders qualifying for free or discounted shipping promotions are shipped via Standard service. Same-day delivery is available for $9.95. Additionally, Diamond-level rewards members receive free shipping on all orders over $25 (excludes shipments to Alaska and Hawaii).

Sephora

Sephora now offers Same-Day Delivery, which enables shoppers to receive their order in as little as two hours for just $6.95. Sephora shoppers can also sign up for the retailer’s new Same-Day Unlimited program, through which they can get unlimited access to Sephora’s Same-Day Delivery service for an annual fee of only $49. Additionally, Beauty Insider members, regardless of tier, receive free standard shipping on any order, with no minimum purchase required.

Purpose-driven initiatives

Ulta Beauty

Ulta Beauty introduced MUSE 100, an initiative to Magnify, Uplift, Support and Empower Black voices in beauty. The program recognizes 100 Black makeup artists, hairstylists, activists, author and more with a grant of $10,000 each. Additionally, Conscious Beauty at Ulta Beauty highlights eco-friendly, cruelty-free, sustainable brands. And Ulta Beauty shines a light on emerging beauty brands with its Sparked initiative.

Sephora

In June 2020, Sephora became the first major retailer to commit to the 15 Percent Pledge, dedicating 15 percent of its shelf space to Black-owned brands. It has also evolved its Accelerate brand incubator program to focus exclusively on BIPOC brands.

Our favorite Ulta Beauty products

Our favorite Sephora products

Ulta vs. Sephora Black Friday sales 2022

There’s nothing better than scoring a deal on beauty supplies, hair care, perfume, skin care and makeup. Of course, both Ulta Beauty and Sephora run regular seasonal sales and Black Friday sales.

Ulta Beauty Black Friday sales

Ulta Beauty ‘s early Black Friday 2022 sales run on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from October 27-November 19, with each week having a different theme:

  • Nov 3-5: 40% off top-rated hair products
  • Nov 10-12: $15 cleansers
  • Nov 17-19: $10 Prestige minis and up to 40% off tools

Ulta Beauty holds its beloved 21 Days of Beauty on a seasonal basis. Every day of the sale, Ulta drops five beauty steals up to 50% off. The inventory changes daily and includes best sellers and new, trendy products. You’ll recognize brands like Tarte and Bare Minerals, along with up and coming beauty picks.

As for other Black Friday 2022 deals, those details haven’t yet been announced. But in 2021, Ulta Beauty’s Early Black Friday deals included 50% off select items, plus massive discounts on gift sets and free gifts with the purchase of select items. It started online November 20 at 8 p.m. CT and in stores on November 21, and the sale lasted through the end of Thanksgiving week.

Sephora Black Friday sales

Sephora has plenty of sales spirit up its sleeves, too. Sephora hosted its Holiday Savings Event in early November, where beauty lovers saved anywhere from 10-20% on their favorite products and scored 30% off Sephora Collection through November 7.

But there are more Sephora Black Friday sales to cash in on: From November 21-28, take up 50% off products across the site!

The bottom line: Where should you shop?

When deciding between Ulta Beauty and Sephora, it’s impossible to go wrong. The companies stack up nearly eye-to-eye on important things like loyalty perks, convenient places to shop and flexible return policies. If you’re looking for more prestigious brands and sophisticated employees who are true makeup connoisseurs, Sephora has the edge. But if you’re looking for one-stop shopping that includes salon services and drugstore brands alongside a more relaxed environment, Ulta Beauty should top your list.

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Jill Schildhouse
As an editor at large for Reader's Digest, Jill Schildhouse is an expert in health and wellness, beauty, consumer products and product reviews, travel, and personal finance. She has spent the last 20 years as an award-winning lifestyle writer and editor for a variety of national print and digital publications.