An American’s Guide To Shopping UK Drugstore Beauty
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As we become more & more globally connected, you might think that drugstore beauty brands are the same in every country, but that’s far from true. Product lines are released at different times, under different names, or sometimes not at all, so my head was totally spinning the first time I walked into Boots. For the most part, we have reasonable access to the same products and brands, with a few key differences. After spending six months in England, my time roaming the aisles of Boots and Superdrug to find what was new, different, interesting, and exciting is finally being put to good use.
Although you may be able to find the products I’ve recommended online (often at exorbitant markups), I haven’t included any products that can often be found in retail stores, like Rimmel (most drugstores), Makeup Revolution (Ulta), Soap & Glory (Ulta, Walgreens), and No 7 (Ulta, Walgreens). In the UK you won’t find drugstore mainstays like Cover Girl, Neutrogena, Milani, or Wet N Wild, but you can find Aussie, Garnier, Simple, Sally Hansen, elf, and NYX with ease.
Similar to Walgreens (and also owned by the same company), Boots carries French pharmacy brands like Avene, La Roche Posay, Nuxe, and Bioderma, with the assortment varying by the store size & location. Prices are much cheaper in the UK than we see here in the States, but more than you’d pay in Paris, as you might expect.
I’ve photographed & reviewed my favorite products in the gallery below, but there are a few products that I no longer have on hand or would highly recommend that didn’t quite ascend to the main stage.
If I’ve missed one of your favorite products or if you have a suggestion for my next trip, please let me know in the comments below. Now, onto the recommendations!
Bourjois Healthy Mix Collection
If you were watching YouTube beauty videos in the heyday of the UK beauty guru, you might have longed to try the Bourjois Healthy Mix foundation. It was hailed as a holy grail by everyone from EssieButton, aka Estee Lalonde, to Fleur de Force. Although they still occasionally mention a product here or there, finding the Healthy Mix collection in Superdrug was my top priority.
Most surprisingly, I loved the Healthy Mix Serum Foundation more than the original Healthy Mix Foundation. Both claim to offer 16-hour wear, which I found to be mostly true, although it is surprising to find a serum foundation that can (almost) live up to the claims. The Serum Foundation has solid medium coverage, while the original Healthy Mix is more medium/buildable. I find the finish of the original formula to be pretty unremarkable by today’s drugstore landscape, however, I like it exponentially more when mixed with the gel texture of the Serum Foundation. In fact, I like almost any foundation more, including L’Oreal True Match, when mixed with the Serum Foundation. For reference, I wear shade #52 Vanille in both foundations and it’s a decent match but a tad yellow.
As for the Healthy Mix Concealer, it feels most similar in texture to the Serum Foundation and the coverage is about the same. If you’re looking for a lighter concealer, this isn’t a bad option. I have shade #1 Light and similarly to the foundation, it runs more yellow than I would prefer. It also doesn’t brighten under my eyes as much as I would like, but I don’t remember finding a lighter shade anywhere.
The real hidden gem is the Healthy Balance pressed powder. It doesn’t claim to do anything wild other than mattifying the skin and give a “healthy glow”, which I agree with. It has a beautiful finish that I used to set my makeup in England almost every day, demonstrated by the visible pan in the photo above. In predictable fashion, I bought shade 52 Vanille and it’s almost too yellow for me, but I do remember seeing one shade lighter available.
Sadly, like the very best things on this list, I can’t find a link to a reputable retailer so you can try the powder for yourself, so beg your friends and fill your suitcases.
When I first started blogging, everyone swore that bottles of the iconic Elnett hairspray purchased in Europe were exponentially better than the formula sold in the US. I preciously rationed a bottle a friend brought back for me from a trip because I believed in the hype despite any evidence to the contrary. Beauty retailer/occasional salon Ricky’s NYC went so far as to import bottles at ridiculous prices. Although most of the effusive “what to buy in Paris” blog posts making these superiority claims have long been buried deep within Google’s search results, the pull of Elnett remains strong. I went through several mini bottles of the hairspray while I was in England and one day while picking up yet another bottle, I saw that a new product was added to the Elnett collection.
Creme de Mousse is a formula with claims to be a cream/mousse hybrid, leaving hair touchable while still holding your style. I only use a small, palm-sized amount spread throughout my roots when I blow out my hair. I love the results and I’ve continued to use it since I returned home. I agree that the results are fantastic and less crunchy than most mousse formulas I’ve used.
I think I paid about £5, but you can pick it up from Look Fantastic for $8.50.
Sleek Makeup Palettes
Sleek’s buzzy products were available via a US e-commerce site and now through Walgreens, but I’ve always been skeptical about the quality without swatching the products in person. Generally, my experience with the brand has been a mixed bag, some good, some meh, and some hidden gems.
On my first trip, I picked up two of the extremely popular I-Divine eyeshadow palettes in All Night Long 429 and Storm 578 (pictured above). I was able to swatch testers in Boots and these were the two that caught my eye, though the selection was quite picked over. The shadows felt soft and swatched well, so I was hopeful that my experience would live up to the hype, but sadly I wasn’t wowed. The pigmentation, blendability, and payoff remind me of the old Wet N Wild formula, but slightly worse. In my experience, I couldn’t get the colors to pop and they blended out into a muddy mess. Perhaps five years ago these were fantastic by drugstore standards, but formulas are getting better at a breakneck pace.
I’d also heard great things about Sleek’s blushes, especially the pigmentation for darker skin, so as a naturally curious person I picked up a Blush By 3 Palette in Pink Lemonade 369. The middle shade is a cream blush, so I thought it would be great for layering as well as trying two formulas at once. These lived up to the hype. They are soft, blend well, and pack a punch than most blushes at the drugstore, with the pigmentation most comparable to Milani’s blushes. I normally find palettes that mix cream & powder products to be annoying, but in this case, I didn’t mind.
My favorite palette is the Face Form Contouring & Blush Palette in Fair 372, specifically for the contour shade. Although the highlighter is a fairly run-of-the-mill champagne and the blush is an okay replica of NARS Orgasm, the contour powder is one of the few that doesn’t turn grey or orange on my fair skin. I’d pay $15 to have this one shade over & over & over again.
La Roche Posay Cicaplast Baume B5
Often imitated, never duplicated, La Roche Posay’s Cicaplast Baume B5 collection is a holy grail for many, myself included. I tried it innocently enough after running out of an all-purpose moisturizer. I accidentally picked up the SPF 50 version and I’m so happy I did. It’s rare to find a product capable of deeply nourishing the skin while also providing non-greasy sun protection, but somehow this formula manages to do both. I was constantly surprised by how quickly the product sank in and the near traceless texture it left behind. The finish it did leave on my skin made a perfect canvas for makeup. As you can see my tube is nearly empty and sadly I haven’t found a reputable US retailer for this version.
I stayed away from Cicaplast Baume B5 for quite a while before I finally gave into the chorus of effusive reviews echoing through my head. The use of “baume” in the name, as well as some of the product claims, made me think it was a sister product to the Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream, but I was way off base. It’s meant to repair dehydrated or stressed skin and overnight gives me the bouncy skin I so desperately crave. Because it’s so hydrating and sinks in quickly, I want to use it everywhere, especially my hands. In that way, it reminds me most of First Aid Beauty’s Ultra Repair Cream, but even more intensely nourishing. If I could slather my whole body in Cicaplast, I would. I wonder if there’s a foot cream…
If the embarrassing display of excess in the photo above is any indication, I absolutely love the Bourjois Little Round Pot blushes. If forced to explain my ownership of seven shades, I would absolutely use the cliche defense “but they’re all so different” wholeheartedly. At least I didn’t amass this collection all in one trip. It started as an innocent curiosity and grew into full blow obsession at the mere mention of a three-for-two offer. I should be ashamed, but I’m not. The packaging is so cute & compact that I become powerless in their presence.
In predictable fashion, my interest in these blushes started with the aforementioned British beauty gurus comparing them to Chanel blushes. The theory has some merit, as the same family that owns Chanel beauty used to own Bourjois as well. I only own one Chanel blush and I absolutely understand where the comparison comes from. As with many luxury dupes, it is my experience that Chanel’s blushes are more pigmented, but they are very, very similar.
I wish that I could offer you shade recommendations, but I love them all equally as if they were my pets. Both the matte & shimmer formulas perform well, though the mattes do tend to be a bit more pigmented. I have noticed that the type of bristles in the brush I use to apply them also makes a difference, so if you aren’t getting the payoff you were hoping for, try a different brush. I have the most success with the Zoeva Luxe Sheer Cheek brush.
Overall, Bourjois isn’t a brand known for embracing skin tones beyond medium, so if you are darker I recommend looking elsewhere for blush options, like Sleek or even Max Factor.
Maybelline Dr. Rescue Nail Polish Remover
I know this sounds crazy, but not only does Maybelline have an acetone-free nail polish remover in the Dr. Rescue range, but it’s fantastic. I discovered this by total accident during one of my first trips to Boots or Superdrug and I was so overstimulated by all of the displays that I grabbed the first nail polish remover I found.
I can remove all of the polish off one hand with one cotton round – even stubborn dark tones and blues, all without acetone. I think it’s witchcraft, to be honest. Sadly, I can’t find a reputable retailer online that sells it, so bribe your friends to ship it across the pond or stock up on your next trip. I think I paid £2 or £3 and it was worth every penny.
UK magazines come with freebies!
No trip to the drugstore or grocery store was complete until I had combed the newsstands for the latest issues of fashion magazines. Sure, I loved flipping through the glossy pages for insight into what British customers found appealing, but what I really loved were the free samples. Inside the shrink wrap covering every issue were deluxe and full-size samples of beauty products. I went through multiple tubes of “free” hand cream, scored an Eyeko eyelash curler (it’s just OK but I had forgotten mine at home), and a full-size Nails Inc nail polish.
My favorite discovery happened while buying as many bottles of Volvic strawberry water as I could carry: included with the newest issue of Porter magazine for only £5 was a deluxe sample of Charlotte Tilbury’s Wonder Glow and an Instant Magic Dry Sheet Mask. Not only is the tube of Wonder Glow the same size as I received in a holiday gift set, but a single sheet mask is $22 or £18. To be honest, I’m surprised I had the self-control to only buy one copy of the magazine because that is one heck of a discount.
Sadly the free samples, or presents as I like to call them, are usually only included with newsstand copies and not subscription issues. I don’t know why the American magazine industry hasn’t widely adopted this delightful practice, but I sure wish they would.
Lulu Guinness x Vaseline anything & everything – the packaging is too adorable to pass up
Our favorite L’Oreal foundations come with a pump! As a result, I rediscovered True Match and picked up a backup Pro Matte. I would have also grabbed a Pro Glow, but it hadn’t been released yet. Maybelline Fit Me Matte & Poreless is also available in a handy squeeze tube!
Max Factor is readily available and although there are many products that are step-in-step with Cover Girl, many classics remain, including full coverage foundations and cream blushes.
Bourjois Rouge Edition Velvet lipsticks feel like a liquified Maybelline matte lipstick or one of the L’Oreal Pro Matte Glosses with slightly less pigmentation. The formula is thin & it’s pleasant to wear, so if a color strikes your fancy, go for it! My favorite is shade #10, a pinky purple nude.
Nivea Pearl & Beauty Roll-On Deodorant – I’ve never had as strong of an affinity for deodorant as I have for Nivea’s Pearl & Beauty range. My very sensitive underarms riot when exposed to almost any product, but this alcohol-free formula managed to keep up with me. It’s not the most bulletproof formula, but it worked well in England’s cool climate and I consider buying it in bulk off Amazon at least once a week.