From new flash sale sites to dollar stores, you don't have to go far to find discounted cosmetics. But once you get there, a little expert intel can mean the difference between standard-issue savings and big-time value. Click through to learn the ropes.
The products you see at your neighborhood drugstore are better than ever. "The amount of research and development that goes into them is unprecedented," says makeup artist Carmindy of TLC's What Not to Wear fame. Despite the advances, they're still affordably priced. The catch? You can't try on makeup in drugstores, and with relatively few exceptions, there are no beauty consultants on site.
Check your store's website for weekly deals. Though some require coupons, there will be info on where to find them (such as "in most Sunday papers"). Also scan the site for in-store beauty events—a fixture of the department store world that's been migrating to drugstores. Look out for, say, free brow shapings at select Duane Reade locations. Walgreens offers "SaturDates," with generous sampling and in-house beauty advisers who introduce customers to new products.
If there's a makeup or nail trend you want to try—but have no idea how you'll feel once you're wearing it—go directly to the least expensive brands first (think e.l.f. and Wet 'n' Wild), recommends founder Jeannine Morris. "Trends come and go much quicker than you're even going to use up the product, so it doesn't make sense to buy something pricey. Go for a $1 to $3 item instead."
Extra Tip: Browse the stores' own brands. Sunscreens, for example, are regulated by the FDA, so all brands have to meet the same standards, explains veteran cosmetic chemist Joseph Cincotta.
While many women fear skimping on beauty services—tales of bad beauty school haircuts abound—there are smart ways to maintain your savings account while keeping up your looks.
"Even if you're unsure about booking an appointment at a local beauty school, consider logging onto and looking up Aveda Institutes in your area because they give quality cuts," says Morris. You'll wind up with an $18 style that looks anything but. Alternatively, says celebrity colorist and salon owner Rita Hazan, "book with a salon's junior stylists or colorists who charge much less, but work under the supervision of senior staff members."
You can also time your salon visit for maximum value. "If a salon is open on Mondays—and many aren't—it's probably at its slowest," says Hazan. "So it's likely to be discounting, or even comping, services in order to promote them that day." At SalonCapri in Newton, MA, for example, Monday deals might include anything from 15% off a color treatment or blowout to a free manicure with pedicure.
At Ulta, which has 467 locations nationwide, this relatively quiet period extends a couple of days, and comes with a special discount: If you go to the in-store salon Monday through Wednesday and you're a first-time client, you can get a cut, color and style for $50, says Carrie Lannon, a spokesperson for the beauty specialty store.
Extra Tip: Even if your salon doesn't advertise freebies, ask anyway, says Barbara Fazio, owner of Cleveland's B.Fazio salon. "I do free brow shapings with cuts, and some stylists offer free bang trims."
If you want a posh product with a not-so-posh price tag, scan flash sale sites and web-based sample aggregators. Drugstore discounts can also go even deeper online.
Consult or , says Carmindy. "They're always offering some kind of deal—and often it's buy-one-get-one-free. Without the overhead expense of brick-and-mortar operations, they can afford to be generous." Plus, plenty of sites waive shipping fees if your order meets a minimum total.
"Fashion sites, such as and , are adding beauty to their flash sale lineup," says Morris. "So while you don't get instant gratification, the deep (up to 90%) discounts are worth the wait." Be sure to sign up for daily alerts.
Extra Tip: For $10 per month, sends you a sampling of high-end loot. "This is a great way to test new lotions, serums and other products without having to bite the bullet on a full-size purchase," says Morris.
You might think Sephora, Ulta, Bath & Body Works and the like are out of your price range, but if you know when and where to look, these places can be value central.
Beauty specialty stores are generous samplers, says Carmindy. "Even if the freebies aren't advertised, they're probably there for the taking, so always ask at the register." At Sephora, for example, you receive three with every purchase.
Check out the ends of the aisles. "Here's where you'll find a lot of the stores' best deals. So if you stick to these displays, you can be sure to nab some fantastic bargains," Lannon says.
Don't Forget the Coupons!
"There are coupons for almost anything, at any given time," says Morris. If you don't find what you're looking for on the usual suspects (, ), type the product you want plus words like coupon or sweepstakes into your browser's search field and see what comes up.
Extra Tip: Take advantage of the fact that you can test the items at specialty shops, says Lannon. "Try any product you're interested in, because if you buy it and don't like it, that's no value at all—no matter how little you paid." (However, specialty shops typically have lenient return policies with your receipt, even for used products.)
They are indeed great places to score basics: cotton swabs, cotton balls, nail files or other "staples that don't go bad," says Morris. "But dollar stores are often stocked with discontinued items, so make sure you check the expiration dates," warns Cincotta. "Some also work with manufacturers who use the cheapest ingredients and packaging because they need to produce a complete product (say, 8 to 10 oz of shampoo) for 25¢. So buyer beware."
TV Shopping Channels
Look for discounts here on high-end items that would sell for more in department stores. If a lot of merchandise is sold on TV because of comparatively low pricing, the brand is likelier to be asked back for a repeat performance (an incentive to "price to move"). If you love a particular line, mark its next appearance on HSN and QVC by checking the network's websites and enjoy exclusive deals you won't find in stores, says Morris.
Direct Sales Companies
With huge research and development budgets to their names, juggernauts such as Avon and Mary Kay are able to offer high-quality products at lower prices than brick-and-mortar operations. And once you've established a relationship with your particular sales representative (who is no longer called an Avon Lady, alas), he or she will keep you in mind for special promotions that will bring prices down even further.