Ulta vs. Sephora: Which one is better?

beauty, Ulta, Sephora

True to my Twitter bio, you can usually find me in the beauty section of some store. Beauty products are my FAVORITE thing to shop for; especially at Ulta or Sephora. To be honest, whenever I visit either, I feel like a kid in a candy store. I mean all of the pretty things that surround you, smells that entice you, and prices that don't break the bank (most of the time) make shopping at a high end beauty store worth it. But the question is: which one, Ulta or Sephora, is actually better to shop at?

Today we are breaking down the barriers between the two competitors and ranking them in terms of stores, products, reward systems, available coupons, return policies, customer service, and overall experience.

So lets get this fight started!


Ulta and Sephora are very similar, but they are also very different. Store wise, you can find more Sephora stores mainly because Sephora offers a condensed store inside of JC Penney. You will be able to find their more popular products, like makeup, limited skincare, fragrance, and now some hair care. You can also get your 3 samples, but if you want the full Sephora experience, you will have to visit a stand-alone store or shop online. Ulta on the other hand, has stores only in major areas, but they are full stores, with a full service salon. Every product that Ulta sells, unless it's an online only product, will be in each Ulta store.

In the store category, Sephora wins for the most locations.


When it comes to products, Ulta and Sephora have similar lines. Both carry prestige lines of makeup, skincare, and hair care, but Ulta also carries drug store items and has a full service salon. Both stores have their own "house line" of makeup line and they are both very good lines; Ulta's collection of cosmetics is cruelty-free, but Sephora's is not. You can find and abundance of sampler kits at Sephora, and just last year, Ulta started to follow suit with the kits. Ulta now offers budget friendly sampler kits featuring skincare and hair care. Sephora generally offers fragrance, skincare, and makeup, but they are starting to have hair kits too. 

In the product category, Ulta wins for most diverse products.

Reward System

Both Ulta and Sephora offer a reward card, but both have very different rewards.

Ulta's program, called Ultamate rewards, is based on points and when you accumulate enough points, you can "exchange" them in for money off your purchases. There are two different levels- regular and platinum, and when you achieve the platinum level, you get more perks: faster accumulation of points, bonus points, and even a second birthday gift.

Sephora's program, called Beauty Insider, is also based on points. Once you accumulate enough points, you can "cash" them in for products. The products are usually sample size, but you get a 1 point for every $1 you spend. The main perk of Sephora's Beauty Insider program is the VIB and VIB Rouge sales. Unfortunately they announced earlier in the year that the points are going to expire now. Before, they didn't.

In the point system category, Ulta and Sephora tie. Personally if you love money off, then Ulta is your go to, but it you love extra product, then Sephora is for you. 


Sephora usually does not offer coupons. Sometimes you can buy a sampler kit and get a certificate for a full size product or received a mailer with a certificate for a free product, but they hardly EVER offer coupons for money off. The only time you can score money off is during the VIB and VIB Rouge sales. *This year they started doing a $25 off 50 for Rouge, $20 off 50 for VIB, and $15 off 50 for Beauty insiders, but they were one time use coupons.

Ulta, on the other hand, is always offering coupons. On the backside of their monthly mailer, there is  always a coupon for $3.50 off a $15 purchase. They randomly send out coupons for 20% off and if you are Platinum, during your birthday month you will receive a $10 off any purchase coupon. They are always offering sales on their products, liked buy 2 hair care products get 1 free, etc.

In the coupon category, Ulta wins, hands down.

Customer Service

Sephora and Ulta both have good customer service. I personally have had excellent and bad service when visiting both places; but I do prefer Sephora. Sephora employees are very nice (as long as they aren't busy) and they are willing to help you if you just don't have an idea. My favorite thing about Sephora is the fact that their gals know their sh*t. If you walk into a store and ask if they have cruelty-free or vegan products, chances are they will be able to point you to them. Ulta, on the other hand, maybe not so much; but if you need a great shampoo for colored hair, then all you have to do if find one of the employees with non-natural hair and they will point you in the right direction.

In the customer service category, I have to say that Sephora wins for the sheer fact that the majority of the workers are VERY knowledgeable about their products.  

Return Policy

Both stores have a good return policy. At Sephora, you can return a product within 30 days with a receipt to get your money back, and after that, you can get an even exchange or store credit. Even though it's not listed on the website- my personal experience tells me that you can return a used product as along as there is at least 50% left and get store credit. At Ulta, the time limit is 60 days, but must be returned with a receipt. If you are unable to find your receipt, Ulta also has the ability to look up your purchase if you are a Ultamate rewards member.

In the return policy category, Ulta wins for the longest time.

Overall Experience

Sephora offers 15 minute targeted makeovers and 45 minute whole face makeovers. With the 15 minute one, you can choose from a variety of targeted areas- eyes, lips, brows, contouring, etc, and the worker will do one half- while teaching you, and you will do the other half. With the 45 minute whole face, they will do a full makeup for you and it's free with $50 or more purchase. Sephora also offers 3 free samples every visit- no purchase necessary. The samples are usually generous size and it's a great way to try out new foundations, bb creams, moisturizers, etc.

Ulta has a salon and the Benefit Brow Bar in store. With each service, you can earn points towards a reward, but not redeem them. Ulta also does not offer samples. The only samples that you can get are the ones in a sampler kit. I personally have tried the salon at Ulta and LOVED the service. Yes, it was pricey, but the stylists were super nice and I felt like a million bucks when I was finished. Oh, and yes, I was able to earn "points" for my salon "purchase".

When it comes to the showdown between Sephora and Ulta, there is no real winner. Both stores have their great qualities. I love that I can get samples galore at Sephora and on the other hand, I can also get my hair cut & colored and brows done at Ulta. It's all a win win for me :)

Are you an Ulta or Sephora type of gal?

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Ulta, Sephora, beauty, beauty review

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