Beauty Beat Special Report: Smart Savings Tips for Buying Gluten-Free Beauty at Sephora and Ulta

When you think about shopping for gluten-free stuff, you may not always think of needing gluten-free beauty products. But I’d argue that getting a gluten-free lip balm or lipstick is just as important as getting gluten-free food—those make it into your mouth, too, and so it’s important for those types of products to be safe. I take the same attitude toward skincare products like hand and body lotion or face moisturizer. That stuff gets on your hands, which gets on what you eat, which goes into your mouth—so there’s no question that for me, gluten-free lotions are also the way to go.

Luckily, there are two great stores that can provide you with not only a variety of gluten-free beauty products, but also some pretty good savings if you know what you’re doing. Read on to learn about the gluten-free products available at Sephora and Ulta, and how you can save money and take advantage of reward programs at each store. Although Sephora and Ulta both have brick-and-mortar stores in addition to websites, many of the tips I provide in this post are focused on buying from their websites.

What gluten-free beauty products are available at each store?

Sephora: Sephora tends to carry more of the luxury brands. So you’ll be seeing higher-end products there, which is awesome because they tend to be of good quality, but they’re not always cheap.

At Sephora, you can buy gluten-free beauty products from Agave, Alterna, Besame, Bite Beauty, Blinc, Boscia, Briogeo, Coola, Cover FX, Dermadoctor, Dior, Drunk Elephant, Drybar, Gloss Moderne, Hourglass, Human+Kind, Jack Black, Kaplan MD, Kari Gran, Lashfood, MD Solar Sciences, Murad, Nude Skincare, Nudestix, Perfekt, Ren, Rosebud Perfume Company, Sunday Riley, Supergoop, TanTowel, Tarte, Tata Harper, Too Faced, Touch in Sol, Verb, Vita Liberata, and Wen. Please note that not all products from those brands are gluten-free, but at least some of them are (in the case of Bite Beauty, Tarte, and Verb, ALL their products are gluten-free—yay!).

Ulta: This store sells a wide range of products, from drugstore brands to higher-end brands. If you’re on a budget, going to Ulta means you don’t generally have to buy the most expensive thing, because you can pick from cheaper, more expensive, and middle of the road choices. Some brands that Ulta sells that make gluten-free products include: LORAC, Prestige Cosmetics, Laura Geller, Essence, Butter London, Lipstick Queen, Ouidad, SheaMoisture, and Cake Beauty. Again, please note that not all products from those brands are gluten-free, but at least some of them are.

Smart $avings Tip: If budget is the defining factor in how you make decisions on what makeup to buy, Ulta has a wider range of products at varying price points than Sephora does.

Do the stores have any gluten-free store brand products?

While Sephora has a huge collection of store brand products, I’m not sure if they’re gluten-free or not, as they don’t list them as being gluten-free on their website. However, Ulta does offer a wide range of gluten-free store brand products. Some of their store brand lip products are gluten-free, and ALL of their store brand bath and body products are gluten-free. Ulta has recently become one of my favorite places to buy hand creams and sugar scrubs because I know their store line carries plenty of choices that are safe for me to use.

How easy is it to find gluten-free products on their websites?

The simple answer is, that depends on what you’re looking for and how you go about looking.

Sephora: If you want to find a large chunk of their gluten-free stuff, go to the search bar on Sephora.com and type in gluten, then hit enter. It’ll bring up over 300 options. But here’s the interesting thing. It doesn’t bring up all products that are gluten-free, because there are plenty of Tarte products that don’t appear in the list (even though that entire brand is gluten-free), and they don’t list any Dior products as being gluten-free either (even though Dior says right on their website that they don’t use gluten ingredients in their cosmetics).

Ulta: If you go to Ulta.com and type gluten in the search bar, your brain will be fried by all the options it brings up. It brings up so many, in fact, that I’ve wondered if that whole big, messy list is accurate. Your best bet is to navigate to the exact type of product you want (for instance, go to Eyes, then to Mascara), and you’ll get a menu that will allow you to show just the gluten-free products within that category. This is the case for stuff like shampoo, most types of makeup (not concealers or foundations, though), and some bath and body products; it isn’t an option for every category of product, though.

One thing to note: Ulta’s site indicates that a bunch of Urban Decay things like some of their eyeshadows and mascaras are gluten-free; Sephora sells the same products but they don’t come up when you search for gluten-free stuff on Sephora’s site. This is a good time to note that you should always, always, always check ingredient lists and refer to the specific makeup brand’s website for more details on what is and isn’t gluten-free, just in case Ulta or Sephora lists something gluten-free erroneously. (For the record, I have used Urban Decay’s eyeshadows and mascaras with no ill effects.)

Do the stores offer reward programs?

Yes! Both stores offer reward programs. Which one’s better? Again, that depends on what you’re looking for.

Sephora: At Sephora, you can be a Beauty Insider, a VIB, or a VIB Rouge; which reward program you’re in is dependent on how much you spend at Sephora. The VIB Rouge is the best tier to be in when it comes to rewards. This gets you free 2-day Flash shipping with every order (if you’re not a Rouge member, you can also purchase this perk, which is a full year of free 2-day shipping, for $10), an extra birthday gift each year, access to special Rouge-only products and events, and often you’ll get early access to any special 20% off sales that Sephora runs. Being a Beauty Insider is free. To qualify for VIB, you need to spend $350 in a calendar year; to be a member of VIB Rouge, you must spend at least $1,000 at Sephora in a calendar year. (Have I mentioned I’m a bit of a makeup junkie?)

No matter what tier you’re in, you can earn points with every purchase (1 point for every dollar spent; sometimes Sephora offers double or triple points as a special promotion, too) that you can use in the Rewards Boutique to get fun stuff—such as deluxe samples that you choose (usually 100 or 250 points apiece) or access to cool sets of samples for 500 points. (Those 500-point sets disappear quickly, so if you see an email notification about one and you’re interested, go make a purchase quickly and nab yours before they’re gone!) That being said, sometimes it can be good to save your points for a while. Sometimes Sephora runs awesome promotions where you can use a HUGE amount of points—say, several thousand—to get a cool experience like a trip to a Bliss Spa in NYC. These promotions are rare, but when they happen, take action right away if you’re interested in the experience—these, too, tend to get snapped up quickly.

Ulta: At Ulta, the Ultamate Rewards program doesn’t give you deluxe samples, but it does give you actual money back. You accrue points with each purchase, and when you have enough points, you can turn them into dollars that you can take off your order. If you are budget-conscious, this is a great option—who doesn’t love saving money on stuff you’re buying?

If you spend over $400 in a calendar year, you can qualify for a Platinum membership to the Ultamate Rewards program. There are some cool perks to being a Platinum member, like earning points 25% faster, your points not disappearing after a certain period of time, an extra birthday gift, and more.

Of the two rewards programs, I greatly prefer Sephora’s. The free Flash shipping has truly paid off for me, and I love that I can redeem points for deluxe samples that I choose. That helps me save money. For example, on my last Sephora purchase, I was considering buying a rollerball of a fragrance I was curious about but had never tried before; that rollerball was $25. But then I saw that the Rewards Boutique had a deluxe sample of it for 100 points. So I used 100 points to get it, saving $25 in the process. Redeeming points for deluxe samples is a fun and easy way to try out new products without putting any extra money toward them.

Smart $avings Tip: If you have Flash shipping at Sephora, this is an amazing perk. Not only is the shipping really fast, but now you don’t have to feel guilty about ordering just that one bottle of nail polish. (I remember back in the day, Sephora had a $50 minimum for free shipping. I’m sure glad times have changed!)

Do the stores ever have coupons or sales?

Yes! Once or twice a year (usually once around spring or summer, and once in early to mid-November) Sephora has 20% off sales. You’ll need a coupon code to participate; you’ll receive one if you’re a VIB or VIB Rouge member. Generally, around September or October, I stop buying things at Sephora, and then on the first day of that 20% sale in November, I stock up on everything I need. I use my Loves wish list to save items I want to purchase during the sale; that way I won’t forget anything! With Sephora’s sales, I have not noticed any exclusions when it comes to merchandise; however, you can’t get 20% off gift cards (understandably, they are always full price).

Sephora also often has merchandise on sale; visit their Sale section frequently to see if anything good’s been added. You can search by brand name—I always do this so I make sure I see any Tarte or Bite Beauty products that may be on sale!

If you’re on the Ulta mailing list, on the back of nearly every catalog they send (and they send them frequently, like maybe once a month) is a $3.50-off coupon. There are exclusions with these coupons, and you can’t often use them on the higher-end brands that Ulta sells. Same deal with Ulta’s 20% off coupons, which you may get sent a few times a year—there are exclusions.

One cool thing to note about Ulta is that they offer amazing deals on their store brand merchandise. They often have sales running where you buy 2 and you get 2 free; you can often mix and match, too. So if there are 2 gluten-free lip products you want and 2 lotions you want, you’ll only end up paying for 2 of those things. Note that the lowest-priced items will be the ones that become free. But hey, you can’t beat free, right?

Like Sephora, Ulta has a sale section on their website. But I’ve found it tedious to weed through, so I don’t usually spend a lot of time looking through it.

Smart $avings Tip: Sephora seems to add merch to their Sale page on Tuesdays and Fridays. Check their Sale page on those days for the newest deals! (I check first thing when I wake up.)

Do the stores ever feature offer codes?

Yes. Sephora features offer codes frequently, and will email you with those codes occasionally. The codes are generally for a deluxe sample of a product, a special set of samples, or even a free magazine subscription; from time to time, the codes may be for other things like double or triple points, 10% off, etc. You can also find a few of the codes—but not all of them—listed on their website.

Ulta’s offer codes are usually just coupon codes—so if you have a $3.50-off or 20% off coupon, that’ll have a code.

Both stores allow you to redeem only one code per order.

One neat thing to note about Ulta is that sometimes they offer cool freebies with a fragrance purchase over a certain dollar amount. For example, right now they are offering a free 5-piece serving set with any fragrance order of $40 or more. I’ve seen them offer picnic sets, tote bags, weekender bags, and more. Check Ulta’s website as well as the catalog that comes to your home, as these freebies are advertised there.

Smart $avings Tip: If you are ever lucky enough to be able to combine a 20% off code with Ulta’s buy 2, get 2 free sales on their store brand products, you could be in for some really sweet savings!

Can you get any free samples or gifts with purchase?

Each store offers free samples with purchase. Sephora allows you to choose three from a dozen different samples shown on their website; sample options change often. Ulta allows you to choose either a skincare sampler, a fragrance sampler, or a variety sampler; each usually contains 2-3 samples. I prefer the way Sephora offers samples because (as someone with multiple allergies and intolerances who reads every ingredient label carefully, be it for food, haircare, or makeup) it’s important for me to be able to choose exactly what I want to sample.

Smart $avings Tip: Sometimes I’ll wait to make a purchase at Sephora until there’s a sample available that I really want to try! Trying out free samples can help you decide which full-size products you want to spend your money on.

Do the stores offer birthday gifts?

Yes, both stores offer birthday gifts for members of their rewards programs. Sephora’s birthday gift is currently a set of 2 NARS lipsticks (VIB Rouge members also get a NARS eyeliner).

If you’re a member of Ulta’s Ultamate Rewards program and you’ve signed up for emails, you’re eligible for a free gift around the time of your birthday.

Smart $avings Tip: At Sephora, you do not need an offer code to redeem your birthday gift. If you place an online order in the designated timeframe right around your birthday, during the ordering process Sephora will prompt you to take your birthday gift. So you can get your free birthday gift AND an offer code for a cool deluxe sample all in the same order! Yay for free stuff!

What are the return policies like?

Return policies at both stores are excellent. I have returned products for a wide variety of reasons (was allergic, it made me sneeze, color wasn’t as I expected, broken upon delivery, just didn’t love it, etc.) and I have never had a problem returning merchandise. You can read Sephora’s return policy here and Ulta’s return policy here.

Smart $avings Tip: Sephora offers free returns by mail—so if you buy something, don’t love it, and want to send it back, it won’t cost you a cent! Ulta does not offer free returns unless the products you received were damaged or an error on their end—so if you want to return something to Ulta free of charge, your best bet is to bring it to your local Ulta store.

Can you get any cash back from shopping at these stores?

Oh, I’m so glad you asked! Yes, you can! I have been using Ebates for several years to earn cash back on my purchases. In the past four years, I have earned over $1,000 cash back from Ebates, just by shopping at my favorite sites like Sephora.

Ebates is free to join and use. (Note: When you join, you even get to pick out a free $10 gift card from a selection of stores!) Once you join, each time you go shopping at an online retailer, first log in to Ebates and see if the store you want to shop at gives cash back. On the Ebates site, click through to your desired store. That will open up a tracking ticket and, if you make a purchase at that store, you should get cash back through Ebates. You can see your pending cash back at any time on the Ebates website, and you get paid cash back quarterly—you can choose to receive it as a check, a gift card to a store you choose, or via Paypal.

Currently Sephora and Ulta both participate in giving cash back through Ebates. Sephora usually gives 4%, although sometimes I’ve seen the amount be 8%. Ulta generally gives less than that, usually around 3.5% or lower. These cash back rates can and do change at any time. You can also check Ebates for special coupon codes for these stores, too.

You can join Ebates here. Remember, it’s free, and there’s no reason not to join, especially as the holiday shopping season is sneaking up on us!

By the way, that Ebates link is my referral link. That means that if you use my link to join Ebates, and you make a purchase, I get $5 for referring you. It doesn’t cost you a thing, and it’s money in my pocket. (I like money because I use it to buy gluten-free food and makeup, in case you hadn’t guessed!)

Smart $avings Tip: Before you shop anywhere, log in to Ebates to see if the store you want to shop at gives cash back! It costs you nothing to use the site, and it’s like you’re getting free money back for buying stuff you would have bought anyway!

Do you have any tips and tricks for buying gluten-free makeup or bath and body products at Sephora or Ulta? Share your tips below!

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