A beauty-lover's guide to London: the shopping edition

This week marks seven months of my arrival in London. I've been reasonably restrained in my beauty-related purchases since I've been here--Paris doesn't count--and this has involved scoping out the beauty landscape. I imagine a lot of this applies to the rest of the UK as well. Here's what I've made of it so far.

The Pharmacies

The two big players, Boots and Superdrug, are fairly similar, and you'll usually find one within spitting distance of the other. Superdrug tends to have a wider range of brands at properly drugstore prices (Make Up Revolution, MUA, GOSH), as well as stocking the product lines from the Gleam bloggers (Zoella, Tanya Burr, Ruth Crilly's COLAB). Actually, speaking of the Gleam lineup, the Real Techniques range by the Pixiwoo sisters are stocked at both chains, but the Bold Metals collection is only stocked at Boots. 



Boots has a better loyalty scheme (1 point per £1 spent at Superdrug versus 4 points per £1 at Boots; 100 points converts to £1), and the bigger store have serviced counters (Estee Lauder, Clinique, Dior, Liz Earle and the like). Both Superdrug and Boots also do their own in-house brands -- Boots has their No.7 and Seventeen lines, while Superdrug has the B. range -- and often have bonus point events. 

One tip: download the mySupermarket app, which lets you compare prices across Boots, Superdrug, and the various major supermarkets. 

Bought the baby Bioderma and the pharmacy owner threw in a bunch of samples!

Bought the baby Bioderma and the pharmacy owner threw in a bunch of samples!

Lloyds Pharmacy isn't as widely found around London, but I find that they, along with the independent pharmacies, stock a way bigger range of French pharmacy brands (Avene, La Roche Posay, Vichy, Nuxe) than Boots/Superdrug. Hunt those places out if you can't make it across the Channel and don't want to shop online.

The Department Store Beauty Halls

Selfridges around Christmas

Selfridges around Christmas

Beauty halls here are incredible -- unsurprising, really; it was Harry Gordon Selfridge who pioneered the "theatre of retail", so what better place to see it in action than London? All the department stores stock the usual roster of mid- to high-end brands like Chanel, Dior, and YSL, but each will have exclusive brands and/or products within ranges that are sold elsewhere. Selfridges has Charlotte Tilbury (which is also stocked online at Net-A-Porter), Liberty has Surratt, Harrods has Sensai. I'm keen to try some more Suqqu -- their brow powder was great when I tested it at a counter -- and they can be found at Selfridges and Harrods. Liberty regularly collaborates with brands to create special designs, and Harrods have exclusive products as well.

In terms of stores with reward schemes, I quite like Debenhams. I signed up for their card when I saw that they were running a promotion; you could pick two free samples (I think I chose an Urban Decay 24/7 eyeliner, which wasn't very good, and a perfume sample from Givenchy). Supposedly you can show your card at any counter and get a free sample of their latest launch or a popular product, as well as mini makeovers, although I would argue that this is standard practice at most serviced counters. You can also get a free birthday brow wax at Benefit -- I've just realised that I've missed out on claiming this! It's probably the best place to grab your MAC staples, especially when the store does their 20% off beauty promotions.

liberty beauty club card

Speaking of rewards cards, how beautiful is the one from Liberty? When I signed up I received a £15 off voucher (for a spend of over £100) -- I've been eyeing up the Surratt range...

The Clothing Stores

The Topshop polish rainbow

The Topshop polish rainbow

What would a post about London beauty shopping be without mentioning Topshop? Admittedly, I haven't bought anything from them while I've been here, but I've had a good play at the cosmetics section in their flagship store on Oxford Street. Their new lip bullets have some great colours, and their nail polish is cheap and cheerful. The Oxford Street store has also partnered up with BeautyMART, so you can try their selection of cult industry products in person. It's the only place in London where I've seen Daniel Sandler blushes in the flesh, as well as the Balmain range of hair products. 

and other stories body products

My personal favourite is & Other Stories. Their nail polish range is stunning, their skincare uses simple, effective ingredients, and their range of bath and body products are well-formulated and sophisticatedly-scented (sorry Body Shop) -- all of this at drugstore pricing. They also stock a small selection from other brands like The Balm, Uslu Airlines, and Percy and Reed.

and other stories makeup

I haven't spent a lot of time at Urban Outfitters, but they have a wee beauty section too in their bigger stores. These contain some of the quirkier or less easily available brands like Anna Sui and DHC alongside classics like Tweezerman and Carmex.


That's enough for today, I think -- I might make a series out of this! What do you want to read about next? Where to go for cruelty-free and naturally-focused brands? Bespoke beauty products? Perfume -- oh god, I haven't even talked about the perfume halls! Where and what are your favourites in the big smoke?

*All photos are taken from my Instagram account -- it's easier just shooting with my phone when I'm out!

Carry-on only: how I fit 23 products into a one-litre ziplock

Carry-on only: how I fit 23 products into a one-litre ziplock

I'm currently in Wellington. One of my very best friends is getting married (sup Jess!) and we've just had a hens' weekend at a farm in W(h)anganui; the wedding is the following weekend. This cheap student is flying budget-styles, so it's carry-on only. 

I've tried to minimise the liquid products I've packed, plus save on room, so most things are decanted; that, or I'm taking samples. Where I can, I've opted for the solid or powder version of a product, including shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, and volumising hair powder -- I might do a separate post on these, because they're good.

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Osis+ Refresh Dust

We've already established that I'm a dry shampoo fiend, so I couldn't resist picking this up when I saw it on sale for $13 (it's normally around $30 for the 100ml size, and this was the 300ml).


Schwarzkopf Osis+ Refresh Dust has an easy-to-control spray mechanism -- you can do short bursts to target certain areas, or a long one to go all over. The "dust" itself is really fine, much finer than other I've used in the past, and rubs in easily.

Ready to see a before and after? (I'm so sorry to subject you to the "before".)

That's day old hair on the left -- I last washed my hair yesterday morning, and took these pictures tonight at around 6pm. Mmm, tasty. The "after" is much better, right?

Are you a greaseball like I am? What's your favourite dry shampoo?

Tangle Teezer

Tangle Teezer back.JPG

Some of my best friends are entrepreneurs. (Well, involved in the venture capitalist/startup world.) That being said, I can't stand the Dragons Den. There's something about watching a panel of smug CEO types spouting terrible cliches and shitting on peoples' hopes and dreams that gets to me. I guess it's fitting, then, that I would fall in love with a product that gets rejected by the show and then goes on to be a worldwide phenomenon.

I didn't know all this about the Tangle Teezer, though, until fifteen minutes ago. I had, of course, heard the buzz around the beauty world, but I'd written it off as a gimmick due to the punny name. (Sorry, I'm an awful human being.) So when my mum got it as a thank you present from a friend returning from the UK and passed it on to me, I didn't think much of it. 

Tangle Teezer bristles

How wrong I was. This thing kind of melts through those tangles. I didn't really notice it until I directly compared it to my regular hairbrush. No snags, no pain, less breakages due to the brush pulling hair out from the roots when it gets tangled up in a particularly knotty knot. The two layered, flexible plastic bristle design is simple but brilliant. 

Mine is the Cool Britannia special edition in the Compact size, which comes with a cap to protect the bristles. They seem to retail for $30-40, but I'm sure there are deals to be had. (Also, pssst, I've seen rip off designs at pharmacies.)

Dry shampoos I have known


I have a total complex about my greasy roots. Most days I opt to just shampoo (my straight Asian hair doesn’t take all that long to dry), but on days when I’m running late, or have something on in the evening and want to take the shine and flatness away, dry shampoo is a godsend. 

(A few of these are actually empty. I’m not that much of a freak.)

Clockwise from top in the photo:

Batiste for medium and brunette has “a hint of colour”, and has been the best of the bunch — one of the cheapest, too, especially if you buy it on special from a supermarket. Volumises, soaks up excess oil, and has a light, generic floral smell. I noticed that alcohol is lower on the ingredient list than the rice starch base, which isn’t the case for most of the others.

Schwarzkopf Extra Care Dry Shampoo has a strong citrus-y scent, and costs around $7 from the supermarket. It leaves a white cast, although it seems to rub in fairly easily. Somehow it seems more drying than some of the others though — I’ll forgive this as on my oily hair, the dryer the better. I noticed that the range also includes a dry conditioner and dry oil, which is intriguing! 

Lee Stafford Dry Shampoo for Dark Hair works reasonably well. This is the second can I’ve purchased, but it leaves coloured dust particles all over the place. I think I’ll stick to the Batiste from now on. It’s priced at around $16 from Farmers, is corn starch and mica based, with alcohol high on the ingredient list. 

I really liked the VO5 Plump Me Up! Not as volumising as the Batiste, nor as great at oil absorption, but it’s not too shabby. Amongst the rice starch base is also collagen and elastin, so theoretically this could strengthen the hair — any cosmetic scientists out there want to weigh in? Costs around $7 from the supermarket.

Being a salon-based range, de Lorenzo essential treatments Absorb is at a slightly higher price point, running at about $26. It’s quite strongly scented, and not that great at absorbing oil. It also leaves a white cast, so needs to be massaged in and brushed out. According to their website, this has been reformulated since I used it last.

While not technically a dry shampoo, I’ve been using David Babaii Volcanic Ash Root Amplifier
in a similar way. Texture-wise, though, it’s almost like a hairspray; alcohol is high on the ingredient list, and it’s a little sticky going on. It has a whole bunch of plant extracts and some oils, which I suppose are meant to help condition the hair? Who knows. I got this at Farmers on clearance (original RRP was $30), and they don’t seem to carry the line anymore, plus I just had a look on the DB website -- the Amplifier isn't on there, and the whole line has been repackaged.

A few others not included in the photo:

Schwarzkopf Osis Dust It isn’t marketed as a dry shampoo but I used it as one — this was the first ever dry powder hair product that I tried. It’s great for mattifying and absorbing oil, and gives a “dirty” texture to the hair. Be careful, though, as it can result in tangles if you use too much. The Schwarzkopf extra care Instant Volume Powder is a similar product at a supermarket price point, although not quite as mattifying. de Lorenzo Sandstorm is like a mixture between the Schwarzkopf Dust It and the David Babaii, but in aerosol form.

Ones I really didn’t rate include Tresemme (ugh), KMS (heavy on the menthol and almost smelt like stale cigarettes, but I noticed that they’ve repackaged and possibly reformulated…), and Matrix Clean Remix (lovely apple fragrance, but didn’t seem to do anything).