American versus UK beauty prices – this seems awfully familiar…

So, I wanted to make a brief post about something that’s been annoying me for a while. The price of makeup and beauty items in America versus the price we pay here in the United Kingdom.

One of the things I noticed when I bought a GlossyBox subscription is that the people who receive the American version consider it to be expensive. Over there it’s around $21 with shipping included in the price. This is a pretty good equivalent for the £13 or less (depending on your subscription) that we pay using a pure currency conversion. So, to GlossyBoxers in the UK this seems reasonable.

But it isn’t in comparison to the US, where most beauty subscription boxes are around the $10 mark, and this is because their makeup and beauty items are priced much more competitively – just like video games are funnily enough.

Makeup in the UK, especially anything that isn’t what the American’s call a drugstore brand, is very pricey for most normal people. By normal I mean minimum wage or close, young to mid age. Looking at all the beauty haul and collection videos is actually quite strange as it seems like they’re just spending so much money, when proportionally they pay less than what we do for the same items. Like with my video game post mentioned above, makeup here in the UK, at a higher tier at least is a lot less disposable, and something that can’t be bought all the time. A lot of people are happy with what they can get more affordably, this is why I use mostly ‘drugstore’ tier items.

But I wanted to do a little break down with the numbers and everything like last time. So, here we go:

Some things to get out of the way first!

To factor in shipping or not? This depends on where the item is actually made (which I will find out by looking at the packaging), as not all makeup that is sold in America is made there either, so this will depend on the item. What can also be confusing is like with video games, what actually counts as it being ‘made’ isn’t clear, as makeup is made of various components – the outer wrapping, the box or container it’s in, the actual makeup, and any brushes it might contain.

To factor in sales tax or not? The argument people often make for higher prices in the UK is the 20% VAT, which I will factor in. Another thing to note, due to relatively recent legislation in the US, sales tax is now also applied online, which Wikipedia states varies from just 1% to 10% depending on where you live (which feels like a bit of a postcode lottery, or whatever the American equivalent is.) A lot of sites list 9% as a good average, so that’s what I’ll go for.

A note on average earnings. This one is a little more awkward, as while it’s easy enough to find a hard number on the average wage in both countries, it’s not that useful really. But for the sake of it, it’s about $50,000 (per household) in the US, and £26,500 (per person) in the UK. The reason they’re different metrics (household versus person) is because those are the most easily found statistics for each area, as apparently the US favours a household system. If the US is anything like the UK, unfortunately, this information isn’t that useful, as it doesn’t paint the full picture, especially considering we still have a very bad north south divide in the UK, with the south wage being much higher. But, converting the number directly puts the US household income at about £29,000, which is close on the face of it I suppose.

The websites I’m using. For makeup in the US, I’m using Sephora, it has all the items, it’s a very popular retailer, and does use the online sales tax system. For makeup in the UK, I’ll be using Debenhams or House of Fraser in a pinch, as they have all the items too. This post isn’t anything about these suppliers, as I could easily use others, it’s just to paint the bigger picture, and these two websites have the type of makeup that I’m talking about. Currency conversions done via Yahoo Currency.

The Urban Decay Naked 3 palette

Sephora: $54
With Average Sales tax: $58.86
Converted: £34.5
Debenhams: £37
Shipping: All Urban Decay items state ‘Bulk made in the USA, assembled in Dominican Republic’ while this final location is closer to the US, either way air or sea shipping is involved.
Verdict: About 7% More in the UK.

Benefit They’re Real Push Up Liner

Sephora: $24
With Average Sales Tax: $26.16
Converted: £15.30
Debenhams: £18.50
Shipping: I couldn’t find out where this item is make.
Verdict: About 17% More in the UK.

bareMinerals Original Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 15

Sephora: $27
With Average Sales Tax: $29.43
Converted: £17.23
Debenhams: £25
Shipping: US based packaging at least says ‘Made in the USA’, other packaging is less clear so it isn’t as easy to find out if it’s produced in one or multiple locations.
Verdict: About 31% More in the UK.

Too Faced The Chocolate Bar Palette

Sephora: $49
With Average Sales Tax: $53.41
Converted: £31.37
Debenhams: £45
Shipping: Packaging also states ‘Bulk made in the USA, assembled in Dominican Republic’ so again while this final location is closer to the US, either way air or sea shipping is involved.
Verdict: About 30% More in the UK.

LAURA MERCIER Tinted Moisturizer

Sephora: $43
With Sales Tax: $46.87
Converted: £27.5
House of Fraser: £34
Shipping: US based packaging at least says ‘Made in the USA’, other packaging is less clear so it isn’t as easy to find out if it’s produced in one or multiple locations.
Verdict: About 19% More in the UK.


Sephora: $41
With Sales Tax: $44.69
Converted: £26.24
Debenhams: £25
Shipping: Packaging states ‘Made in France’ which makes it closer to the UK than the US.
Verdict: This is the only item so far to be less in the UK, though by a much smaller margin than the American items are more, so the price relationship does still seem skewed.

A side note on ‘drugstore’ brands

You can do the same comparison for ‘drugstore brand’ items and while the total is less, because these items are not premium line, they still have the price disparency. A £10 Revlon foundation (Revlon Colour Stay Foundation) is only $11.50 – a converted price of only £6.5, a 35% markup. A Maybelline eyeliner (Maybelline Master Precision liquid eyeliner) is £10 in the UK compared to $6.94 in the US – a converted price of £4, a 60% markup.

To finish!

I don’t think overall the price discrepancy is as bad as video games (which was closer to a 40% increase from the US to the UK), but we are still paying more proportionally for what we get, in some cases a lot more, for very little reason. It feels like these price discrepancies based on markets – the unfortunate idea that we should just put up with being charged more proportionately in UK for the same items – shouldn’t be a thing anymore when the distance between countries and people feels smaller these days thanks to technology. I’ll be sticking to my cheaper priced items for the foreseeable future, since I’m happy with what they give me for the money, even if I am still worse off than in America.

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