One of the most exciting parts of going on holiday (unless it’s just me being a saddo) is doing a supermarket sweep of foreign chemists, superstores and cosmetic counters. There’s the rite of passage that is the Sephora pilgrimage, but there’s also more niche beauty bits (and snacks) to be found. Here’s what some key trendsetters in beauty and health pick up on their travels, plus tips on navigating duty-free and a few dupes for when you just can’t justify jetting off to NY.
Most of us have items we love to stock up on when outside of the UK, whether Tim Tams or French pharmacy finds. Here are the must-have buys of 7 women in beauty…
“I have a shopping list at the ready whenever I travel, but particularly if I know I’m off to the following destinations.
From Germany: Medical Beauty Research Enzyme Cleansing Booster . I heard about this from a few industry insiders who raved about its skin softening benefits. It’s pricy, but when my skin is feeling a bit flat it’s very good at given that instant rejuvenation.
From the States: I can’t trust myself in Sephora in general, but whether I exercise restraint or not, I love Bite Beauty The Perfect Pair Amuse Bouche Lipstick and Lip Pencil , as the lipstick and liner are exactly the same colour, so if I want to draw over my lip line to create a fuller look I can do so in a way that looks natural. Also, not beauty related, and although there’s now a flagship in the UK, there’s nothing quite like browsing the sportswear department of a massive Victoria’s Secret in downtown Manhattan. In all honesty I struggle to find athleisure wear that looks as good, while remaining functional. The VS cover-ups, vests and tanks are my absolute favourite so I always stock up.
From France: A decade ago I’d be so excited about going to Paris for fashion week because of the trips to the pharmacy that I’d shoehorn into my schedule between shows. Many of those niche brands are now widely available in the UK now, but I still can’t resist stocking up on minis of Bioderma Micellar Water for my travel bags. Biafine is a cure-all emulsion that can soothe everything from sunburn to any kind of skin reaction and is one of those things that you always want within reach. Homeoplasmine is also one of my absolute favourites- another beauty director told me about it years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. Not only does it soothe cuts, scrapes and flare-ups, it’s also great as a non-shiny lip protectant. I usually smoosh a teeny amount into lips at bedtime to avoid chapping in winter. As someone who suffers with insomnia from time to time as well as jet lag when I travel the Magnesium Vitamine B6 tablets have ‘can’t-live-without’ status as far as I’m concerned. They offer relaxation, but are also designed to reduce stress and anxiety.”
Anna-Marie Solowij, co-founder of BeautyMART
I always buy one thing in duty free without fail- Chanel Hydra Beauty Nutrition Nourishing Lip Care, £30. I generally have about five lip balms on the go at any one time but I always go back to this one.
Depending on where I’m going these are my main buys when abroad:
From Italy: Acqua Alle Rose wet wipes and distilled rose water, mainly from supermarkets. It’s an old-fashioned looking brand and they make lovely rose scented skincare products.
From France: Boiron Homeostick Lip Balm- it’s Homeoplasmine in a solid stick. I also pick up Boiron Oscillococcinum Homeopathic Cold and Flu Remedy to see me through the winter. I love Cicabiafine Hand Cream - it’s really rich and glycerine-y yet dries to a non-sticky finish. We sell the makeup artist’s favourite Biafine at BeautyMART, but this is the hand cream version. In terms of fragrance, Bien Etre Eau de Cologne every time, because I adore the scent.
For laundry, Chanteclair Lessive Savon de Marseille - literally liquid Marseille soap. It smells wonderful- fresh and clean, like old-fashioned laundry and it’s a low-foam formula so there’s no unnecessary foaming agents added. I buy this in bulk from France because I can’t stand the synthetic fragrances of most laundry detergents (Filetti is the only soap powder I buy).
From Spain: Nenuco Baby Agua de Colonia . The Spanish put it in baby's’ bath water and laundry. I wear it as a fragrance and add it to my clothes’ steamer.
I also stock up on Alvarez Gomez deodorant from a Spanish perfumeria. I love the traditional eau de cologne scent.
From Greece: Frezyderm - a really great sunscreen from a Greek pharmacy brand. It’s light, transparent, velvety on the skin and we now sell it at BeautyMART.
Claire Coleman, freelance editor and journalist
“I most frequently and regularly visit France and the US and I can NEVER resist a snoop around a pharmacy or drugstore - for me they're like a secret treasure trove of brilliant products that instantly have cachet, purely because they're foreign. In a way it's far harder now to identify my foreign must-buys than it would have been 15 years ago because so many French pharmacy brands are now readily available in the UK (I'm thinking cult buys from Embryolisse, La Roche Posay, Avene, Bioderma, Vichy and so on) and specialist beauty websites have brought many other iconic products within easy reach - I used to love stocking up on Smith's Rosebud Salve when I was in the States but you can now get it on Amazon or in Urban Outfitters.
Nevertheless there are still some bargains and finds to be found…
Caudalie Shower Gels smell divine and cost nothing in French pharmacies, compared to the UK. In France chemists often seem to sell Caudalie gift coffrets too- friends of mine stock up on these as they make brilliant presents.
My sister, the eyeliner queen, swears by Sephora High Precision Eyeliner so I normally grab one of those when I'm in a Sephora. Actually Sephora in the US is also a great place to spot new trends - I saw Clarisonic there before it came to the UK, and the latest buzz is all about the Milk and Drunk Elephant ranges.
On a similar note, I had to check out Glossier showroom (they're so cool it's a showroom not a shop) when I was in New York, and I picked up their much raved about Stretch Concealer. Fortunately as they're coming to the UK in October, I won't need to go across the pond to get more, plus their ace Boy Brow, and Lip Gloss, which have become makeup staples, will be easy to buy over here soon too.
Skincare-wise I can't get enough of DCL products , and while Space NK stock some of their range in the UK, I love some of their stuff that's exclusive to the US such as their AHA Skin Resurfacing Lotion 20, with loads of glycolic acid, and their C Scape High Potency Body Lotion (far too few brands do great body lotion with good active ingredients).
Neutrogena also sell a load of products in the USA that you can't get here- I'm a big fan of their high factor sun creams, especially the Ultra Sheer ones and the Clear Face options, which are great if you're prone to spots.
Jergens Instant Sun tanning mousse in Deep Bronze was a panic buy that I wished I'd bulk bought - it smelled amazing, gave a great tan and might even displace St Tropez Express Mousse as my favourite if it was in the UK.
One of my favourite ever hair buys were the Rubber Hair Pins from Ricky's NYC, a hair pin with a rubberised texture that grips hair like nothing else. I think they've been discontinued but if ANYONE can get me something similar I'd be forever in their debt.
Then there are the US drugstore classics that I buy because everyone raves about them, even if I never use them, I feel better for having them in the house. Lots of it is stuff that's prescription only in the UK or not available- Neosporin, an antibiotic ointment; Melatonin capsules for jetlag; Tylenol PM, a painkiller that helps you sleep.”
Alexia Inge, co-founder of Cult Beauty
“Usually if I find products abroad that I love that I can’t find in the UK I buy them for Cult Beauty so others can also enjoy them (or else this list would be a lot longer!).
I do buy Lucas Pawpaw ointment wherever and whenever I see it- it’s a great lip treatment and I adore the red packaging. It isn’t EU compliant, we have tried everything to convince them to go through regulations so we can sell them on Cult Beauty, but they are just not interested in Europe.
When I go to the States my latest obsession is Milk Make Up , specifically their Blur Stick, Holographic Stick in peach and Sunshine Skin Tint. It makes me feel so “NY cool” to use that brand- anything from the Milk range is an in-the-know, cult product to pull out of your handbag.
When I can’t get hold of these exact products, I have some good UK dupes up my sleeve. Instead of Lucas Pawpaw I use the Kaplan MD Perfect Pout SPF30 or the Jouer Essential Lip Enhancer . In place of of the Milk Makeup Blur Stick I’ll use NIOD Photography Fluid , and as a replacement for the Holographic Stick I apply BECCA Shimmering Skin Perfector in Champagne Pop. Milk Makeup Sunshine Tint is also quite similar to Jouer Luminizing Moisture Tint .”
Dr Maryam Zamani, oculoplastic surgeon, aesthetic doctor and founder of MZ Skin
“With so many products available with the click a computer key, the buying experience has changed substantially when we travel. It may seem that there is no need to venture elsewhere to find those special items, but there are still a few essentials that I cannot do without!
I was speaking to my husband about this and his favourite product to buy abroad is Nobacter shaving cream ! You can get that in France. For my part, whenever I am in Switzerland I always stock up on NeoCitran , which is the perfect blend of paracetamol, vitamin C and phenylephrine hydrochloride to help me out when I feel that I may be getting a little cold. One of those at night and I am good as new in the morning.
In the United States, I like to stock up on Neutrogena sunscreen: specifically Body Mist SPF 70 and Wet Skin Kids, which I cannot order in the UK. If I can’t get my hands on this in the UK, I’ll use La Roche-Posay suncare . For my kids, I also like the Zinka Colored Sunblock for some fun in the sun. Another favourite is a lip balm I have been using as long as I can remember- Blistex DCT with SPF 20. I can only ever find it in CVS and I am always buying this in bulk. I don’t wear much makeup but this hydrating lip balm feels great, lasts for hours and doesn’t leave a sticky or heavy feel on the lips. Another CVS or Duane Reade favourite is Neosporin , I use this on every scratch, cut and graze. It’s nowhere to be found in the UK and perfect for so many every day wounds. Latisse , the prescription only, bimatoprost ophthalmic solution used to help lengthen eyelashes is similar to other glaucoma medications found in the UK, but it’s aesthetic formulation is still not available in the UK. Otherwise, I really only use my own MZ Skin skincare, although I try out other products now and again.
As for fashion, I like to buy my trainers in the United States- I always feel that I can find a better selection than anywhere else when I’m over there, and I always find the best big earrings and kaftans in St Tropez.”
Millie Kendall MBE, co-founder of BeautyMART
“I buy a combination of food and beauty products when I get to LA. I grew up there and raised my older daughter there too, and there are a lot of things we like that we can’t get hold of in London. Prime examples would be Goldfish crackers , Pirate Booty and Tapatio Hot Sauce . OK this is all food so moving on to beauty…
Coppertone Waterbabies is our family sunscreen. The brand offers it in so many formats and it is really long-lasting- I would never not have it at home. We use the facial stick version daily under moisturizer. It makes for a nice lip balm too.
California Baby bubble bath is an essential for kids bath time, especially when they’re tired and cranky. Even though they may be too old to bathe in bubbles, I still buy it.
The variety of Maybelline mascara available is astounding in the US. When I was in New York recently I bought one of each type. The brush heads are so different and offer such variation. We just don’t have this array of options in the UK.
One of my favourite brands that I have discovered in the last few years is Youth Lab . It’s such a great skincare brand, and the sun care is remarkable too. The Greek economy took a beating and we specifically sought out Greek brands, for example we sell Frezyderm at BeautyMART, but I am still desperate to get Youth Lab over here.”
Abigail James, skin expert and author of Love Your Skin
“I must admit that I usually get most of my beauty and skincare products from within the UK. When I travel, I tend to purchase something that's more synonymous with that country, normally something handmade or organic. In Morocco I always pick up some pure argan oil. I love any pure, hand blended oils from overseas. Moroccan black soap or argan oil soap would both be on my list for Morocco, and if I’m in Greece I’ll get goat’s milk soap. I also recently purchased some a beautiful orange blossom fragrance while in the Seville region of Spain.
I purposely travel to Paris for fragrance- I will actually do a perfume trip in the same way that some people will do a wine trip. There are so many perfumers- some brands you might find in the UK, but there are brilliant boutiques that stock bespoke and rare fragrances from houses you would never have heard of. In particular I love a place called Nose .
I do tend to avoid the duty-free area when travelling. They tend to stock far too many fragrances in one place (you can’t tell what you’re really smelling), however, if you do have a favourite my advice is to make a beeline and stick to what you know. Get in and get out!
Normally the duty-free area is also not the time to be trying something new in the skincare department- you can't take it back, so even if it might have come at a more affordable price, I know from experience that it’s all too easy to make mistakes. Stick to favourite brands and products that you know.
Makeup is a little different- I will often purchase a lipstick from duty-free, as it's a visual experience and you can try them out quickly- you either like a lipstick or not, so there’s less room for error. I would never suggest buying foundation in duty-free though, unless it's tried and tested. Chances are that your skin on the way out and the way back might very well be a different colour if you have been in the sun, so it's always tricky to choose the right one. I do actually have a number of slightly wrong shades from doing exactly this!”
Follow Millie on Instagram @milliekendall , Anna-Marie @annasolowij , Claire @featuresjourno , Alexia @alexia.inge , Dr Zamani @drmaryamzamani , Emma @emmaguns , Abigail @abigailjames1 and Anna @annyhunter