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29 Mar 2021

Revealed: the best and cheapest places to buy toiletries and beauty products

From shampoo and hand cream to electric shavers and hairdryers, discover the stores that are getting it right when it comes to price and service
woman choosing products on shelf

With non-essential retailers still closed, it can be hard to know which online beauty store to buy from, so Which? has surveyed more than 10,000 shoppers to find the best and worst health and beauty retailers.

We asked shoppers to rate more than 50 health and beauty stores, from big names such as Boots and John Lewis to lesser-known brands such as HealthSpan and QVC, on factors ranging from customer service to value for money.

We also compared toiletry prices at supermarkets and high street pharmacies, and found that you could save almost £10 on a basket of basics by shopping at the cheapest store.

Read on to discover the best beauty shops and websites to buy from, as well as those to avoid.

Where can you buy the cheapest toiletries?

Which? put together a basket of 21 popular toiletries, including Carex liquid hand soap, Colgate Total toothpaste and Head & Shoulders shampoo, to find out where you can get the best price for your basics.

We looked at average prices over the course of a year, including special offers but not multibuys, and found that shopping at Sainsbury's could save you an average of £9.28 compared with Superdrug.

Chart showing toiletries pricing

The best beauty and wellbeing shops

We surveyed 10,909 members of Which? and the general public in November to find out about their most recent health and beauty shopping experiences.

If you want to see the full results of our survey, including retailer star ratings for product range and quality, customer service, value for money, aftersales service and even stores' Covid-19 response, visit our guide to the best and worst beauty shops - or read on for an overview of the overall winners and losers.

Healthspan named best wellbeing retailer

The best place to buy health products is, according to our survey, vitamins and supplements specialist Healthspan.co.uk. Our expert researchers also rated its T&Cs highly, meaning it has been named a Which? Recommended Provider.

A lesser-known brand than some of the other contenders in this year's survey, Healthspan has been making and selling vitamins and supplements since 1996. It offers 'no-quibble' refunds and exchanges, and a subscribe-and-save scheme on regular purchases - which several customers mentioned as a benefit. Deliveries come in handy letterbox-sized packaging.

Healthspan scored four or five stars out of five across all categories with the exception of after-sales service, where we didn't get enough responses to give it a rating.

More than two thirds of customers chose the retailer based on its prices, but customer service was also a big factor. As one customer summarised, Healthspan offers 'good-quality items at a reasonable price, promptly delivered and reasonably well described on an easy-to-use website'.

QVC impresses shoppers with its flexible returns policy

QVC (QVCUK.com) has been beaming products into people's homes via its shopping channels for nearly two decades. It now offers four channels, including a 24-hour beauty broadcast selling brands such as Elemis and Liz Earle.

In our survey, QVC customers were full of praise for its guarantee and aftersales service, and almost a fifth said this a major reason they chose to purchase there. As one customer said: 'You can use beauty products, burn the candles, wear the clothes and still send them back if you do not want them within 60 days. What other retailer does that?'

We've made QVC a Which? Recommended Provider as it came joint-second overall and achieved four or five stars across all key ratings.

Why isn't popular eco brand Lush a Which? Recommended Provider?

Joint-second in our table, Lush (Lush.com) is popular with shoppers partly thanks to its strong ethical and environmental ethos. Products such as shampoo and conditioner often come in solid bar form and their black plastic pots can be returned to stores for recycling, while carrier bags and most packaging are from recycled sources.

Almost a fifth of customers chose Lush because it was easy to find cruelty-free and/or vegan products.

However, despite its popularity we haven't made Lush a Which? Recommended Provider because it only gives customers 21 days in which to return faulty or damaged items, which we don't think offers enough protection to shoppers.

Lush shopfront

The best of the rest

We crowned two other retailers Which? Recommended Providers for health and beauty products this year: John Lewis (JohnLewis.com) and AllBeauty.com.

The most popular reason for shoppers choosing John Lewis was its customer service, and its five-star rating for aftersales service reflects this. One customer commented that the service is 'such that, if there is a problem, you know it is going to be satisfactorily resolved'.

Beauty and wellbeing retailer Allbeauty.com, meanwhile, has scored well in our beauty retail surveys for some years now.

The retailer stocks hundreds of brands, from high street names such as L'Oreal and Revlon to high-end luxuries such as La Mer and La Prairie. Customers appreciate the ease of using its website and the fact that it offers free delivery on orders over £20.

Which are the worst beauty and wellbeing shops?

The worst-performing stores generally failed to impress with their range and product quality. Supermarkets, discounters and small high street pharmacy chains occupy the bottom of our results table, with Morrisons coming bottom with Asda, Sainsbury's and Tesco not far behind.

It's worth saying that we carried out our survey during periods of national lockdown, so the supermarkets were under additional pressures and may have been busier than usual.

LloydsPharmacy, perhaps understandably given its branches' small size, scored a poor two stars out of five for product range - and also for value for money. But shoppers did tell us that they valued the convenience of having its stores on their local high street.

man and woman choosing product

Which beauty retailers have coped best with the pandemic?

This year we added a new star rating to our survey: Covid-19 response. We asked shoppers to think about the ways in which stores and websites communicated pandemic-related changes to the shopping experience, from queues and social distancing to delivery delays.

Discounters B&M, Home Bargains and Poundland were the only retailers to get two stars for their Covid-19 response.

Liz Earle, L'Occitane, Lush, QVC and Waitrose all scored the full five stars on this measure.