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Beauty Apps: Which Ones Are Worth The Download?

April Stettner
ByApril StettnerNov 18, 2021 | 3 comments

Ah, technology. It’s a complicated relationship, am I right? A necessary evil, some might say… or when your PowerPoint presentation decides to just delete itself type of evil. With promises to improve our lives or just make things a little easier, I wanted to explore if the beauty apps in the subscription space are doing just that.

I used these four points to reference what I learned:

  • Ease of use – how well can I navigate throughout the app and find what I need
  • Fun extras – perks that come with the download, whether additional % off on purchases or other unique features
  • Best For – the sensitive skin individuals (me!), the deal-finders, hard-to-find products, or holy grails of beauty
  • My experience – overall impressions from using the app, and how it performed in expectations vs. reality

So, let’s dive in and see what each of these apps deliver!

Best For Clinical Grade Skincare: SkinStore App

Compatibility: iOS and Android devices

Cost: Free download

SkinStore is described as the online hub where beauty and science click, delivering the latest in innovative clinical skincare and luxury products. The app advertises that you will “get instant notifications for exclusive offers, latest drops, and be the first to know about HUGE SALES”

Ease Of Use: The SkinStore App layout (along with other apps from The Hut Group) is very much like the desktop version, just condensed. If you are familiar with SkinStore, you know there are so many options. I love options, but I can become easily overwhelmed.  The advantage of this app is that you have four main icons that are always visible at the bottom (shop, wishlist, account, help), so this can help you navigate quicker if you know exactly what you want, and don’t want to fall into a rabbit hole (should I be incorporating more peptides in my routine? Is this going to make me breakout? This is where my squirrel brain inevitably goes.).

 

Extras: Oftentimes, apps will feature an incentive for a download, such as “extra 20%” when you order through the app. At the time of publishing this article, I haven’t found additional discounts or incentives with the SkinStore App, BUT that doesn’t mean there won’t be some specials as the holidays approach.

Best For: When it comes to medical-grade skincare, I’d say SkinStore offers one of the most comprehensive selections. For years I had to rely on going to the dermatologist to pick up my assortment of Obagi, SkinCeuticals, and SkinMedica. The convenience of having these brands in one spot is a time-saver.

My experience: So far, the SkinStore app has not replaced my normal routine from ordering from placing an order from my laptop.  This may be in part to the somewhat inconsistent alerts on sales (I’ve received the majority from my email), and not through the App. However, with the holidays coming up, this may increase, and if I’m away from my laptop at that time, being able to access the App to scoop up deals will be crucial.

Best for Uncovering Hidden Ingredients: Think Dirty

Compatibility: iOS and Android devices

Cost: Free download

Think Dirty is described as “the easiest way to learn about the potentially toxic ingredients in your cosmetics and personal care products.” Just scan the product barcode, and Think Dirty will give you easy-to-understand info on the product, “track dirty ingredients,” and extend the ease of shopping for cleaner options.

Think Dirty’s rating scale runs from 0 to 10, where 0 to 3 means the product does not contain any ingredients that have documented potential negative health impacts, 4 to 7 means the product has some ingredients that will have moderate long-term health effects, and 8 to 10 means the product could have serious detrimental health effects that could pose a threat long term. Additional details on Think Dirty’s methodology and risk assessment can be found here.

Think Dirty’s numerical risk assessment

Yikes! Is my initial thought.  I consider what might be lurking in my bathroom, but I’m intrigued!  There’s something alluring yet cringey about uncovering something that will most likely disgust and interest you simultaneously. Similar to when my esthetician performs a hydrofacial and I ask, “Can I see what you removed from my skin? I know I’m disgusting.” If you’ve ever felt a similar desire, this app experience is akin to this.

Ease Of Use: Once you’ve downloaded the app, it allows you to access certain features (scan products, explore product lists, etc.) without creating an official profile. Like the excitement that my Fisher-Price grocery store register used to illicit, I run to my bathroom and started scanning everything in sight. To my dismay, the app appeared to be a bit “glitchy” (at least on my end). If I didn’t have the scanner angled perfectly against the barcode, I was exited from the app in a swift crash. Several common products like Dove Sensitive Skin Bodywash, Almay Make-up remover, and Revlon lipsticks did not show up when I scanned them, but when I searched through the lists of products by category to double-check, sure enough, there they were. Could it have been user error on my end? Perhaps, but I did research reviews of the app to see if other user had experienced anything similar. Interestingly enough, it seemed to be an issue for other users as well.  The common developer response to these reviews was:

“If you scan a product and it doesn’t automatically show up, it could be because some barcodes may not be clear or UPC codes can be different for countries. If you type the product in manually and it still doesn’t show, please kindly submit it as we are constantly growing our database. We will do our best to add the products.” 

This certainly makes sense, it just seemed odd since the app touts having “over 850,000 cosmetics and personal care products – majority from Canada and the U.S. – are currently in our database” given some of the more common beauty brands reviewers mentioned were unavailable. Regardless, it was easy enough to upload product information that was not recognized in the system (by scanning the front and back of the product). Maybe one day I will learn what my Trader Joe’s lemongrass coconut body oil is rated.

 

Extras: So, there are a large number of “extras” that require a premium subscription for the app. For example, mascara products are locked unless you upgrade. The subscriptions start at $2.99 monthly $15.99 for 6 months, or $27.99 annually. This subscription gains you access to:

  • Over 70,000 ingredient analyses and product ratings
  • View special product category lists that are tailored to individual health concerns

Without a subscription, you still have access to:

  • Shopping Lists: Save products to make shopping faster and easier
  • The ability to “shop now” and buy products directly from Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Well.ca, Sephora.com, and Amazon.co.uk

Best For: In theory, this app would be of interest to almost anyone who is curious about the chemicals found within their self-care and household cleaning products. As someone who suffers from autoimmune issues, I have read, researched, and been coached by medical providers on the correlation of common everyday products that often contain toxic chemicals that can further compromise and worsen conditions similar to mine. There are several caveats to this, however, that I think are worth pointing out. Think Dirty has experienced skepticism based on what products are deemed toxic, and reviewers have expressed concerns on biases found within the app, and whether it was designed as more of a sales marketing tool.

My Experience: Honestly, I love the concept of this app and what it aims to provide to the consumer.  However, in terms of making my life easier, it’s made me fall down a rabbit hole or two (not always a bad thing!) That being said, the app can be a bit “distracting”.  Though I have a vested interest in learning more about the ingredients within my beauty and household products, there still seems to be too much of a gray area in terms of what products are being deemed “safe” and “hazardous” by Think Dirty’s criteria. Though the intention of this app is certainly well-meaning and contains valuable data insights, I would encourage anyone who uses the app to also consult with a trusted provider or read some of the independent research by biochemists on their evaluation of the app, its criteria, and overall experience.

Best for Varied Price Points: Ulta Beauty App

Compatibility: iOS and Android devices

Cost: Free download

The Ulta Beauty app allows you to find your favorite makeup, skincare & haircare products, plus shade match and color swatch your favorite makeup and haircare with their virtual beauty try-on experience. You are able to check your “Ultamate Rewards” account and redeem points anytime, anywhere. You can even book a beauty service appointment, and see how busy your Ulta Beauty store is, and what services are being offered before you go.

Ease Of Use: I found the Ulta Beauty app to be the easiest and most streamlined of the beauty apps I tried. Once it’s downloaded, you have the opportunity to browse, try on make-up virtually (I was VERY excited about this, photos below), all without having to log in through your rewards account by creating a new login.

The home screen is easy to navigate, with a search bar up top, with the shop, favorites, and stores icon below. I like that you can toggle from featured to a “For You” screen (which I assume uses your previous purchases to design an algorithm of products through your Ulta rewards purchases).

Extras: Ulta really impressed me with the amount of “Free” extras I had access to.  Here were some of the standouts:

  • The virtual makeup try-on, GLAMlab, had to be my favorite. I was worried it might look like one of those crazy filters, and it might not be entirely accurate since it wasn’t in person.  I always have issues being color-matched with foundation, and although it took a few times to turn my head the right amount, I loved the options Ulta selected for me. I also had maybe too much fun trying on the liquid eyeliner. I mean, if the app offered to send someone to my house and draw the perfect cat-eye the way the app did, then I’d really be set.
  • Ability to use voice search to find a brand or product, just speak its name. What a great and useful feature!
  • Ulta features app exclusives every Friday. You are also able to easily scroll weekly ads, and gifts with purchase.

 

My Experience: I would say out of all the beauty apps reviewed this one has certainly streamlined my shopping experience but also made life easier.  I’ve used the app to book my next eyebrow appointment, track down my favorite eyeshadow (without making an unnecessary trip to the store) and it helped me select a new foundation.  The Ulta app has by far gotten the most use since I downloaded it.  With over 1 million 5 star reviews on the Apple App Store, I was a touch skeptical, but now I can certainly see why!

Best for Brand Diversity and Selection: LOOKFANTASTIC

Compatibility: iOS and Android devices

Cost: Free download

LOOKFANTASTIC is described as being designed for the beauty-obsessed. With the ability to shop over 600 premium beauty brands, while discovering new product launches and trends, you are promised to be the first to receive exclusive special offer alerts on your favorite beauty products.

Ease Of Use: LOOKFANTASTIC and the SkinStore all live within the THG eco-system, therefore the layout of the LOOKFANTASTIC app is almost identical to SkinStore’s. It looks similar to LOOKFANTASTIC’s desktop website, again just more condensed with the key icons being placed at the bottom of the app for easier navigation.

Extras: LOOKFANTASTIC advertises VIP passes, and access to deals by allowing push notifications. I can say, for the two weeks I’ve had the app downloaded with push notifications, I didn’t receive any alerts outside of what I normally would via email from them. Again, could be a glitch on my end. However, this past weekend I was catching up with friends at dinner (my phone was sitting on the table), and I made several comments about feeling “old” and needing a “refresh”. Well, I kid you not, 20 minutes later a pink LOOKFANTASTIC banner flashed across my screen and read: Need a boost? Use code Retinol25 for 25% off all retinol products. If that isn’t great (slightly creepy) target marketing, I don’t know what is. So, I guess our phones are really listening to us. Regardless, I was happy for a 25% discount because retinols can be pricey!

Best For: I appreciate that LOOKFANTASTIC carries harder-to-find or commonly sold out brands like Kevyn Aucoin, NYX Petals palate (I’ve been searching for months!), and Anastasia Beverly Hills Eyebrow Kit (I’m constantly looking for the Taupe shade).

My Experience: This beauty app definitely increased my pricer skincare purchases, through their frequent deal alerts.  Though most people would find the targeted marketing unsettling (understandably), I actually appreciated being alerted to deals on my skincare concerns. I’ve also always loved that you can shop by skin issue through LOOKFANTASTIC. If you are looking to save money (outside of upcoming holiday deals) I’d suggest turning off notifications to avoid the “add to cart” moments I felt compelled to have recently.

 

I want to know what you think! What has your experience been with these beauty apps?  Did you find my experience similar to yours, or totally different?  No wrong answers here, I want to know what you found helpful and not so much.

What essential beauty apps are missing from this list? I want to hear from you and your experiences! 

April Stettner
April Stettner
April is a freelance writer with a borderline unhealthy obsession with all things beauty and 90’s pop culture. When she isn’t beach hopping with her dog Wyatt, she's interviewing female entrepreneurs in Charleston, SC.

April Stettner
April Stettner
April is a freelance writer with a borderline unhealthy obsession with all things beauty and 90’s pop culture. When she isn’t beach hopping with her dog Wyatt, she's interviewing female entrepreneurs in Charleston, SC.
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3 comments

Jessica

Beautylish recently launched an App called launch club and it posts about new launches- and allows for instant checkout on launch day for their cult-favorite beautylish lucky bags. Very niche, but I look forward to my lucky bag every year and already have it downloaded and push notifications enabled

JoJoB

Thank you Jessica! I have always wanted one of the elusive lucky bags. Maybe this will help me stand a chance at getting one!

April Stettner

Hi, Jessica!♡
Love the concept of this app. I always have this weird anxiety of not getting new releases into my cart in time. Sounds like this would solve it. I’m downloading now, thank you for sharing!
♡April

Our reviewers research, test, and recommend the best subscriptions and products independently; click to learn more about our editorial guidelines. We may receive commissions on purchases made through links on our site.