Why I buy all my beauty products from CVS

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It's pretty easy to buy beauty products these days — you sign up for a monthly box of samples, or plug your preferences into an online retailer, or even walk into an actual, IRL store. But one standout beauty retailer is also seriously underrated: The drugstore, and an unexpected one at that.

(A disclaimer: My personal love for CVS runs deep. Almost every week, an email with some sort of discount — sometimes 20%, occasionally 30% — lands in my inbox. There's nothing like never having to pay full-price for household goods to build brand loyalty.)

Related: The ULTIMATE Drugstore Guide for All Your Back-to-School Beauty Needs

Because of this longstanding affection for CVS, it was weird that I was actually surprised when my friend sent me a Snapchat of the beauty section there. I usually tend to skip this section, instead focusing on essentials like Cheetos and contact lens solution. So it was via social media that, instead of the usual cleansers and moisturizers I'd rummaged through in the past, I spotted prestige skincare brands like Murad. And was that Dr. Hauschka? Um, was my friend in CVS or Sephora?

RELATED: 12 items to always buy at a drugstore

12 items to always buy at a drugstore
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12 items to always buy at a drugstore

Toothbrush and toothpaste

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Petroleum jelly

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Laundry detergent

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Garbage bags

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Holiday and seasonal decorations/candy

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Paper towels

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Hair dye

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Flu shot

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Shampoo and conditioner

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I had to see it to believe it. So one day, armed with a coupon for a 25% discount (obviously) I showed up.

In the hair care aisle, I found the usual drugstore brands. But Carol's Daughter caught my eye, which led me to an entire section devoted to natural and relaxed hair. Since when has Carol's Daughter been available at CVS? (Since at least a year, apparently.) I found Fekkai and Big Sexy Hair, too. There were also racks of travel-sized hair products lined up, too, in case you want to bring your Carol's Daughter on vacay.

I rounded the corner and entered the skincare aisle. There it was: the high-end, not-so-drugstore skincare. Murad was stocked above what looked like the entirety of Bare Minerals' skincare offerings and a selection of Peter Thomas Roth, keeping company with Bliss and Philosophy. Further down the aisle, even the OG drugstore brands were no longer a jumble. Instead, they're now organized according to what you're looking for — so, if you want clinical solutions without having to visit a derm, you could stop by Dermatologist Solutions. Plagued by breakouts? Check out the new Acne section. There were even bright panels to explain the purpose of hyaluronic acid and the differences between benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. "We want to give our customer a more inspiring beauty experience, a curation of brands and products that are better for her, with efficacy that rivals those found in prestige stores," explains Alex Perez-Tenessa, vice president of merchandising in beauty and personal care at CVS. It's hard not to get lost in the place.

A big part of CVS's new investment has to do with the drugstore's focus on health. Ever since they ditched selling cigarettes two years ago, they've focused on underlining their status as a health and wellness destination — so it's not a huge surprise that they've focused on skincare in particular, since the two go hand-in-hand. Just as big a factor was their customers. "After making the decision to stop selling tobacco in our stores, customers responded with increased interest — and demand for — healthy lifestyle products and services," says Perez-Tenessa. "For our shoppers, 80% of whom are women, beauty is part of their definition of health."

That doesn't mean CVS is ignoring cosmetics. The makeup section also got a makeover. Now, videos play above the mascaras and foundations, and alongside the products are little summaries that explain the differences between this bronzer and that one.

On top of that, their Beauty Club program makes you feel like you've just robbed a bank. For every $50 you spend, you get $5 back in ExtraBucks Rewards, or the CVS version of free money. (That's on top of the coupons flooding your inbox, FYI.) And there's the generous return policy, in which you can return anything — opened, partially used, basically empty — to the store for a full refund.

Until now, I had no idea that serious beauty scores were to be found in my local drugstore, much less four aisles down from where I usually spend half my Saturday. And it's not only CVS that's making big strides in beauty: Walgreens stocks UK-based favorite Boots No7 and even features in-store beauty advisors from the brand, while Rite Aid's return policy is crazy-generous (you get a full refund even if you've used half that foundation). So the next time you run out of moisturizer, put on some pants and head to a drugstore near you. Bonus points if you have at least two coupons with you.

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