How to Be a Champion Beauty Tourist in New York City

If you're planning a trip to Manhattan, these are the shopping destinations you need to put on your list.

I don't travel as often as I'd like these days, but when I do, one of my goals is to shop as many hard-to-find beauty brands as possible. It's a classic case of "the grass is always greener" in my situation; I love getting my hands on a beauty product that's difficult for me to access back home, whether it's as simple as papaya soap, hair conditioner, or green tea mouthwash. It's exciting, and it makes taking the product home feel extra special.

Just recently, I went on a very short, very spontaneous trip to the Philippines, with a layover in Korea, and though I did take home a few delightful things, the whole process of finding these beauty stores was challenging. I had never been to Korea, and although I've been to the Philippines many times, I am in no way an expert at getting around, so I pretty much stumbled upon all the beauty stores I visited at random.

Ever since returning from my trip, many a night I've stayed up (also because of jet lag) wishing I could redo things and come prepared with a beauty-shopping itinerary, instead.

On the flip side, my recent trip had me thinking about a different, yet similar, situation: What if you were all visiting my neck of the woods (which is New Jersey, but let's be honest: if you're going here, you probably want to see Manhattan) for a beauty shopping tour? What places do I think should be on your radar? Below, I've compiled a list of the beauty locations worth checking out (plus some unintentionally blurry cell phone pics — sorry) if you're looking to buy skincare, fragrance and makeup stuff while in New York.

Bergdorf Goodman Beauty Basement: 754 5th Ave.

Remember in Home Alone 2 when Kevin ends up at the Plaza Hotel? Well, after you're done snapping pictures there, head on to the basement level of the Bergdorf Goodman department store right next door. It's a must-see if you're looking to splurge after one too many slices of crepe cake from the Todd English Food Hall at the Plaza.

The basement level of Bergdorf's offers a ton of high-end makeup and fragrance brands including Trish McEvoy, Aerin, Guerlain, Sisley, La Mer, Hermes, Jo Malone and Charlotte Tilbury. I mainly go here to replenish my Sulwhasoo stuff (the Sulwhasoo counter offers complimentary facials, FYI), but I would bring anyone who loves buying or just browsing luxury makeup here.

Side story: I gave the Tom Ford counter my email once, and I ended up winning a $50 gift card to Laura Mercier. What a surprising perk! Also, their bathrooms are really nice.

What I Would Buy From Here: Tom Ford lipstick, Sulwhasoo skincare, fragrances

Koreatown: 32nd Street between Broadway and 5th Ave.

If you're looking to get your K-beauty fix in Manhattan, look no further than Koreatown. In this neighborhood, there's a nice selection of Korean beauty stores filled with the cutest-packaged products ever. Think fruit-shaped hand cream and adorable blush and lip gloss tins.

Here, there's Tony Moly, The Face Shop and Skylake (a beauty supply store), plus another store dedicated entirely to masks across the street! Price-wise, I find their product selection to be slightly cheaper than a lot of brands at Sephora, and their nail polishes are quite cheap as well.

Another bonus: they tend to give some samples of new products at the checkout counter. If you're willing to walk a bit, or take the subway, there are a few more Korean beauty stores to check out further downtown: Nature Republic and Club Clio, which are both on 14th Street.

What I Would Buy From Here: Masks, The Face Shop Color Proof Eyeliner (it stays on all day!) and The Face Shop Herb Day Wipes

Sephora Union Square: 45 E. 17th St.

Even if you have a Sephora in your hometown, I still think this is worth checking out because the location is quite big, and it carries a lot of brands you'd normally only find online, like Dolce & Gabbana or Giorgio Armani. Getting to swatch the shadows, blushes and lipsticks in person can be a big deal for some, and here you can do just that.

Even though it's a big location, I don't find it to be overly crowded, so you will actually have some time to browse.

What I Would Buy From Here: Giorgio Armani Lipsticks. They make my life complete.

C.O. Bigelow: 414 6th Ave.

If you frequent Bath & Body Works, then the name of this store definitely sounds familiar. Bath & Body Works sells a line of lip products from C.O. Bigelow at their stores, but the real C.O. Bigelow store is actually part pharmacy, part beauty-addict heaven.

They have everything here — stuff for the hair, face and body, including some high-end makeup brands like NARS, Clarins, Ellis Faas and Lipstick Queen. They also have a nice collection of fragrances, hair clips, Marvis toothpastes, different kinds of Spanx, and very cute cosmetic bags.

Since there are so many products here, it's easy to get lost browsing through stuff. Overall, it's more on the expensive side, but it's totally worth the trip, in my opinion, because of all the brands and trinkets you could find.

Note: I love holiday shopping here because they offer free gift-wrapping, and who doesn't like receiving gifts in cute boxes?

What I Would Buy From Here: Marvis Toothpaste, Mistral Soaps

Bite Beauty Lip Lab: 174 Prince St.

For a fun beauty activity in the afternoon, I recommend going to the Bite Beauty Lip Lab in SoHo. Here, you can customize your own lipstick and choose everything from the scent and finish to the color.

I went here once to create a dupe for my beloved NARS Pure Matte Lipstick in Montego Bay, and though my dupe wasn't spot-on, I still had a good experience. The sales lady worked really hard to make sure we reached a color I liked (it took a while because I'm picky), and she was super-patient and kind through it all.

Now, at about $45 for a customized lipstick, this activity is expensive, but it might be worth the bucks since the activity is very unique and you might end up with a color you really love that's perfect for you.

What I Would Buy From Here: Red lip — oh, who am I kidding? I'm buying a nude pink lipstick.

  • Where would you bring someone on a beauty tour of your city?
  • What's your favorite NYC beauty shopping location?