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Sephora vs. The Upcoming? 5 Independent Beauty Brands to Support Instead of the Beauty Behemoth

Words: Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse

The British beauty sector is worth $13billion. $13billion. That number, so vast, makes the landscape fiercely competitive. There are, no doubt, big bucks to be made. So it came as no surprise when Sephora announced they would be re-entering the UK market - they closed their UK stores back in 2005 due to soaring rents and an inability to compete with more established beauty names at the time. Their new UK focus on e-commerce, which saw the beauty behemoth purchase online retailer Feelunique for an undisclosed sum in 2021, has given Sephora solid UK foundations this time round. But there is stiff competition in every corner that Sephora cannot ignore.

Competition is everywhere. From High Street stores like Boots, who claim that its market share is above 40% for skin, makeup and premium beauty, to luxury beauty stockists like Space NK and Selfridges, along with the e-tailer Cult Beauty. And there is another unlikely competitor - small independent beauty businesses. Sephora may have an upper hand that will help them muscle in on the beauty space, offering deals, discounts and gifts that small businesses cannot contend with, but small businesses have something that Sephora does not. The draw of the underdog.

Over the past decade, small, indie beauty brands have been growing stealthily, taking up evermore space in the global beauty sector. In a 2017 report on the cosmetics industry, Deloitte noted that, “small is the new big,” and that subsequently, “global brands are losing share as small brands and disruptors are gaining.” According to Forbes, this quiet but quick growth can largely be attributed to millennial and Gen-Z buyers. These demographics have a huge impact on the market and hold a great deal of spending power, commanding $360 billion in disposable income according to a Bloomberg report from last year. Their spending habits differ drastically from previous generations with young shoppers tending to gravitate toward and shop with brands, especially smaller independent brands, that hold beliefs similar to their own.

This personal touch, a sharing and promoting of core brand values that align with those held by millennials and Gen-Z, is something that big corporations cannot seem to get their heads around. But for small businesses who have a face, as opposed to hundreds of heads on an elusive board of directors, sharing those values is innate. Subsequently, consumers know who they are supporting and what practices they are supporting. Plus, people like to support the little guy, the underdog. Sephora, who is owned by the luxury goods corporation LVMH Group, a company who turned over 11.8 billion euros in 2021, will never be the underdog.

In the spirit of cheering on the underdog when the behemoth is trying to tear them down, we have rounded up five of the UK’s best small beauty businesses to support as Sephora solidifies themselves as a competitor.




Photo: DISCIPLE Instagram

Disciple is a London-based natural wellness company with a bit of a twist. Created by psychotherapist Charlotte Ferguson, the brand’s approach to beauty focuses on the wellness of the mind as well as the skin. Following the idea that anxiety, stress and low mood can cause inflammatory issues such as adult-acne, eczema, adrenal fatigue and premature ageing, Disciple products work not only on the skin’s surface, but help the body and mind deal with internal stress too. By utilising mists and oils, up to 70% of their skincare is absorbed into the body, delivering goodness to both the outside and inside with therapeutic grade, stress-busting plant extracts.

The brand’s Dreamy Skin Retinyl Night Oil is a stand out, housing pretty much everything you need in a night oil. The treatment helps regenerate skin cells while you sleep, reducing pigmentation, pore size, fine lines and boosting firmness to give you seriously dreamy skin. With powerful ingredients like Rosehip seed oil, Retinyl, and Burdock Root fighting break-out causing bacteria and improving the skin's texture, lighter ingredients like Frankincense, Blue Chamomile, Jasmine reduce inflammation, relieve stress and balance hormones - delivering results while you dream.

Magic Organic Apothecary

Magic Organic Apothecary

Magic Organic Apothecary

Photo: Magic Organic Apothecary Instagram

Growing out of a love for herbalism and the folklore surrounding wild plants, Magic Organic Apothecary’s founder, Charlie, began creating some magical products. Combining yarrow, an ancient healing herb which has been used for millennia to protect and repair, with other herbal extracts and botanical oils, Magic Organic Apothecary is home to myriad soothing, cleansing and revitalising formulas.

The epitome of the brand’s values comes in the form of The Green Balm. An organic, multi-purpose calming balm combining the hero herb yarrow along with tea tree oil, nature’s very own antiseptic. The multi-tasking product helps to soothe, nourish and renew dry itchy skin conditions as well as bumps, bites, stings, bruises, grazes and minor burns. It also works wonders as a hot cloth cleansing balm and its ingredients make it perfect to calm the skin after waxing, shaving or getting a new tattoo.


Muihood Beauty


Photo: Muihood Instagram

Muihood is a skincare brand rooted in traditional Chinese medicine. Mixing traditional Chinese medicine and science-led ingredients, the brand celebrates heritage beauty while also ensuring the benefits of research backed skincare.

Muihood’s only product, The Good Chi Cleansing Balm, melts away stubborn makeup and excess oils effortlessly, without leaving residue or stripping the skin. Enriched with Soybean Oil, an oil rich in vitamin E and replenishing fatty acids, Ginseng root and Goji berry, the balm helps boost skin hydration, diminish rough texture, fade uneven skin tone, improve firmness and protect the skin’s youthful bounce. Plus the balm’s jar is glass, the lid is recyclable and the box is made from 40% recycled paper - good for the skin and good for the environment.


Nursem Hand Cream

Nursem Hand Cream

Photo: Nursem Instagram

Nursem is a brand making a difference. Their co-founder, Antonia Philp, a paediatric intensive care nurse, started working on a hand cream formula after regularly coming home with sore, cracked and bleeding hands from the constant hand washing needed in her line of work.

Knowing this problem affects nearly all nurses, Antonia and her husband, co-founder Jonny, worked with a group of British nurses, laboratories and Newcastle Science City to create Nursem. The brand’s restorative creams and washes have been designed to keep hands nourished and soothed, featuring ingredients like hyaluronic acid, colloidal oatmeal and plant butters. More importantly, everytime someone purchases from Nursem, not only will they have softer and more supple skin, but, because Nursem donates a month’s worth of free products to a nurse or midwife every time a product is sold, so will our healthcare staff.

Neighbourhood Botanicals

Neighbourhood Botanicals

Neighbourhood Botanicals

Photo: Neighbourhood Botanicals Instagram

Raised on the enviably sunny beaches of Australia and New Zealand, where natural oils and herbal remedies were commonplace, Neighbourhood Botanical founder, Micaela, began blending her own skincare. Using a mix of cold-pressed plant oils, Micaela soothed her dull, irritated and dehydrated skin before setting out to do the same for others. In 2016, she founded Neighbourhood Botanicals, organically expanding the brand’s range over the years with all her products coming completely from her own mind and hands in a lab in East London.

The Simmer Down Serum is a particularly eye-catching product. Bursting with potent plant actives, the serum targets blemishes, gives dull skin a healthier appearance, and ensures that angry skin, as is its namesake, simmers down. But truly, all Neighbourhood Botanicals products are eye-catching and feature unique artwork on each product bottle to elevate the look of your bathroom shelves as well as your skin.


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