Earlier this year, I was introduced to the Beauty Blender at a Sephora class and I FINALLY got it. Before, it was just a sponge. After taking the class, I realized it was a great little tool for foundation, contouring and blending. However, at $20 a pop, the Beauty Blender is not exactly cheap, especially since you're supposed to change them out every 3 months or so. I'm doing the research so you don't have to - I tried five cheaper blending sponges to see if any of them lived up to the original.
I'm testing my Beauty Blender against Ulta, Sephora, Nanette Lepore, Studio Basics, and Real Techniques blenders.
Step one: Squeeziness. Compared to the Beauty Blender, none of the contenders felt quite as soft straight from the package. I can't quite remember if my BB was this firm, though, so we'll skip forward to the real test - how they felt after they were soaked in water. If you haven't used a Beauty Blender before, the secret sauce is that you soak it in water, it doubles in size, and becomes delightfully soft and squishy, perfect for an airbrush finish. Almost all of them became much, much softer. I'll be using terms like "Squish" and "Squeeziness" to describe how they size up to the BB.
Step two: Coverage. I did a quick test of each sponge on a piece of paper to see how the coverage looked. Ulta's sponge did the best during the initial test with even, soft coverage.
Step Three: I tried it on my face. Here's how they all faired - in order of how much I liked (or hated) them.
Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge
The blender from Real Techniques (you can find their products at Ulta, Walgreens & Walmart) was my favorite. I thought the coverage was most like the original BB on the face, and the flat end was actually kind of nice for applying foundation. I think the flat end will be great for applying powder for baking as well! It feels very similar to the BB in squish factor and overall, was the closet comparison. At $6.99 for one, $10.99 for two, these are a great value against the BB (I love their brushes as well!). Bonus - it has 4.6 stars on Ulta from other big fans.
Ulta Super Blender Sponge
Ulta's Super Blender Sponge was a close second favorite. As far as feel, it felt the closest to the original Beauty Blender in sponginess after it was wet, and I felt the rounded end was most similar to the feel of the BB as well. I liked how easy it was to grip, but this one got barely edged out by the Real Techniques in the face coverage round. I felt like it absorbed a large amount of the product, so I'd be using a lot more overall. It has 4.4 stars on Ulta and only costs $5 though, so it's an admirable dupe.
Studio Basics Expert Complexion Sponge
I'd never used a Studio Basics product before this sponge, but I had high hopes based on the color and packaging. Overall squish was nice, but the shape is what really did this one in. I don't find it's good for foundation coverage at all. However, the shape lent itself nicely to contouring!
Sephora "The Perfectionist" Airbrush Sponge
This was a disappointment to me. The Sephora Sponge is much denser than the first three I tried, and i didn't love the shape for applying foundation. However, because of how easy it is to hold, I found that it was handy for doing highlight under the eyes!
The Sephora sponge is the most expensive at $12, and has 4 stars. I likely won't buy this one again.
Nanette Lepore Precision Makeup Blender
I don't even know why I included this blender. I picked it up at Marshall's for $3.99 and it's an absolutely disaster. While it LOOKS the most like the original BB, it's a lumpy mess. It's the most dense by far and didn't really grow or get any softer after it was wet. It just became kind of lumpy and weird and I suspect that any blender you'd pick up at a discount store would be similar. With so many good options from Ulta, I'd go with one that has proven reviews.
There are some great affordable options out there, but I'm still a Beauty Blender girl in the end. While I'll be incorporating these sponges into my routine in other ways, and I will be happy to have the Ulta and Real Techniques sponges in a pinch, the Beauty Blender is still the OG for me. No matter which sponge you decide to go with, check out these Blender tips that will help you get the most from your sponge.
Also, non-sponsored plug? I used these Simple cleansing wipes in between each makeup application while I made this post, and they're fantastic.