Tell me if this sounds familiar to you: You’re in the drugstore waiting for a prescription, and you find yourself drifting over to the beauty section. There, you see bright displays with the latest products, and you reach for that cherry red lipstick you’ve never had the guts to try. You decide to splurge on it because this just may be the color that can finally make you look more like Gwen Stefani. Sure enough, though, you later discover that what you hoped would be a lush, glamorous red is actually more orange, and the drugstore lighting fooled you. The lipstick gets unceremoniously tossed into your bathroom drawer, never to be seen again – just like the $8 you spent.
If you’ve wasted money on beauty products and cosmetics in the past, you might get just as excited as I am about my latest cheap beauty find: subscription beauty boxes. Every month, I now get to test-drive products in both sampler and full sizes, and it has completely curbed my urge to splurge at the drugstore or department store makeup counter.
With beauty boxes, you pay a monthly fee and receive a package with a number of full-size and sample products to try. Some product samples are premium, containing miniature versions of full-size retail items, and some are tiny, like the foil packets you’d expect to get at the department store beauty counter. It’s kind of like a Wine-of-the-Month Club – but for your face, skin, and nails.
While this may sound risky (what if you don’t like the colors?), most beauty box companies allow you to customize your experience so you get the products you’re most likely to use. The result is unleashing your inner makeup maven without spending a fortune on products that you only use once and then toss.
Best Beauty Box Subscriptions
Here are some of the best options for a variety of budgets and products. While I’m a total believer in subscription boxes – and their ability to help curb my cosmetic spending – you should decide if it’s something worth working into your own beauty budget before signing up.
- Cost: $10 per month or $110 per year, free shipping
- Pros: Cheap, cosmetic-based, comes in reusable makeup bag
- Cons: Not many hair products, there’s a waiting list to secure your subscription
Let’s start with my favorite subscription, and the one I ended up getting: ipsy. My initial attraction to ipsy was the price – at $10 per month, or $110 per year, I felt like it was a manageable price point – although a fairly common one for beauty subscription boxes. After doing some more digging, I discovered that I also liked the array of products that ipsy offered, which are definitely geared more toward cosmetics and skincare than nail- or haircare.
When I signed up for the service, I went through a short quiz in which I profiled my tastes, providing such information as whether I’m color adventurous or color conservative. I also chose the type of products I wanted in my ipsy shipment, which comes monthly in an adorable cosmetic bag. After being on the waiting list for about two weeks, I started receiving five products in my bag each month, which have ranged from full-size eyeliner pencils, to mini mascaras, and even gel eye patches.
The ispy bag is the size of a small cosmetics bag and usually holds a couple of full-size products, along with three sample-sizes. Some of the brands I’ve scored from ipsy have included tarte products, Stila Lip Color, Buxom Lip Gloss, and NYX Eyeshadow.
- Cost: $10 per month, free shipping
- Pros: Wide variety of products, great for gifts, available for men
- Cons: Fewer full-size products, fewer personalized cosmetics
Birchbox essentially created the beauty subscription box market, celebrating its three-year anniversary in September 2013. As one of the first on the scene, it’s had plenty of time to work out any kinks in the system. I have heard complaints, however, that while subscribers love their Birchboxes, the offerings have recently become more geared to sample sizes. Of course, as one of the original beauty boxes, Birchbox also has access to more name-brand products, so you can expect a sample Stila lip stain as opposed to a full-size, no-name nail polish.
When looking into Birchbox products, I found that there was a wide array – subscribers can get anything from makeup to skincare, including items like Benefit Foundation, Liz Earle skin cream, CHI hair products, and Laura Mercier concealer. Birchbox often comes with the occasional sweet treat, such as protein bars, which is a great touch. It allows you to profile your likes and dislikes in order to personalize which products you get each month. For this reason, Birchbox makes an amazing gift, and I always suggest it when a friend is stuck on a Mother’s Day gift idea. If you’re looking for a gift for your guy, BirchBox also offers a male-centric box packed with skincare and gadgets, like Hanz de Fuko Hair Pomade and Eastern Collective Charging Cables.
Expect four to five products in each box you receive. I’ve found that Birchbox is the most consistent in delivering name-brand products that you’ve probably already heard about, rather than new products from no-name or newbie brands. And, since most products are premium sample sizes rather than full-size packaging, it’s a great way to try out a pricey product you’ve always wanted without spending a ton of money.
3. Beauty Box 5
- Cost: $12 per month, $30 quarterly, or $90 per year; free shipping
- Pros: Steep discounts for longer subscriptions, sensible products, new brands
- Cons: Fewer cosmetics, sample sizes only
You may have seen ads for Beauty Box 5 on social media – I know I have. After looking into the service, I found that it’s one of the cheaper options if you go with a longer-term commitment. It’s also great if you’re less adventurous and tend to be more brand loyal, particularly when it comes to skincare products. Some brands you can expect to see in a typical Beauty Box 5 include 12Benefits hair treatments, Dr. Brandt’s microdermabrasion products, and LA Fresh Makeup Remover Wipes. This makes it an ideal way to test-drive products for your skin without making the leap to something new without trying it out first.
Beauty Box 5 tends to stick with skincare, self tanners, and the occasional hair product, and you can expect premium samples that come in bottles and jars. You get the chance to create a profile with your specific hair, skin, and eye concerns to personalize the types of products you get each month. Expect to see virtually unknown brands as well as some old favorites, such as Aveeno, which can make Beauty Box 5 ideal for the beauty beginner.
The average Beauty Box 5 comes packed with a couple of full-size products, like a Chapstick or comparable lip product and even a pot of Macadamia Natural Oil Hair Mask. Then, expect two to three sample size products, like tanning wipes or Bella Pierre Line Filler. You also get the occasional makeup product, but it’s probably going to be a nail color or eye shadow as opposed to some of the more advanced cosmetics, such as concealer and primer, that other boxes offer.
- Cost: $21 per month, free shipping
- Pros: European products, more full-size cosmetics
- Cons: Sells out monthly, more expensive
Some of my favorite beauty products come from across “the pond,” but ordering them can be a pain. Enter GLOSSYBOX, a luxury beauty box that delivers the best European cosmetics and skincare right to your door. If you don’t mind shelling out extra for the full-size, premium cosmetics, GLOSSYBOX can get you skincare products from France and the latest nail colors from Italy – five to a box each month. For example, October’s products included Monu Illuminating Primer, Samila Cleansing Bar, MeMeMe Blush, and a sample of Katy Perry’s new Killer Queen perfume. Most are premium samples, but some come in regular sample sizes. GLOSSYBOX tends to focus more on skincare, fragrances, and body care than makeup; however, you might still get a lip balm or hairspray along with your other goods, which include five to six per box.
The catch, however, is that GLOSSYBOX isn’t technically a subscription – it has a limited number of boxes that sell out monthly. So if you really want one, you need to stalk the website at the beginning of the month to score one before it’s gone. This can be a drawback for the eternally scatterbrained, or difficult if you’re looking to give a subscription as a gift. Still, it’s an excellent option for those who prefer more advanced beauty products.
- Cost: $19.95 per month, plus $4.95 shipping (shipping is free if you sign up for six months or more)
- Pros: All-green products, minimal packaging, more choices, focused on skincare
- Cons: Only four products per box, shipping costs
Green girls, this one’s for you. If you’re more environmentally conscious when it comes to your makeup – or if your skin is sensitive to chemicals – you might want to try Blissmo. The boxes have less packaging and include premium samples and full-size green-conscious products that use natural ingredients.
A box usually contains five products, such as Nature’s Gate Eye Cream, Weleda Smoothing Facial Lotion, and biotin shampoo products. Expect premium samples for face and skincare products (which Blissmo focuses on), but regular foil samples for shampoos and haircare items, as well. You can also choose from other green products, such as natural snacks or chemical-free cleaning products.
The biggest drawback for Blissmo is the price – not only is it more expensive than some of the other boxes, but if you don’t choose the six-month subscription, you’re saddled with a monthly shipping cost of $4.95. Blissmo usually offers four products per month, but you can expect better quality and bigger samples, like a full-size beauty bar or lip product. If you’re into green beauty items, you can also check out Goodebox, which offers a similar service for about $16 per month.
- Cost: $19.99 per month, free shipping
- Pros: Full-size Julep nail polishes, choose your box monthly
- Cons: Mostly hand and nail products
If your cosmetic of choice is nail polish, go straight for the goods by joining the Julep Maven subscription program. For $19.99 per month, you score two full-size bottles of Julep nail polish, plus two to three other products which are usually hand and nail-centric, but occasionally cosmetic or skincare-based, and most always from the Julep brand itself.
What I really like about the Julep Maven program is that you select the colors you want each month based on your personal style, so you have more control over the collection you receive. Julep handpicks a few different style combos, so you’re not stuck with colors that you won’t actually use. The program also offers discounts on other products, along with a referral program which nets you points and discounts for getting friends to join.
There are a couple of drawbacks, however. While the Julep brand nail polishes are full-size, they’re only 0.27 ml, which is about half the size of a regular bottle of polish. Don’t expect a wide variety of products, either. The nail polishes are the big draw and the other samples – such as oil blotting papers, nail files, cuticle cream, and skin oils, all by Julep – are just for fun. That’s not ideal for those who want to try a variety of brands – but it’s perfect if nails are your thing.
Before you sign up for any beauty box subscription, make sure you check the terms and conditions. Options to skip a month, pay monthly instead of annually, or the ability to cancel at any time were major musts for me.
Is a beauty subscription box a necessity? Absolutely not. However, I have found that getting that monthly boost in the mail has helped me curb my beauty spending and discover products that I actually use. For me, that’s worth the $10 per month. Do your homework, and you might find your match made in beauty box heaven too.
Do you get a beauty box subscription? What’s your favorite type of product?