A great subscription box for skincare enthusiasts looking t…
Super customizable â¢ Loyalty points for discounts â¢ Extra focus on skin and hair care â¢ Great value for the price
Samples can be tiny â¢ Less than stellar customer service â¢ Repeated products
For skin and hair obsessives, these monthly samples are a clutch way to discover new products â just don’t expect a $10 box to singlehandedly stock your collection.
The makeup world is officially taking over. This $60 billion industry continues to grow and according to Statista, “consumers have been spending higher levels of disposable income on cosmetics than they had in the past.” In fact, during economic hard times, buyer interest in cosmetics stays steady â something economists have cheekily dubbed the “lipstick effect.”
Considering Instagram is packed with beauty gurus and their flawless skin, and that a Google search for the term “makeup tutorial” returns a whopping 700 million hits, I’d say that our beauty obsession isn’t going away any time soon.
If you’re anything like me, you regularly spend more money on makeup than groceries. (#sorrynotsorry) But for the beginners out there who are trying to figure out a way to learn the ropes of the industry without setting their wallet aflame, beauty subscription boxes are the answer. One of the most popular (if not the most popular) choices is Birchbox.
Launched in 2010 as the OG beauty subscription box, Birchbox sees over one million subscribers and over four million customers total, which includes online purchases from the Birchbox store and from the physical Birchbox store in New York. Though 2015-2016 were relatively rough years for the company (and the country as a whole, honestly), Birchbox recently had a record-breaking year of growth in 2017, turning profit for the first time in a while and seeing a 63% increase in subscribers.Â
So, I’ve set out to answer the question on every beauty junkie’s mind…
The short answer: Hell yes.
The long answer: Get a bowl of popcorn and keep reading. I’ll get pretty in-depth here, guys, because if there’s one thing I take seriously in this world, it’s my beauty products. Before I get into the nitty gritty, here’s the gist
You’ll get five samples per month ranging from makeup, to skin care, to hair care.
The value of each box ranges from $20 to $40.
Birchbox supplies more of a variety of makeup, skincare, and hair care products than Ipsy, which sends mostly cosmetics and less skin or hair care products.
Birchbox’s loyalty program offers discounts on full-sized items in the Birchbox store, as well as extra amounts off when you review a product online.
Now, onto the good stuff.
Packaging: Aesthetic overload
Let’s talk about this adorable packaging for a sec. Not only are these mini gift boxes perfect to reuse for gifting over holidays or as storage for small items like jewelry, they’re also hella cute. You can tell Birchbox really puts effort into them and it’s much appreciated âÂ and actually makes me trust their item choices even more.
You don’t get a cute little makeup bag like you do with some other boxes, which could be a bummer âÂ but those bags are sometimes worthless and end up taking up space in a drawer most of the time.
But it’s what’s on the inside that counts
Each month, you’ll receive five beauty treats ranging from makeup, to hair stuff, to skincare, to fragrances from both premium and niche brands. The actual value of the boxes ranges from $20-$40. Considering you could spend that much on a single item at Sephora, that value is pretty insane since you’re getting five items for $10.Â
You can also choose between two different boxes each month: Choose a curated box, where you can preview all of the samples you’ll be getting that month, or a choice box, where you choose one of your samples and get surprised by the rest.Â Many months also offer the option to choose a featured box or Guest Editor box, which will include hand-picked items by your favorite YouTube bloggers and gurus. Regardless of your choice, the price won’t go up â and all you have to do is log onto your beauty profile to let Birchbox know what you want.
Men who aren’t interested in receiving makeup samples can also subscribe to Birchbox Plus, a monthly dose of all things grooming, lifestyle, and men’s health related for the same $10/month. They also have a ton of options for free gifts with your box like leather NFL coasters, BENNKAI sunglasses, and more. (*Hint gift idea hint*)
You can’t expect full-sized items when you’re paying what you would for one travel-sized thing.
Keep in mind that most of the items will be pretty small. They’re perfect to try new products before jumping all-in on the (expensive) full-sized product and are great to throw in your bag for an on-the-go emergency kit âÂ but you’re gonna be disappointed if you wanted Birchbox to singlehandedly stock your beauty collection. It’s $10, guys. You get what you pay for. You can’t expect full-sized items when you’re paying what you would for one travel-sized thing in the Sephora check out line. If that’s what you’re looking for, hit up .
But full-sized items aren’t totally off the table yet: If you get a sample you really like, you can order a full-size version (with free shipping) in the Birchbox shop, and then get $1 back in loyalty points for every $10 you spend.Â
They’re themed based on the month, so that’s fun
Everyone knows that everything is more fun with a theme and beauty boxes are way better when the products are sent according to the month (or at least the current season).Â
The April Box was (aptly and adorably) dedicated to Earth Day and included all clean beauty items or items that sought to honor Mother Earth:
Clarins Multi-Active SPF 20 Day Cream (full size $54)
CLEAN Reserve Citron Fig Eau De Parfum (full size $95)
COOLA Classic SPF 30 Dawn Patrol Primer (full size $42)
OUAI Volume Spray (full size $26)
Wander Beauty Catch the Light Highlighter and Glowtion (full size $34)
My favorite box recently was July, which featured five products to combat those devilish, sweaty, and frizzy 90+ degree days:
Marcelle Hydra-C 24H Energizing Hydrating Gel (full size $21)
Stila Cosmetics Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick (full size $22)
I needed that bronzer palette because I’m pale AF, and I used the shit out of that dry shampoo when I was skipping hair wash days on vacation. I also found my new favorite lipstick shade thanks to this box. (I ended up buying the full-size version of that lipstick and used that sweet Birchbox store discount. Boo ya.)
December’s boxes aim to dazzle up your holiday glow and give users a $10 off coupon and an extra treat to stay in line with the giving season. Subscribers receive items like special primer to combat winter dryness and flaky skin, festive shimmery liquid eyeshadow, fashion tape (holiday dresses literally never cooperate), and more items to make sure you’re the best looking one at the office’s holiday party.Â
A few of my favorite brands that I’ve received from Birchbox are Stila, Keihl’s, Benefit, Smashbox, OUAI, and Coola. While it’s always nice to get samples from premium brands that you know are trustworthy, don’t freak out if you open a box to find that you haven’t heard of any of the brands. If they weren’t nice, Birchbox wouldn’t put them in there â and they provide a handy card that explains each product and how much it costs IRL. Imagine how cool you’ll feel when you discover a new go-to item and get to feel like a damn guru when you suggest it to all of your friends.
Personalization: Pretty on point
Sure, getting samples of expensive brands for a fraction of the price is cool, but it doesn’t really matter if none of them are things you can use. Good thing Birchbox has you create a personal beauty profile to give them an idea of the kinds of products that will work best for you âÂ because makeup isn’t always one size fits all.
The questionnaire will ask about your skin type, skincare concerns (like dark spots or acne), skin tone, hair color and texture, whether you color your hair or style it with heat, and what your makeup experience is âÂ are you a newbie or could you teach a class? Do you stick with nude tones or go for the neon palettes? You’ll also get to mention if you’d prefer more makeup, more skincare, or more haircare products. I marked that my hair is extremely thick and that my skin concerns were acne, aging, and dark spots.
Here’s what they sent according to my profile:
OUAI Wave Spray (full size $26)
Lipstick Queen Lip Liner in Raisin (full size $18)
Love of Color One & Done Shadow Stick in Champagne Problems (full size $10)
COOLA SPF 30 Dawn Patrol Setting Spray (full size $36)
(MALIN + GOETZ) grapefruit face cleanser (full size $36)
They did pretty well following my requests, if you ask me. The tousling spray for curly hair and cleanser make sense for obvious reasons, and no makeup enthusiast will ever be upset with a new setting spray. Though I’m not a fan of stick or roll on eyeshadow and usually use my liquid lipstick without liner, that’s a super specific personal preference that I didn’t even mention in my beauty profile. Don’t judge the actual products so much as how they listened to your preferences and the brands they send.
However, if you really aren’t feeling one of the items you receive and want to make sure you don’t get it or something similar again, you can review the item online and Birchbox will take that into consideration when packing your next box. You can also go back into your beauty profile and change preferences at any time, which is convenient if you dye your hair a totally different color or something like that.
Don’t judge the actual products so much as how well they listened to your preferences.
Downsides: A few complaints, but nothing too serious
This is probably just nit-picking, but one downside I wanted to mention is that repeated products seem to be thing â based on my boxes and on what I’ve gathered from other reviews. I mean, you can kind of expect this asÂ they’re trying to tailor boxes to millions of subscribers and can’t keep a 20-foot long list of what they’ve already sent to each person âÂ but when you’re only getting five tiny samples, the last thing you want is to see the same thing you just got the month before. The surprise is half of the fun, right? They do try to combat this by allowing you to review products and note what you’d prefer to not receive again, which is nice of them. Though all subscribers obviously don’t get identical shipments each month, it’d be nice if Birchbox could set aside the entirety of items they’ve sent out in a certain month and make sure there are at least a few months go by before the add those items to boxes again.Â
When it comes to personalization, I do wish they would have inquired about color preferences, just to make sure you’re not getting a shade of lipstick that makes you look like a clown (though the complexion questions probably help with this). I guess it’s a way to see how something looks on you instead of purchasing and hoping for the best, which is the entire point of Birchbox anyway. *Shrugs*Â
The competition: How do Ipsy and Play! by Sephora stack up?
10 bucks is an insanely good price for how much stuff you get, and Birchbox obviously isn’t the only one taking advantage of that affordable AF market. If you’ve done any other research, I’m sure you’ve seen that Birchbox, Ipsy, and Play! by Sephora are all battling it out to be the $10 box with the best value. While Birchbox was struggling with sales a few years ago, Ipsy stayed sitting pretty, and continues to be Birchbox’s number one competitor â and with the way they keep bumping up their subscriptions, Birchbox can’t afford to stay complacent.
I wish Birchbox’s beauty quiz inquired about eye and lip shades that you prefer instead of leaving it up to your complexion.
Ipsy’s boxes range from $40-$80 in value, Play! by Sephora’s boxes range from $40-$60 in value, and Birchbox subscriptions range from $25 to $40 in value each month. That’s obviously a slightly lower value for the same price, and you obviously want the best bang for your buck âÂ but I promise Birchbox meets that requirement, guys. They are the box that sends the most niche and less well-known brands â meaning they’re gonna be less expensive â but the entire point of the subscription is to expose you to brands that you wouldn’t find on mainstream shelves. Ipsy and Sephora don’t exactly offer that variety.
And if you watch any YouTube tutorials, you know damn well that even the most famous beauty bloggers don’t care if something is cheap. All that matters is that it’s good, and Birchbox ensures that their samples are the best of the best â plus you’re only spending $10, which is significantly less than what you’d spend on even one item in Sephora or Ulta.
As I mentioned earlier, I wish Birchbox’s beauty quiz inquired about the eye and lip shades that you prefer to wear instead of leaving it all up to your complexion. Ipsy’s beauty quiz really gets into the nitty gritty, asking what shades of eyeshadow, lipstick, eyeliner, blush, and nail polish you prefer, as well as the types of makeup you prefer to get in general (for instance, I never wear lip gloss or lip liner, so I’d prefer to just not deal with getting them). This makes the chance of getting something you don’t like even smaller, which is obviously important as no one wants to spend a monthly fee on getting things they won’t use. IMO, Ipsy’s beauty quiz is just more user-friendly and fun to take, but this is not a deal breaker.
Where Birchbox does have an advantage is in its loyalty program: For every $10 you spend on a purchase at the Birchbox store, you’ll receive $1 of loyalty points that can be used directly toward another purchase â it’s just like a money-back credit card. Once you’ve spent $300 at Birchbox in a calendar year, you’ll be bumped up to Ace status (similar to Sephora’s VIB and Ulta’s Platinum status) which gives significantly more points on purchases, AKA more money saved.Â
Play! by Sephora obviously only helps with loyalty points at Sephora in-store or online, which limits you to Sephora-only brands. Ipsy’s loyalty program revolves around a point system where you get points for reviewing bags and products, following Ipsy creators on social media, and referring friends. While racking up points can happen relatively quickly, it’s more work than Birchbox Â â and Ipsy’s points can only be redeemed on select product and expire eventually, whereas Birchbox is more flexible with their rewards.
If you follow a skincare routine religiously and care about your naked face over your caked face, Birchbox is the way to go.
Ipsy also recently launched a Plus version of their Glam Bag, which bumps the price up to $25/month and features five full-sized items instead of samples. The catch here is that you already have to be subscribed to Ipsy’s $10 bag to participate, which does give them a slight leg up. (Why Birchbox hasn’t upgraded to a full-sized box, I don’t know. I’m just as surprised as you are, but after seeing what Ipsy’s doing, it’s not long until Birchbox does the same.)
It’s nearly impossible to say which one is best. They’re all good for different things, and trying to name one as “the best” doesn’t really make sense. If you like to cake your face and care more about trying new makeup samples from more premium brands, go with Ipsy. If Sephora is your second home, you trust those brands, and would like to continue racking up VIB points, Play! will be your best friend. If you follow a skincare routine religiously and care about a naked face more than a caked face, Birchbox is the way to go. Jonathan from Queer Eye would be proud.
The good thing about all three is that they’re only $10 per month. If reading reviews just isn’t giving you enough deets, subscribing to all three for a few months to get the gist won’t set you back too far, and you can just cancel the ones you don’t like later.Â
Skincare-obsessed refuse to hit the hay without doing a skincare routine? Get Birchbox.
An expert who could school any YouTube blogger on a cut crease? Get Birchbox.
Seriously, guys. Birchbox is great for beginners who want to try new brands before making the plunge to full price, but also clutch for experts who use samples in emergency run-out situations or to keep in on-the-go bags. It’s a little more skin and hair oriented than competing boxes, which is something to keep in mind if you’re choosing between this, Ipsy, or Play! by Sephora â but all true beauty connoisseurs know that expensive makeup isn’t worth it if the skin underneath isn’t healthy. The samples can be pretty small, so it’s not the box to get if you’re trying to stock a full makeup collection.Â But purse-sized items are still a necessity â you never know when you’ll get stuck in the rain in non-waterproof mascara or need a breakout-clearing moisturizer when you’re traveling.
If you’re not great with change and only want to try premium brands, another box might be up your alley âÂ the whole point of Birchbox is to discover brands and products that you wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. However, if your beauty tastes are more eclectic and you’re down to discover niche brands and blaze a trail for your friends, Birchbox is about to open up a whole new world for you. Sign up for $10/month and complete your beauty profile here.