I mean, that’s the point of these services, right? Try mini sizes of things, and if you miss them when you run out, boom, go buy it. Maybe even become a regular customer.
While there have been enough months of “Ugh, why did I get sent this?” to make for snarky blog content, I’ve discovered quite a few favorites in the almost three years I’ve had a beauty subscription. Ipsy has been going strong since October of 2015, Birchbox had a decent run from April 2017 to June 2018, and Sephora Play! is off to a solid two-month start.
Either by trying similar things repeatedly or finding a cheaper alternative to a product I’ve tried, these are things I wouldn’t be using now if I hadn’t tried them in a subscription first.
I try to wash my hair as little as possible. I shed like a beast, and even more so when I wash it. (Ask anyone who’s had to clean my shower drain or sweep up my dust bunnies/hair mammoths.) I never saw the point of dry shampoo — a running theme throughout this blog post — until Birchbox sent me the Klorane Dry Shampoo in July 2017.
I’ve been sent many a dry shampoo sample since, and while I think the category as a whole is useful, I’ve never found one that I had to have above all others. The minis now get tested for the month I receive them before being added to my travel stash. My current full-size favorite? Batiste’s Rose Gold scent (basic, moi?), which I get at Ulta for only $8.
Hydrating face serums
I might be a skincare junkie now, but once upon a time, I’d just wash my face with soap and maybe put on moisturizer if my face was feeling dry and I had it lying around. Oh, and sunscreen if I was going to be outside. Almost a decade of lifeguarding taught me that much.
Yes, I have come a long way since then.
As I continue coasting into my 30s, I feel my face drying out. Enter the hydrating serum. I just thought they were smaller and more expensive moisturizers, and while I’m not wrong, that’s also kind of the point? They are smaller because they’re supposed to be (but do your research before you buy) more concentrated and formulated to better absorb into the skin. I’ll discuss my current favorite down below, and while I didn’t find it in a beauty box, I would have never sought it out if I hadn’t sampled others first.
This overlaps a little bit with the previous category, but hear me out. Growing up in the 90s and being bombarded with ads for anti-acne products left an impression on me. Oil is bad. Even though I never really had breakouts or bad skin as a teenager (a rare blessing in an otherwise painfully awkward stretch of years), the message stuck.
Well, it’s 2018 now, and I have come to accept that my face is on the dry side and oil is not the end of the world. Lots of samples have come and gone, but I’ve only been compelled to buy one in a full size: Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate. I use it every night except when I’m trying something new, but I always want to go back to it. It smells wonderful (I love lavender) and leaves my skin feeling juicy and soft. The “mini” size is an ounce, which is still going strong for me about nine months since I bought it, which is why I don’t hate that I spent $47 on it.
Personalizing a skincare routine feels like equal parts witchcraft and mad science sometimes. You put together a concoction of chemicals and hope for something magical.
The closest I’ve ever come to overnight results is when I got a sample of Sunday Riley Good Genes in my February 2018 Birchbox. I’d heard of the stuff and seen rave reviews, but I was skeptical. Nothing could be that good, and even if it was, a triple-digit price tag was not something I wanted to consider.
So, of course, I ended up loving the stuff when I tried it. Not enough to completely replace my Pixi Glow Tonic, which is a glycolic acid, but I understood the hype. It smelled like sour milk (as lactic acid would imply) but left my skin feeling incredibly smooth, polished, and clean. Like, deep in my pores and soul clean.
I grabbed The Ordinary’s 10% Lactic Acid + HA for the hot second that the brand was carried by Sephora. Good Genes is a cream and this is a liquid, but the main ingredient is was matters, right? Oh, and the price tag: $6.79. While the results aren’t exactly the same, The Ordinary does the job well enough and the price can’t be beat. I don’t use it every day, just when my face is feeling dull.
No, not concealer with CBD oil in it, which I don’t think exists but it’s only a matter of time.
While I am married to my Glossier Stretch Concealer and Pixi Correction Concentrate, my first experience with concealer in a pot, versus in a tube, was the Benefit Boi-ing Airbrush Concealer I got in my June 2017 Birchbox. It was one of the first full-sized items of makeup I ever received in a subscription box, so it took me months to finish. By the time I had nearly used it up, it was a favorite. However, I had started to fall for the Glossier hype and ordered the Phase 2 set to see how Stretch Concealer compared.
Specifically, eyeshadow brushes. I came to embrace using the others later, but learning how to blend my damn eyeshadow was a game changer.
I don’t want to think about how I was applying eyeshadow before I got my hands on proper brushes. Too late — I am now and I am cringing as I type this. I used the sponge tip applicators (not terrible on the lid, tbh) and little brushes (yikes) that came with the Clinique trio and Maybelline quad I owned, I think.
Then I got the SLMissGlam Blend Beauty Brush L34 in my January 2017 Ipsy bag, and my eyes were opened. I’d received other brushes that I didn’t appreciate much or use in the previous year and change that I’d had an Ipsy subscription, and suddenly I understood.
My brush collection has ballooned since, but that little purple blending brush was a revelation and I still use it regularly.
Mascaras with rubber wands
I know this sounds super specific, but hear me out. I want length and separation more than volume. Volume just reads as clumpiness to me. Beauty companies can talk up their mascara formulas all they like, but the only difference I have ever really noticed in different mascaras as more to do with their brushes than their formulas. I got a sample of MAC’s Extreme Dimension 3D Black Lash Mascara in my September 2017 Birchbox. At first, I was put off by 1) the tiiiiiiiiny sample size and 2) ugh, another damn mascara.
Then I realized 1) this sample is gonna last me for quite a while and 2) omg, this stuff is separating my long lashes and not clumping them together! In a story that should be familiar by now, the Glossier Lash Slick came out right as I was finishing up my sample, so I snapped that up for $16 instead of shelling out $24 for MAC.
That being said, I don’t hate bristle brush mascaras. Pixi Lash Booster in Blackest Blue is what I pull out when I want a bit of volume instead of length and separation. Blackest Blue looks black enough to wear every day while still being something different.
These are things I tried, finished, and said, “I need to have this specific thing in my life,” so I got it. Whether or not that was actually true, I did learn from the experience. You can learn from my mistakes.
Caudalie S.O.S. Thirst Quenching Serum
Ooof, I can’t believe I spent almost $50 on this. This was when I knew enough about skincare to start building a routine but I still believed that you needed to spend a lot of money on it. Even though I sampled this with Ipsy, I bought it with Birchbox to get points. I don’t think Ipsy sold full sizes of their samples at the time, anyway.
Nowadays, I’ve replaced it with something similar but far more in my budget: Pixi’s Hydrating Milky Serum. The same consistency, the same amount of product, the same hydration, all at half the cost. $24 is far more in line with my budget. And you can get it at Target!
Marcelle City Multi-Protection Tinted Cream SPF 25
Ugh, I am cringing when I look back at how quickly I ordered things from Birchbox when I liked them after a few uses. I thought I needed to wear a base every day, this stuff wasn’t a complete mismatch, and it had SPF in it.
I spent $22 on this and I don’t think I used the full size more than twice? I’ll see if I can get some use out of it as the summer winds down, but I doubt I will. This was a waste.
Things I did right: Thanks to three different beauty subscriptions, I acquired more mascara and black eyeliner than I will ever need.
Okay, but seriously, trying lots of little things helped me refine my tastes and understand what works for me, what’s just hype, and what I need to stay away from.
Things I did wrong: as you probably noticed by now, you don’t actually need a specific product. Each time I thought so, I was wrong. Instead, trying lots of things in subscription boxes teaches you what qualities you like and don’t like in your beauty and skincare products.
Tl;dr: impulse buys bad, researched purchases good. Treat your beauty subscriptions as research instead of an excuse for retail therapy!
Don’t feel that you have to use these, but if you do feel so inclined, shopping with these helps me out.
Birchbox (I get $5 in store credit): https://www.birchbox.com/invite/barcelosknows
Ipsy (I get 250 Ipsy points): https://www.ipsy.com/new?cid=ppage_ref&sid=link&refer=vts3b
Glossier (you get 10% off your first order, I get $10 in store credit): https://glossier.com?g_ref=d04ec4f50901a4