Birchbox. Ipsy. Sample Society.

These aren’t the names of hip new bands but rather some examples of beauty’s newest trend in cosmetics sampling services. Each month, for a small fee, subscribers across the United States (and even the world) are receiving a small box of goods that fits nicely into even the smallest of mailboxes.

Birchboxes. Photo by Caitlin Sole.

So what’s inside? Sample-size beauty products, 4-6 usually. Items range from mascara and lotion to hair and nail accessories and even edibles. Subscribers have the chance to give beauty products a test-run before committing to the full-size version. This Christmas, I received a 6-month gift subscription to Birchbox without having any knowledge on the budding trend. So below is a breakdown of the beauty craze and all you need to know before you subscribe.

The pros:

  • The chance to sample brands or products you might not otherwise. Columbia’s array of beauty products is not nearly as vast as major cities such as Los Angeles or New York City, so a subscription to a sampling service gives you access to all the big city brands, the small cult products and everything in between. You might think you’ve found your go-to [insert beauty product here], but you could be wrong. There is always something that surprises you in these miniature beauty boxes.
  • Relatively inexpensive. $10 a month, which is what many of these subscriptions start at, isn’t much when you consider that amount might easily be blown on one meal or a few late night drinks. Plus, a subscription allows you to sample products without the guilt of having to throw away or neglect a full size item if you don’t like it.
  • Christmas in July. And August. And September. Having this box o’ goods appear in your mailbox each month is often the little pick-me-up needed during a long week.

Beauty products from the March 2013 Birchbox. Photo by Caitlin Sole.

The cons:

  • Sample sizes. Sure, the the whole premise of these boxes is to provide sample-size products, but sometimes the sample are just too tiny to be functional. A tube of foundation the size of your pinky is hardly enough for full coverage even once.
  • Gateway spending. So you’ve discovered your new favorite shade of lipstick. Great. That’s the point. But while you’re okay with spending $10, you might not be psyched when you find out that your new favorite lipstick costs upwards of $50 in its full-size version. In this way, these supposedly innocent boxes can lead you to purchases you might not otherwise make.
  • Unflattering colors/styles. Samples don’t always come in the most popular or flattering colors and patterns. I’ve had my share of green eyeliners and floral-print nail patterns to justify this.
  • Personalization. On this note, while many of these company’s provide a basic form for subscribers to flesh out their interests and beauty style (classic, edgy, natural, etc.), the likelihood that all products will match your skin tone or personal style is slim. This is probably the least of the cons and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Willing to give it a try? Here are just a few beauty sampling services to get you started:

Birchbox

  • Price: $10/month women’s, $20/month men’s
  • Products and brands: Dr. Jart+ black label detox BB beauty balm, Serge Normant Meta Revive dry shampoo, Kiehl’s, Keratase, Vasanti, Oscar Blandi, Benefit, Juicy Couture, Elizabeth Arden
  • Bottom line: Wide variety of products; month to month, the offering is hit or miss. Men’s version includes grooming and lifestyle products. Each box earns you points to use when purchasing full-size products online.

Ipsy

  • Price: $10/month
  • Products and brands: La Fresh, Big Sexy Hair, Urban Decay, NYX Cosmetics, Eclos, Kiehl’s
  • Bottom line: Variety of product types but with repetition of brands.

Glossybox

  • Price: $21/month
  • Products and brands: BVLGARI, tarte, Narciso Rodriguez, OPI, Oscar Blandi, Burberry Beauty
  • Bottom line: Uber luxury items for a higher price.

Sample Society with Allure

  • Price: $15/month
  • Products and brands: Alterna, Diptyque, Dermalogica, By Terry
  • Bottom line: Each month, you also get a $15 monthly gift code to redeem on a $50 purchase on the brands you sampled. Sleek packaging. Big sample sizes.

Goodebox

  • Price: $16/month
  • Products and brands: Astara, Pacifica, Erbaviva, Josie Maran, Weleda, Tatcha
  • Bottom line: More items (6-7) than the others. Healthy, sustainable, organic beauty products.

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