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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

The Pretty Files: Beauty in the Mail

You like makeup.  You are kind of a skincare junkie.  You enjoy trying all kinds of new and unusual products, but you don’t really have the time or the money to go out and buy the latest, the greatest, and the most-hyped thing.  What are you to do?  Go broke over that super trendy new miracle mascara or sit on the sidelines while everyone else finds the next big thing without you?  Life’s tough when you’re a makeupista (you know, like a fashionista only for makeup and cosmetics.)

But it doesn’t have to be tough.  In fact, it can be very easy thanks to the plethora of beauty subscription services that have popped up in the last couple of years and are flourishing online. Beauty subscription services are in general very simple: you pay a fee and, on a schedule set by the service you’re using (most are monthly,) you get a box or a bag or a kit of sample and full-size items of what is hot and what is up-and-coming in the cosmetics world.  It’s like having a beauty editor at your disposal and the best part is is that you get to get real physical mail that isn’t junk!  It’s a fantastic way to try things on without committing to expensive products that you can’t always return.

There are a number of subscription services out there.  I’m going to outline a few of the most-popular and then talk about how you can choose one that’s right for you…as well as tell you my favorites!

Image Credit: Nicole Drum

Image Credit: Nicole Drum

Probably the best-known of the services is Birchbox. Birchbox is $10 per month or, if you pay for a full year up front, $110. You get four to five beauty related samples each month and one non-beauty related sample.  Sometimes the samples aren’t samples at all but are full-size products. Subscribers take a survey to determine what their needs and interests are so the boxes are fitting to each person  Each month comes in a reusable box (the website even has ideas for how to reuse your boxes into fun and useful crafts.) And if you review the items that come in your monthly box you can earn points towards free products on the site.

Next up is Ipsy. Ipsy used to be called My Glam Bag and is the creation of Michelle Phan, one of the most popular makeup artists on YouTube. Ipsy is $10 per month like Birchbox, and subscribers also take a survey to help narrow down preferences, but each month is themed.  What is different about Ipsy is that each themed month also comes in a new cosmetics bag perfect for stashing in your bag.  You get about the same number of samples as Birchbox, and Ipsy has a more eclectic range of products that includes a lot of well-known brands.  You might get something totally new and an old favorite in your Ipsy.

A little more expensive at $12 per month is another well-known services, Beauty Army. Beauty Army differs from Ipsy and Birchbox in that you get full-size products and you have a lot more control.  Beauty Army allows you to choose from a pre-selected group of samples each month so you get just what you want and nothing you aren’t interested in.

At $15 per month is the upscale Sample Society. Sample Society is unique in that with each monthly kit you get a $15 coupon to use on the site.  Sample Society also gives you larger-sized samples that are intended for multiple uses rather than one-off samples that sometimes come in Birchbox.  Sample Society also carries higher end brands–a recent kit contained a full-sized Butter London nail polish.

The most luxe of the subscription services (at present) notches up to the $21 per month mark. Glossybox is twice the cost of Birchbox and Ipsy, offers the same number of samples, and, like Sample Society, has larger sample sizes.  What makes them worth the cost is the calibre of brands.  It is not at all unusual to get Bulgari or Burberry samples in a Glossybox.  The high-end nature of the samples is what contributes to the increase in cost, but Glossybox also comes in a rich, luxe-feeling usually pink box (though a recent box came with the Union Jack emblazoned on it as it celebrated all things British.  That’s another perk of the Glossybox–it mines the wealth of foreign beauty as well.)

Now that you know the options how do you choose the right services for you?  The first thing to consider is your budget and what you can afford to spend on the service.  I personally allocate about $25 per month to try new things which means I can subscribe to two boxes or splurge and just get Glossybox.  Once you know what you can spend you should really consider what you are looking for and, should you absolutely fall in love with a sample, what you are willing to purchase. You should also consider details like cancellation, can you skip a month, and individual features (such as credit for reviews, special member sales, etc) that each services has.  I strongly suggest that if you think you want to subscribe to a service that you read their page thoroughly.  While I didn’t highlight it here as a subscription service, Julep lets you get a shipment of their products monthly (mostly nail polishes) but also allows you to skip a month without canceling your services.  Not all services will do that so it’s good to know in advance.  Once you have figured out your must-haves and your deal breakers you can sign up and start enjoying goodies.

I personally subscribe to Birchbox and Ipsy. I chose these two because I liked the wide spectrum of products that they covered and they fit in my price point.  I also enjoy that with Birchbox I often get treats that I never would have considered as being a part of “beauty,” such as herbal teas or delicious chocolates. I also liked that Birchbox let me review my products after testing.  I have used the points earned from those reviews to buy a lot of really wonderful things off their website, like a gold and leather ring by a design company called boe. I chose Ipsy because I love, love, love the little makeup bags, but also because I enjoy getting to explore “lower end” products that I have never heard of. My most recent bag contained a full-size eyeshadow brush from Coastal Scents that I absolutely cannot live without now.  Had I not had an Ipsy subscription I would have never discovered it.

Beauty subscription services are exiting ways to try new things and learn about new products without breaking the bank. Bottom line? They are fun and functional and I hope here to stay!

Do you use a beauty subscription services? Have you tried one not listed here? Leave me a comment!  I’d love to find out what you love (or don’t love) about these services.

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