Beauty Outside The Box

Published on January 28, 2016 by   ·   1 Comment

Box 01Subscription boxes are the new it thing: you can get nerd toys, new outfits, pet treats, even ready to cook meals all delivered right to your home.  They are a lot of fun; I love the element of surprise.  In a world where even I’m growing a little weary of shopping (you can only check the same websites so often, waiting for new things) that the random nature of these boxes has a quirky, experimental appeal.

I did Graze for a little while.  I enjoyed the little packets of nuts and crackers and other snack items, and their “flapjacks” (basically mini soft granola bars) were to die for.  Eventually they lost me because it became too difficult to keep up and they changed the minimum number of snacks in a box from 4 to 8.  I’ve been back and forth with Loot Crate, tried out a Marvel-themed box briefly (I’m an X-men fan and I Box 02cancelled in a nerd rage when it became clear that their only interest was pimping their overblown “Cinematic Universe”), and then finally signed up for one of the earliest boxes I remember popping up on the scene: Birchbox.

I don’t actually know how early into the whole subscription craze it was that Birchbox showed up but it’s the first one I remember hearing about.  Frankly, with my beauty obsession, I don’t know why I didn’t sign up earlier.  I think it just seemed odd to pay for a monthly box of samples – you know, the stuff that companies like Sephora give away for free.  Sure, they are mostly deluxe samples, but there are plenty of perfume vials that can be had on a whim at other places.

SephoraBut starting in the fall of last year, I felt myself falling into some sort of “Sephora Fatigue.”  As much as I love them and their promos and specials and all of that (VIB Rouge for life, bitches!), I don’t get to feel the joy and surprise of discovering a new, fabulous brand as often as I used to.  Love it or hate it, Sephora is clearly shifting their focus to their core luxury brands.  Larger indie brands like Lit Cosmetics and Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics have been pushed out while Marc Jacobs Beauty (yawn) seems to expand ever outward.  Occasionally I’ll run across goodies tucked into the checkout lane bins or on the website like Tokyomilk Dark and TonyMoly lip balms, but let’s face it: lip balms can only do so much to get my beauty engine revving.

In the meantime, I was starting to look elsewhere.  I started watching more video tutorials from different makeup artists and noting down brands that I’d either never heard of or never bothered to seek out before.  I started adding Ulta to my list of stops any time I was in Fargo.  I stood in shock, staring out across the second floor of Walgreens in downtown Seattle at almost a dozen brands I had never heard of or had never seen in person.  There was so much out there!  I started to get excited about makeup again!

Box 05What clinched Birchbox for me was an article I ran across about Smith & Cult, the newest line of polishes created by the woman who originated Hard Candy Cosmetics (I wrote my own post about that brand that you can read HERE) and the article noted that you could purchase select shades through Birchbox.  This piqued my interest: most subscription services just send out their weekly or monthly collections and then start “curating” for the next month; I had no idea that Birchbox also offered a boutique for purchasing full size products.

Now that I’m three months in to my subscription, I figured it was time to wrestle together some thoughts.

Dec BoxFirst of all, Birchbox is almost more of a HPC/Lifestyle concept.  In addition to their sample boxes, they have add on items that you can have shipped with your monthly boxes that include anything from sample collections (4-6 products from a selected brand) to full size products, necklaces or earrings, scarves, even tote bags.  A lot of these items are also available in the boutique, which offers a rather random selection.  It seems that even if they carry a brand, they will only have select colors/scents available.  I wanted to purchase some Smith & Cult to try it out (and I did), but you can imagine my disappointment when I wasn’t able to buy the color I wanted: Gay Ponies Dancing In The Snow (it wasn’t even that the color was that fantastic, but with a name like that I totally had to have it!).

The samples that I’ve received have been an ok mix, though I’m not impressed by how many hair product samples are included.  My real hair is super short and the rest of my hair is plastic, so I don’t need to sample a ton of dry shampoos, hair cremes, and detanglers.  Many subscription services offer different themed boxes, and I think it would be great if Birchbox would split the haircare products out from the rest of the beauty offerings.

Here’s a rundown of what I’ve received in my three boxes so far:

November: “Feeling Fancy”
theBalm cosmetics Balm Desert Bronzer/Blush
BioRepublic Skincare Cucumber Breeze Soothing Fiber Mask
Davines This is a Relaxing Moisturizing Fluid
amika Perk Up Dry Shampoo
Love of Color (LOC) Vibrant Matte Lipstick

Box 06So November’s box was the most disappointing of the three and not a great way to start off the subscription for me.  The Davines and amika products were both haircare products, so those immediately went into my holiday haircare giveaway bundle, and though I’ve been wanting to try out something from theBalm for a long time (their Meet Matt(e) Nude collection is intriguing, and I normally don’t get excited about nude shadows!) but the choice was an odd one – bronzers are summertime staples, and the size of the sample made it almost unusable as a blush.  I played around with it as a way to contour on my nose with a small tapered brush, and it was fine, but really I just wanted something more exciting.

Box 03The other two products in the box were pretty good, and those (combined with the great selection of products in their boutique and their generous loyalty points program – more on that later!) convinced me to hand around for a little while.  The cucumber fiber mask was great – nothing earth-shattering, but I am always a sucker for masks of all kinds, and those cloth/fiber masks that you just lay on your face are super easy to use and require less fuss than mud or gel masks.  Love of Color is an in house brand for Birchbox, and the collection they were featuring was curated by YouTube makeup guru Tati.  I received a small lip crayon in Glam Life, a rich berry, and the quality was really fantastic (and this coming from someone who doesn’t even really like chunky lip pencils!).  I didn’t realize with this first box that there is a process where you have some choice in the samples you receive, but I got the LOC color that I would have chosen anyway so I was satisfied.  Look for more on that below as well!

December: “All Wrapped Up”
YuBe Moisturizing Skin Cream
Catherine Malandrino Romance de Provence Eau de Parfum
Coastal Scents StyleEyes Palette
Vasanti BrightenUp! Enzymatic Face Rejuvenator
Benefit They’re Real! Tinted Lash Primer

YuBeThis box made up for the disappointment of December by having 5 great products, none of them haircare related!  The YuBe cream was a strange experience.  When you put it on, it feels like straight up Vaseline but if possible even more greasy and I thought, “Holy Christ on a  cracker, what the hell did I just do to myself?!”  Very soon, though, it starts to absorb into the skin and dried to almost a powdered finish leaving my hands feeling incredibly soft and not at all greasy!  The Catherine Malandrino perfume is a gorgeous floral, sweet and romantic with some deeper notes.  I don’t like anything too light and flowery, and this floral definitely had some sizzle to it.  The coastal scents shadow was the choice and I still hadn’t quite figured out the whole sample option thing, so while I thought the consistency and application were good I ended up with two nude shades that were totally yawn-worthy (I just wish everyone would stop with the deluge of nudes – Urban Decay already won that battle, so just get over it).  The Vasanti was a fun skincare product, just enough “enzyme action” and little scrubby bead things to make you feel like it’s doing something without feeling like your face is going to melt off.

MascaraMy favorite product was the Benefit lash primer.  At first, I thought the whole idea of primers was just out of control – I always use a face primer (TooFaced Hangover Rx) and an eyeshadow primer (Urban Decay Primer Potion in Eden), but it seems to me that if your mascara is any good you shouldn’t need a primer!  TooFaced Better Than Sex mascara is my absolute must have, and it works better than anything else I’ve found.  But I like this product for another reason – it’s a nice soft brown and it accentuates my normal lashes.  When I was a kid, I was a blonde but my hair darkened over the years.  What didn’t darken were my eyebrows and my tiny, sad little lashes.  I’ve tried wearing “subtle” applications of mascara before to enhance them, but my lashes are so light as to be almost invisible, and so people immediately notice.  This soft brown is a more subtle enhancement that gives my eyes some definition without screaming its presence.  I don’t know that it will become an every day sort of thing, but its nice to have an option.

January: “Moodboard Your Year”
Whish Three Whishes Body Butter
Real Chemistry 3-minute Peel
Joure Matte Moisture Tint
Eyeko Fat Liquid Eyeliner
Beauty Protector Protect & Detangle

While I wasn’t thrilled to see another haircare product in the mix (seriously, separate box opportunity guys!) I decided that I’m going to give it a try and see if I like it as a sort of leave in conditioner (my hair isn’t long enough to tangle!).  The tinted moisturizer is sort of a throwaway as I don’t wear foundation or Peeltinted cosmetics on a day to day basis and it doesn’t have enough coverage to work as stage makeup – look for that to pop up in an upcoming giveaway!

I love that they included a peel in the mix – I love trying out targeted skin treatments like masks and peels!  The sample size is a little disappointing, and I’m hoping to get one full peel out of it, but still a great find.  The body butter is alright, although I think I prefer Soap & Glory’s body butter.  The two products are very similar in my estimation and I think the S&G smells a little bit better.

Box 04The real winner in this box was the Eyeko liner.  I’ve used some of those felt-tip style eyeliner markers before: I’ve tried both the chunky and the thin tip from NYX, and I recently got a sample size of Kat Von D’s thin tip.  This one is chunky tipped, and it’s the best formula of all of the one’s I’ve tried or even sampled in stores!  It goes on wetter, more “inky” like an actual marker, but dries to a lovely matte finish.  I haven’t looked at the price yet, but I’m seriously considering adding this to my kit.  I’m not great with liquid eyeliner, but this one was easy enough that I think even I could do it with ease!

THE TAKEAWAYS:

Here’s what I love about Birchbox:

1. The choice.  Now that I’ve figured out how it works, I love the way they offer you a selection of products.  If you go with the regular “mystery” box, they give you the option to choose one of your 5 sample products from a selection of usually 2-4 products, or a selection of shades for a specific product.  Each month also features a themed box that you can choose and know all of your samples up front.  For February, I’m going to try out the themed box, called “Date Night,” which features some fun Valentine’s inspired beauty including a small tube of OCC Lip Tar.

Rewards2. The loyalty program.  I’m glad to see that Birchbox has a loyalty program and that it’s actually very generous.  After all, you’re basically paying to receive samples, which are usually free.  For every dollar you spend in their boutique, you get a point.  Also, for each product from your sample box that you review on their site, you get 10 points.  50 points equals $5 to spend in their boutique.  That’s right – if you try and review all 5 products in your sample box, they give you $5 credit in their online store!  It’s totally a gimmick to do your shopping with them, and as I mentioned earlier they don’t always carry full lines, but who doesn’t like free money?!

3. The diversity of products.  Except for Benefit, I’ve never seen any of the brands I’ve received as samples in a Sephora store (they could be available online, but I’ve never run across them in my admittedly limited searching).  Most of the brands I’d never heard of before receiving them.  As Sephora gets more and more dedicated to core luxury brands (12 brands – NARS, Marc Jacobs, TooFaced, Urban Decay, Benefit, Kat Von D, Anastacia, Bite, Becca, Buxom, Make Up For Ever, and bareMinerals – take up pretty much all of the cosmetics floor space plus receive the bulk of promotion) or their own store brand, Birchbox has a wide variety of products featuring smaller, indie brands along with bigger players at all different price points.  They also seem willing to jump on new brands a lot faster.  Combine that with the lifestyle focus instead of just beauty and you’ve got options beyond the sample box that make Birchbox feel like the online version of a trendy downtown boutique.

Smith Cult4. Smith & Cult.  I love them.  Seriously.  Thank you for bringing them into my life!

5. Price point.  Again, I can’t believe that a company has talked me into paying for samples; true, most of the deluxe samples through Sephora are “gift with purchase” situations, so you’re still paying in a different way, but the idea of paying for samples still blows my mind.  $10 feels like the upper limit of what I’m willing to pay for what should probably be some free shit; I recognize that the shipping is included and they do a great job with their packaging, but I’m not sure I’d go much higher as far as cost goes.  The loyalty program helps as well – knowing that I can earn $5 credit from each $10 sample box helps justify the cost even more.

What I don’t love:

Samples1. Price point.  See how I contradict myself?!  I just got done saying that I was ok with the price, and I am (as long as it doesn’t go up), but I feel like they could spend less time creating beautiful, artfully designed cardboard boxes and send more stuff.  Maybe $10 for 10 samples?  $1 per sample doesn’t feel like it’s asking too much considering that they’re samples!  They might not be as artfully packaged or as big, but I could walk into a Sephora and sample 10 products for free.  And some of the samples would be the same size as the ones in the box (or even larger, depending on if the salesperson likes you!).

2. Enough with the haircare!  I know I keep harping on it, but haircare products are so much different from cosmetics and skincare that I think they could use their own service.  If they really wanted to target different demographics, they could offer separate boxes for makeup, skincare, and haircare, maybe with a mixed box as a 4th option.  For now I’ll just keep collecting the haircare products and passing them on with a sigh.

Box 083. A little…beige.  Sephora’s main edge on Birchbox and even similar concept stores like Ulta is that it caters to the type of people who are makeup obsessed – people who love color, use a lot of makeup, and want to stay on top of the trends while building loyalty to brands that cater to more involved users.  Someone new to cosmetics or who prefers a lighter, more subtle application can easily feel a little overwhelmed in Sephora.  Birchbox seems to have a more general demographic in mind – if you’re comfortable with mascara and gloss, or maybe just some foundation and the basic “5 minute face,  Birchbox is more welcoming to those who use little to no makeup and want to find good staple products or people who have a simple, reliable routine that they want to “shake up” by trying out some new brands.  There have been a lot of nude colors, tinted moisturizer, stuff like that.  Trend colors?  Nothing so far.  If you are looking for a good place to start, Birchbox can help ease you into it.  But if you’re an experienced makeup user, Birchbox might help you discover some new brands but don’t look for anything that’s going to really challenge your skill set.

I’m going to stick with them for a while – I’ve certainly spent $10  month of worse things!  I’ll get to discover some new brands, get a few things to try, a few things to giveaway, and earn credits towards fun purchases – like a 6 piece lip sampler I just ordered using loyalty program credits (review coming soon)!  If you’re looking for something to try out, Birchbox has a solid punch in a little box and while the service isn’t perfect, it’s help get me excited about trying out new brands again.

Now Go Forth And Get Painted!

 

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