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Which Monthly Make Up Subscriptions Are Worth Your Money?

For a flat fee, Birchbox, Glossybox, and Ipsy send an array of beauty products to your door each month. Here’s a breakdown of how each service delivers.

1. Chances are, you’ve heard of beauty subscription boxes by now.

If not, here’s the general idea: Subscribers to these services are charged on a monthly or annual basis to receive a curated package of deluxe samples and full-sized products in the mail each month. The idea behind the service is to allow women to sample beauty products for the first time before buying them. I graded Ipsy, Birchbox, and Glossybox on their April 2013 offerings, and calculated the worth of each box based on the size of the samples provided versus the costs of the full-size products. Here’s what I found out.

2. IPSY

How it works: Ipsy sends their subscribers four or five cosmetic, hair, and skincare products. For the most part, each month’s bag is the same for all subscribers, but sometimes they send one of two different options for certain brands. Having been a subscriber to Ipsy since October of last year, I’ve noticed that they usually include more makeup than other subscription boxes. Each bag also includes exclusive coupon and discount codes for the products or companies featured in it, which is nice.

Cost: $10 a month for a rolling subscription, which can be canceled anytime, or $110 for a yearly commitment.

Packaging: The products come in a cheap-looking reusable makeup pouch each month. Their design usually reflects the “theme” of the products in them; this month’s was “Pretty in Pink.”

Macey J. Foronda

Products in April’s bag:

Mica Beauty Mineral Eye Shadow in Earth, 2g (sample, $9.92 value)
Be A Bombshell Blush in Sweet Cheeks, 5g (full-size, $16 value)
Sation Nail Laquer in Love at First Bite, .5 fl. oz. (full-size, $5 value)
Healthy Sexy Hair Soy Renewal Nourishing Styling Treatment, .85 fl. oz. (travel size, $6.99 value)

Total bag value: $37.91

Grade: A. Since I’m more interested in testing makeup than hair and skin products, Ipsy is my personal favorite. It consistently delivers phenomenal value, a solid mix of indie and established brands, and a diverse range of products in each bag. In the past, Ipsy has sent me excellent mascaras, glosses, moisturizers, and more from high-end companies like TheBalm, Benefit, Urban Decay, and Josie Maran, many of which were full-size. Pretty rad for $10 a month, no?

4. BIRCHBOX

Macey J. Foronda

How it works: Birchbox, which deserves some credit for being the very first beauty subscription service of all, sends subscribers four or five beauty samples plus a “lifestyle extra” like a hair tie or energy bar each month. The products range in size from teeny-tiny foil packets to retail size. Some items are drugstore-quality, while others are higher end. The samples received each month vary for every subscriber, making this box the most unpredictable in terms of what you get. Subscribers are also rewarded with points — you earn 10 for reviewing products and one for every dollar spent in the website’s shop, and every 100 points equates to $10 to put toward products in the shop. The current wait time to become a subscriber is about four months after submitting an online request. I’ve been a subscriber since March of 2012.

Cost: $10 for a rolling monthly subscription which can be canceled anytime and $110 for a yearly commitment.

Packaging: Typically, products are sent in a recycled cardboard box with pink tissue paper.

Macey J. Foronda

Products in April’s box:

Yes to Grapefruit Correct & Repair Daily Facial Scrub and Dark Spot Correcting serum, tiny (both are single-use foil packets, value N/A, these are listed as “free samples” on the attached packaging because they’re likely leftover promotional samples from the company)
Beauty Protector Protect & Detangle Leave-In Conditioner, size unlisted but looks like about 1 fl. oz. (sample size, $2.74 value)
Caudalie SOS Morning Eye Rescue, 0.05 oz. (sample size, $1.15 value)
Yes To Carrots Mint Lip Butter, 0.15 oz (full-size, $3.69 value)
Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Repair CC Cream in Natural Glow, .17 fl. oz. (sample size, $3.90 value)
Year subscription to Women’s Health ($9.99 value)

Total (projected) box value: $21.47

Grade: C+. It kind of stinks when the highest-valued item in a beauty box is a voucher for a magazine subscription that you don’t want, but I imagine some people would probably be stoked about this. I personally would have preferred a color makeup product, which this box didn’t include. I also disagree with Birchbox labeling minuscule foil packets “deluxe samples.” While they get points for including Juice Beauty and Caudalie products and a full-size (if inexpensive) lip balm, this box wasn’t my favorite. But I know that Birchboxes vary greatly from month to month and that they’re not always this subpar, so I’m holding out hope for the future. Also, I think their point system is really generous — there have been many times that I’ve taken advantage of it to deeply discount favorite products.

6. GLOSSYBOX

Macey J. Foronda

How it works: Glossybox promises subscribers five or six deluxe samples or full-sized products each month. (Usually, these come from a pool of around ten products.) The company focuses on luxury and foreign brands, the idea being that customers are exposed to products they might not discover on their own. They also offer discounts on items featured in their boxes as well as a rewards program called GlossyDots. Completing monthly surveys earns you 20 Dots, and referring friends earns you 200. If you earn 1,000 Dots, you get a free box. I subscribed to Glossybox for three months earlier this year, but received April’s box from the company for review.

Cost: $21 monthly for a rolling subscription which can be canceled anytime, $60 for a three-month subscription, $115 for six months, $220 for one year.

Packaging: The products come in a beautifully-wrapped pink box, which is filled with tissue paper. This makes these boxes ideal gifts.

Products in April’s box:

Elle Models Intensity Eye Pencil, 0.04 oz. (full-size, $14 value)
Sebastian Professional Shaper Fierce Finishing Hairspray, 1.5 oz. (travel-size, $6.99 value)
ModelCo Cheek + Lip Tint in Rosy Red, 0.33 oz. (full-size, $24 value)
Koh Gen Do Oriental Plants Emollient Cream, 0.28 oz. (sample size, $32.48 value)
Prestiche Essential Oil Bar Soap, 4.4 oz. (full-size, $16.99 value)

Total box value: $94.96

Grade: A+. When you compare the box’s overall value to its original cost, especially at the annual subscription rate, it’s clear that this is the winner when it comes to getting the most for your money. Glossybox has the best balance between hair, skin, and beauty products each month, and the brands represented are always of extremely high quality — usually, at least two of the included products individually outweigh the total cost of the box. This is perfect for people who love experimenting with luxe or unfamiliar brands which they might not otherwise purchase due to their high price points, and although the boxes cost more than double those of the other two subscription services, they make up for it in the quality and value of their contents.

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