What makes the Ipsy subscription so much better than others in its price range? For starters, it’s actually, well, a bag! Where other beauty subscriptions are often packaged in unwieldy, good-for-nothin’ boxes, Ipsy’s Glam Bag comes in a reusable, zippered makeup bag (great for traveling, storage, and gifting).
But Ipsy’s best angle is that it tailors its monthly selections for each customer based on a 12-question beauty profile, meaning you’re bound to get stuff you love (or, since it’s just $10 a month, afford to get some stuff you don’t love).
Now that just about everyone is in the beauty-box game, it’s easy to forget about the early days. Allow us to rewind, for a moment, to 2011. Ah, simpler times. The online beauty-tutorial scene was taking off, and YouTube’s most recognizable makeup guru, Michelle Phan, decided to ride the wave and launch a beauty sampling company. She called it Ipsy: a play on ipse, Latin for “self.” And though she walked away from the company — and her YouTube fandom — in late 2017, that hasn’t stopped Ipsy from growing to more than 3 million subscribers to date.
The secret to Ipsy’s success lies both in the quality of its product and its customization. Here’s how the signup process works: You fill out a questionnaire about your skin tone and eye color, along with makeup and skincare preferences. You’re then asked to pick out brands you love (or would like to try), and the range of companies is considerable — from drugstore brands like Maybelline and Nyx to mid-range companies like Kat Von D and Smashbox and luxury brands like Shu Uemura and Tom Ford.
Then Ipsy creates a bag for you, choosing five deluxe samples from nearly 60 options. Each bag, Ipsy says, offers around $50 worth of products, which means you’re getting about 80% off retail price.
We know what you’re thinking: A beauty profile is all well and good, but is it accurate? The answer is yes! We indicated that we were looking for anti-aging skincare and that our favorite makeup products were highlighter and blush. Our Glam bag came kitted out with an anti-aging collagen serum from Derma-E, two firming eye masks, and deluxe samples of both a liquid blush and a highlighter from IBY and Beautaniq — plus a full-sized lip gloss from Buxom. The products matched our lead tester’s skin-tone and product preferences and also offered brands they had never purchased before but wanted to try.
Ipsy’s “deluxe” samples were generally one to two times larger than those of other bags in its price range. BirchBox, for example, offered many single- or two-time-use samples, which made it difficult even to begin evaluating whether we liked the product or not. If sample size really matters to you, you can upgrade to Ipsy’s Glam Bag Plus, which promises five full-size products for $25 a month. Each bag is apparently worth around $125, but there’s currently a waitlist to subscribe, so keep that in mind if timing is critical. Because both subscriptions are tailored to your profile, choosing a plan comes down to budget and personal preference. Some of our testers didn’t love the idea of full-size samples taking up all their medicine-cabinet space.
It’s worth noting that Ipsy doesn’t include information about the products in the bag. Instead, users are directed to go to the Ipsy site and log into their accounts to access info and tutorials. Easy enough, but not ideal if you have scant Internet service. That said, the information there is comprehensive and offers a quick and easy way to purchase full-size versions of the products in your bag (ah, now it makes sense).
One other small perk of Ipsy’s Glam Bag program is that each month you earn points to put toward “free” additional products — an incentive similar to Sephora’s Beauty Insider program. But beware: building up enough points for purchases may take a while. We earned 10 points for purchasing our first Glam Bag, but most products available for purchase with points (a sunscreen, a sparkly eye blender, and a concealer brush) required around 600.
Our only caveat? While we found signing up for the bag an enjoyable process, canceling the subscription required going through several screens and an email confirmation. Ipsy REALLY tries to hold onto customers. As with any subscription box, it’s always a good reminder to read the fine print; it’s very easy to miss a charge cycle and end up paying for a box you don’t want.
Luckily enough, we didn’t have that problem. When it comes to a budget beauty box that offers high returns with low risk, we think you’ll agree that Ipsy is your best bet.