beauty box dilemma

Beauty Box

Beauty Box Dilemma

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This post was originally published on November 10, 2015. While I no longer create content surrounding beauty box unboxings and product reviews, I do believe in nostalgia. If you want to go down memory lane (and/or compare boxes then to now), I’ve moved the original post to the end of this new one.

This post has been overhauled on March 14, 2024. 

Beauty Box dilemma

Revisiting the Beauty Box Conundrum: A Decade Later

Many of you might be surprised to see a complete overhaul of a post I wrote in 2015.  Thanks to website analytics, a recent surge in traffic for this specific post caught my eye.  While I thought the demand for subscription boxes had waned, it seems the allure of beauty boxes persists.

While creating content focused on product reviews and “shopping” posts is no longer my main focus, I believe it’s important to document how the beauty industry evolves (that’s why my post on  COVID-19’s impact on the industry remains life, even though the world seems to have moved on).  Again, I’ve included the original post below with minor edits and working links (not affiliate links, but links to my reviews and unboxings).

Equipping you with knowledge as informed consumers is key. Knowing your skin type and having defined makeup preferences (covered in my “Learn Makeup in 5 Days” course) removes the confusion often experienced while navigating drugstores and makeup counters. Confidence in selecting products tailored to your needs and lifestyle is truly liberating. After all, knowledge is power.

Why a Makeup Artist Needed Beauty Boxes (Back in the Day)

Back in 2015, my makeup artistry business was young. I was trying to build my audience and establish myself as a makeup artist and expert. Creating content during my toddler’s nap time was one way to achieve this. I polled my small but loyal audience about their preferred content, and many requested reviews of the best beauty subscription boxes. They wanted to see unboxing and hear my thoughts on product quality.

I rolled up my sleeves and created a blog series called the “Beauty Box Dilemma.”

I chose boxes with a mix of well-known and up-and-coming brands, along with varying price points.  In addition to creating content, I planned to use this experiment to expand my brand and product knowledge, while supplementing my professional makeup kit “at a fraction of the price” and on a regular basis.

Why I Thought I Could “Outsmart” the Algorithm

Thankfully, I possessed extensive brand knowledge at the time, giving me an advantage in this challenge.  Every single box I signed up for had a beauty quiz.

These quizzes typically ask:

  • Skin type
  • Skin tone
  • Skincare routine and desired products
  • Haircare or wellness product preference
  • Importance of cruelty-free status
  • Interest in fragrance products
  • Preference for fewer full-sized or more sample-sized products

Some quizzes were more in-depth, but most felt superficial. It seemed they were more interested in collecting demographic data to understand subscriber commonalities for retention purposes, rather than helping me fill my routine gaps.

During these quizzes, I also felt like I was “cheating.” Knowing the answers and how to manipulate them to receive higher-end products (especially skincare with expensive active ingredients) gave me an edge.

Without my makeup artistry knowledge and deep understanding of my skin needs, these quizzes could have been overwhelming. I might have received random products I wouldn’t know how to use or ones that didn’t work for me.

While taking the quizzes, I identified what I didn’t want or need (especially lower-priced products). Eyeshadow palettes, lipsticks, blushes, fragrance samples, body care products, and sheet masks were on my “no” list.

My focus, and what I believed offered the best value, was full-sized skin care products, mascaras, lip liners, and foundations suitable for my skin type. These were items I knew I’d use regularly and typically held a higher price point, especially full-size beauty products.

Interestingly, around this time (2015), I began offering makeup bag “ransacks.” Many clients asked me to go through their overflowing makeup bags (and cases) full of products they didn’t know how to use. While I no longer offer these one-off services, I do offer one-on-one makeup coaching within my program, “Master Your Makeup.” I also wrote a book called “Be Your Own Makeup Artist” and have an online course, “Learn Makeup in 5 Days.” These are brand-agnostic and inclusive resources specifically for makeup beginners and people looking to build a basic skincare routine. I also offer a la carte concierge makeup shopping service. All these resources are available at

The Boxes Started Arriving

I chose to review what seemed like the most popular and best makeup subscription boxes at the time, along with some lesser-known brands. After completing all the quizzes and setting up the shipping schedule to align with my content calendar, all I had to do was wait for the boxes to roll in.

The Allure Faded: A Surplus of Stuff

The initial thrill of receiving and unboxing each package with you quickly faded, replaced by a significant problem: too much stuff.

And not just any stuff. What good is a full-sized skincare product not formulated for your skin type? What about sample sizes of high-end skincare? It can take weeks to determine if a product truly works. And a full-sized lipstick in a color you’d never wear? Shockingly, even with my strategic quiz-taking, these mismatched products arrived consistently.

There were, of course, some gems and discoveries of new beauty products and brands. But overall, the boxes felt repetitive.  One notable exception was the BeautyDNA box (sadly defunct). They focused on sending a single, high-quality product at a significant discount. However, this concept relied heavily on the subscriber’s deep understanding of their skin needs, which could be a limitation for many.  Perhaps this is why BeautyDNA went out of business –  it’s challenging to deliver full-sized, high-quality products at a steep discount for such a diverse customer base.

A couple of other standouts included a seaweed Acure facial scrub (a product I repurchased multiple times), a Chella clear mascara (which I repurposed as a brow gel), and a novelty chocolate-pigmented “clean beauty” mascara (you can find my review here – it was interesting!).

The Unexpected Hold-Up: The Difficulty of Unsubscribing

Despite extensive gifting (unused and unopened products due to personal preference or duplicates), I still had gaps in my routine and repurchased staples at full price.  More surprisingly, even with my overall feeling of “meh” about the product quality, unsubscribing proved extremely difficult. Addiction might be too strong a word, but there was a compelling force keeping me subscribed to many boxes long after the series ended.  In fact, I wanted more.

Beyond the initial series, the chase for the “best” beauty and lifestyle box continued. I reviewed Sephora Play for three months, Rachel Zoe Box of Style for an entire year, and even Stitch Fix maternity (throughout my pregnancy!). My friend Alexanna, a frequent guest blogger, even shared her love for Beautylish bags (which were some of my most popular posts for years!).

Cancellation attempts were met with special deals and reminders of alternative subscription tiers, often leading me to downgrade instead of completely severing ties.

During the pandemic, I even subscribed to a Glossybox, just to see if they’d improved.  Vividly, I recall receiving a perfect-shade Fenty Beauty foundation, but sadly, it was formulated for oily skin (while I had dry skin at the time). This meant giving away the best product in the box for free.

Lessons Learned: The Power of Awareness

This experience served as a valuable lesson, revealing the marketing strategies employed by beauty companies and the importance of personal awareness when making purchasing decisions. While beauty boxes can offer some benefits, carefully consider if they truly align with your needs and preferences before subscribing.

However, as someone who prides herself on discipline and avoiding unnecessary purchases, I still couldn’t understand why these boxes held such power over me for years.

Unboxing the Business Model: Why Beauty Boxes Are So Addictive

Let’s face it, the global beauty industry is a behemoth, valued at over $532 billion in 2023 (source). It’s nearly inescapable.

Here’s a breakdown:

  • Skincare: The dominant player, accounting for over 40% of the market share.
  • Makeup: Another significant player, holding roughly 30%.
  • Haircare: Represents around 15% of the industry.
  • Fragrances: Holds a smaller share, at around 10%.

While beauty boxes are experiencing rapid growth, they comprise a relatively small portion (less than 2%) of the overall industry. However, one often overlooked aspect is their environmental impact, considering the vast amount of global shipping and packaging involved.

These beauty box companies understand our love for convenience (automatic doorstep deliveries), avoiding decision fatigue (no need to browse for products), and of course, saving money! Add to that the cultivated sense of community and belonging, along with exclusive “flash sales” for members, and it’s no wonder I found them difficult to quit.

Convenience at a Cost: Data, Predictable Profits

We might imagine a human personally curates each box based on our beauty quizzes, but that’s not the reality. Frankly, my responses felt meaningless, considering the boxes often contained products I didn’t request.  This leads me to believe the quizzes were more about data collection (or perhaps selling my data to brands) and finding commonalities among subscribers to boost retention.

Subscription models offer beauty box companies a significant advantage: predictable profits.  Since subscribers are automatically charged before boxes ship out, and cancellation often requires notice, these companies have a reliable cash flow from month to month.  This predictability allows them to not only plan for future expenses but also to:

  • Maximize Profits Through Brand Partnerships: Beauty box businesses leverage brand partnerships (both paid and unpaid) to get their products in the hands of subscribers. Smaller, lesser-known brands often pay for these partnerships and may even provide products for free or at a discount in exchange for exposure.

The hope is that you’ll fall in love with a product and become a loyal customer of the brand, or that the product will catch the eye of major beauty publications.  However, this constant influx of new brands in each box can lead to a feeling of overwhelm and a lack of brand loyalty among subscribers, turning these products into just another disposable item.

  • Manage Excess Inventory: High-end brands don’t necessarily need the exposure that beauty boxes offer. However, they often have excess inventory of older stock that needs to be cleared. Beauty boxes can source these near-expiration or older products at a discounted rate, allowing them to offer subscribers a chance to try new, high-end products at a reduced cost.

This strategy can also involve brands discontinuing products that underperformed with their main customer base.  While subscribers might be excited to receive a “luxury” item, they’re often unaware of the reasons behind its inclusion in the box.

By acquiring these high-end, full-sized products at a fraction of the cost, beauty boxes can incentivize subscriptions without impacting their bottom line.  However,  it’s important to consider that these near-expiration or discontinued products might not be ideal for traditional retail channels.

  • Sample Size Strategies and Shrinkflation: Many boxes also include smaller, sample-sized products. The lower price point often reflects the reduced size compared to full versions. However, a concept known as “shrinkflation” can come into play here. Brands might offer smaller versions at the same price point as their original sizes, essentially giving you less product for the same price.

Does the Math Really Add Up?

At first glance, comparing the individual prices of products in a beauty box to their collective cost might make you feel like you’re getting a good deal.

However, here’s the reality:

  • Unused or Unwanted Products:  In my experience, every box contained at least one item I wouldn’t use or one that didn’t work for me.  There’s also the challenge of using everything up before its expiration date.

  • Cost of Storage and Environmental Impact:  Beauty products take up space and need cool, dry storage to preserve shelf life.  This can lead to clutter, and unlike clothing, beauty products expire.  Additionally, the sheer amount of packaging involved in beauty boxes and their individual products contributes significantly to landfill waste.

The Bottom Line: Should You Subscribe to a Beauty Box?

Armed with this information about my experience with beauty boxes, I hope you can make an informed decision about whether subscribing is right for you. It’s so easy these days to buy into an annual subscription (because you “save” way more that way) when all we are looking for is a particular product.

If your goal is to learn makeup or build your skincare and makeup collection through subscriptions, I advise against it.  Instead, invest in education and knowledge first.  Understanding your skin type, needs, and beauty goals is crucial for selecting the right products.

My shop offers a variety of resources to help you on your makeup journey,  including courses like “Learn Makeup in 5 Days” and a book titled “Be Your Own Makeup Artist.”  These resources are designed to be brand-agnostic and inclusive,  perfect for makeup beginners and anyone looking to establish a basic skincare routine.  I also offer a la carte concierge makeup shopping service.

Ultimately, the decision is yours.  However, by understanding the inner workings of the beauty box business model, you can approach these subscriptions with a more critical eye.

// original post from 2015 //


The Results Are In… My Beauty Box Subscription Dilemma, No More!



As part of the Beauty Box Subscription Dilemma series, I unboxed some of the most popular beauty subscription box services out there! When I launched the project, I listed the boxes I would be reviewing. Unfortunately, I did not get to all of them! I did unbox some boxes that were not on my original list and didn’t unbox some that were on my original list. Of course, other boxes that didn’t make my initial list were ones I learned about AFTER I started my project and before I had enough time to unbox with you.

None of these links are affiliate links, so do not worry friends! However, if you do end up trying a box (or two) please use links from my site so at least I get some referral cred from traffic. If you purchase anything and they ask how/where you found out about them… help a sister out and fill in yours truly at Setareh Beauty. (Thanks, lovelies.)

I’m sure you know, it takes a lot of work (time + money) to put these types of things together, and the little itty bitty recognition I get when you use one of my links helps. I would appreciate it even more if you share this post with those you love or should know about this project.

How I Reviewed The Beauty Boxes

I have categorized the boxes into Budget, Moderate, and Pricier. I’ve ranked them in their category and also collectively at the end! I hope this helps you in your gift-giving decision-making!

Budget Boxes  (<$10)

The Winner: Beauty Box 5  < to my unboxing  ($12/month, and even less for multi-month subscriptions!)


Beauty Box Five Logo


This was by far the surprise of the group! I received 3 full-sized items from up-and-coming brands, and they were great quality too! I am not a fan of perfume samples, but the Harvey England rollerball was the perfect way to try a new scent (and a great one at that). Although the loose powder eyeshadow was not really practical for everyday use, it was full-size and was a color that could be used. The SoKo lip/cheek stain is fabulous (deluxe sample) and if I were an ipsy or Birchbox subscriber, I’d switch immediately! Unless of course, you love the cute bags ipsy sends each month or the fancy boxes containing Birchbox goods. Check out my BB5 unboxing here.

Runner Up: Birchbox < to my unboxing ($10/mo)

BirchBox Subscription Box

Ok, it was a tough call between Birchbox and ipsy. The only reason why Birchbox ranks second is because I feel the quality far eclipsed ipsy products. That is not to say the ipsy products weren’t great… However, several of my friends were eyeing some of the ipsy products I received, so I gifted them 🙂 The Birchbox products were a bit more practical for me, nude lip color & liner and a great mask, to name a few.

Third Place: ipsy  < to my unboxing ($10/mo)

Ipsy logo


Ok, so aside from the oh-so-cute packaging in the recognizable pink envelope and signature makeup bag…ipsy came in third. This isn’t necessarily because it’s worse than Birchbox. They are just a little different…Birchbox is more my style. However, with ipsy, I received three noteworthy items: the Hikari Lip Gloss (full size), a Marc Anthony Argan Hair Oil (deluxe sample), and a felt dark eyeliner. There were several items that I felt were a bit drugstore-y. While I like and appreciate the variety of ipsy, Birchbox felt a little more higher end. Three items of ten is still pretty amazing, so way to go ipsy!

Moderately Priced Boxes ($11-$20)

The Winner: Boxycharm ($21)


Boxycharm Subscription Box


Ok, so I pretty much use everything I received in my Boxycharm – and that’s saying a lot, especially considering how many products I already have and have received throughout this entire series. I love the Tarte eyeshadow pencil, love the Vasanti foundation brush (use it for my concealer, yea, it’s a little big BUT it does the job) and use the Previse moisturizer daily. Keep in mind I ran out of moisturizer days before I received it, so timing was everything!

I don’t love the Previse, as it isn’t hydrating enough for me but it does the job and I’m glad I get to use it in its entirety. It would probably better suit someone with more oily skin.

Tie for Second Place: Goodebox (now called Goodbeing) ($19)


Goodbeing Subscription BoxOk, this is the only 100% all-natural, 100% organic box in the bunch. It should really be in it’s own category because it’s hard to compare Goodebox with Boxycharm and Glossybox. I love, love, love the Acure Face Brightening Scrub! I feel like that’s what pushed Glossybox to third place. This scrub made its way into my skin regime and is there to stay.

As much as I wanted to love the mascara, it was okay. I think 100% Pure could make a better brush and that would improve the application process immensely. However, Goodebox opened me up to 100% Pure Cosmetics and I’m SO glad for that. I’ve had so many clients interested in “clean and green” cosmetics. I’m proud to refer them to this line of fruit-pigmented cosmetics. I saw they have a retail store in Santana Row in San Jose, so that’s awesome. I hope to be doing a product review on this line and their competitors, so stay tuned and let me know!

Tie for Second Place: Glossybox < to my unboxing ($21)

Glossybox Subscription Box

If I had to rate packaging, Glossybox would be top the entire list! Their truly amazing box makes you feel like what you are about to open will be worth the big bucks. However, I wasn’t awed by my five luxury deluxe samples but I wasn’t disappointed. either Estee Lauder is a great brand but I wouldn’t consider it “luxury.” The Marsk loose powder is AMAZING! It is such a versatie product, I’ve already used it on one of my clients (and that’s really soon).

I would purchase a Glossybox subscription in a heartbeat. You can tell a lot of love goes into their boxes. Check out my Glossybox unboxing here.


Luxury Boxes (>$25)

The Winner: BeautyDNA


BeautyDNA Subscription Box


  • Key Takeaways:
    • Great value for the price
    • Loved the mybody nighttime moisturizer and the included oils
  • My Unboxing


Runner-Up: Julep Maven

Julep Subscription Box

  • Key Takeaways:
    • Luxurious packaging
    • High-quality, long-lasting nail polishes (impressive drying time)
    • Other products received: lip gloss, lipstick, eyeshadow stick
    • Loved the eyeshadow 101 stick (amazing color and formulation)
  • My Unboxing: I didn’t do an unboxing video or blog post, as it was nail polish!
  • Julep Website: Note: Julep Maven program is no longer available, but the website sells Julep products)

Third Place: TestTube

TestTube by NewBeauty Subscription Box

  • Key Takeaways:
    • Felt overpriced for the quality of products received
    • Mostly drugstore-level samples/products (check out my fave drugstore products here)
    • Missed nail polish that was supposed to be included
  • My Unboxing:
  • Testtube Website: I couldn’t find an active website for TestTube. It’s possible they are no longer in business but couldn’t find an official notice they closed either.

Overall Rankings

First Place: Boxycharm

Second Place: BeautyDNA

Third Place: Beauty Box 5


I hope this comprehensive guide helps you navigate the world of beauty box subscriptions! Whether you’re on a budget or looking for a luxurious treat, there’s a perfect box out there for you. Remember, you can always check out my detailed unboxings for a closer look at each service.

Beauty Boxes I Didn’t Explore (but Really Wanted To!)

While I delved into a fantastic array of beauty boxes, there were a few that remained on my wishlist. Here’s a quick rundown of these intriguing options, along with some insights into why I couldn’t explore them:

  • BeautyArmy ($12/month): This box seemed promising, but the selection process relied heavily on drugstore-type samples. SoChoix (reviewed earlier) offers a more curated selection for a similar price point.
  • PetitVour ($15/month): Their free-box requirements were a bit steep (large follower base, media kit). However, the concept sounds interesting, and if you’re curious, let me know in the comments!
  • Memebox (2018 Update: No Longer Selling Boxes) ($25-50/box): The website navigation was a bit confusing. Since I discovered Mishibox later, I thought a Korean beauty box comparison could be fun in 2016 (if there’s interest!).
  • Mishibox ($20/month): Their stellar customer service and focus on Korean beauty had me impressed. Plus, they offered a discount on coveted SoKo products!
  • LaRitzy ($25.00/month): This cruelty-free box boasts adorable packaging and a mission I can get behind. Check them out if you’re a conscious consumer!
  • SoChoix (2018 Update: No Longer Operating) ($10/month): This unique service allows you to try high-end beauty samples (think Chanel, YSL) for just $10, skipping the pressure of department store counters. Sounds like a future treat!
  • GlowingBeets ($30/month): Offering natural, high-quality products, GlowingBeets seems like a strong competitor to Goodebox (now Goodbeing). While pricier, it might focus on more high-end selections.

Closing Thoughts

This concludes our beauty box adventure! I hope this exploration has helped you navigate the exciting world of these beauty subscriptions. Remember, the comments are always open for your feedback and questions. Until next time, stay beautiful!

P.S. Don’t forget to check out the detailed unboxings of the boxes I reviewed for a closer look at each service!

Hope this helps you in your own decision or your decision to gift a loved one! I truly believe all of these companies really want to please their subscribers…what works for one person, may not work for the other… and THAT’S OK!

Please leave me some feedback and I look forward to my next series TBA!! Make sure to subscribe to be in the know. Trust me, I hardly send out emails…when I do, you DEF want to read them.



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Beauty is about perception, not about make-up. I think the beginning of all beauty is knowing and liking oneself. You can't put on make-up, or dress yourself, or do you hair with any sort of fun or joy if you're doing it from a position of correction.

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