Welcome back, readers! I hope September is treating you all well so far. My mum and I just returned from a family vacation in North Carolina (check out my holiday pictures on Instagram @theurbangazelle), and as usual we had a lovely few days on the beach. Since then, I’ve been studying for upcoming exams and resisting the urge to splurge on the hottest styles and designs that have been on display during New York Fashion Week. What I did recently splurge on, however, is a subscription to Birchbox! For those of you who don’t know, it’s a monthly service that delivers 4-5 sample-size makeup and skincare products to your door for $10. While the September box is the first one I’ve received from them, I started subscribing to a similar service called Ipsy earlier this year and have already been paying $10 for the same number of products. That may seem like a high monthly fee, but as a self-proclaimed beauty junkie, I’ve realized it’s wiser to spend $20 on 10 samples than buy new, full-size products that I may not love. I’ll stop subscribing to one of them later this year once I’ve decided which one I like more, but in the meantime I’ll be reviewing them each month for all of you to see.
So, let’s get started. First up: Birchbox! This month’s samples came in a beautifully decorated box (above left) that has “You’re beautiful” written on the top; I love that! Positive vibes, people – always a bonus. The first product is 1oz of Tocca’s Bianca Green Tea & Lemon Nourishing Body Scrub (full size is $32) , which smells fantastic and leaves my skin feeling super soft and moisturized. I haven’t tried any Tocca products before so I’m happy to try this exclusive line. Next is a 1oz ginseng and biotin blow-dry volumizer by Briogeo (full size is $23), and although I rarely use heat tools, I am SO excited to see how this works on my thin hair! Biotin is notoriously good for hair growth, so I’ll continue to spray some of this on my roots after showering and see if it makes a difference. I used it a few minutes ago and it has dried nicely with no residue, which is a big plus as many sprays leave my roots greasy. Next up is 0.05oz of Japonesque Velvet Touch Eyeshadow (full size is $18) that comes in a small compact with a watercolour design on the top and a mirror inside. The colour is a subtle gold shimmer that looks very pretty as an eyelid base – it gives my olive skin a nice enhanced glow rather than standing out as it probably would on lighter skin. Then we have a wonderful product that I’ve actually tried before: 100% Pure Organic Coffee Bean Caffeine Eye Cream (full size is $25). This stuff instantly brightens my under-eye area, plus it smells heavenly – like, good enough to eat! It keeps the under-eye area matte all day, even in the summer, and I look forward to trying it under concealer at some point. The last product in this box is a perfume sample from Raw Spirit, and while I was disappointed to see how small the vial was, it actually smells lovely! Very elegant and musky with a hint of florals, at least according to my inexperienced nose. The full size is a whopping $70, so this box definitely provided a good opportunity to try out this beautiful fragrance. All in all, these products are an excellent value for $10.
Now on to Ipsy. Although the monthly bags themselves are always beautiful and unique, I’ve found the products to be hit or miss. Often I’ll receive decent full-size drugstore blushes, lipsticks and makeup brushes along with mediocre eyeshadows or facial cleansers from obscure brands, some of which I end up giving away. This month’s bag, however, was a total hit – I love EVERY product! First, there’s a full-size ($6) NYX Cosmetics Love in Rio eyeshadow trio palette containing sparkly gold, sparkly chocolate brown and matte charcoal shadows – great for a smokey eye. The quality and payoff aren’t on par with most shadows you’d find at Sephora, but with a good primer it should last a few hours. Next is a full-size ($6) City Chic lipstick by City Color Cosmetics in Je t’aime…normally I’m picky about the ingredients lip products contain, but this one has surprisingly few, meaning I’ll actually wear it. This is more like a lip butter than a lipstick as the creamy formula went on smooth and kept my lips moisturized for over an hour. The exotic pinky-berry-brown colour gave my pigmented lips a subtle pop of deep pink, giving me that “my lips but better” look. It starts off sheer but is quite buildable, so it should show up no matter your natural lip colour. It lasted for about two hours with minimal eating and drinking, which is pretty good for a simple drugstore lipstick. The next product is my favourite out of the 20 samples I received this month: Formula X Nail Color in Ignite (full size is $13). I’ve been looking for a dark red polish to wear for my birthday and clearly the Gods have heard me – this universally-flattering colour is absolutely gorgeous! In some lighting it has an oxblood tinge to it and other times it looks blood red, but it pops beautifully no matter the time of day and no matter your skin tone. The 0.13 oz. bottle is quite small but should last a couple of months as I’m constantly trying new colours. I LOVE this polish, guys! I’m sure most of you will, too.
I’d never heard of the next two skincare products before, but as with every other Ipsy September 2015 product, I’m really enjoying them. We have Liquid Freud by Not Soap, Radio (full size is $18), which is an “emotional well-being hand/body lotion” for “when you need to turn up the volume on your inner voice of reason.” It’s scented with coconut milk, mango and vanilla, and despite the slightly pretentious name and tagline, it actually does what it claims! It left my hands feeling soft and supple with minimal residue and immediately relaxed me as soon as I sniffed it. FYI, the lotion contains St. John’s Wort which is apparently a natural anti-depressant. The heavenly scent might be a tad strong for some of you, but it doesn’t last long anyway. Lastly, we have the Laneige Water Sleeping Mask (full size is $23). This Korean-made 0.6 oz tub of “Overnight Revitalizing Gel Mask” is a real treat – it’s supposed to retain moisture and brighten complexions, and by golly, it works! My skin felt really plump and soft in the morning after massaging a pea-size amount in before bed. The scent made me feel like I was getting a fancy facial, although if you have sensitive skin you should be aware that this mask is definitely fragranced. You might want to test it on the back of your hand or your elbow first to see if you have a bad reaction to it. Additionally, a lot of people (including me) would prefer if this product were in a tube or pump bottle as tubs can be unhygienic and could lead to the ingredients spoiling faster. But despite the Laneige packaging, this is my favourite Ipsy bag to date! Bonus: the gold foil bag can double as a low-key clutch.
Unsurprisingly, the Ipsy bag is the winner for me this month. I know I’ll use the excellent products as well as the stylish bag they came in! I like the fancy and exclusive Birchbox products, which are of greater overall value than the Ipsy products, but this month’s varied and unique Ipsy samples (nail polish, hand lotion, face mask) are more my style. And I’ll probably end up recycling the Birchbox box despite its prettiness. I can’t really recommend which one y’all should try as it depends on your preferences, but I will say that Ipsy generally gives us a lot of full-size lip and makeup products from drugstores while Birchbox seems to deliver more skincare products and small samples of higher-end products. This month Ipsy really stepped it up and delivered products that I absolutely love, with Birchbox just a couple steps behind. The bottom line is that if you love trying out new products, you can’t go wrong with either! Feel free to leave me a comment detailing which service you guys prefer or with questions about Birchbox or Ipsy that you might have. Thanks for reading!