Monday, May 16, 2016

Choix high-end cosmetics sampling subscription: Review of my first two months

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Choix makeup sampling subscription: Review of my first two months

I signed up for a new (to me) beauty subscription service called Choix a couple of months ago, so I thought I would post a review. This is a subscription that allows you to choose five high-end products a month, and they create small samples of them for you. ETA: OUT OF BUSINESS.

I bought my subscription kind of impulsively, but while I was briefly researching the service, I didn't find a lot of reviews from people who hadn't been given the boxes by the company. Most of the time I think reasonable people can give objective reviews of products they received for free, but in this case, when considering whether or not the service is worth the cost, I think it makes a difference if you're paying for it yourself. Up front, I will say that for me it's worth $10 a month, because I bought a discounted annual subscription for $120. But $20 a month, the regular price, would be too much (ETA: see note below on price). Nevertheless, I can see why Choix might cost more than other subscription boxes like Birchbox or Ipsy, even though the sample sizes are fairly small. Instead of getting most of the products for free from the brands and then just sticking them in a box, Choix is (I assume) buying products to sample, and then there is the equipment and packaging costs required to create the samples, as well as the labor involved.

ETA: The price has been lowered permanently to $15 a month.

I suspect most people will either think that it's ridiculous to pay money for small samples of products, many of which you could get for free at Sephora or a department store, or will think it's a brilliant idea. Either that or you will be like me and start out with the first view and eventually move closer to the second. In fact, a lot of the products you can request couldn't easily be taken home as samples from stores, like the powder products, for instance. In addition, you may live far from a mall and not have much opportunity to even swatch products on a regular basis (like me). Of course, you can only try out the actual product--you won't get a sense of the packaging from these samples. That is totally fine with me, because I prefer to avoid being seduced by a pretty tube or compact. It makes it easier to filter out the bullshit--I don't care much about my makeup being luxurious. I want it to be functional. Another part of the appeal for me, due to my bizarre interests, I suppose, is to be able to compare high-end stuff with my usual products, which tend to be drugstore or mid-end (that's not a word!). Both to avoid buying dupes, and also just because I'm curious.

The range of brands available from Choix is a bit limited now (you can see the list on their site under "Shop"). The majority are designer brands--i.e. makeup branded with the name of a fashion house or designer, but there are some others like Nars, Hourglass, Bobbi Brown, Laura Mercier, and Benefit. I hope they will eventually add more brands that I would put in the same category as Benefit, like Urban Decay, Tarte, or Too Faced.

Here's what the shipping box looks like when you first open it:

Choix makeup sampling subscription: Review of my first two months

And here at the contents of my April box:

Choix makeup sampling subscription: Review of my first two months
The bits of white fuzz come from the packing material. They are impossible to remove for a pretty picture, but they don't get into the products.
For the first month I chose Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer in Chantilly, Nars blush in Orgasm, Nars Audacious Lipstick in Audrey, Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder in Diffused Light, and Guerlain Meteorites Pears in 2 Clair. Not a lot of variety really--three Nars products and two finishing powders--but these are things I've been curious about for a while.

(I'll add a cut here, because this is going to be a long post. I'm going to review the subscription as a concept as well as (briefly) the individual products from my first two boxes. Lots of photos!)

Choix makeup sampling subscription: Review of my first two months

Along with the samples themselves, they send disposable applicators (in the purple sleeve), I suppose because they are supposed to be creating "your personal makeup counter." Some of them are useful, like the doe-foot applicator for the lipstick, but I really didn't need a couple of q-tips, and that tiny, stiff plastic brush is utterly useless for finishing powder.

As you can see, different types of products get different treatment. The powders and lipsticks are broken up and then melted down/pressed into metal pans.

Choix makeup sampling subscription: Review of my first two months

I wondered if this process might affect their consistency, but I went to Sephora after getting my first box, and the Nars blush and Hourglass powder seem the same as the full-size products.

The concealer is in a tiny doe foot tube.

And the Guerlain sample consisted of a few broken balls and a lot of debris.

I find the sample sizes to be pretty generous. They say that you will get at least one use out of them, but the lipstick, Hourglass powder, and blush will probably give me more than half a dozen applications, and the concealer and pearls contain enough for many, many more uses than that. Obviously how long they last will depend on how much product you use and how many layers you want or need to apply.

I didn't swatch the Guerlain pearls or the Hourglass powder, because my camera is not sensitive enough to pick up something that subtle on my pasty skin. I'm glad I was able to test Diffused Light, though, because I've been curious about it for a long time and almost bought it on a couple of occasions. I don't notice any remarkable effects when using it. I was hoping it would help with redness, as it claims to do, but I haven't seen any improvement there. It's an ok finishing powder, I suppose, but nothing special. Maybe, Like Nars Light Reflecting powder, the flattering effects are apparent in photos, but not in person.

I've gone back and forth on the Guerlain pearls. The first couple of times I tried them, I didn't notice anything other than a little sparkle in direct sunlight. But when I used them over the Armani foundation (described below) the coolness of the powder seemed to counteract the overly warm color of the foundation. I also didn't feel the need to do any highlighting, which I usually do after applying a full face of foundation to add some dimension back to my features. But maybe that was the foundation? More research is needed! (ETA: I took before and after photos and posted them on Instagram, so you tell me? I think the difference is about the same in person as in the photo.) I ended up transferring the balls into a larger jar, because you can't get a decent brush into that container in the photo above, which is about the diameter of a quarter. And note that the violet scent lingers on your face as you're wearing the powder, so you have to be okay with that.

You can see a comparison swatch of Nars Chantilly in this post. It's too pale and maybe too cool for me. It's very thick and pigmented, so you only need to use a tiny bit, but I found that it didn't help the weird under-eye texture problems I have (described/photographed in this post). I won't be picking this one up.

Here is a comparison of Nars Orgasm blush (left) and one of my favorite blushes, Wet N Wild Pearlescent Pink (right), which I've often seen called a dupe for Orgasm:

Swatches of Nars Orgasm comparison with Wet N Wild Pearlescent Pink

As you can see, they're not close at all. Orgasm is a cooler pink and gets its slight peachiness mainly from the gold shimmer. Pearlescent Pink is rosier and warmer and more pigmented. Orgasm seems to be composed entirely of pink and gold shimmer (in fact, I briefly wondered if I'd got Super Orgasm by mistake), while the Wet N Wild blush is fairly matte pink base with some gold shimmer in it. I really prefer Pearlescent Pink--the color is much more flattering on me, it's not as glittery, and it's more pigmented (without being difficult to use). Certainly not dupes, but I don't believe I'm missing out on anything with my cheap shit here.

I love the color of the Nars Audacious Lipstick in Audrey, a rosy plum. I don't love the formula, though, other than how very opaque it is. It's pretty drying and wears off in an unattractive way. Anyone know of dupes in a different formula?

Here are some comparison swatches. I didn't really have much like it. The e.l.f. $1 lipstick in Posh is close in color, but much sheerer.

Swatches of Nars Audacious Lipstick in Audrey, e.l.f. Essential Lipstick in Posh, Maybelline Creamy Matte Lipstick in Touch of Spice, Revlon Matte Balm in Sultry.
Swatches (left to right) of Nars Audacious Lipstick in Audrey, e.l.f. Essential Lipstick in Posh, Maybelline Creamy Matte Lipstick in Touch of Spice, and Revlon Matte Balm in Sultry.
For my second box, I decided to choose products in different categories to see how they would package the samples.

Choix makeup sampling subscription: Review of my first two months

I got Benefit They're Real eyelash primer, Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation in shade 2, Burberry eyeshadow in Rosewood, Yves Saint Laurent Tint-in-Oil in Drive Me Copper (what does that mean?), and Shiseido eyebrow pencil in Ash Blond. 

Here are the applicators they send this round:

Choix makeup sampling subscription: Review of my first two months

There are obvious limitations to this sort of sampling. For instance, with mascara, the brush often makes it or breaks it as much as the formula. As you can see, for the Benefit lash primer, they sent a nice, spiky plastic brush, but they're not the signature death spikes you get with They're Real. For me, that's a bonus--the brush worked great and I hate the actual Benefit brush. But you're only going to get part of the picture here.

The Benefit eyelash primer works really well under my Covergirl waterproof mascara (reviewed here). It would work nicely as a medium brown mascara on its own, too. I have to admit, though, I don't really get the point of eyelash primers. How is it any different from just starting with a layer of a (different) mascara? Just because it's not black?

The Armani foundation was packaged in a clicky-pen with a silicone nib, which is my most hated type of packaging. But I guess it makes some sense here--you want to be able to get all of this small amount of liquid out. There seemed to be a lot of air in the tube, however, so there was a bunch of twisting in the middle with no product coming out and then a big gush. All the twisting is a bit tedious too. It takes a long time to get enough foundation out to cover my face.

Though it looks small, there is actually enough product there for about 2.5 uses for me. But I use the technique, which I learned from Lisa Eldridge videos, of concentrating my foundation near the center of my face where I need to most coverage and blending out from there. If you like to use a solid layer all over your face, you will probably only get one use out of a tube like this.

Swatches of Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation in shade 2, Boot No7 Lift & Luminate Foundation in Cool Vanilla, TheBalm Time Balm Tinted Moisturizer in Lighter than Light, and Maybelline Superstay Better Skin Foundation in Porcelain.
Swatches of Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation in shade 2, Boots No7 Lift & Luminate Foundation in Cool Vanilla, TheBalm Time Balm Tinted Moisturizer in Lighter than Light, and Maybelline Superstay Better Skin Foundation in Porcelain.
This shade of the Armani Silk foundation is too warm for me (though it's supposed to be neutral). It settles into my pores a bit and really highlights flakiness, especially around my nose, but it seems to look better after wearing it for a whie. The texture and finish are look quite natural from a distance, which I like. It is, however, rather sheer and hard to build up enough to cover the redness around my nose. Concealer is definitely required. The second time I used it, I used Smashbox primer under it, and that seemed to help with the flakiness somewhat (or maybe I was just less flaky that day)? It didn't help with the pores, though, and it seemed to reduce the wear time of the foundation.

The Yves Saint Laurent Tint-In-Oil also came in a clicky dispenser, but with a brush tip. I have to admit I really don't get the hype about this stuff. It's a thin gloss that's almost entirely transparent. It's slightly moisturizing. I would classify it as neither tint nor oil. Something this sheer will never show up on my lips, unfortunately. Maybe I should have tried a different shade, but when I googled for swatches, this one (Drive Me Copper) seemed promising. Correction: neither tint nor oil nor copper.

Swatches of Yves Saint Laurent Tint-In-Oil in Drive me Copper and Stila Lip Glaze in Kaleidoscope
Swatches of YSL Tint-In-Oil in Drive Me Copper and Stila Lip Glaze in Kaleidoscope
I've read a lot of rave reviews of Burberry eyeshadows, especially Rosewood,  so I added that this month. It's fine. It's a brownish taupe eyeshadow that is smooth but not particularly pigmented. I don't think it's special, honestly.

Here are some comparison swatches with similar eyeshadows I already had. The first swatch is the Burberry shadow with no primer and the rest of the swatches are over primer to show the color clearly. Although in the photo it looks like Rosewood is pretty close to Wet N Wilk Nutty (third swatch), in person it seemed most similar to the taupe from the Wet N Wild Silent Treatment trio (second to last), though Rosewood is less shimmery. I prefer Silent Treatment, which isn't as light as it looks here--I think the reflection of the shimmer is making it disappear into my skin a bit.

Swatches, left to right: Burberry Rosewood (no primer), Burberry Rosewood (over primer), Wet N Wild single in Nutty, Maybelline Color Tattoo in Bad to the Bronze, Wet N Wild Silent Treatment trio ("eyelid" shade), and Edward Bess Storm.
I've got to say, I'm missing the magic here. Anyone care to enlighten me?

Finally, the Shiseido eyebrow pencil in Ash Blond. You can see that they cut you off a stub and add an extra cap on the end, with a brush inside, so you can hold it more easily. I should be able to sharpen this at least a couple of times, which will mean 6-10 uses, I expect.

Here is a comparison with a couple of other blonde eyebrow pencils:

Swatches of Shiseido Natural Eyebrow Pencil in Ash Blond, Avon Ultra Luxury Brow Liner in Blonde, Cover Girl Eye and Brow Makers in Warm Blonde.
Swatches (left to right) of Shiseido Natural Eyebrown Pencil in Ash Blond, Avon Ultra Luxury Brow Liner in Blonde, and Cover Girl Eye and Brow Makers in Warm Blonde. 
It's warmer and harder than Avon's Ultra Luxury eyebrow pencil in Blonde but cooler and softer than Covergirl's cheap Warm Blonde pencil. It works perfectly well, but I prefer the color of the Avon pencil. That cool taupe shade fills in the gaps in my brows like a natural shadow, which means that I can use it no matter what color my hair is.

In addition to makeup, Choix offers samples of some skincare, nail polish, and perfume. I'm going to try a nail polish next time, but I doubt I will ever request a perfume sample. In the makeup category, there are some things they just aren't going to be able to provide samples of, like twist up pencils (except maybe lipsticks crayons--though they don't current offer these) and . . . I thought of some other things but I forget now!

Choix has a points system that is not as generous as Birchbox's, but it's something. You earn 250 points per box, which you can redeem for discounts on full-size products, deluxe samples (i.e. packed by the brand, not by Choix), or tools/cases. You can also buy individual samples for $5 each, if you are so inclined, and you get $5 worth of points for each one. Or you can order a single box, without subscribing for a whole year, for $20. I used my first 500 points to get this magnetic palette, which also fits my Makeup Geek eyeshadow pans.

I think it's easy to compare the full eyeshadow pans with the Burberry sample (bottom) in this photo.

I'm having fun with this subscription so far. As someone who (a) is skeptical about high end cosmetics, (b) blogs, and (c) rarely gets to play with these products in a store, it's great. For $10 a month. $20 a month would be out of my budget. (NOTE: The price has been permanently lowered to $15 a month, which is significantly better.) Choix seems to offer discounted subscriptions quite frequently, maybe monthly. Next time I hear about one, I will alert you! (Or you can get 10% off with my referral link, if you don't want to commit to a year.) I think I'm going to keep reviewing the products in my boxes each month, but the next post won't be so interminable, since you won't need all the general Choix info. If you actually got through all of this, I probably owe you a drink!

What do you think? Useful for sampling fancy shit or overpackaged and overpriced?


  1. This actually sounds super cool to me! There are a lot of brands I can't access here, and honestly, even if I could I would much rather have enough to play around with at home (plus, no need to actually go anywhere, which is always the last thing I want to do after a full week).

    You are also the first negative review I've seen of the Audacious formula! Anna has been on my list for a long time, I've just never pulled the trigger. But now I'm tempted to try it through Choix...

    I got the YSL TiO in (...spends 5 minutes trying to find the shade in her email and Sephora account instead before giving up and spending 15 seconds to look at the bottom of the tube, only to discover it's labeled in microscopic writing but it looks like probably) No 6, which from my perusals had looked like the one with the greatest staining power, and I like it but don't love it, just because I find it somewhat drying. I treat it as a stain that needs to have balm applied after an hour or so and then it's fine, but the effect is still subtle. I wouldn't repurchase, let's just say that.

    I look forward to hearing about your future finds!

    1. Yes, exactly, even if I tried out the powders, for example, in store, I would need more than one test to really figure out if they're doing anything.

      The Nars lipstick isn't bad, and I like that it's so pigmented that you only need to use a tiny bit. I think a tube would last a long time. It's just not great. But keep in mind I have really dry lips, so I'm picky. It's also possible that different shades feel different.

      I should have got a different YSL! I tried it again after writing this post and didn't find it very moisturizing at all that time, and it wore off in 20 minutes. So I don't really get the point. I am guessing this is one of the things where the packaging must make it feel more luxe than it would otherwise.

  2. I'm really curious about Choix, I almost pulled the trigger during recent promo. I love the idea of trying out high end products without the commitment (and the expense) of buying full size. Trying things at Sephora is just not the same as including product on your makeup routine, even if only for a couple of days. You can mix and match and see how finishing powder works with different foundations or if blush and lipstick look well together.
    I ended up passing on this subscription for now because I didn't wear much makeup lately and because my nail polish obsession took over my beauty budget.
    I'm supposed to start a new job next week. Which means I will be out of the house a lot more often, like every day... Oh, horror... So maybe that will prompt me to wear makeup. Then I may be able to justify getting more pretties. So I will keep an eye on those promos :-)

    1. I really like being able to try new things too--the novelty wears off quickly, and this way I'm not left with some big pan that I now have to use up. It's been instructive so far seeing how few of these products that I've wondered about for a long time I am actually still interested in.

      Congrats on the new job!

  3. Idk, it just seems pretty expensive for super tiny sample sizes :/ I do think it's a good idea general, but I'm probably too stingy for this kind of thing.

    BTW, Armani foundations are pretty unkind to flaky patches in general. This includes if I went too long without exfoliating, and I used a buffing brush to apply. Holy flakes. But it has the potential to be REALLY beautiful!

    1. Yes, they're small, so I think you have to consider most of the price being for the service and decide if that's worth it. Like I said, for me it's only worth it for $10, and I am probably comparing with Ipsy and Birchbox where I got some bigger samples, but also things I didn't really want. At least this way I actually want to try everything.

      Though--as overpriced as some of these products are, it's entirely possible that the amount they're sending comes out to $2 worth of product!

      That's good to know about Armani foundations. I am always a little flaky around the nose. It did look really nice and natural from a normal distance, just not great close up. I was thinking I should try one of the fluid foundations from Maybelline or L'Oreal, since it's the same company, but it looks like they've discontinued those.

  4. This is a cool idea, but I don't think it's for me. I'm not all that picky about packaging, but visuals are important for me, and the sight of those half-pulverized meteorites makes me a little glum--even though I'd never dream of buying the full-sized version! I don't know, it's irrational. Kudos to you for being practical.

    By the way, I think I'm about as pale as you are, and I use Vanilla for my undereye circles. Like you, I found Chantilly to be too light and artificial-looking.

    1. I like to look at and have beautiful things too, but I guess I consider them in a different category from functional things, which is how I tend to think of my makeup. Or at least having things that are both functional and pretty is nice, but not necessary. I think it's just a different way of valuing these things.

      And thanks for the tip! I considered trying Vanilla but it looked a little pink. Maybe I will give it a shot anyway.

    2. I guess it depends on what color your dark circles are, but I find the pinkish tone handy for color correcting. Vanilla is a little too pink and dark for anywhere else on my face, though.

  5. Thanks for this thoughtful review.
    Anyway, I'm interested in Choix because it seems like there are samples widely available for some cult favorites (like UD Perversion mascara which IMO is worth the hype), but samples of other products aren't as available and who really wants to spend $50 on something that might work?

    And is anyone else grossed out by the samples in stores? Even if I'm only going to put it on the back of my hand just ergh and there are issues like the foundations get all cakey.

    1. In general I don't think this is the best bet for mascara since you won't get the actual brush. I also always get the same one (UD, Dior, and Lancome, especially). I also really like Perversion!

      Most of the testers in stores in my area are disasters. So yeah, that's actually another thing they talk about in the marketing for this sub--sanitary testing.

  6. So glad to see your review! It was well done and I look forward to more.I have been on choix now and again from since its early days and I have to say I absolutely LOVE choix! I can completely understand why some may be hesitant with this subscription but like you mentioned its very convenient.I am outside the US but my bestie moved up there about 2 years ago. I use her as my way to buy and get makeup products popular in the US. When i discovered choix I got excited. Finally a way for me to try very very high end brands like Dior and YSL that is no where available where I live. Their customer service is the best and helped me through when I had trouble paying with my international card.I also appreciate how they take customer feed back and improve their sample methods.For example, the foundation used to come in these small glass tubes that were a pain to use and now they have these clicky pens. Also they used to cut pieces of lipsticks and put them in small jars and now they put them in pans that can be easily placed in magnetic compacts.I may sound like a huge cheerleader for this company but I cant help it lol. I really want this company to succeed!

    1. I'm glad to hear that about the customer service. I haven't had to deal with them yet, but I was a bit weirded out by a comment the person running their Facebook made--to a customer who complained, politely, that she thought the sample sizes were too small, "Choix" said, "Don't be so mad! etc."

  7. This is so well-timed. I've been eyeballing Rosewood like it's my job for the last month, but clearly I'm just going to stroll over to the drugstore tomorrow and pick up Silent Treatment.

    I'm mildly curious about this subscription service, at least in part because you seem able to get things you'd actually want to try, rather than bizarre coconut scented lotion/skincare stuff that wrecks havoc/offensive "skinny" snack foods, all of which come to my mind when I think "beauty box." I will admit probably 75% of my curiosity is linked to the Meteorites sample, but I do, to some extent, buy into the "luxury" experience of ridiculous finishing powders. I mentioned on IG that they're cake toppers, but they're really more like beauty placebos to me. I own five Hourglass powders, so I feel justified in saying that.

    1. I googled Rosewood and it seems like the Silent Treatment taupe might be more like the "old Rosewood" than the current version of it. It's a bit greyer and definitely more shimmery, but I like that.

      I am certainly not immune to the placebo effect--or at least appal. I'm going to try a couple more of the Hourglass ones. Surely one of them will do something? Ha. I have that Nars Light Reflecting powder, and I don't think it's noticeable at all in person. In a photo taken in outdoor light, however, it makes the skin look more flawless. Selfie or special occasion powder, I suppose.

    2. I mean that I googled Rosewood to try to see what the big deal is and then was reminded that they had changed it recently.

  8. Super interesting! I didn't ever think of snapping pencil into bits and stubbing each piece. This doesn't appeal to me at all personally, but I totally get that it's great for people who don't have access, etc. Something about the name Choix bugs the hell out of me though.

    1. If I lived in an urban centre, I think this would be much less appealing. It's not a particularly creative name ("let's describe the benefit of our service but IN FRENCH!"), but it's a lot better than Ipsy, at least. Not that that's hard.


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