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DermStore Grab Bag, $35, occasionally issued, skin, makeup and/or hair products
Promo: You can save 15% when you sign up for a new account or $10 if someone refers you (ask me)
I paid $25 +tax after discount
Box retail value: $131-167, My value: $58

Enjoyment Factor: 

Every so often DermStore issues mystery grab bags with an assortment of full size and sample products. They usually sell out quickly and before any actual reviews of the items are out.  Still, they sometimes are brought back and reviews can be helpful to get an idea of the sort of products you can expect in these grab bags.

I can’t resist DermStore’s grab bags because they are usually incredible values.  Still, I’m swimming in beauty products and DermStore often sends out repeats, specially of its tiny samples.  Still, I gave in and armed with a $10 off coupon I ordered this box.  Only later I remembered that I almost never wear makeup.  Indeed, I won’t be able to use half of the products in this bag, but it’s such a good value that I feel I got my money’s worth anyway.



For some reason, DermStore has actually deleted the product pages for these boxes rather than just saying “out of stock”. But they promised 13 items for this box with a total value of $170.  DermStore usually exaggerates their values, but this time they got pretty close. I got 5 full size products, 5 sample size products, 2 perfume vials and a value-free sample; using the highest retail prices of this items the value of this box was $167.  Though I won’t be using many of the products, the values of those I will use is around $60, and I would probably have spent as much as the box to buy items similar to those I got.

This is what the grab bag came with:


Smart FX Smart Brow Black/Brown Tinted Brow Filler + bonus all in one perfecting brush, 2.2 ml full size, $61 ($30)

This is the newer version of the brow filler I got on my BeautyFix box back in May.  Apparently there have been changes to the brush and formulation, which have upset former fans.  It’s not surprising as I’m sure this product is all about your technique in applying it.  I didn’t bother really learning how to apply the one I got, and I’m not going to bother with this one either.

SmartFX is a Target owned brand, which always makes me suspect of the price it sells at.  It’s twice of what it was before they changed the formula.  My bet is that this probably for sale at 50% off often. It’s made in the USA.
SmartFX Volume Extend Mascara, 7.5 ml full size, $20

I don’t remember getting a SmartFX mascara before, but can that really be true? In any case, it’s going in my “to try later” box. I’m sure I’ll use it.  Made in the USA.


Cargo Essential Lip Gloss in Vienna (hot pink), 2.5 ml full size, $16

This lip gloss gets fairly good reviews. The hot pink color seems too out there even for my daughter, but it supposedly applies sheer.  I’ll keep it to give it to her as a stocking stuffer. Made in Canada.

Cargo Liquid Eyeliner in black, 11 ml full size, $20

This one gets very good reviews, but none of us use liquid eyeliner, so this will be up for swap. It’s made in Germany.

IMG_0852100% Pure creamy nail polish in Kiss (dark fuchsia), .5 oz, $12

My daughter looked at this nail polish and immediately said she loved the color.  Unfortunately, we have lots and lots of nail polishes and too many pinks as it is. So I’ll be swapping it or using it as a stocking stuffer.  It gets very good reviews, though.  Made in the USA.


Spackle under make up primer by Laura Geller, .5 oz sample, $7.5

This is a clear primer that you can use under makeup or by itself.  It’s very light and moisturizing when you apply it (though you should apply it on top of your moisturizer). Unfortunately, according to a blind test by my daughter, it made my skin look worse. Perhaps it’ll do a better job on my other daughter.  Made in USA.

Cover FX  BB Gel Mattifying Anti-Blemish Treatment in N Medium, 5 ml sample, $7

I got this same BB cream in the last DermStore makeup bag.  I haven’t used it since, but I don’t wear BB cream in summer.  I’ll swap this one. Made in USA.
Vichy Thermal Spa Water
1.69 oz purse size, $7 – 9.5 ($4.5)
This is a just a little spray bottle with a tiny amount of mineral water.  How they can justify charging $14 for the full size bottle (5 oz) is beyond me, but I have to admit that I do like it. Then again I like facial mists.  I would not buy this product for all sorts of environmental reasons, but I’m glad I have it.  It’s made in France.

Note that while DermStore actually has this size for sale for $9.5 (and Amazon has it for $7), the bottle I got says clearly “not for resale”. The actual product value is closer to $4.5

DermaBlend Long Wear Makeup Remover, 1 oz sample, $4

This product gets mixed reviews, with some people swearing by it and other warnings is not that effective on long wearing makeup and that it clogs pores.  It’s probably a good idea to wash this off instead of just using tissues.  I’ve found the DHC deep cleansing oil from the April Beauty Fix box to be a pretty great makeup remover, but we’ll eventually run out of it so I’m sure we’ll use this.  DermaBlend is a L’Oreal brand and this product is made in the USA.


CLEAN Shower Fresh Eau de Parfum, 5 ml mini rollerball, $6

Shampoo. That’s how my daughter described this perfume.  I’d agree, though perhaps it’s a bit sweeter than a typical shampoo.  It’s not the best scent out there, but if you just want to smell clean, this will do.  I’m sure I’ll use it.

Tocca Margaux Eau de Parfum, 1.5 ml sample vial, $2

I probably shouldn’t even have bothered testing this fragrance, as I don’t like vanilla in my perfumes (with some exceptions). But I did and regret it as I truly hate this fragrance. On the plus side, this is a good size sample for anyone who does like the perfume. On the minus side, it doesn’t have a sprayer.

Apothia IF Eau de Parfum, sample spray vial, $2

Before trying this perfume, I never realized what it was to truly, truly hate a perfume.  To me this smells horrible, one of the worst things I’ve smelled.  Other that some acrid notes of fetid cheese, which actually lighten the scent, I can’t actually describe it.  The image that comes to my mind is rat poison.

Now, the three other members of my household thought it smelled like sweet candy. My oldest daughter thought it smelled artificial, while my younger one described it as sweet tarts and claimed it immediately.  I have a feeling that my sense of smell is very particular.


Sample of  Sigma Spa Brush Cleaning Glove

This is an interesting concept. A rubber glove with different surfaces to help clean your make-up brushes.  At $35 for the full glove, that seems rather expensive and I imagine you can find something that will do a similar job for less.  But I liked getting the tiny sample.


Little Lace Box, $50/every other month, theme lifestyle box
Promo: Use LLB10 for $10 off your first box
I paid: $40
Box retail value: $196, My value: $196

Enjoyment Factor: ❤

Little Lace Box (LLB) is a bimonthly subscription box curated by three style-loving 20-something sisters from Florida.  Boxes usually follow a whimsical theme and are best suited for women with a sense of fun and imagination. While the boxes are usually a very good value money wise, their true value is on the curation and the fun you can have with the items included if you allow yourself to step beyond your box. These boxes also make great gifts.

Little Lace Box restructured a few months back in order to improve the quality and curation of their boxes. Boxes now come every other month and cost $60 if purchased individually, $50 if you subscribe (you will be given the option to subscribe when you go to purchase a single box).  Existing customers at the time of the change were grandfathered in at the $40 price. LLB now offers Serendipity, a mystery pouch, on the off months.


Every box contains a letter giving the thought process behind the theme and the curation, as well as information on the specific items included.  These letters are a must, not only are they good-humored and nicely written, but they put you in the right frame of mind for understanding the items.

This month’s theme was “Elizabeth & Mr. Darcy”, in reference to the main characters of Pride and Prejudice and, in that sense, of every other romantic novel ever written.   In a sense, this box was about romancing ourselves – because, let’s be honest, romance, for men, is a means to an end. Once that ring is on your finger, you are on your own.



This box contained four items. Like with most LLB boxes, this wasn’t love at first sight for me.  But then again, I subscribe to this box to get something that is not quite what I want or what I’m expecting, but that I’m determined to enjoy anyway.  In a way, LLB is a great metaphor for both life and marriage.

What I think LLB does better than any other boxes is introduce its customers to artists and entrepeneurs making a go in traditional industries that are now mostly occupied by big corporations.  In a sense, that’s LLB’s own story.  And this box introduced me to three new small businesses that I think are worth knowing.

As this box is about curation, price really shouldn’t matter as much. But LLB’s boxes are a good value. Of course, value is always subjective, but the RV of this box is $196, and it’s very much worth that (something I won’t often say about a box).


The Elizabeth & Mr Dary Flower vase by Mary Rose Young, $100?

I’ve never wanted to be rich. Indeed, as someone who grew up as an actual Christian, I cannot emotionally separate wealth from wrongfulness. You know the adage about it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to go heaven? I believe it.  Of course, I no longer believe in heaven, but I don’t believe there can be morality in wealth: whatever you have is what you are not giving to someone who needs it far more. I am not unaware that my current subscription box obsession may call into question those feelings (I won’t legitimize them by calling them values) but they are my only indulgence and I am able to somewhat justify them to myself.

Be that as it may, I do have wealth-envy once in a while and that’s exactly how I felt when I looked around Mary Rose Young’s website.  Her pottery creations are so whimsical, young, energetic and beautiful that I would love to decorate a room just with them.  Or maybe just a corner of a room, I can’t imagine you could have them around you and not feel happy.  I think the real treat of getting this vase in the box was being introduced to her artistry.

For better or worse the small vase included in this box is not one of Young’s color bomb, Alice-in-wonderland style pieces, but a classic little vase that Elizabeth might herself have chosen.  The blue and white colors were fashionable at the time, and the piece is classy and beautiful and perhaps just a little bit daring, with its white porcelain flower.  The vase was made specially for LLB, but I guess the artist had so much fun with it that she’s actually created an”Elizabeth & Mr. Darcy”collection that includes a bowl, a shoe keepsake and a tea pot.

Blue and white are not my colors. I did not look at this pot and instantly fell in love with it and it doesn’t go with the “stuff I picked up during my travels” decor of my home.  But it is charming and full of romance.  And it’s a great representation of the novel, both classic and stiff as Mr. Darcy and the pride and prejudice of Georgian society and simple and whimsical as Elizabeth’s family.  Two worlds in one; indeed, the vase is decorated with two painted roses, one symbolizing Darcy and the other Elizabeth.

While my enjoyment of the vase was not immediate, my daughters’ was.  They both saw it and instantly fell in love with it, they tried to claim it though I’d have none of it. It’s going n my mantel, where I’ll fill it with some of the roses that grow unkeptly around the house.

Note: LLB says this vase is $124 shipped.  I imagine that shipping a vase from England is expensive, though I can’t guess how much. Still, a slightly more complicated vase is on sell at Mary Rose’ website for $114, so $100 seems a logical price for this one.

A flower bouquet from The Bouqs.com, $40

Even more charmingly, LLB this month included a gift certificate for a fresh flower bouquet.  They’ll be e-mailing a code in the near future. The bouquets look lovely online, and I’ll update when I get it.


Little Lace Box “My Shea-rona” Shea Body Butter in “You leave me peachless”, $20

LLB has gotten in the natural product bandwagon and this month they debuted their second product, a shea body butter.  It does not relate to the theme of the box at all, but you do have to give the girls points for their creativity in rationalizing the inclusion of this product (it’ll help soften rough edges, as those Mr. Darcy had).

This lotion is 30% shea butter and the girls warn that it may be too oily for many.  While it’s been whipped to make it less heavy and it’s not as oily as I could have expected, it is, indeed, too heavy. I prefer lighter lotions myself.  Still, I will use it for elbows and particularly dry areas.

IMG_0799Harper Perfume Oil by Define Me, 9 ml, $36

Define Me is another labor-of-love company that is working to create scents that empower women.  They have five so far, each reflecting the personality of a different woman.  I got “Harper,” a scent designed to be worn “when going on adventures and trying new things.” It has notes of grapefruit, bergamot, honeysuckle & amber.

I didn’t immediately like this scent, though I felt I should like it. I love grapefruit and bergamot, though amber is usually a deal killer for me.  My daughter particularly hated this scent on me  and, surprisingly for a perfume oil, it has quite a bit of sillage.  I put it out to swap, but when people asked for it, I couldn’t go through with it. Harper has been haunting me.

Today I put it on and followed Define Me’s recommendation and layered it under a different perfume (one that is mostly flowery).   Somehow, this made the notes from Amber stand up even more and I was finally able to recognize what it reminds me of: ether.  Not pure ether, more like those ether-soaked cotton balls that we used to preserve dead bugs when I was in elementary school.  Beyond that, it smells like the wards of the Children’s Hospital my sister stayed in when she was a baby and I a toddler. My husband – who has smelled ether but not on a cotton ball or a third world hospital ward – can only smell flowers.  For me, they’re memories.  Not necessarily good memories, but as I get older, it doesn’t seem to matter much. I’m not discriminatory in my nostalgia.  I’m keeping Harper.

Update: Upon further reflection (OK, OK, I realized this in my sleep), I think what I’m smelling in Harper are simply aldehydes.  You see, when I was in elementary school we used both ether and formalin to kill & preserve bugs and I think both smells have become mixed up in my memory.  Formalin is a solution of formaldehyde in water, which is also commonly used as a disinfectant and is thus more likely to have been what the old wards of the children’s hospital smelled like.  And formaldehyde is just the most basic of aldehydes, themselves a common note in some perfumes.  I’ve worn other perfumes with aldehydes before (Channel is a big fan of them), but this is the first time that they’ve triggered that part of my memory.  In any case, I’m still keeping Harper and wearing it.


Little Lace Box: Serendipty, $10/month
I paid: $0
Box retail value: $16, My value: $16
Enjoyment Factor: ❤

Serendipity is a new subscription pouch from Little Lace Box (LLB).  Little Lace box recently changed its model and will now be sending more expensive boxes every other month. They are now offering Serendipity as a subscription for the off months.  It will consist of 5 to 7 sample-size and sometimes full-size items.  Basically, they are deals they come across but can’t quite fit into their boxes.  Subscriptions are $10 a month, but current subscriber to LLB will be getting Serendipity for free until LLB works out the kinks.

As it turned out, July’s Serendipity did not mail until August – one of their suppliers did not come through with an item they were planning to include. This is exactly the sort of kink that they need to work out, and it shows that they were very smart to test it out for free in their current subscribers.


As a regular LLB subscriber, I got the Serendipity items in the same box with the LLB items, those not subscribed to LLB got them in the regular pouch. This month the pouch included five items, though apparently new Serendipity subscribers also got the Ofra lip gloss the rest of us got last month.  For the rest of us the pouch value was rather low, $16 but I was glad to get all the items.  This is what I got:


Thank You! cards from einvite.com, 4 cards, $5

I’m not big on stationary or cards or fulfilling social obligations, but I should be. And these one-sided cards are just wonderful. They are cute, colorful, get the point across and should be fun to use. Indeed, I think I’ll swap for some more. I don’t thank people enough as it is.


Steep & Go Infuser for water bottles by The Tea Spot, $6

This is a plastic infuser/lid for disposable water bottles.  Apparently it only works for Dasani and Evian bottles, but I haven’t tried it at all yet.  I’m not a fan of iced tea or infused drinks in general, but my daughters are looking forward to trying it.


Malibu C Miracle Repair Hair Reconstructor, 1 .4 oz foil, $3

I usually have no use for any hair repair products, but my daughter severely damaged her hair by going swimming soon after we had bleached her hair, so she’s been trying lots of different deep conditioners/masks/repair products. This one, unfortunately, was a failure. Not only did it not miraculously repair her hair, but my daughter hated the licorice scent.  We won’t be buying a full size one.

Chill Out Cold Infusion by The Tea Spot, 1 foil: .2 oz, $1.3

This is an organic hibiscus, peppermint and licorice mix.  I hate licorice so I’m sure I won’t like this, but I’m sure one of my girls will eventually try it.


Mindful Minerals “Just Get Dirty” Dead Sea Mud Purifying Bar, 35 g, $1

This soap is made of palm oil, dead sea mud and water and it’s gently scented with eucalyptus oil.  I’m a big fan of bar soap and I’m looking forward to trying this one. I’m not in love with the scent, but it’s mild enough.


Beauty Fix, $25+tax/month, assorted beauty products
Promo: August box at half-price with subscription, no promo needed
I paid $25+tax
Box retail value: $111, My value: $70
Enjoyment Factor: ❤

Beauty Fix is a monthly beauty subscription box from DermStore, an online beauty store and offshoot of Target which specializes in upscale brands. Their monthly boxes include an assortment of beauty products, though there is an emphasis on skin care. Boxes have up to 10 products, a mixture of full size, deluxe samples and foils/tiny samples. Beauty Fix promises a value of over $100 and they usually hit that mark.  July’s box was really disappointing, but hopefully that was a one-time fluke. This box was very good.


Products come in standard box with no extra padding – still, none of them have arrived broken.  BeautyFix includes a card detailing the products in the box.

The one problem I had with this box was getting it.  DermStore seems to have switched to a different shipping company which lost my box so I had to have it resent. This box usually arrives in the first week of the month but I didn’t receive it until the 26th.


This box included a total of nine products, there were 4 full size and 5 “deluxe” samples.  My box also included a couple of small extra samples, something which DermStore does with some of its boxes, but not all did.

The retail value of the products in the box added to somewhere between $126 and $185, depending on whether you buy the products at MSRP or on sale.  The value of the products I will use is around $70 – though I would not have spent that much to get the products. Still, this month’s box is a great value.

This is what I got:


Medicell Redness Relief Hydrating Cream, 1.7 oz (full size), $30 – 60

This is a moisturizer mixed with a powder that reflects light in a similar way to that of young skin, thus fooling the eyes that see you. It’s supposed to also make your skin look less red.  Thanks to the many different products I put on my skin I no longer suffer from semi-permanent redness, but my skin could definitely look much better.  I gave it a try, but I wasn’t able to note much of a difference.  Then again, I probably wouldn’t.  I’ll test it before my kids and see what they think.

Medicell is a DermStore/Target owned brand. This product is listed as selling for $60, but it’s been sold for $30 in the past.  It’s probably overpriced at whatever its retail value is, as are most cosmetics.  It’s made in the USA.

IMG_0754Alterna Caviar Clinical Daily Densifying Foam, 5.1 oz (full size), $26 – $36

As far as I can tell you apply this foam to your hair and it coats them with a lightweight polymer layer that thickens each hair and prevents them from braking (sort of like when you plasticize a card).  It gets fairly do reviews for doing that.  It does seem pretty expensive, however, though it is a rather large amount.  I have too many hair products as it is, so I’ll probably swap this. Made in USA.


SmartFX Smart Eye Wrinkle Lift, .4 oz (full size), $15 – $60

SmartFX is another Dermstore/Target brand, which means that the prices on these products are “flexible,” to say the least. This item is currently priced at $60 at DermStore but at $30 at Target.  According to the reviews it was recently on sale at DermStore for 2 for $30.

In any case, this seems to be a concealer which helps to disguise wrinkles and pufiness. It’s highly tinted. It gets mixed reviews which means YMMV. I have a few other wrinkle concealing creams that I don’t use, so I may swap this one. Made in USA.

Paula’s Choice Daily Skin Clearing Treatment, 2.25 oz (full size), $17

I used to really respect Paula’s Choice and I liked their AHA exfoliant quite a bit. However, I’ve realized that this is just another cosmetic company that puts profit above health.  In a position paper on their website, Paula’s Choice goes on to defend the use of lead in their lipsticks and takes the position that as it’s legal to have some lead in lipstick, it must be OK.  To justify their position they cite an industry group.  Scientists, meanwhile, believe that there is no safe level of lead, particularly for children (and if you have children, you know there is more than a possibility that they’ll put on your lipstick).  I e-mailed Paula’s Choice to let them know how their position made me very suspicious of all their other reviews and statements, and they basically said that their position was that lead is OK in small amounts and they’re not going to change it.

This product is not a lipstick and there is no reason why it should contain lead, so it should be safe enough to use.  It contains  2.5% benzoyl peroxide, a chemical that kills bacteria, reduces inflammation and helps unplug pores.  The price of this product is competitive with others in the market and, ironically, it’s the one item that I would have purchased anyway – as with two tween girls, I need to have something I can use as a spot treatment for would-be pimples and the like. So far, I’m happy with it.  I used it this morning on a tiny white head that appeared on my nose and it was gone by the evening.  I’ll report back on how well it works on more “established” white heads. Made in the USA.


Patchology Exfoliate FlashMasque, 1 mask, $6

What can I say? It’s a sheet mask.  I have so many bottled and jarred masks right now that who knows when I’ll get to try it. But I always like getting this stuff. Made in Korea.


Glytone Step-Up Cleanse Mild Gel Wash, 1 oz (sample), $5

I love getting face washes because I know they’ll be used. This one has glycolic acid (an AHA) and according to reviews it’s often recommended by dermatologists.  I’ll definitely be using it in a few months when I run out of the facial cleansers I’m currently using. Made in USA.

Bliss Fabulous Foaming Face Wash, 1 oz (sample), $4

This face wash gets very mixed reviews, so I’ll be careful when trying it in the future. Made in USA.


Keranique Scalp Stimulating Shampoo, 1 oz (sample), $4

Keranique Volumizing Keratin Conditioner, 1 oz (sample), $4

These are matching products, the shampoo just changed its name.  They are supposed to help regrow your hair or at least thicken it.  I’m not sure that there is enough in the samples to see a difference but I think I will try. Made in USA.


Julien Farel Restore Treatment, foil sample

This is a product that you use twice a week to replace both your shampoo and conditioner. You put it on in the shower, you comb your hair and then rinse.  It supposedly helps restore your chemically treated hair.  I’m going to have my daughter with the chlorine-damaged hair give it a try and report back.  Made in Italy.

vbeauté Undercover Agent Anti-Wrinkle Protecting Serum, 1 ml sample

This is an anti-aging serum filled with anti-aging ingredients. It’s very light, scentless and it felt hydrating on my skin.

Horror Block, horror-themed paraphanelia, $30/month
Promo: save $5 your first box with HORROR2015
I paid: $30

Retail/Market Value: $26+$10 (for magazine), my value: $25
Enjoyment factor: ☁

Horror Block is a Canadian subscription box which sends out toys and gear with a horror-entertainment theme.   The box is $20 a month, but it ships from Canada so it charges $10 in shipping.  All boxes contain a custom t-shirt and a copy of Rue Morgue magazine, a Canadian publication on the horror entertainment field (not on horror itself).


I re-subscribed to the box because my daughter asked me to.  We knew this one had an item from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which she likes well enough, but mostly she wanted to get stuff.  This box was so disappointing, however, that she didn’t mind that I unsubscribed again.

This box was a particularly bad value.  Without counting the Rue Morgue magazine, it’s worth around $26.  I was able to trade some of the items, though in one case not for items I’d pay full price for.  Before swapping, the value of this box to me was $25, $5 less than I spent on it.  After swapping, it went up to $53, but I had to spend an addition $7 in postage.

This is what I got


Bloody Spike Titan Vinyl Toy, $10

Titans are collectibe vinyl figurines.  They have them for a limited number of popular TV shows including Dr. Who, Buffy and Breaking Bad.  This figurine was made exclusively for Horror Block.  We all liked it. My oldest daughter remembered exactly what scene it was from and was thrilled by the coffee cup with the straw. This was a keeper.

IMG_0684American Werewolf Shirt, $10

This is another Horror Block exclusive, and I have to say that it’s an awesome, awesome shirt.  I love the colors, which match my daughter’s very well.

Choose their Kill DVD
Season 1, $1

Horror Block has produced a series of very short youtube videos featuring a character that gets frustrated against someone. You decide how the character should kill that someone or whether to spare their life, each choice has its own video.

I am sure that these could be very amusing for an adolescent boy, but I found them silly and tedious. Plus, given that they are available on youtube, I see no point in getting a DVD.  However, I was able to swap this DVD for Loot Crate’s The Simpson Mighty Wallet ($15) and some temporary tattoos (~$2), so without taking my time into account, this item ended up being worth around $13 to us. 
Walking Dead Decal, $5

My daughter took this away and put it on her window before I could take a photo of it. She was happy with it.

IMG_0681“Bonus” T-shirt 

Apparently, Horror Block is cleaning up their wear house and sending out random t-shirts as “bonuses” (which, of course, means we should not ascribe them a value).  This t-shirt was particularly awful. Unless you know exactly what Super Smash Bros is and are a big fun, there is no reason at all why you’d want to wear it (compare that to the t-shirt above).  Fortunately, I was able to swap this t-shirt for another Titan vinyl figure.

IMG_0678Rue Morgue magazine, ($10)

Rue Morgue magazine is a Canadian horror entertainment magazine. If you’re into horror entertainment (movies, books, whatever), I’m sure you’ll love it. I’m not so I don’t.  I have not had any luck swapping these magazines before, so they have absolutely no value to me.


Scent Trunk: $18/month, 3 perfume samples
Promo: LOVESCENT40  for 40% off your first box

I paid:N/A
Box value: $19, My value: $19
Enjoyment factor:

Scent Trunk is a Canadian subscription box that sends you three perfume samples a month.  It offers versions for both men and women and ships free to America.  The samples are mostly from niche brands, many are only sold by the perfume line exclusively.  Scent Trunk mails every week, so you will get your first box approximately a week after you subscribe.

When you subscribe they ask you to fill out a questionnaire to determine what type of fragrances you like.  If you know what you like, you can skip this part and go to a page that allows you to rate how much you like specific scent families.  The Scent Trunk team will chose samples for you based on your scent preferences.  When I first filled out the questionnaire, it actually got my preferences backwards (it thought I liked orientals, but didn’t like citrus), fortunately I noticed and was able to change this (go to “update my scent profile”  to do this) – so make sure you double check that Scent Trunk gets your preferences right.


I didn’t actually order this box myself, but got it on a swap.  Since this box was sent out, Scent Trunk has slightly changed their model. They are now charging $18 a month, they are guaranteeing each sample will be at least 2 ml, and they say they are using more expensive niche fragrances.  While the service may be too expensive for my tastes, it’s definitely a great way of trying unusual perfumes.

As this box wasn’t for me, it wasn’t directed to my profile, but I liked the scents well enough.

IMG_0694Red Cattleya by Olympic Orchids, 2 ml?, $6/sample (30 ml/$65)

This perfume gives you a very quick trip through its bases.  It opens with a very nice peach that immediately makes you think of summer. It quickly develops into its other fruity components (apricot and melon, according to the card) before settling as a warm vanilla, apparently balanced with lilac. It makes me think of creme brulee.  To my daughter it smelled like cotton candy, so she has claimed it for herself.

Many hours later, the perfume lingers with some oakey buttery notes.  It’s perfectly wearable.

IMG_0696sarabecca Day, 1.5 ml, $4/sample (50 ml/$58)

sarabecca is a perfume made only from essential oils.  It’s made to be subtle and dwell in the background, and I think it accomplishes that task.  The notes are of white flowers, but they lack their sweetness.  Instead there is an aroma that makes me think of blotting paper, though it’s been so many decades since I’ve smelled that, that I’m likely wrong. My husband described the scent more like baby powder, but I think it’s somewhat too acidic for that.

I like it, in the sense that I like unusual scents that I find disturbing, but I wouldn’t buy a bottle of it.  
IMG_0697Sunshine Woman by Amouage, 2 ml, $9 (100 ml/$450)

This has to be the most expensive perfume I’ve ever worn (and likely will), so in that sense it’s thrilling. It’s supposed to have top notes of almond and Davana, middle notes of jasmine and vanilla and bass notes of cade and papyrus.  For my daughter, it smelled like the smoke used during Aztec folkloric dances.  To me, it’s somewhat reminiscent of the cheap disinfectants used in cheap Mexican hotels (actually, our local taqueria also uses it in their bathroom).  The sharpness of the perfume mellowed out after a while, into some old-fashioned soft oriental.  As that, it has lingered on my skin for hours.  Fortunately, I’m not into orientals as I would have hated to love this perfume and not be able to afford it.


Whole Foods Weekender Bag, $7, one time bags (prices vary)
I paid: N/A
Retail/Market value $23.5, My value: $23.5
Enjoyment factor: 

Every so often, Whole Foods market issues a beauty bag with a bunch of beauty samples. They’ve done three so far (one in March, another in June and now this one).  Bags are available in the store while supplies last. This one may still be available at your Whole Foods, though you may have to ask where they keep them.  I don’t shop at Whole Foods myself, I don’t have one nearby, and I got this bag in a swap.


Whole Food Beauty bags vary both in price and number and size of samples. This one contained three travel-size products and three sample sized ones, but was only $7. The total value of the bag is $23.50 (Whole Foods claims it’s $40, but they must have been smoking some of the African mint from the soap to get to that value), not as good a deal as the similarly-priced Target box, but not bad, specially as I will use all items.  More importantly, it gives me the opportunity to try some products I actually want to try.

In addition to the samples, the box came with three coupons for specific beauty items that can only be used at Whole Foods. They are of no use to me.

This is what I got:


Juice Beauty Nutrient Moisturizer, .5 oz, $9

I liked the Juice Beauty Age Defy moisturizer that I got on my Beauty Fix box last April and I’m sure I’ll like this one (despite the fact that it’s promoted by Gwyneth Paltrow, who must be the most clueless and entitled woman in the world).  While it’s a small tube, I do like that it’s a tube – which means that it won’t get contaminated every time I use it, as the jar does.  It’s comes with a seal so I’ll wait until I run out of my current moisturizer to try it.  


Acure Oganics Repairing Shampoo and Conditioner, 1 oz each, $1.25/each

This shampoo and conditioner duo is actually made of natural ingredients and they get fairly good reviews. They are advertised as having moroccan argan stem cells, but we’ll have to see if that’s something other than a gimmick.  I am looking forward to have my daughter with the damaged hair try them.  They are made in the USA.

Update: My daughter tried these products and they actually left her hair soft. That’s quite an accomplishment and I’ll definitely be buying the full size of these ones.

IMG_0722Alaffia Authentic African Black Soap in tangerine citrus, 1 oz, 50-cents

This might be the cheapest sample in the bag, but it’s the one I was most excited to try.  This all natural liquid soap is made from African mint aqueous extract and saponified shea butter and palm kennel oil.  I’ve no idea what African mint is, but I did find out that its aqueous extract has been found to be effective to lower blood sugar levels, so now I need to find out how to get some in an ingestible form.

The black in the name comes from the ashes added to the oils to make the soap, but the end result is actually brownish.  It’s scented with essential oils. I like the smell, but it actually reminds me more of food than a beauty product.  Despite the name, it’s made in Washington state though some of its ingredients are fair trade certified, so presumably they come from Africa.

Alaffia advertises that their soap can be used as a soap, shampoo, facial cleanser and more -which is, of course, true of all soap. It has a runny but somehow stringy texture.  I used it to wash my face, and left it feeling very clean and very soft. I’ll definitely use it for this purpose again.  I also tried it as a shampoo, but it doesn’t lather well so I ended up using shampoo on top of it.   It also seems to work well enough as a hand soap, though it doesn’t make suds so it’s a bit disconcerting.

I’m definitely planning to buy a full bottle of this.

IMG_0724Mineral Fusion Mini Nail Polish in blushing crystal, .25 oz, $6

I like but do not love this nail polish formula.  It’s nice if you can apply a coat of the exact right thickness (it helps to shake the bottle).  Apply too little, and it’s too runny and streamy.  Apply too much, and you’ll get clots.  I’m not very good at painting my nails, so this can be quite a challenge for me.  On the other hand, if properly applied it dries quickly and it leaves you with a shiny, healthy looking coat.

Light pink is not really my color, but I guess it works for those of us who are not bold enough to wear white nail polish but might want to.


Tom’s of Maine Simply White Natural Fluoride Toothpaste in Clean Mint, .9 oz, $1

I’ll be honest. Nobody here likes the flavor of Tom’s toothpaste.  However, I do like that it’s pretty natural and in my old age I’ve stopped really caring what something like a toothpaste takes like.  This is a good size travel toothpaste, so we’ll definitely use it. Made in the USA.


ChicoBag Travel Zip pouch, quart-size, $4

This quart-size bag has a clear front and meets TSA requirements. It looks like a great alternative to a ziplock bag. ChicoBag offers branded bags and I have a bunch of their regular shopping bags and they’ve proved to be quite sturdy.  I like that this one is made from recycled plastic bottles.  I’m no doubt going to use it.


Target Beauty Boxes $5-10, one time boxes
I paid: $7 + tax
Retail/Market value $39, My value: $34.5
Enjoyment Factor: 

Target seems to be issuing a box about once a month now.  They cost $5 to $10 and they usually include samples of products they carry worth several times that much. Sometimes more than one version of a box is offered. You have to order every box individually – you can’t subscribe – which means that you need to be alert for when they come out for sale as they usually sell out within hours. Your best bet, if you want to grab one, is to subscribe to the My Subscription Addiction blog alerts.


Target lists the contents of the box and includes a photo, so you know exactly what you are getting when you order it.  It’s usually a good enough deal that I don’t bother checking.  I’ve noticed that even when I don’t think I’ll use a product, I might do so later or I might just swap it.  Plus many of them make good stocking stuffers or party gifts.

Contents come in a sturdy, reusable box and include a card listing the contents and a $3 off a $15 or more beauty purchase at Target or Target.com (this one had an expiration date of 9/6/15).


This box included 2 full size products, a travel size and 3 samples.  I was disappointed that two of the latter are made in China, and therefore I won’t be using, but I was quite happy with the others. The box had a total value of , and my personal value is of .

This is what I got:

IMG_0655Clairol Hair Food Moisturizing Hair Mask, 6.3 oz (full size), $12

A hair mask is basically an intense conditioner. They usually have ingredients that can help manage damaged hair.  Until recently, we’ve never had much of a need of one, but then one of my daughters bleached her hair and then went swimming and it was too much for her hair.

I can’t tell for sure whether this product works, but it’s by no means a miracle worker.  More problematically, my daughter is repulsed by the smell.  Fortunately, I care much less so I’ll just keep it as an emergency conditioner. We run out of conditioner often enough that it will be used.

Made in Thailand.

IMG_0657CoverGirl Super Sizer Mascara by Lashblast in very black, 12 ml (full size), $6

This mascara gets great reviews but I found it to be pretty average (though as all the mascaras I’ve been using lately are at least twice the price, that’s not a bad thing).   The rotating brush makes it easier to apply, and it’s fairly non-clumpy, but I didn’t get extraordinary length or fullness.  The mascara did smudge a little bit under my eyes. One of my daughters claimed it – there is a big ad featuring Katy Perry wearing it (albeit on false eyelashes!) in Seventeen magazine -, and she likes it, but she greatly prefers the Sephora brand waterproof mascara I got her at the store.

It’s made in the US of foreign and domestic ingredients.


These photos show one of my daughters wearing the mascara in one of her eyes. Can you tell which? 


Fekkai Pré-Soleil Hair Mist, 1 oz (travel size), $4

Both my daughters have brightly colored hair which fades very quickly (the blue tones in particular).  So anything that helps them keep their color a little longer saves me both time and money.  I have high hopes for this item, though of course whether it works is predicated on whether they use it.  My hopes for that are not as great.  Unlike other hair products with UV protection, this is an easily applied spray and has a light, pleasant, sunny scent that I hope they’ll like.

It’s made in the US from foreign and domestic ingredients.


Crest 3D White 1 Hour Express Whitestrip, 1 strip pair, $12.50

These strips generally come in a box of 4 pairs (or 8 strips). Apparently, you are supposed to apply each pair for an hour in four consecutive days, and your teeth should be lightened enough to last you six month.  However, this box only included one pair.  Never mind, I would have tried it – depiste the reviews that say the application can be very painful – but one of my daughter took it.  She said she’d used the treatment before and it had worked.  Next time then.


Olay Active Botanicals Moisturizing Day Toner, 20 ml, $1.5

Olay Active Botanicals Moisturizing Day Lotion, 20 ml, $3

These seem to be new products, as they are only available at Target.  Unfortunately, while the Target website has the full size products as being made in the UsA, the samples are clearly marked as being made in China.  That means that we won’t be using them.




Birchbox: beauty samples, $10/month
Promo: BBJETBLUE10 for 100 extra points when you subscribe.
I paid: $0 – Box retail value: $28, My value: $13
Enjoyment factor:
Subscriptionista’s Humorous Review

Birchbox is a monthly subscription which sends you five beauty samples every month,  generally a mixture of skin/haircare and makeup.  It comes in a cute little box that you can reuse.  You can review each sample and receive for 10 points, and exchange 100 points for $10 off their online store, including gift subscriptions to their box. When you subscribe, you can fill out a questionnaire telling Birchbox which type of products interest you, though you may still get products you don’t care for.  Lately, Birchbox has allowed subscribers to chose between a curated box, that lists what samples are included, and a mystery box, with a choice of selecting one sample while supplies last.


Last June, I used my Birchbox points to gift myself a three-month subscription (I had to create a different account for this purpose). This was my second box from that “free” period.  While I did not actually request the curated box, I got it anyway. This month’s box was curated by Nicole Richie, a reality TV star and fashion guru.  While I wasn’t excited about this box, I do like one of the items, will sort of use another and will gift a third. The box wasn’t too bad, but I wouldn’t be happy if I’d paid for it.  This is what I got:

IMG_0707Rene Furterer LISSEA Leave-in Smoothing Fluid, .5 oz, $3.5

Despite the fancy name this is another hair cream.  This one claims to be good for straightened hair. It has a great smell, but I’m not particularly sure it does anything in particular.  Then again, I don’t straightened my hair.  It’s made in France, which is tres cool.
IMG_0709 (1)
dr. brandt microdermabrasion skin exfoliant, 7.5 g, $10

I got this same exfoliant in the Birchbox July box. I like it quite a bit. It’s rather gentle and leaves my face softer than a baby’s butt (which, really, is not that soft).  Still, $10 a tube for this seems ridiculous.  It’s made in the USA.

IMG_0706 LAQA & Co Cheeky Lip in “humble brag” (blush pink), 1 g, $6

This is a lip and cheek stain. There is very little in this sample, but probably enough to find out if this is the product for you. I’ve gotten so many cheek and lip glosses in various shades of pinks that this one is going off to be swapped or given as a little gift, so it has some value for me.  It’s made in the USA. 

IMG_0712St. Tropez Gradual Tan In Shower Lotion, 1. 6 oz, $6

I get it. It’s August. You didn’t go anywhere on vacation. Or you did, but you have a dire fear of sun rays and didn’t want to let any hit you. So now summer is over and you are feeling lame and figure a self-tanner is the answer.  I’m tempted to say that a self-tanner is never the action, but as someone whose facial skin has become all botchy due to sun damage, I can’t.

Made in the UK

IMG_0710OPI Venice Collection Nail Polish in My Gondola or Yours? (black), 3.75 ml, $2.5

I got this nail polish in black and it was a failure. The formula was runny and watery, and it was impossible to get an opaque, non-streaky coat.  I don’t know if my nail polish was faulty or it’s a problem with the color.  My sister got it in red and she loved it. She said it was quite thick, and one coat was almost enough. Made in the USA.


Ipsy, $10 a month, beauty samples
I paid $11, including tax
Box Retail value: $ 24, Market value: $10, My value: $4
Enjoyment factor:

Ipsy is a subscription service which sends you five beauty samples and full size products a month.  It costs $10.  Ipsy items come in a mini-makeup bag which changes every month.

I got this subscription for my 13 year-old daughter. She was primarily interested in getting makeup. Unfortunately, it turns out that most of the makeup Ipsy sends is cheap Chinese crap.  Though she’s gotten a few good products, this month was a complete dud.


This month Ipsy sent my daughter a small sample of face wash and hair mist, and three travel or full size makeup items made in China.  I don’t use or allow my children to use Chinese makeup but if I did, I would just buy it at the dollar store and save a lot of money.  The retail value of this box is $24 (I’m not including the value of the pen as it doesn’t even say what size it is) but the actual market value given the quality of the makeup is around $10. The value of the items I’ll use, however, is just $4.  I’m seriously considering unsubscribing.


My daughter thought the little makeup bag was pretty cute.  However, she thought it was a hideous pattern for a skirt.

IMG_0636Blossom & Bloom Ginseng + Biotin Volumizer, 1 oz, $3.5

This is a non-silicone  hair voluminizing product.  It smells quite nicely. We haven’t tried it yet, and while we most certainly don’t need any more voluminizing products, this one is at least made in the US.


LATHER Ultra Mild Face Wash, 1 oz, $3

My daughter was quite happy with this wash.  It has a pleasant scent and did not irritate her skin. That’s not usually an issue, but she had a bad reaction to the Yes to Blueberries Cleansing Facial Towelettes she got in August’s Popsugar box, so she needed something gentle to clear her skin of whatever was irritating her.

I wasn’t able to find much online about this product. Apparently LATHER products were sold in QVC (a TV shopping network) long ago, but now I couldn’t find them anywhere other than on Amazon.com (which I no longer shop at after reading the NYT article on how badly they treat their workers) and at a couple of small online retailers. Perhaps they are making a comeback. Fortunately the product is made in the USA.

And now for the junk that Ipsy sent:


Hikari Cosmetics Lip Gloss in “salsa” (red), 4.6 g, ($13)

Hikari Cosmetics is a relatively new brand by the owner of Be a Bombshell Cosmetics.  These are products cheaply manufactured in China and apparently mostly marketed through Ipsy.  I commend Hikari for actually having the product’s origin noted on the container, but I suspect that it calls China by the initials of its full name (People’s Republic of China) in order to confuse people who may not associate the name with the initials.

This product shows exactly why I do not allow my children to use any Chinese-made makeup.  A little bit of sleuthing online shows that Hikari lipglosses and other cosmetics are manufactured by Fujian Ishine Cosmetics Co., a Chinese company.  Just last April, other makeup products manufactured by Fujian Ishine were detained by Costumes for being adulterated with poisonous materials.  The FDA does not test every shipment that enters the US, far from it, and there is no indication that companies that sell Chinese-made cosmetics under their own brand test them for safety before releasing them into the US market.

Of course, Chinese manufacturers are not the only ones responsible of trying to import contaminated products into the US, but given the terrible environmental and consumer safety practices in China, I think it’s foolish to take chances with any products that are meant to be consumed or applied topically.


City Color HD Powder, 4 g, ($3.5)

This product consists of 100% silica (the main component of sand). I assume you are supposed to put it on your face to absorb oil and make patty cakes?  Though the photo makes it look sand colored, the powder is actually white.

City Color Cosmetics is one of the brands owned by Beauty Plus Global Inc., which in turn belongs to Joinford International Limited, a company incorporated in Taiwan.  I am sure that Joinford belongs to yet another company, but there is just so much online research I’m willing to make.  In any case, they also supply brands such as POP Beauty, Pixi, kiki and Signature Club. They are also one of the suppliers for Giordano Colors, which in turn provides private branded items for other American companies.  Joinford has had its own issues with adulterated products.

In any case, I consider this junk.

StarLooks Pro Luxe Longwear Eye Liner Pen in black, no size given, $0

Star Looks is a relatively new company also operating out of southern California.  They run their own subscription box. Their pitch is that they provide professional, high quality makeup at affordable prices – though the list prices they show are as high as top-name brands. They sell this eye liner, for example, for $19!

The eye liner pen that came in the box had no information about either the size of the product (in violation of federal law) nor where it was made.  Their FAQ, however, says that their “contract formulation team is located in Canada and China”.  It seems to say (the language isn’t very clear) that they use standard formulations, though they may change them when it’s cheaper to do so.  Not something that reassures me.  I called them on the phone to get more clarification as to where the items were produced, they seemed to have a script to answer these questions (“the product was formulated in Canada but filled in China”) and the person I spoke to did not seem to really know what that actually meant.

In any case, this eye liner has the exact same ingredients* and in the same order than the identical looking pens branded and sold by Demure, Paul Christian, Faces Beautiful, Hot Face CosmeticsSleek Makeup, Mi Bella Reina and even Skone Cosmetics TATTOOED Waterproof Eyeliner, which is also marketed by Ipsy. If you really want this product, you might as well buy the Sedona Lace version, which they sell for just $5.

* water, polyacrylic acid (carbomer), acrylates/octylacrylamide copolymer, triethanolamine, sorbitan sesquioleate, propylene glycol, polyvin ylpyrrolidone and coloring.



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