Beauty in a box: Personalized makeup at your door

Birchbox WHAT YOU GET: Four to five

Birchbox
WHAT YOU GET: Four to five samples monthly, including cosmetics, skin and hair care (popular brands like Kiehl's, Stila, Kerastase), and lifestyle items, from granola bars to votive candles. Birchbox Man subscribers get three to four grooming products (Jack Black, Peter Thomas Roth) and one or two full-size lifestyle products. You can purchase full-size versions on the site, where you'll find how-to videos, expert interviews purchase incentives and more.
WHAT YOU PAY: $10/month (Birchbox), $20/month (Birchbox Man)
OPTING OUT: Gift subscriptions terminate but regular monthly or annual subscriptions auto-renew; cancel anytime but the first shipment is nonrefundable.
INFO: birchbox.com (Credit: Handout)

Christine Arata is big into Christmas stockings. The more inventive the contents, the better. Her husband, David? Not so much. So last December she was braced for the usual -- flowers and a bag of Snickers Minis -- when she pulled out a gift card labeled Birchbox.

Score!

Birchbox, a leading online beauty sampling service launched in 2010, sends out monthly goodie bags filled with sample-size bath and beauty products, each bag tailored to individual customers' needs, based on questionnaires they fill out.

"I don't have time to go shopping, but I love beauty products," says Arata, a former French teacher turned stay-at-home mom raising two children (Sofia, 2, and David, 5 months) in Oceanside. (You can catch her blog at longisland-mom.com).

"I turned 30," she adds, "so I'm a little obsessed with skin care now." She's in search of the perfect moisturizer, and appreciates being able to test samples rather than having to buy expensive, full-size products she might not like.

Samples are nothing new, and standard at department store makeup counters. But those from Birchbox -- and a growing list of competitors -- come straight to your door. In pretty wrappings.

"You're like a kid in a candy store," says Arata. "I get a gift every month."

Her March box includes Benefit concealer, Caudalie eye cream, Miss Me perfume and more, in sizes that should last a few weeks, she says.

As for that perfect moisturizer? Arata hasn't found it yet. But she did flip for TheBalm's Hot Mama shadow-and-blush in shimmery peach. She'll buy it full-size, for sure -- as soon as she finishes her sample.

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