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Anna G. Larson, Published January 23 2013

Thursday review: Birchbox lets you try cosmetics before you buy

FARGO – My bathroom drawers are full of lipsticks, lotions and makeup that I bought, tried and didn’t like.

To avoid wasting more money while still satisfying my curiosity for new products, I signed up for Birchbox, a beauty subscription service that sends out samples of beauty and lifestyle products once a month.

It costs $10 a month or $110 when you sign up for a full year. Birchbox is a women-owned business started by two Harvard grads.

In the three months I’ve been subscribing, I received four or five samples each month in a small, pretty cardboard box. Opening the Birchbox is almost as fun as trying out the products.

The samples are based on the profile I filled out on Birchbox’s website. There’s usually one full-size product and a few sample-sized products per box. Brands Birchbox distributes include Nars, Benefit, ModelCo, (MALIN+GOETZ), Kiehls and dozens of others.

I’ve raved about some products, like the French-inspired Number 4 Lumiere d’hiver Clarifying Shampoo, and ranted about others, like the SoyJoy Fruit & Soy Bar (tastes like sand).

All products are available for purchase in their full-size form on Birchbox’s website. Subscribers earn points with each purchase and for reviewing items.

Points can be used toward discounts on products or purchasing more subscriptions (100 points equals $10 off). Many items, like all products from each month’s Birchbox, ship free.

The company also has a generous return policy, which I value. All full-size products can be returned for a full refund within 90 days of the purchase date. The return shipping is even free of charge.

I enjoy trying new products but don’t want to spend money on the full-size version right away. Birchbox is perfect for people like me because it edits samples based on my profile so there’s less of a chance that I won’t like something.

Try a Birchbox subscription for a few months if you’re curious about new beauty products but don’t want to commit to purchasing them.