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Cosmetics, Good Beauty

Real Reviews: Ipsy

ProfessorGorgeous founding_member

This photo contains stock imagery and is not meant to represent the products offered by Ipsy.

A love/hate relationship that deserves an explanation...

As I mentioned in my last article, where I covered my experience with Factor meals, I’m a subscription fiend– mostly due to my boredom and lust for mail. While this habit can sometimes interfere with my wish to minimize my spending and overall use of products, there are some subscriptions that I just cannot bring myself to cancel, regardless of how often they’ve disappointed me. Enter Ipsy.

Ipsy is a beauty subscription service that was founded by legacy YouTube creator and makeup artist Michelle Phan in 2011 and launched as a subscription service in 2017. Phan’s early contributions to YouTube were among the first videos on the platform to generate over 1 million views, cementing her position in history as one of the first and best beauty influencers (before that was even a term). Her name alone lends a degree of credibility to Ipsy, and was a big reason for my initial subscription; I wanted to support her, regardless of the impact my single subscription would make. We love supporting the girlies over here!

I’ve been an “Ipster” (their words, not mine) since 2021 when the cost of the service was around $12 if I recall correctly. At that time, I received 2-3 full-sized products, and 2-3 sample-sized products per month, all of which were tailored to my preferences, but only a few of which I was able to explicitly choose. Upon registering, the user is asked to complete a rather comprehensive questionnaire outlining everything from skin tone and eye color to product preferences and more. I can see why one would be reluctant to join a service like Ipsy, where the contents of your delivery are generally unknown until the beginning of the month, where you’re prompted to make 1 selection in your shipment, the rest of which is dictated by their curators. However, I’ve found their curations to be wildly accurate, and have impacted my shopping behavior and beauty product preferences to this day.

The coolest part about Ipsy’s questionnaire is that you can change your answers based on the evolution of your style or routine. For example, when I started my Ipsy journey I used a lot of eyeshadow and foundation, and when asked about my preferences thereof, I was able to outline specifically what kind of coverage I preferred, the texture and undertones of my skin, formulas of both products, and how frequently I would like to receive them in my boxes. I wasn’t expecting that level of personalization, but was thrilled when they were able to pretty much nail my taste and shade matches immediately. In terms of what I wasn’t too keen on using, such as eyeliner or eyebrow products, the questionnaire allowed me to specify that I would like to receive those products the least. Occasionally I would get a stray eyeliner or nail polish that I didn’t want, and ultimately I would save them for a time when I might need them in the future, which is safe to do as long as you don’t open the product and subsequently retire it to your shelf for months on end, allowing that bacteria to stew and grow… gross!

These shipments are called Glam Bags, and in the past, the users have had the opportunity to upgrade their Glam Bags to include more full-sized products for an increased fee. Users are also alerted a few days before their Glam Bag ships to select any “add-ons” to include in their shipment. Add-ons are Ipsy’s menu of discounted products, many of which are exclusive to Ipsy. These offerings change often to reflect new product promotions, or, and this is an assumption on my part that I’ll address later, products that simply aren’t performing well in the market that brands want to get rid of. The particularly attractive element of these add-ons is that you can pick as many little samples, large samples, or full-sized products you want to add to your order for a discount that you can’t find at the retailers themselves. Many brands, like one of my favorites, Purlisse, do not offer samples for sale on their native site, but offer a plethora of samples for purchase on Ipsy’s add-on menu. Samples are priced as low as $3.50 each, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t add around 5 or 6 to each of my orders.

Over the years, the subscription tiers have reduced to the standard Glam Bag with the option to upgrade to the BoxyCharm tier, which costs $30 per month and includes the opportunity to choose 3 of the 5 full-sized products you receive, and the Glam Bag X tier (now called the Icon Box), which replaces your Glam Bags on a quarterly basis with a celebrity-curated selection of the hottest products in full sizes, some of which you can choose. In late 2023, I upgraded my subscription to the Icon Box due to their special promotion including a curated selection of Pat McGrath products. As a huge Pat McGrath fan myself, I sprung at the chance of getting some of her eyeshadow, along with a selection of other products, for the huge discount of $60 for the entire box (usually her eyeshadow quads go for $62 alone). While I believed that this would be an absolute steal, after receiving the shipment and unboxing it, I was deeply disappointed.

My first Icon Box came in December 2023, and when I finally unboxed it, I found that the entire shipment was covered in fine purple dust. I didn’t want to believe it, but I knew it was true; my long-awaited Pat McGrath eyeshadow quad (the exact one I wanted) had exploded, presumably during transport. I thought, “No worries, I’ll just contact support and get a new one” because I was lucid enough to document the broken product and the damage to the other products in the shipment the explosion had caused. Upon speaking with customer service via live chat (which is always the preference, in my humble opinion), they assured me that a replacement product would be on its way, but that they were not able to guarantee that I receive the exact product I wanted. I found this rather odd since I know for a fact that the quad wasn’t discontinued, and that clearly I would not be happy with a replacement product of a different brand unless I had the ability to select it myself. I told the Ipsy representative that I would prefer an exact replacement, as it was my initial incentive to upgrade my subscription, but I would settle for a product of equal or greater value. Three weeks later, I received a palette meant to replace my quad; a blue and green eyeshadow palette from an unknown brand, valued at less than $20.

I was so disappointed. It almost felt as though their strategy was to acquire damaged Pat McGrath products at a discount, include them in their shipments to essentially leverage the brand’s popularity, therefore acquiring a significant influx of new customers, and address complaints by shipping other/less expensive products, and bet on the customer’s laziness or forgetfulness to prevent them from requesting a replacement. While this may seem like a huge reach, it’s rooted in some personal evidence from past shipments. I am guilty of being the “lazy” customer who fails to address issues with products, resulting in my eventual discarding of broken or faulty makeup. This seems like a great way to offload products from brands who don’t want to take the loss, and it seems pretty dishonest. For the record, I never received the new Pat McGrath quad. I instead decided to complain to Ipsy again and demand that the remaining $35 in value that I lost after receiving such a cheap product as a replacement be granted back to me in the form of new products or rewards points to exchange for other products.

One month later, I received my normal Glam Bag shipment which included a few add-ons, namely a Juicy Couture candle of my favorite Juicy scent. The shipment bag itself had a hole in it and rattled when I took it from the mail room, immediately alerting me to what I had feared; the candle shattered during shipment, leaving broken glass shards scattered throughout the bag, and ruining the entire shipment. How could they ship glass in a soft mailer that doesn’t even indicate that the contents are fragile? I had no choice but to throw the entire shipment in the trash, but not before sending photo evidence to customer service. At this time, I was extremely tempted to cancel my subscription. Multiple disappointments within a year are enough to indicate to me that the business is cutting corners on quality control with little attention paid to reconciliation. But still, I was reluctant to cancel. Why? Well, it’s unfortunately simple. The products I’ve discovered through Ipsy’s in-depth curation are staples in my beauty routine, and I wasn’t ready to end my journey of discovery. I don’t know if that makes me dumb or overly optimistic, but either way, I have the energy to keep trying a few more times. For the record, they weren’t able to replace the broken and damaged products, but they were able to issue me a full refund, which at that point (and given my experience with their former replacement choices) was all I was really interested in.

As I’m writing this, I’m staring at my latest shipment from Ipsy with both curiosity and fear. The box is a little damaged, but hey, I guess I’ll find out the truth when I open it. The only reason I haven’t is that I’m simply not ready to confront another disappointment. Hopefully, I’ll be happily surprised.

So, what’s the TLDR?

Quality: 7/10. Usually, I can score individual boxes at around an 8, with the factors contributing to a score lower than 10 being the frequency at which I receive broken products and the occasional product that is dollar-store quality at best. I can confidently say that despite my recent issues with Ipsy, the overall quality of the products you can expect to receive is very high, whether you recognize the brand or not. Smaller brands are capable of extremely high AND extremely low quality. If you choose to subscribe, keep an open mind, as it’s likely you’ll discover your new favorite serum, mascara, or something else. If you’re looking for Sephora brands only, this may not be the service for you.

Ease of Use: 8/10. The customer service is responsive, and choosing products is simple. I will say that sometimes, when I’ve tried to use their app or mobile website, I’ve encountered some programming bugs that prevent me from fulfilling my order, but overall, it’s a straightforward experience.

Value: 9/10. I deducted a point to account for the times when I haven’t received replacements for the damaged product. However, there’s really no other way to shop for deals like this, or have the opportunity to try products that aren’t yet available to the public (i.e. exclusive samples, or early releases of Gwen Stefani’s new longwear lip gloss). Each Icon Box, which as I’ve mentioned is $60, contains over $250 worth of products, and I can personally verify that I’ve totaled the individual worth of the products I receive and have been very pleased with the overall discount. Hopefully one day when they offer brands like Dior, I won’t open my mailbox to discover the interior covered in lip gloss. Fingers crossed…

Would I recommend: Yes, but ONLY after properly preparing prospective users. If you can deal with their faults, I truly believe you will reap their benefits. Stay strong, beauty queens, and advocate for yourself!

#subscriptions #haircare #damage #review #makeup #Beauty #gifts #Ipsy