Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How the Sephora Skincare Challenge saved Christmas

We went to a party the night before Christmas Eve and I had one of those nights when you forget you're old and drink like you're still 22. Needless to say, I was sorry the next day. Actually, I got off lucky, because if I'd had any more to drink I probably would have gotten a migraine, and then my whole day would have been shot; instead, I was just headachy and hung over enough on Christmas Eve morning to worry that I'd spend the day on the couch. And I had things to do. Lesson: When you've started with champagne and moved on to good red wine, there is absolutely no reason to reach for an Alaskan Amber at the end of the evening. You'll just end up crossing a line you didn't even need to approach.

Another event I hadn't anticipated: I didn't plan to participate in the Sephora Skincare Challenge, but my fancy complicated (high maintenance) skin demands fancy complicated products, so I was halfway to my Skincare Challenge reward before I'd even realized what the program was. In short: Buy four qualifying skincare products at Sephora before the end of the year and receive a special gift (some small selection of items I hadn't really looked at because, again, I was participating completely by accident). I actually bought my fourth product on my trip to Las Vegas, but I wasn't interested in the only gift they had available in the store (some kind of mini eye kit? I don't remember. It wasn't exciting) so I took the certificate to redeem online later. Which I did, when I placed a mid-December birthday order for my sister-in-law. There were a couple of choices, but they looked kind of sample-sized and uninteresting -- until I read the fine print and realized the Philosophy shower gel option was actually a full-sized 16 oz. bottle. I hadn't smelled the scent, but free Philosophy is free Philosophy, you know? So this arrived:

and I gave it the sniff test (which it passed), tossed it in the shower and forgot about it.

Until the morning of Christmas Eve, when I stumbled into the shower in the hope that hot water would snap me out of my post-drink funk and reached for the closest bottle, which turned out to be that free Philosophy Bubbly.

And I kid you not: It turned my whole day around. I don't even know what it's supposed to smell like (Sephora describes it as "champagne inspired"), but it's got kind of a light, fruity scent (not girly pink fruity, but clean fresh fruity) that cut through my gunky feeling and cleared my head. Seriously, it was like rays of sunshine beamed down into my shower and cleared away the hangover fog. Forget that skincare line; they should have called this product the Miracle Worker.

In short: Endorse, endorse, endorse. I am a Bubbly convert. And will be as long as I keep drinking the thing they named it after.

Philosophy Bubbly Shampoo, Shower Gel & Bubble Bath
Bottom Line: Cures the common (mild) hangover and smells like sunshine.
Price: $$
Tip: Also good for clearing the head on those early mornings after you've been up too late watching old episodes of "Project Runway" and playing Angry Birds.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Come along as I cancel a BeautyFix order

I joined BeautyFix a little over a year ago when Daily Candy offered a half-off special. For $25, I was willing to give it a try. If you're not familiar with BeautyFix, here's the short version: Four times a year, you pay $50 to receive a makeup bag containing eight sample-to-full-size products to try. I thought the first kit was great, so I decided to stick with it.

It has not always been easy.

But more on that later. First, this: When my new time-to-pick-your-products e-mail arrived this week, I thought I'd take the opportunity to walk through it so the BeautyFix-curious could get a look inside the process before committing to the kit. Four times a year, BeautyFix members get an e-mail like this:

This is a change from the original BeautyFix -- it used to be you just paid them and got what you got. Now you go to the BeautyFix website and log in to your account, where you are asked to update your "beauty profile":

If you ask me, this is one of the program's flaws. It's great that it's easy to update your profile when you choose, but is there really any need to ask users to go through this process every single time they order? The profile is several pages long, and having to go through it four times a year seems unnecessary.

Next you get to pick your products. Here's the complete list of choices for the most recent kit:

So that's it -- you pick your products, click "Ship My Kit," and wait for your goodies to arrive. At least, that should be it -- but in the almost year-and-a-half I've been buying BeautyFix, I've encountered some hiccups and developed some concerns:

1. Technical issues. I've had an entire BeautyFix account just disappear. I joined last September. I got a kit right away, and then another one soon after... and then nothing. I didn't get e-mails. I couldn't log in to the website. I called customer service four or five times, and each time the people I spoke with were relatively pleasant and utterly ineffective. They kept telling me I needed to reset my password (doesn't work when the website doesn't recognize your account), and then it was that the website was under construction, and then they finally admitted that they just couldn't figure out why I couldn't access the website and wasn't receiving kits or correspondence, and they told me the only solution was to start a new account with a new e-mail address. It had to be a new e-mail address? I asked. Yes. So I set one up with my work address. Not impressed, but willing to give it another try.

2. Customer service is useless. Polite, yes, but not really effective at all. They don't understand how the website works. I have never gotten a useful answer to a question by calling customer service.

3. There tends to be a lot of repetition in the product selection. Looking over the selection of products above, I've already received more than two dozen of them in previous kits -- some of them three times. If you Google BeautyFix, Google offers you "BeautyFix scam" as a related search. I don't think it's a scam (although I do think it's incredibly poorly run), but it's clear there are companies with which BeautyFix has partnerships, along with its sister outlet, The first two kits I received were exciting because I was trying products I'd never heard of, but the excitement wore off when I started to receive product after product from the same brands. The point is to try new things, not get sold on the same stuff over and over.

Ttoday, a collision of all three of these issues led me to cancel a BeautyFix order for the first time. I logged in and glanced over the list. I was disappointed, although not surprised, to see lots and lots of familiar selections. I'd been less than thrilled with my last kit, but I thought I'd give it one more chance. So I spent about 15 minutes deciding what I wanted (yes, at work...), looked at my selections all lined up on the top of the page, and clicked "Ship My Kit."

And then I saw a message confirming that my order for one product and one product only -- the makeup bag that's included in every order -- had been submitted.

I quickly clicked around the website trying to see my order, but there was no way to go back and review what I'd selected. I logged out and then back in. No luck. Finally I called customer service and gave the polite woman on the other end of the line my order number. She confirmed that I had, in fact, just placed a $49.99 order for a made-in-China makeup bag and no products at all. There was no way to modify the order, but she could cancel it and then I could resubmit it -- but there is no way to do this on the website. I would have to place my order over the phone. Did I remember the products I'd selected? No, of course I did not -- the website was supposed to do that for me. The only solution she could offer (bless her -- the website isn't her fault) was to read me the complete list of products over the phone and have me select them with her.

At this point I decided to cut my losses. I didn't have a half hour to spend on the phone dealing with this (again, at work -- my own fault), and I'd already been less than enthusiastic about placing the order at all, so I told her to just cancel it. (On a positive note, BeautyFix does allow you to to skip or cancel a shipment without penalty.) The website's shortcomings were probably just the universe telling me to hold on to that $50 for now.

I don't want to leave you thinking my experience has been all negative, because it certainly hasn't. I've discovered some products that I love and might not have tried otherwise -- like 3Lab's Perfect Cleansing Foam, which is wonderful, and Skindinavia finishing spray, which I use every single day. To me, though, the website glitches and ineffective customer service would only be worth putting up with if I were getting to discover exciting new things every time I get a package -- and that just isn't happening anymore. When my next BeautyFix order reminder comes along, I'll take a look at the selection -- but unless I see a whole bunch of new additions, it may be time for us to part ways.

Bottom Line: Great concept, but glitchy and not always satisfying.
Price: $$$
Tip: Worth a try if you can get a discount code -- and I've seen a lot of them bouncing around out there. Do some Googling before you buy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lush responds: Yes, we charge extra for gift sets

The other day I broke down the actual costs of a few Lush holiday gift sets. I mentioned I'd written to Lush to see how they explain the added expense. Here's the response I received today:
Thank you for writing to us. I apologize for your disappointment with the pricing of our wrapped gifts. We put a lot of work into designing and sourcing our gift wrapping materials- for example, we use some handmade, embossed papers for some of our gift sets that we source from a cooperative in Nepal which are more costly, as well as other special boxes and hand processed ribbons that are sourced ethically, and sustainable. Also, our packing materials (the packing peanuts) are 100% biodegradable, and are made of vegetable starches so that they will dissolve in water, but is a more costly choice than Styrofoam for example. We also must account of the labour that goes into the hand wrapping of each gift set by the staff in our facilities who assemble and wrap each gift set.

We do not advertise that our gift sets are more economical than purchasing the products individually, and we feel that giving a beautiful hand-wrapped gift made with hand embossed paper, and ethical ribbons, etc, is something that many of our customers are happy to pay a bit extra for.

We also make sure to offer an option for customers who’d prefer not to purchase a gift like this, and that is that products can be selected, and then our knot-wrap furoshiki scarves can be purchased to wrap the gift in for $6.95. The scarves are made of recycled materials, and can be reused again and again, making them a great value.

I hope this information is helpful for you. Please let me know if you have any further questions and I’d be happy to help.

Kind regards,

Customer Care Representative
So there you have it. Yes, Lush is charging you extra for that gift set, and no, they don't see any reason to apprise you of that fact when you buy it. (Although they're sure that, if you realized you were being charged extra for "hand embossed paper, and ethical ribbons, etc." you'd be "happy" about it.) If you have questions for Lush, you can e-mail or call toll-free: (800) 733-5874.

Time to stock up on Shadow Insurance

I’ve never really fallen in love with anything from Too Faced except Shadow Insurance (which I use every single day), and this sale gets it under $15, so if you haven’t tried it, now might be a good time. There don’t appear to be any exclusions on this, so if I were going to use it I might think about ordering a custom palette for my sister-in-law.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Spendy little wonder crayon

Let me start by saying: $24 is an absofrackinglutely ridiculous amount of money to spend on a lip gloss. Criminal, almost. As I sit here and think about it, I actually feel horrifically guilty considering how many tubes of Blistex I could have bought and donated to the kids at Covenant House with the money I’d saved by not buying this lip tint.

That being said... I love this product. I love it. I loooooove it. I love the color (mine is Moody, a “deep berry” that looks scarily dark in the tube but goes on sheer and just pink enough to complement my pale Irish-Alaskan skin), I love the minty freshness, I love the gloss, I love that it lasts a long time and makes my lips feel all fresh and smooth and moisturized. Love love love.

I’m less wild about the delivery mechanism. I’m not quite sure why it needs to be packaged in a big fake plastic crayon. I’m all for less packaging (which is why I’ll never buy another Stila Lip Glaze even though I love the product; holy wasted plastic, Batman). I see no reason this couldn’t have come in a chic little tube like, say, Clinique’s Black Honey Almost Lipstick, which I also love love love, which also looks intimidatingly dark in the tube but goes on beautifully sheer and perfect, and which has the added benefit of being $10 less expensive than the Tarte lip tint. (Black Honey does lack Tarte’s added bonus of minty freshness, however, and it only comes in the one color, although Clinique claims Black Honey looks good on absolutely everyone.) Tarte has a respectable green initiative (including a customer recycling incentive program), so maybe they’ll at least consider facilitating recycling of the LipSurgence packaging. I e-mailed customer service to see if it’s in the works — if they respond, I’ll post an update.

UPDATE, 12/17/10: I got an e-mail from Jessica at Tarte this afternoon. She says "The LipSurgence components are plastic and can be recycled as well," although she didn't answer my question about whether they will be added to the recycling incentive program... so it sounds like they're recyclable, but Tarte isn't recycling them for you. Oh well.

Tarte LipSurgence natural lip tint
Bottom line: Pricey and overpackaged, but minty, glossy and beautiful.
Price: $$
Tip: If you want to save 10 bucks and don’t mind sacrificing mintiness and color selection, try Clinique’s Black Honey Almost Lipstick.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Buyer beware: Lush gift sets will cost you extra

’Tis the season for fun holiday gift sets that let you try a little bit of everything for a great price, right? Wrong — if you’re talking about Lush gift sets, that is.

It pains me to say this, because I really do adore Lush — great products, great philosophy — but at least some of their packaged gifts are not worth the price you pay. Literally. Let’s do the math:

The Chillin’ With My Gnomies gift set includes a 3.3 oz. Whoosh Shower Jelly and a 3.5 oz. Snow Globe Soap and costs $14.95. But if you bought the items separately, you’d only pay $11.90, and you’d actually get 0.2 oz. more shower jelly.

You could pay $28.95 for the Gingerbread House Tin, which comes with a 3.5 oz. Gingerbread House Bubble Bar, a 3.5 oz. Candy Cane Bubble Bar, a 3.1 oz. Cinders Bath Bomb, and a 3.1 oz. L’il Lush Pud Bath Bomb — or you could pay $6.25 and $5.95 for the bubble bar and $3.95 each for the bath bombs, for a total of $20.10, and use the $8.85 you saved to buy a cuter container. Or two more bath bombs.

What got me started adding up the Lush gift sets? My own folly. On my swing through Lush in Las Vegas last week, I picked up a couple of the cute boxed gifts thinking they would be a good way to try some new scents. I did the math in my head quickly and figured out I was paying about $5 per product in one set and a little less than $6 per product in the other, which seemed more or less right — until I got home, started poking around the website, and found out most of the products I’d bought in those gift sets actually retail for $3.95. I’d paid $1.60 per ounce for products that would have averaged $1.22 per ounce if I’d bought them individually. I was particularly offended when I realized that, in buying the Christmas Star gift set, I’d overpaid for my products by about $10, in return for which I got a cute but cheap star-shaped cardboard box and a frustrated headache.

There is a 25% off coupon inside each of the boxes I purchased, and I imagine some people would say that makes them worth the extra money. But I have a couple of responses to that:
  • The discount coupons are extremely limited. This isn’t a blanket 25% off your next purchase. You only get to use them on three products, and they must be skincare products (“cleansers, hand and body lotions, toners, shaving cream, serums, color supplements, fresh face masks and moisturizers”). Having overpaid by $10 for the Christmas Star gift set, my total for those three skincare products would have to be $40 before my 25% discount would start to pay for itself.  I shop at Lush for hair care and bath products, so these two coupons likely won’t get used.
  • Is it really a discount if you have to pay for it? If the discount is part of what you’re paying for, isn’t Lush just charging you now to give them more money later? That’s not a discount — it’s a down payment.
I sent an e-mail off to Lush asking for an explanation of the gift set overpricing. I don’t need to save gazillions of dollars on gift sets, and they’re certainly not billing them as value sets or special bargains — but I’m offended that I paid so much extra for no apparent reason. If I get an answer, I’ll post it. In the meantime, my recommendation is to do your homework before you buy a Lush gift set — you could save yourself some real money by buying individual products and wrapping them up yourself.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Holiday gifts for him

Oh, the men and the beauty products. They won’t admit they want or need them, but if only they realized how much better their lives could be with them. Why, why, why is it manly to wash one’s face with, say, Irish Spring, but not with an actual face wash? Is it because they don’t care about getting wrinkles since wrinkles just make them look “worldly” and “seasoned” while ours make us look old?

The good news is the holidays are a great chance to sneak in some make-me-pretty presents (or, since we’re trying to operate with some finesse here, make-me-manly presents) among the snow tires and chainsaws and other burly gifts. I did some manly beauty shopping while we were in Las Vegas last weekend. Here are my picks for the menfolk in my life:

Anthony Logistics for Men A Clean Start Kit ($40 at Sephora)

Sephora calls this kit “Everything a man needs to start the day fresh and well groomed.” I’m flying blind here, as my fiancé hasn’t tried anything from Anthony, but considering this is a gift for a man who chooses to purchase $1 Suave shampoo and the Costco superpack of stinky green soap, I don’t think we can go too wrong. I wavered back and forth between this and the $35 Grab + Go Portables, but settled on A Clean Start mostly because the products came in larger sizes. This kit includes a 4 oz. Glycolic Facial Cleanser, 2 oz facial scrub, 2 oz. shave cream, 2.5 oz. aftershave balm and a lip balm. (The Grab + Go kit also didn’t come with a lip balm.) I’ll be interested to see what he thinks of the kit. Last year I got him a Jack Black gift set (facial scrub, Beard Lube, Hand Healer and moisturizer) that I don’t think he’s gotten much use out of, but I don’t know if that’s because he doesn’t love the products, because he’s too lazy to wash his face before he goes to bed, or because he just throws all his bathroom stuff in a basket on the counter and forgets about it. This year I’m going to insist he try everything for at least a week. I think that’s all it will take to get him on board.

Glögg shower gel ($8.95-$24.95 at Lush)

This was a total impulse buy made possible by a post-dinner, beef-and-beer-induced haze and some good saleswomanship. We’d just finished dinner at Burger Bar, which is right across the way from a Lush, which, for me, was almost as big a draw as all-natural beef and jalapeño bacon (although those were good too). I’d gotten attached to one of those super-eager Lush girls who just wants you to try everything and smell this and feel that and check out this other thing and isn’t this a great deal? The sneaky friendly bitch sold me on everything she touched (but, to her credit, threw in a lot of free samples at the end). This was something I would have walked right by if she hadn’t thrust the tester under my nose. I knew the fiancé would love the spicy smell — he’s way into cinnamon — and he’s already copped to sneaking my fruity Philosophy shower gels, so he can’t feign total disinterest. I think this will be the surprise hit of the stocking.

L’Occitane Shea Embrace Set ($65 at L’Occitane)

We went into L’Occitane to buy something for my future mother-in-law but also ended up walking out with this boxed gift for my dad. Dad’s a retired firefighter/paramedic in his early 60s. He just had hip replacement surgery and I’m pretty sure I inherited my skin from him: pale, Irish and dry, dry, dry (except on the face. Hello, combination). Having dry skin in Alaska in the winter means moisturization is a must, and Dad is man enough to admit he’s happier when his skin is taken care of. (He’s also been known to enjoy a manicure.) This set includes a 2.5 oz. shea butter hand cream, a 2.5 oz. shea butter foot cream, a 7 oz. shea butter Ultra Rich Body Cream, a 3.5 oz. shea butter milk soap, and a 0.8 oz. Pure Shea Butter Mini Tin. Shea butter is crazy moisturizing and doesn’t have a strong or girly smell (it just kind of smells creamy), so it’s a good choice for a guy who doesn’t want to smell like a florist’s shop. Plus it does not need to be wrapped. Which is always a plus.

Prada Infusion d’Homme and Infusion d’Iris Duo ($10 at Sephora)

OK, fine, I’ll admit this one is really a gift for me. I was waiting on line at Sephora and you know how they put all those little bins of cute little gifts and travel size items along the checkout line? They get me every single time. Every single time! This is why it’s almost better there’s no Sephora store in Alaska. The website never lures me into walking out with something ridiculous I never intended to purchase but grabbed because it was cute! and little! and there! And this time it was this Prada duo, which includes a cute little bottle each of the Infusion d’Iris eau de parfum (for me) and the Infusion d’Homme eau de toilette (for him). According to Sephora, “Infusion d’Homme works closely with the body to create a subtle yet distinctive scent. This sensuously crafted essence blends intoxicating citrus and woody notes for an understated, but lasting, impression.” My take: It smells clean, not cologne-y. Will he wear it? I have no idea. I will, however, insist that he try. While living in New York in my 20s I once got a lesson from a cologne salesman at Bloomingdale’s in how to get my boyfriend to wear fragrance. The store was dead (why was I at Bloomingdale’s in the middle of the afternoon on a workday? I have no idea) and I didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t have a boyfriend, so I stood there and listened to his spiel. It’s been six or seven years, but I intend to put his advice to the test after Christmas. We’ll see how it goes. I figured this one was a win-win for me, though; it was only ten bucks, and either way, I end up with perfume.

Holiday deals and discounts for Dec. 10-13, 2010

Here’s what’s cooking (and discounting) today:
  • ULTA: Free shipping on orders over $25 through Dec. 17. Use coupon code 502213.
  • PHILOSOPHY: Friends and family sale — 30% off all orders through Dec. 13. Use promo code holidaysparkle.
  • TARTE: Friends and family sale — 40% off sitewide through Dec. 13. Use code FFDEC
  • NYX: Free ground shipping for all purchases over $60 through Dec. 31. (Doesn’t specify whether that includes Alaska, but since they specified ground shipping, my guess is no.)
  • COASTAL SCENTS: 20% off sitewide through Dec. 13.
  • LUSH: Through Dec. 13, spend $100, get free 2-day shipping (U.S. and Canada) and a $10 e-gift card good between Feb. 1 and May 30, 2011. Use code FREESHIPR3.
And if you’re looking for gifts for the men in your life, check out my finds for my fiancé and my dad.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday deals and discounts for Dec. 9, 2010

I'm back from Vegas with some finds to share, but first: It's sale season! Here are a few of the offers that dropped into my inbox this morning:
  • ULTA: $10 off any $50 purchase (today, Dec. 9, only!). Use coupon code 50710 OR Free shipping on orders over $25 through Dec. 17. Use coupon code 502213.
  • STILA: Free Lip Enamel Luxe gloss trio when you spend $20 or more (Dec. 9 only). Use code 9ENAMEL.
  • PHILOSOPHY: Friends and family sale! 30% off all orders through Dec. 13. Use promo code holidaysparkle.
  • TARTE: Friends and family sale! 40% off sitewide through Dec. 13. Use code FFDEC.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sephoric Serendipity

Well, well, well. Look what arrived in the mail today:

And we just happen to be headed to Las Vegas tonight. Isn't that terribly convenient? Sephora at the Venetian, here I come...