Wednesday, April 18, 2012

April Birchbox: Instant Reviews

Birchbox is a tiny bundle of monthly love made with beauty junkies in mind. For $10 a month you receive a package filled with 4-5 samples, many of which are deluxe size, with the occasional full-size product thrown in. Deluxe size samples are plenty big enough get a good feel for the instant effects, but maybe not quite enough to judge long-term results. Instant reviews are just that- my instant impressions on the products. These installments will be based on my initial testing, swatching and, of course (you know me) a peek at the ingredients.

Befine Gentle Cleanser
Sample Size: Two .34oz "Single Serve" packets
Retail Size: 3.4oz for $24
Sample Value: $4.80

Birchbox Says:
This smooth, foaming cleanser works on all skin types. Sugar cane banishes impurities and binds moisture to skin. Oat bran extracts contain skin-soothing colloids and heal irritation, while vitamin-rich rice bran proteins boost elasticity. Finally, a refreshing dose of peppermint oil stimulates circulation and revives skin tone.

I say:
First, gotta ask: Who uses a third of an ounce of product in one use? I'm not exactly complaining- it's a generous amount for something labeled "single serve", but an odd description nonetheless. I also found the cleanser itself odd. It was thin and watery, and while it seemed to cleanse well enough, I did feel like half of the liquid ran through my fingers before it ever reached my face. Though the Befine packet makes no mention of it, Birchbox does suggest applying the cleanser to a washcloth first to combat this.

As usual with "natural" skin care lines, I think Befine over-reaches on their claims. Particularly sad is that most of the ingredients in this cleanser are beneficial- they're just not the big superstars Befine makes them out to be. Sugar is a known humectant, but the claim that it can also "banish impurities" is just marketing nonsense in my opinion. And the assertion that peppermint oil "revives the skin tone"? What exactly is a "revived" skin tone?  In fact, peppermint oil is a known skin irritant; irritation isn't generally known to improve the appearance of the skin. Finally, it bears mentioning that nowhere in the description of this product does it suggest keeping it away from the eyes. Trust me: peppermint + eyeballs= bad. me.

Befine Daily Moisturizer with SPF 15
Sample Size: Three .34oz "Single Serve" packets
Retail Size: 1.7oz for $24
Sample Value: $14.40

Birchbox Says:
The rosemary and pomegranate extracts in this day cream are full of antioxidants that defend against pollutants, free radicals, and other skin enemies. Rice extracts boost moisture levels and improve skin’s elasticity. Finally, two skin-safe sunscreens—octinoxate and avobenzone—keep skin protected against the sun.

I say:
Again, odd "single serve" designation, especially considering the three packets I received contain 60% of the product in a full-sized bottle. Annoyingly, neither the packet, the Birchbox website nor the Befine website lists a full ingredient list, so I have nothing to talk about here but the "key ingredients" (and without a list, I have no idea how much of each additive is even in the lotion). So with a grain of salt...

Befine Daily Moisturizer is a very light-weight lotion; I was actually surprised that something so light could satisfy my super-parched skin. I love the addition of rosemary and pomegranate extracts for antioxidant protection- both have higher antioxidant values than favorites like Vitamins C and E, and have anti-inflammatory properties as well. But yet again, I find the company stretching with certain ingredient claims: I couldn't find a single study that supported the claim that rice extract in any form improves elasticity. Rice extract is classified as a skin conditioning agent, so I have no doubt that it boosts moisture levels, why not just leave well enough alone?

Even with the, erm, romanticized view of certain ingredients, it wasn't until I looked at the sunscreen agents in this formula that I had any real concerns. My first surprise was that Befine uses "chemical" sunscreens, which absorb UV rays before they can damage skin, rather than physical blocks like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide (these work by reflecting rays away from the skin). Now, this means nothing in and of itself- I'm totally fine with chemical blocks as long as they're formulated correctly. The shocking thing is that this one doesn't seem to be.

All three sunscreens listed in Befine's active ingredient list are considered unstable, meaning they degrade in the presence of UV rays (seems like a deal breaker for a sunscreen, eh?) Two included in the formula, Avobenzone and Octinoxate, behave particularly badly when they get together. Studies show that when that particular combination is exposed to UV rays, both sunscreens break down, reducing UV protection and forming skin-damaging free radicals. Certain agents can be added to counteract this, but the formula's other sunscreen agent (Octisalate) doesn't seem to be a preferred photostabilizer.

Of course, even the best sun protection will break down over time, which is why one final little surprise landed my Befine moisturizer packets in the trash bin. While examining my packet, I happened to notice a little embossed code that reads "EXP2009/07". In case anyone needs translation, or you're just in disbelief, that means Birchbox sent out samples that expired 3 years ago! Now, I used this lotion, and didn't notice any signs of spoilage (rancid smell, off-color, separation of the lotion) but when it comes to my sun protection, I'm simply not willing to risk it.

MicrodermaMitt Face Mitt
Sample Size: 1 mitt
Retail Size: 1 mitt for $28.50
Sample Value: $28.50

Birchbox Says:
MicrodermaMitt’s exfoliating face mitt gives you results that are comparable to clinical microdermabrasion, minus the redness and sensitivity that can result. Made of all-natural floss silk...soft yet powerful face mitt sloughs away all forms of debris, from makeup and sunscreen residue to excess oil and dead skin cells. With regular use, your skin will look visibly smoother, and your lines, scars, and sun spots will be less noticeable.

I say:
Let's knock that first claim out right away: "results that are comparable to clinical microdermabrasion". I see no studies supporting this on MicrodermaMitt's website (as a matter of fact, I don't even see this claim on the company's site, only on the Birchbox page). There are also no studies on the product on file with the US National Library of Medicine, so I'm gonna go ahead and call BS on this one.

Moving on, I agree with almost everything else Birchbox has to say about the product. I don't know exactly what floss silk is, but it's not the luxuriously soft fabric you're probably thinking of. This mitt definitely feels a bit abrasive (not uncomfortably so) and I felt it did a nice job of lifting off dead skin. My skin tears easily. In fact, because of this, most scrubs leave me flakier after I use them than I was when I started. After using the mitt, my skin was noticeably softer, less flaky and showed no signs of irritation. Since regular exfoliation exposes newer skin, the look of scars, fine lines and spots can in fact be diminished (to some extent). Definite win!

WEI White Lotus Hydrating Face Treatment Pads
Sample Size: 1 pad
Retail Size: 6 pads for $68.50
Sample Value: $11.33

Birchbox Says:
Sheet masks are all in the rage in the Asian skincare world...Not only are they super-hygienic and easy to use, they let you achieve comparable results to pricey spa facials for a fraction of the cost. White Lotus pads soften the look of lines and wrinkles...contain a smart dose of hyaluronic acid to plump up skin.

I say:
I certainly have seen plenty of sheet masks on my favorite Asian beauty blogs, so I'm excited to try this one. Again, there's no ingredient list available, and the only ingredients mentioned are white lotus and hyaluronic acid. Of course, I have no idea what form of the lotus is used, but lotus seeds and stamens are known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, so there's some potential here. Hyaluronic acid (one of my very favorite ingredients, if you didn't know) is a Natural Moisturizing Factor that's able to hold up to 1000 times its weight in moisture. It can help maintain a healthy skin barrier, and can indeed temporarily plump the skin, relieving the appearance of fine lines.

While I haven't used the mask, I can tell from squishing the packet that the mask is well saturated with the solution. While I'm intrigued about this mask, I'm not sure I can see myself spending $68 for something that only lasts 6 uses. On the other hand, $11 is much cheaper than a spa facial, so if this mask really stands up, I could be convinced to reconsider!

Sample Size: .04 fl oz
Retail Size: $59.50 for 3.4 fl oz
Sample Value: $.70

Birchbox Says:
The fragrance is a gourmand floral; a charming and sparkling surprise of vibrant fruits, kissed by a bouquet of soft petals and a touch of sweet indulgence.

I say:
This fragrance may hint at being a gourmand floral, but if you're not paying attention, that hint will fly right overhead. It has none of the complexity of other famous gourmands (Mugler's Angel and Lolita Lempicka are long-time favorites of mine). The musky sandalwood base totally overpowers the delicate fruity floral notes- you really have to whiff quickly and deeply to catch them. Even the vanilla note (normally a scent that stands out to me) only lasted 10 minutes or so before fading into obscurity. It is a supercute bottle though, so there's that.

Zoya Nail Polish in Bevin
Sample Size: .25oz
Retail Size: $8 for .5oz
Sample Value: $4

Birchbox Says:
Each Zoya shade goes on opaque with just one coat and lasts 50 percent longer than traditional polishes...the vegan-friendly formulas don’t contain formaldehyde, toluene, camphor, and other toxic chemicals. Bevin (is) a sage green with faint teal undertones.

I say:
I always love getting Zoya minis in my box! This particular shade is a bit unusual; I'd call it a dusty teal (it actually reminds me of the color my fiance's mother used for his Bar Mitzvah). Definitely more blue than green to me (my 4-year-old agrees) and despite my early 90's association, the shade comes across as modern and chic to me. The cream finish applies smoothly and streak free, though it did take me 2 coats to get truly opaque coverage.


Great value in this box, and some interesting products to boot- my favorite is the MicrodermaMitt. I am very disappointed with Birchbox for sending out expired product (if you deduct the value of those packets from the box, the total would go down to $49.33) and have contacted them about the issue.

::EDIT:: Birchbox has announced via email that it will be compensating those who received expired Befine packets in their box with 100 Birchbox points.  You must complete this survey by April 27 to request the points award; your account will be updated by May 1.

I don't know how I feel about this solution. 100 Birchbox points equals $10 in their shop, which is a good dollar amount, however, I usually balk at customer service resolutions that require an additional purchase from the company. What do you guys think- fair or foul?


Apriltini said...

Love the nail polish. I've been seeing Bevin around lately, and the pics are making me want it. It looks great on you. :)

boo said...

Thanks for the Microdermamitt review. I didn't get one of the boxes that had one and I am reluctant to spend almost $30 on a product that unusual without a good idea that it will work for me.

shandimessmer said...

I like the contents of your box. I got the Befine sampler kit in my box too, and after reading your review, I looked @ my expiration date and it expired in 2010!

Pemberley Jones said...

That is terrible! I unknowingly used an "organic" product with sunscreen after it's expiration date and had a bad breakout. Natural products don't have the same preservatives in them, and that's why I love them, but you have to be careful of that date! Plus if they expect you to use an open packet multiple times, you are asking for a bacteria invastion! That's just not cool.

Unknown said...

Thanks! I wasn't sure at first, it's such an unusual color, but it's really grown on me!

To be honest, I like the mitt a lot and I'll definitely keep using it, but I'm not entirely sure I'd actually buy it for $30. I usually use cellulose sponges like these from Eco Tools:

They may not work quite as well as the mitt, but they're a close second. They exfoliate and help to remove my cleanser without irritating or tearing my skin, and they're just about a buck a piece.

Doesn't it seem like the grass is always greener with these things? But I guess not knowing what you're getting is part of the fun. I contacted Birchbox about the expired Befine packets and have yet to hear back, but I imagine they're taking longer so they can decide on a unified course of action. I had a broken perfume vial last month that saturated half of my package and they were very timely about responding to me and offering resolution. Have you contacted them yet about your issue?

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