Sephora Play vs Birchbox: A Year of Reviews – The Battle of the $10 Subscription Boxes – Which One is Better?

When it comes to Sephora Play versus Birchbox comparisons, I feel a month-to-month match up is too short. To really get a feel for which is better, I’ve compared every box I received from Sephora Play in 2018 to every box I’ve received from Birchbox in 2018. That is 12 monthly battles in one article. I’ve been subscribed to Birchbox since February of 2014 and Sephora Play since the national launch in May 2016 without any breaks for either. Those subscriptions have provided me with a lot of mini samples that I paid $2 each for ($10 box divided by 5 deluxe samples). Every month, I review Birchbox and Sephora Play separately (click those links to see the reviews). Detailed, dedicated articles are usually more helpful, so I will continue to separate their monthly reviews. After each year wraps, I write a comparison article to go over the products and values for each box picking the one I like the best each month. I will also go over the average value of the 12 boxes for the year, and other important information. My goal with this is to give a comprehensive review for those who are looking to subscribe to only one or the other. While I will give my opinion, look at the boxes and the information I provide to decide which is best for you.

There are other $10 boxes. Ipsy is the only other one in that category that I was once subscribed to. I have gone over my reasons for canceling that one. Target does at times have $10 boxes, but that is not a subscription. You buy the ones you want, and most of them are $7. Walmart has a $5 quarterly subscription, but it is incredibly inconsistent. For $20 a year, I will stay subscribed. It cannot really compare to the $10 a month subscriptions you pay up to $120 a year for (you can get discounts on Birchbox for paying up front). Some people lump Allure Beauty Box into this category. The first box is always $10, but it shoots up to $15 after that making it a different animal. That is another one I periodically subscribe to, but I am never motivated to stick around. Only those considering Birchbox or Sephora Play should read beyond this point.

Highlights

While Sephora play had a waitlist at one time, it is now able to meet customer demand. Birchbox has not had a waitlist since I joined. Both ask you to complete a beauty profile to tailor its samples to you. Sephora Play does not tailor them as well, but I think this is due to how few box combinations it creates each month. There are never more than a dozen options for Sephora Play, but Birchbox has so many. Play started with fewer options, so it could grow as time moves on. You get a healthy mix of products with box boxes. Expect skincare, hair care, body care, perfume, makeup, and more. I have never opened a box from either and thought this has too much fill in the blank. I once opened a Sample Society Box (Allure Beauty Box) that had 4 face moisturizers in 6 products. That is unheard of with these boxes. You might get 3 hair care items (but at least one is a foil; bonus).

A lot of people complain that Birchbox repeats samples. This is a misconception I’ve found mostly untrue. After nearly five years as a subscriber, I can say repeats on the same Birchbox account are rare. I’d like to touch on the reasons for this rumor. Anytime you select the curated box, make a sample choice of an item you’ve received before, or receive a sample from the bonus shop with a full-price purchase, you can get repeats. There is an algorithm to track past samples to avoid duplicates at Birchbox. Since there is no place to log samples received from the shop (they’re random and not documented in your account), there is no rule that you cannot select an item you’ve received before when it is the sample choice, and curated boxes are not single samples, these will not go into that algorithm at all. People who use different email addresses can also get duplicates. Your account is under one email address. If you cancel under one email and sign up under another or hold multiple accounts at the same time, they are separate accounts. The algorithm will not say you have received this sample already if you received it under a different email address. For that account, it is a new sample.

Every time I got a duplicate product at Birchbox and looked into my order history, I discovered that it was either: from the shop, from a curated box, me selecting it as my sample choice (yes, you can select a sample from 3 choices), a subscription tied to a different email address, or I got it from a completely different retailer. In five years, I have never received a duplicate sample that did not fit into one of those categories. The result is I get more unique samples I have not received before from Birchbox than I do from Sephora Play, which definitely repeats samples. It is not unusual to get the same sample in a Sephora Play box that you got in the same year even, which I point out when going over the samples below.

When I am paying $10 for 5 deluxe samples, I dislike receiving samples that come in under $2. This means they are not pulling their weight. Even when other products make up for it, I still feel I am overpaying for that item. I am always happy to underpay, but I am never happy to overpay. Because of the variety of product offerings, this happens more with Birchbox than it does with Sephora Play! It happens the most with body products. Soaps, lotions, and cleansers can fall short. Birchbox also counts fragrance vials, which often fall under $2 in value, as one of the five samples. Sephora Play always considers fragrance vials as a bonus, so you are not paying anything for them.

My average Birchbox for 2018 was $30.86. That gets calculated by taking the value of each box and dividing it by 12. Since the average Sephora Play box for 2018 was $35.93, you might think it is better. It’s not that easy to declare, because personal value is more important than box value. Only products you will actually keep matter for the value. Because I get less duplicates from Birchbox, I do keep more products overall than I do with Sephora Play. It is not unusual for my personal value on Birchbox to surpass my personal value on Sephora Play. Until I actually use the product, there is always a chance my personal value can dip from my original estimate. Because many of these products are still waiting in my collection to get used or given away, updating personal value in the annual article is still not final (but I can update you on value if I’ve already given away something I thought I would keep).

One benefit Sephora has is it sends well-known products from popular brands. Most are quality, high-end items. Birchbox sends a mixture of well-known and lesser known items. An ongoing debate regarding subscriptions is some send a bunch of junk no one else wants. Yes, it has high box value, but what is the real value? Subscription boxes should introduce you to new things for you to possibly fall in love with. You get to sample them first and the company gets to hook a customer if its sends things they cannot live without. If companies are using subscription boxes to unload stuff they could not sell and will eventually get discontinued, that does not help the consumer. Who wants to sample something they know they cannot repurchase after testing it! While this does happen occasionally with Birchbox, it happens far less with Sephora.

There are some subscription boxes that send almost nothing but lesser known brands. While I love trying new things and would never rule a box out for not procuring any well-known brands, I do not stick with boxes where I cannot repurchase most of the items I am sampling. That is not the case with Birchbox at all. Some of the products disappear before I can purchase them, but most stick around. Other factors besides personal value and the ability to purchase any sample I fall in love with come into play when selecting which box is best. The ultimate winner must have a personal value that exceeds what I paid and items I want to try, not just items I will try since they are here. Of course, you never know how you will feel until you try something. That is the reason subscription boxes are a gamble, but it is also the reason I find them so much fun!

Box Comparisons

To keep this somewhat concise, please refer to the articles linked below for more details. The point of this section is a basic overview. It takes me longer than most to get to samples, because I have a vast collection. Anything received in 2018 is still pretty new to my collection, so I am not discouraged that I have not tried many of these by the time the year ended. If I cannot get to them on time, I will pass them onto someone though.

December 2018

Winner – Sephora Play

My December Play box had a $36.71 value and a $19.34 personal value. Two of the items are new to my collection. One was not new, but I did not have any samples on hand. The other 3 are items I had on hand and chose not to keep these duplicates. I’ve never used any of these products, so I cannot review them for you. With six deluxe samples (Sephora gave everyone a deluxe item instead of a bonus perfume vial or foil), it made this month very difficult for Birchbox to compete. Even though my personal value is lower, it is not Sephora’s fault I already owned three of these items. None of the items are products I refuse to try or have already tried and hated.

My December Birchbox had a $42.45 value and a $42.45 personal value. That might make it seem like the immediate winner, but value plays less into the win than how I feel about the items. Two are foils, which I do not mind. These are bonuses, and I never factor them into value anyway. It’s just that I already own 4 of the 7 items in this box. None of them came from a past Birchbox though. Of the four I already own, I will still keep at least three. If I choose not to keep the fourth, my personal value will dip. I’ve only tried one of these seven, and that is the mascara. This is a mascara that I enjoy. Getting duplicates of something you like is not a bad thing unless you have products you love more. There are other mascaras I love more than this, which is why I usually give away its duplicates. For now, I am holding onto this one. The ultimate reason this lost in my eyes is I find the Play box more exciting. Of the items I am keeping, I want to try them more than I want to try the items in this box.

November 2018

Winner – Birchbox

My November Play box had a $31.03 value and a $5.12 personal value. Only the MOROCCANOIL is new to my collection, and that is the only item I am keeping. Play sent the same eye cream in my January 2018 box, so I already gave this duplicate away. The other items are things I picked up in other places and just do not need duplicates. None of the ones I’ve tried are bad, but I only keep duplicates of things I know I love.

My November Birchbox had a $31.69 value and a $31.69 personal value. In a month where its competitor’s personal value fell below the amount I paid, it had to win. Even if I did not own some of the items in the Sephora box, this would have had a good chance of winning anyway. I enjoy the Jack Black lip balm. The Love beauty and planet brand intrigues me, and I want to explore it some more. It gets rounded out with a shimmer shadow, a moisturizer (always good to try), and a smoothing balm (super frizzy hair). When I get a box with a product I already love and everything else is brand new to my collection, I go into testing the products with a hopeful attitude. Even if all the new items fail me, I know I have something that will not. That is the best type of box.

October 2018

Winner – Sephora Play

My October Play box had a $49.26 value and a $49.26 personal value. This had a sample of my favorite fragrance of all time, Sailing Day. Play did give me another sample of the Gimme Brow, which it already sent in September 2017. Even though it once again sent shade 3, I can rock shade 3. Dupes of things I love are always okay, as long as the shade is close. I finally got a foundation that was not orange. In case I give it away, I chose not to swatch it. With other formulas, this Y245 shade is a tad dark though. While I could go on, this box wins on the strength of the first three samples alone.

My October Birchbox had a $25.30 value and a $25.30 personal value. Other than the highlighter, there is nothing exciting in this box. I’ve never tried the MALIN+GOETZ, because I give it away with no backups. It always seems to make its way back to me, which makes me wonder if that is its way of telling me to try it. The cleanser is probably great for someone with oily skin, and if I give it someone in my life with oily skin, my personal value will dip.

September 2018

Winner – Birchbox

My September Play box had a $40.63 value and a $28.83 personal value. The Black Orchid perfume was in my December 2017 box. Sephora did send me the Stellar primer, but it was not in a Play Box making that duplicate forgivable. I surprisingly still have the Clinique moisturizer, which is not right for my skin type. Despite having dry skin listed in my profile, I started getting oily skin items in 2018. If I give that away (and I probably will), my personal value will dip further. Both the PETERTHOMASROTH and the Nudestix item are new and interesting to me.

My September Birchbox had a $25.52 value and a $25.52 personal value. Every item in this box is new to me. I love the way the perfume smells. The Kiehl’s and the Oribe products interest me just a bit more than the two from the Play Box. Since Sephora sent me a dupe from a box in less than 12 months, I decided to give the edge to Birchbox. Had I received any perfume that was not in a recent Play Box, I would have called this month a draw. It also helps that I prefer the perfume in the Birchbox to the one in the Play Box and give it bonus points for being much more affordable.

August 2018

Winner – Draw

My August Play box had a $37.81 value and a $13.44 personal value. There are actually a lot of products I love in here, like the MAKE UP FOR EVER lipstick, the Hoola Bronzer, and the ABH Brow Gel. I originally thought I would keep the brow gel, but I had so many and purchased some other brands to try. The Origins and the Living Proof items are both items I really want to try, so it makes this box just as interesting as the amika and Oribe in the Birchbox.

My August Birchbox had a $30.61 value and a $25.61 personal value. I thought I would keep the kabuki brush when I wrote the article. Shortly after that, my nieces started asking me for makeup brushes. After looking over all brushes (new and used) that I did not think I would use, I decided to include this one in their bounty. As I never tried it before giving it away, I cannot review it. Although I have not given the Borghese mask away yet, I probably will. Thus, the personal value could dip even more. My drawers are getting raided a lot lately and I will not give away one I have not tried yet when I have duplicates. Since I have not transferred that blush to a custom palette yet, I keep losing it. It is around here somewhere. The dry shampoo looks really interesting and I have enjoyed Oribe products. If I love my original of this Oribe sample, I may keep this duplicate.

July 2018

Winner – Birchbox

My July Play box had a $24.43 value and a $17.18 personal value. Even though the blush was not in a past Play box, it was the 2017 birthday gift. I really enjoy it, and those tarte blushes tie with another brand for my favorite blush formula. That said, I do not need duplicates. The sample from the birthday gift is more than enough for me. It was also disappointing to see the Briogeo spray repeat after arriving in my March 2018 box. While it is one thing to repeat samples every couple of years, it is another to have a repeat arrive four months later. As I still have not even tried the one from the March box, I have no idea what I think of the product. Since this one arrived leaking, I cannot even gift it. I loved the boscia mask, because it make me look like Elphaba. Bonus points that my sister Facetimed me while I was wearing it. Later in the year, I got another foil of this. If I keep it for myself, she will not get to experience the joy of becoming Elphaba temporarily, so I will probably gift it.

My July Birchbox had a $37.45 value and a $37.45 personal value. In a month where Sephora disappointed me by sending two obvious repeats, Birchbox would have had to mess up royally to lose. With five brand new items for me to try, it clearly did not. The liquid lipstick is even a full-size product. Granted I am not a huge liquid lipstick fan, and I have never heard of this brand. Getting liquid lipsticks in subscriptions and kits is my favorite way to receive them though. Until I find the one that makes me happily plop down the full price, I want to sample as many as I can for as cheap as possible. At $10 for 5 items, this was $2! It retails for 10x that amount.

June 2018

Winner – Sephora Play

My June Play box had a $31.36 value and a $24.64 personal value. If you would have told me I would give away the cutest little container of Bum Bum cream I’ve ever seen, I would have laughed. Well, my nephew was shopping my stash for his girlfriend. We started talking about a sample of this I gave him. He is very comfortable with who he is so a little glitter does not scare him. I told him I would give one to his girlfriend so they can match. At the time, I had a sample in a less attractive package but I could not find it. Since I already told him he could have it, I had to honor my word and part with this beauty. Sephora already gave me a sample of this in my August 2017 box, but that was an inferior package. Fingers crossed this is a sample Sephora gives me again! I enjoy this cream, but this container was everything. Other than the sea spray and the super orange foundation, which I will lighten when I finally try it, I want all the samples. The Becca is a duplicate to my collection, but I do not mind keeping duplicates of products I love. This was the clear winner. Getting a foundation in my shade could have made this a blowout.

My June Birchbox had a $23.37 value and a $16.27 personal value. My original plan was to keep SU, which I enjoy. When my nephew was rummaging through my drawers looking at items I did not have any duplicates of, I just thought it would be easier to give him this. That gives me more new things to try. I have not gifted the beautyblender, but I still have not used it. With multiple mini sponges, I cannot see myself grabbing this flatter one. It was the main reason I selected the featured box this month, which makes me laugh upon reflection. Yes, this was the featured box, which means I knew all the items that were coming in advance and selected it anyway. I guess that means I have no one to blame for its loss other than myself, right?

May 2018

Winner – Birchbox

My May Play box had a $34.59 value and a $3.25 personal value. Other than the Sephora mask, these items are duplicates to my collection. I have not yet tried the Alterna or the Buxom. Even though I enjoy the Benefit Cosmetics, Atelier Cologne, and bareMinerals items, I just did not need any more. One of the drawbacks of having an extensive collection is you will get a lot of repeats. Since I gift a lot of samples to friends and family, months like this one help me replenish my gifting supplies. They do not help much with my desire to try new things making it difficult to ever win if in direction competition with another box. I also got the POREfessional in my June 2017 box.

My May Birchbox had a $26.01 value and a $25.11 personal value. I originally thought I would hang onto the duplicate exfoliant until I tried the original, but I ended up gifting it to someone I wanted to give an exfoliator to. The Kiehl’s Oil is nice and was gone from my collection when this arrived. The other items were all new items for me to try. Though I have not tried them yet, I can when I finally get around to it making this the clear winner.

April 2018

Winner – Sephora Play

My April Play box had a $37.86 value and a $30.90 personal value. I generally dislike receiving foundation samples, because they are usually way off. This is just way too orange. When I finally try it, I will use another product to lighten it, but that prevents me from properly reviewing the item. I have tried the peel (before receiving it in this box), but I did not really see a difference before or after. Celeste is a shade I did not own yet, and I do like this Buxom formula. At some point, I really want to try the new Purity item and the Kiehl’s mask. There were just a lot of things in my collection I needed to get to first, but that does not diminish my desire.

My April Birchbox had a $32.22 value and a $21.41 personal value. The DERMA E Hydrating Night Cream with Hyaluronic Acid is something I am using now. I actually took a long break from using it, but picked it back up again a few weeks ago to make sure I finish it by its expiration date. Since I have other night creams I enjoy more, I decided not to keep this sample. This is a perfume I enjoy, but I did not need a duplicate. All other items are new to my collection and things I still have not yet tried.

March 2018

Winner – Draw

My March Play box had a $32.63 value and a $15.76 personal value. I like Hypnose Drama, but I get that sample too often and have too many mascaras I want to try to justify keeping it. That BB cream gives my skin a gray tone that I am not super fond of. Of the items that were new to my collection (so I did keep them), there was nothing I wanted to try so much that I could not wait. That is why I still have not tried them. That said, I do love the shades of Sephora lip creams and Sephora eyeliners I’ve tried. Once I try these, I am sure I will enjoy them.

My March Birchbox had a $29.97 value and a $29.97 personal value. Other than the air repair moisturizer, which I love, all these items were new to me. I received the air repair moisturizer in the past on my second and third subscriptions, but I never received it on my main subscription until now. That means this was not a repeat. Of the items that were new to me, nothing really made me think I must try this now. Already knowing I love the air repair alone and the size of the shampoo and conditioner should have tipped the scales in favor of Birchbox. My problem is I don’t like when shampoo and conditioner (no matter how big) get treated as separate samples. As such, I see this on par with the Play box.

February 2018

Winner – Birchbox

My February Play box had a $48.66 value and a $33.83 (down from the $41.16 I thought I would have when I unboxed this month) personal value. I enjoy the Peter Thomas Roth product and did not have any on hand when it arrived, so I assumed I would keep it. Turns out, I gave it away, because I wanted someone to try it. Four of these six items were new to my collection, and I still have not tried any of them. There is no reason I have not been compelled to try anything from this box yet, but as I could not wait to try two things from the Birchbox, it was my clear winner.

My February Birchbox had a $37.14 value and a $37.14 personal value. Everything in this box was new to my collection, and the mascara was a new launch I really wanted to try. Turns out, I am not a huge fan of the mascara but getting it in the box saved me from the urge to purchase a sample to test it. I’ve also used the OUAI Leave-In Conditioner from this box. It was a product I enjoy. Though I have not tried the other three yet, I actually want to try all of them.

January 2018

Winner – Birchbox

My January Play box had a $26.17 value and a $26.17 personal value. Two are foils, which I do not mind. These are bonuses, and I never factor them into value anyway. These particular foils are too small for me, so I will wait for a second set before I try the product again. This was actually a rare Sephora box where I intended on keeping everything in it. The mascara primer is a dupe, but it is a product I love. Between the very small samples and feeling more excitement for the Birchbox items, I feel this was the inferior box. So far, I still have not tried any of the other items.

My January Birchbox had a $28.92 value and a $28.92 personal value. I did get an ARROW lip balm in my February 2016 box. It was my sample choice though. The lip balm is far from my favorite (my comprehensive lip balm article will eventually get published once I stop buying and testing new lip balms), but I do like it. This one is also in a different color, so it is not a duplicate anyway. The Real Chemistry Peel was my sample choice for this month, because I am in love with the product. Whenever this pops up as sample choice, I will grab it. Not only do I love having travel sizes for myself, but I love gifting these to people. Everything else was new to my collection, so this gave me some new things to try. That is always my favorite box when I get things I already know I love with new things to try.

Conclusion

Clearly, I picked Birchbox more months in 2018 than I picked Sephora Play, so it is my 2018 winner. Which box is better and which should you get? I am not going to answer that for you. My opinion and reasoning for holding onto certain items and getting rid of others is different from yours. I’ve provided you with as much information as possible (including pictures of each box and links to them if you want to read more about the products), so you can weigh everything. Unless you pick a long subscription term, which is not even possible with Sephora Play, you can always cancel at any time if you are unhappy. Only those who are in it for the long haul should do an annual subscription (with any box). Try it month-to-month for a while. If you’re happy and an option to save money pops up by paying up front, then jump on it. Until then, stay commitment light! For those who are still unsure, I’d say if you want to try more unique things, subscribe to Birchbox. If you want to try well-known items, subscribe to Sephora Play! Should Sephora start putting new and innovative items into the box instead of the items we’ve all tried, the Play box would be unstoppable.

I am not un-subscribing to either any time soon, so you will probably see another article like this when 2019 wraps. Even though I get a lot of duplicates from Sephora Play, I have family and friends who love raiding my drawers. When they see items they’ve heard of (because we’ve all heard of these cult classics), they get very happy. Those items are not getting wasted. Besides, I have yet to receive a single Play box where I did not keep anything. There is always at least one item I keep, even if it is worth less than the $10 plus tax I paid for the box. As long as I am getting some goodies for myself, I have no problems passing some onto the people I love. With Birchbox, I’ve discovered so many amazing gems I never would have purchased without getting a sample first. It renews my love to keep trying new things when I come across products that make me think I need them and even better, I can afford them.

We all like getting the most bang for our buck, but those thinking Sephora is better just because the boxes have more value should also consider this (in addition to personal value, which I mention above). As much as I love sampling expensive things, and who doesn’t, falling in love with affordable things makes purchasing the full-size (when the sample is gone) a lot easier. This is precisely the reason I love grabbing the Target Beauty Boxes that interest me and why I subscribe to the Walmart Beauty Box despite seriously inconsistent quality. Whenever expensive items outperform cheaper ones, I will reluctantly purchase them. Finding cheaper ones that work as well or even better than the expensive ones is my goal. I really like regular subscription boxes to feed my desire to try new things. Those who do not like trying new things or already know what they love in every category should avoid subscription boxes at all costs. They will not enjoy the opportunity to try the random items and will get discouraged quickly. While an occasional box falling below your personal value is okay, it is only a good deal to keep a subscription when the products you are using exceed the cost you are paying. If that is not your case, it is time to cancel. Subscription boxes are not for everyone, and that is okay. If we were all the same, the world would not be as fun.

Sephora.com, Inc.

Sephora does not have any discount or start-up offers for Play! While that is not necessarily a bad thing, those who are on the fence can use its lack of offer as the deciding factor for which box to choose. If this is your overall winner, the subscription itself is more important than the starting offer.

Birchbox Women

If you want to subscribe to Birchbox remember to look at start-up offers and all available offers.

What are your thoughts on Sephora Play and Birchbox subscriptions? Let me know below. See all Sephora Play! and Birchbox Subscription articles. View my main page for the guide map to the site and deeper deal exploration.

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