It’s no secret that I’m a total ho for beauty boxes. I used to review tons of kbeauty boxes (especially Memeboxes), but as my stash grew and product wishes became more specialized, it didn’t make sense for me to continue allowing someone else to decide what came into my packed collection. Until the end of 2016, I continued to receive Western makeup and skincare boxes each month, but ultimately decided to cut them from my beauty diet for 2017 after confronting my 2016 spending excesses and piles of unused products.
The big, glaring gap in my knowledge right now is what I think of as “spa” skincare: Western luxury brands with very fancy ingredients, powerful scents derived mainly from essential oils, and price tags I would have found fantastical before diving into skincare a few years ago. Well…to be honest, I still find the prices wild.
I actually thought about writing a post called “I’m not a ho for hanbang (East Asian traditional medicine-inspired skincare such as Sulwhasoo), nor a slut for spa,” but I found that I didn’t have much to say beyond the title. Spa and hanbang skincare tends to be designed for skin that’s more mature and in need of oils while I’m fairly oily all by my damn self.
Yet I’m curious and have a never-ending need to know.
I initially attempted to resist buying the latest Caroline Hirons box of dreams for Cult Beauty by delaying my purchase. I was on the train when it was announced and I just decided to let it slide by rather than whip out my credit card on the morning commute. (This is not the first time I’ve used this technique, as I’m sure you can guess.) When I checked later on my lunch hour…it was still there and a DM from a fellow skincare addict sent me over the edge.
What follows is more than an unboxing and less than a full review of each of the products. I may do standalone reviews of a few of the items and you can always tell me in the comments if you have questions about any of them.
The Cult Beauty Box by Caroline Hirons Review
Price I paid: once VAT was removed from the price of the box (£199) due to the fact that I live outside the EU, the price was £162.50, which became $210.25 when converted to US currency by my bank.
The box was marketed as offering a 48% savings, but I find that value is individual to each person, especially when buying bundles of stuff curated by someone else, which is why I think it’s useful to do box reviews. Hopefully this look at the box might be useful for thinking about value to you when the next is offered.
Shipping: Free. The box shipped CRAZILY fast. I ordered it after UK working hours on December 7th, it was despatched the following day, and it arrived by DHL on December 9. I’m pretty obsessed with Cult Beauty and think of it as my happy beauty shopping place, as I explained in a recent haul post. Shipping is part of that.
What I want from beauty boxes: these days, I’m less concerned about the value of the products compared to what they bring into my beauty world. That said, for $200+, a box needs to be great. The fact that this gave me an excuse to get a full-size Good Genes (which I love), which is priced at $105 per bottle plus tax here and then try a bunch of very fancy other stuff for another $105 seemed like a good choice to me when I hit “buy”.
This was the big item that “forced” me to make the purchase. Good Genes costs $105 in the US plus tax, so even with a nice VIB Rouge sale discount it’s still pretty damn expensive. And it’s great, it really is. Lactic acid is relatively difficult to find compared to glycolic and my skin likes it SO much more.
(Fear not for your pocketbooks: I’ve got 15 other lactic acids that I’m currently testing in hopes of identifying a dupe for Good Genes or at least some really amazing alternatives.)
What makes Good Genes so special? First off, lactic acid, the gentle AHA that doesn’t thin skin and causes less irritation. Good Genes has a pH of about 2.6, which is pretty wild: a pH that low sets loose more acid to do The Thing. That said, I don’t find it irritating as long as my routine is solid and I don’t use my Curology prescription. Good Genes has about 5% lactic acid in it (ignore the claim about it being like a 40% peel from a derm and read Lab Muffin’s post about how pH and acid percentage combine to determine how much free acid is actually in your skincare).
Magnificent product, no regrets.
I fully expected to groan over this and dismiss it, but omg. So here’s the deal: this is not a makeup remover or heavy-duty cleanser. It should really be used in the morning, when you need minimal cleansing. There are no emulsifiers in the product, from what I can tell. It’s just a bunch of oils that you massage into your face and then rinse off. What you’re left with is an oily base on your skin.
There are a few ways to deal with that. You could be British and use a flannel to wipe off any excess oil. If you have dry skin, you could leave the oil on. It’s totally ok to do that because the oils are emollients, so it’s not like they’re going to form an occlusive film over your skin and block your other layers of products from absorbing. Here are the ingredients by the way, to the best of my knowledge (they come from a blog review that you can check out for more info about the product). One thing to note: while trying to get CosDNA to accept all of the ingredients, I found that balsam is apparently one of the most common allergens for skin, so if that’s true, this product seems a bit risky. As always, patch test new products. I don’t patch test, but that’s because I crave danger and whole face patch testing seems like a better way of satisfying that need than, like, snorting cocaine off of strippers. Not that…that’s what…I’d do without whole face patch testing, but you know.
I have oily-to-normal skin currently being drilled to shit by acids and winter, so I sometimes use this as a morning cleanse, rinse with water, paper towel off any moisture, and then apply an acid on a cotton pad directly on top of that. The higher pH of my skin after coming in contact with water blunts the impact of the acid and the cotton pad mops up any excess oil, but enough oil remains to keep my skin flexible. I’ll report back on my experiments either here or on the Instagram.
The smell is profound. It’s such a mixture of scents and so strong that I find it hard to use in the morning. Why spa skincare needs to smell like the beauty equivalent of the 1812 Overture I don’t know. It’s like the scent version of cacophony.
I don’t even know, mane. 14ml of anything costing about $100? Really? The first three ingredients are sunflower, coconut, and grape seed oil. Lovely, but also stuff that’s in my kitchen.
Now, I know that these oils and the many fancy ones that follow are probably cultivated by vestal virgins more beautiful than even Kim Jongin etc etc, but I’m honestly not here for Storytime Skincare, I want stuff that just works for my skin and doesn’t blow me away when I go to pay the bill.
I find this oil to be quite thick to the point it doesn’t sink into my skin easily. The smell is very spa (I find it hard to detect the rose among all the other oils).
Keep in mind that I have normal-to-oily skin. My skin loves stuff like camellia seed oil that sinks in. This is just not a great match for my skin and skincare ethos.
Have you ever seen the legendary Aretha Franklin shade of Taylor Swift where, when asked about Taylor’s singing abilities, Aretha replied “great gowns, beautiful gowns.”
My thoughts on this mist? Great nozzle, beautiful nozzle.
Otherwise, this is some incredibly expensive glycerin water (ingredients). Keep in mind that everything after phenoxyethanol should be 1% concentration or less in the product. The scent doesn’t blow me away.
Listen, if you love this, wonderful. There’s nothing wrong with glycerin water. I just have a problem paying more than $1 per ml for it.
But the nozzle is really fabulous, not even kidding.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this cream. It was mentioned as something suitable for skin of all types, but WOW it feels like a CREAM when first applied to my skin. It’s certainly something for winter for oily-to-normal skin like mine. That said, it sinks in quickly and completely.
Looking at the ingredient list, there are more common acne and sensitive skin triggers than I care to type out, but it actually seems to be working well for me and it doesn’t play badly with sunscreen or makeup. I find that it doesn’t work super well with oils, which makes creating a full daytime routine out of this box somewhat tricky (I don’t know about you, but I don’t care if my skincare balls up a bit at night).
Would I ever even think of paying remotely close to full price for this cream? No lol, love yourself. Will I probably use it up? Yes.
True, long story: I have a really great, 100-year-old apartment. I’ve lived here for just over ten years and the rent is a joke considering the size and location (I live in NYC and have enough space for a home office, 8-person dining room table, elliptical, all my beauty products). The last time I tried to take a bath was about ten years ago. My tub is sorta whack and the stopper doesn’t work and my secret to keeping the rent low has been to be the chillest tenant ever. Like, neighbors tried to burn the house down on Valentine’s Day? Whatevs, my cats are fine, nbd. The oven starts leaking gas on the Fourth of July? Yeah, we got it fixed, but no dramatics. Bugs show up? Crush those fuckers on my own. So my tub has just been left to do its own weird thing.
Eventually, once I got someone to clean the thing (shoutout to Maid Marines in NYC for dealing with the filth at fanserviced HQ) I started thinking that maybe I’d like to try to use the tub. But it wasn’t until I found out that this bath/shower essence was coming that I really got my shit together. Turns out that even if you have a shitty tub stopper you can use a flat silicone stopper aaaaaand it works awesomely. I feel kinda dumb that it took so long to get my act together, but that’s sort of life, right?
Anyway, I mention all of that to say — holy shit — this product got me to soak in my own fucking tub for the first time in a decade. And I like soaking! This is what I like about boxes: you go through life assuming the x isn’t for you and then it comes to your house and you think “well, fuck it, I’ll try it” and sometimes it actually works out, but most importantly you get out of your comfort zone.
As for the essence itself, it’s a mixture of powerful scented oils (ingredients) that smells vaguely like a cleaning product and vaguely like a spa. It’s not terribly straightforward and my brain gets confused by all the different scents in one, but the whole experience was relaxing enough that the first night I tried it I almost fell over due to my exhaustion hitting me all at once. This isn’t a product I’d rebuy, but I’ll certainly use it up.
This is a bigass candle with a bigass sexy rose and sandalwood scent. It seems like it will burn forever. It’s not a scent I’d automatically pick from a list, but it smells good and my house feels about ten times classier with a candle burning (which still has it firmly in the unclassy category but whatever). This candle and the one from my Luckyscent haul have set off a candle lust that I suspect will be a problem…
Hmm. I’ve had this box for over a month, and while I’ve enjoyed most of the items, the only one I’d pay full price to keep is Good Genes, to be honest. I find the retail prices of pretty much everything staggering and out-of-line with what I’ve come to expect as a consumer of Korean beauty. It was fun to basically pay full price for Good Genes and then spend about $100 more to try six fancy things that I’d otherwise not buy, but…do I really need these things in my collection? Eh, debatable, but at least I’m using most of the stuff. Cult Beauty’s Goody Bag GWP still reigns supreme as my best haul of 2016.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Clicking those links before you shop means that fan-b receives a small commission, which helps to support the blog. Please see my full disclosure for more information.