Skincare Subscription Boxes: Do They Work?

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 11/5/2021

Let’s face it — there seems to be a subscription box for just about everything these days. From food and groceries, to movies, clothes, makeup and even skincare. 

The best subscriptions can enhance our lives — making it easier, more fun, more productive or whatever we’re looking for from them!

Being that skincare is such a personal and powerful thing (who doesn’t want great skin?), it’s no wonder that skincare subscription boxes have become popular. 

But what are they? Why do folks love ‘em so much? And what can you expect from a skincare subscription box?

What Is a Skincare Subscription Box? 

A skincare subscription box is a box full of skin, beauty or body products that come as a delivery — usually monthly or quarterly.

Most of these boxes are a mixture of skin products (think primers, toners, cleansers, creams, masks, etc.), beauty products (makeup, highlighter, brow tint, etc.) and sometimes even hair products or body washes. 

Depending on the subscription and brand, your box may come with sample sizes or full-sized products. The quality of products varies as well, with some offering high-end brands and others, a range. 

Many skincare subscription boxes have a customization option after you fill out an online questionnaire. 

This questionnaire comes with questions about your skin tone, skin concerns, hair type and more. Then, after you fill it out, they can cater (to different levels depending on brand). 

Benefits of a Skincare Subscription Box 

Skincare subscription boxes have gained quite a bit of momentum recently, for a multitude of reasons. Here are a few of the most common reasons why:

Try Different Products

If you’re looking to try out new skincare products or brands, a skincare subscription could be a great thing. This way, instead of paying full price for a new item, you can test it at a much lower cost. 

 For example, many companies advertise their boxes to be in the $15 to $30 a month range, while the products they contain are much more expensive — at least, if you’d pay retail for them.

It will also likely expose you to new trends or types of products. 

The Convenience Factor 

Let’s be honest… How likely are you to stop at a Sephora, Nordstrom or even Ulta these days? 

If you want to get new skincare products and not spend time looking for them, the delivery option is a good choice.

Pay a flat fee, no fuss and ya get what ya get — for better or worse. 

Customizable (Sorta)

Most subscription skincare boxes will have you fill out a beauty quiz. Some questions you might get, for example are: 

  • Do you have more dry or oily skin? 

  • Do you have sensitive skin? 

  • Do you experience dark spots? 

  • Are clean beauty products important to you? 

Depending on your answers, the service will cater your box to try and be specific to your answers.  

Just know that some boxes don’t customize at all, while with others, it's unclear just how much they tailor boxes to customers’ needs. It’s a bit of a mixed box — erm, bag.  

Acne Treatment

Wanna get acne in check? We got you.

Disadvantages of Skincare Subscription Box   

Although many love skincare subscription boxes, they aren’t for everyone. And it makes sense considering just how broad a term “skincare” really is. 

Are you looking to exfoliate more? Are you trying to get rid of acne? Are you trying to stave off the signs of aging? 

Everybody’s skincare goals are different, which means a subscription box may not be the best bet for you.

No Prescription Skincare 

Unfortunately, a major drawback to the skincare subscription box services is they can’t offer prescription medications. 

Which means much of the stuff dermatology professionals recommend for treating legitimate skin issues (like cystic acne , for instance) won’t ever see the inside of a subscription box. 

If you’re looking for an online dermatology professional or want to learn more about prescription skincare, schedule time to talk.

No Expert Guidance 

Unlike making the time to speak to a certified dermatology professional, skincare subscription boxes are more driven by different products and trends — rather than what the experts would recommend.

This isn’t to say the products in them aren’t good, but if you’re looking for expert guidance on your skincare routine, a box won’t be able to give you one-on-one support for clear and clean skin. 

Results Vary 

Given that every box, product and person using the box is different, the results are varied. You may find that some products work, while others don’t. 

That’s the frustrating part. Your skin is completely different from anyone else’s. It’s wholly and uniquely yours. 

The box that works for 10 other people may not work for you, and the box that works for you may not work for anyone else. 

Looking for Research-Backed Skincare? 

We’re not saying that skincare subscription boxes are useless. If you need some help feeling out and sticking to a solid skincare routine, or just want to try a variety of products to see what you like best (or get the best results from), they can be great. 

If you’re looking for an overall, general approach to skincare, they can really be a great way to help you dive in. 

But if you’re dealing with legitimate issues and need help, it’s best to consult with a board-certified dermatology professional who can help you map out a treatment plan that makes sense for your skin. 

Some conditions you should leave to the pros include:

Acne

As we mentioned, oral medication and prescription acne cream can help clear skin. Another option for acne is buying a benzoyl peroxide cream to use as a spot treatment

You can learn more about some of the treatments your dermatology professional would recommend in our guide, 16 Tips to Reduce Acne.

Dry Skin 

If you have dry skin, general moisturizers can help your skin stay hydrated, and in some cases even improve acne. 

To maintain moisture on the skin you want to consider an occlusive moisturizer, an occlusive moisturizer prevents water evaporation, by forming a barrier. This then allows the moisture to deeper layers of the skin.  

Some common occlusive moisturizer ingredients include:

  • Petrolatum. Petrolatum reduces water loss by 99 percent. 

  • Hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons include ingredients like petrolatum, mineral oil, paraffin or squalene.

  • Silicones. A common silicone you may find is dimethicone. 

  • Oils. Many oils are considered occlusive moisturizers, including coconut oil, castor oil, olive oil, grape seed oil and soybean oil. 

  • Animal fats. You may find moisturizers with animal fats like mink oil, emu oil or lanolin. 

  • Wax. Look specifically for lanolin or beeswax. 

  • Sterols. Specific ingredients like cholesterol and ceramides serve as an occulant moisturizer. 

Anti-Aging

If you are specifically looking into ways to brighten your face and smooth lines, you may want to consider an anti-aging cream with tretinoin. Tretinoin is scientifically proven to improve the appearance of lines. 

Other options for anti-aging cream ingredients to look out for (in a good way!) include retinoids, peeling agents and vitamins

customized acne treatment

clear skin or your money back

To Get the Box…. Or Not? 

Where a subscription skincare box is for you will depend on what you are looking for.  

Subscription care boxes can be a fun way to treat yourself and might give you what you’re looking for in your skincare regimen. 

They allow you to slightly personalize, try new products and, like many subscriptions, are convenient

However, if you’re looking for specific treatments or highly customizable options, it may not be your best bet. 

Specific treatments like acne, anti-aging or just general skin care are not what a skin care box is all about, and can be better addressed with personalized expert care — and a dermatology provider can help with that  

7 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. American academy of dermatology association. Acne: Diagonisis and Treatment. Retrieved from: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/derm-treat/treat
  2. Leung, A. K., Barankin, B., Lam, J. M., Leong, K. F., & Hon, K. L. (2021). Dermatology: how to manage acne vulgaris. Drugs in context, 10, 2021-8-6. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8510514/
  3. American academy of dermatology association. (2018, September 11). How to treat deep, painful pimples. Retrieved from: https://www.aad.org/news/how-to-treat-deep-painful-pimples
  4. Chularojanamontri, L., Tuchinda, P., Kulthanan, K., & Pongparit, K. (2014). Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 7(5), 36–44. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4025519/
  5. Harwood A, Nassereddin A, Krishnamurthy K. Moisturizers. Updated 2021 Jun 2. In: StatPearls Internet. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK545171/
  6. Yoham AL, Casadesus D. Tretinoin. Updated 2020 Dec 5. In: StatPearls Internet. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557478/
  7. Leyden, J., Stein-Gold, L., & Weiss, J. (2017). Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne. Dermatology and therapy, 7(3), 293–304. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5574737/

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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