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The Product Whore’s Complete Guide to Samples & Freebies

By Amalah

Hi Amy,
I’ve submitted a question before (about my hair and drugstore products vs. high-end products and what to do for parched out split ends), and you posted it! Yay! And it helped SO much, seriously. So you don’t have to post this one, but I would appreciate a quick response if you have the time…
You mention a lot that you get samples of stuff from Sephora (most recently the Dr. Brandt pore stuff, and I feel like you mentioned getting a sample of the Smashbox primer too…? Maybe?).
So…how does one go about getting these samples? I don’t particularly want to buy a huge kit of stuff, but buying a smaller sample (or a FREE sample? Is that even possible?) of an expensive product sounds fantastic. With limited funds, I don’t want to end up spending my whole month’s (or MULTIPLE months’) “fun money” on something that I hate. I mean, I know you can return stuff, but that’s a hassle too. And I don’t need huge amounts of stuff.
Anyway…yeah. Samples. How do you get them.
P. S. Please let me be a crazy fangirl for two seconds and say that I LOVE the Advice Smackdown. I read it religiously, comments and all, and am determined to slowly try all the stuff that has sounded so attractive but has come with a sadly unattractive price tag. Hence the samples question.

Samples! Yes. Very good question. There are three ways to get samples at Sephora.
The first way is, like you mentioned, buying a larger kit/gift set. You buy the Makeup Optional Kit from Philosophy, you get Microdelivery Peel samples. You buy the Microdelivery Peel, you get a Hope in a Jar sample. And so on. These samples are generally very small — only a couple applications, usually. This is how I got the Dr. Brandt Pores No More sample, which ended up being the ONLY thing in the stupid set I liked at all. So…a good strategy for an advice columnist who wants to get an extra bang from her expense-account buck, but not really the best strategy for the budget-conscious girl.
The second way is Sephora’s Beauty Insider program. In the old days, Sephora gave out free samples with every purchase — you never really knew what you were going to get, but man, those little bottles of extra stuff were fun.
Now Sephora is stingy. You must sign up for their Beauty Insider program (yet another card for your wallet or keychain), and present the card when you buy something. You then get your choice of ONE sample out of THREE choices. It’s…ridiculous, honestly. (You can get around this by having them ring your purchases up separately — I like to keep my personal and Advice Smackdown stuff on their own receipts, and I have also been known to pluck out something else randomly and claim it’s a gift. Three transactions, three free samples, endless eyerolls from the people behind me in line.) (Whatever, Sephora. Stop being so cheap and give me the stupid samples already. Do you want me to buy more crap or not?) The good news it that the Beauty Insider samples are much bigger than your usual freebie. A travel-size body wash, a little Tarte mascara, a teeny tube of blemish cream…all stuff I’ve gotten recently and have easily gotten several weeks of use from.
Online, it’s a different story. You get three samples, that you get to choose from a list of 12 or so, with every order. There’s always a lot of perfume samples, which I usually ignore in favor of the makeup and skincare options. But again, these are WEE, TINY samples. One, two, maaaaaybe three applications. Every once in awhile you hit paydirt and get one that’s an actual decent size, but most of them are the equivalent to a free sample in a magazine.
The third way to get samples is…to ask for them. I know! I just blew your mind. Grab a sales associate and ask for a sample of something you can’t really test out in the store. They won’t give you a freebie lip gloss or anything, but a face wash? A treatment mask? Shampoo? Those they are generally happy to squirt a teensy bit into a teensy plastic jar and let you take home.
Of course…the thing is…samples aren’t a super-sustainable way to build a skincare regimen. It’s not great for your skin to be bouncing between products all the time, and I always advise using something for two solid weeks before deciding if you like it or not. Which means you may need to buy something and possibly return it if you really want to try it out. Which is why I do like the starter sets. They are a good deal and help offset the higher price you pay when you buy the smallest bottle of something possible.
You get penalized for being cautious, unfortunately. Sephora always has those bins of fun little impulse buys by the registers, and you can usually find small bottles of their most popular products here. (Including the Purity wash and Smashbox primer.) And it’s easy to be all, “Whee! Only $10 for Philosophy!” Never mind the fact that it’s $10 for 3.5 ounces, but you can get FIVES TIMES as much product for $32. Or EIGHT TIMES as much for $40. And then your face wash needs are met for like, a YEAR. Sometimes it pays to hold off until you can afford to commit. Returns ARE a pain, but not as much as trying to cobble together a skincare and makeup collection using twee little packets of expensive goop.
Don’t get me wrong — I adore free samples. I love trying as many things as possible. If you buy anything at Sephora with any degree of regularity, get the Beauty Insider card and hoard that stuff. Go in without makeup and try everything out first. Take department store cosmetic counters up on their offer of a makeover. Bug salespeople into giving you a skincare doggy bag. But avoid plunking down cash for super-small bottles of things to “try.” It’s a rip-off. If they want you to test out their product, insist on free (or at least bundled with a bunch of other things).
Battle of the Bases: Foundation Primers for Every Skin Type
Smackdown Field Trip: ISO the Perfect Concealer
The Product Graveyard: What to Do With the Stuff That Sucks
The (Halfway Through) 2007 Smackdown Hot List!

Published December 19, 2007. Last updated December 19, 2007.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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