Christine Arata is big into Christmas stockings. The more inventive the contents, the better. Her husband, David? Not so much. So last December she was braced for the usual -- flowers and a bag of Snickers Minis -- when she pulled out a gift card labeled Birchbox.


Birchbox, a leading online beauty sampling service launched in 2010, sends out monthly goodie bags filled with sample-size bath and beauty products, each bag tailored to individual customers' needs, based on questionnaires they fill out.

"I don't have time to go shopping, but I love beauty products," says Arata, a former French teacher turned stay-at-home mom raising two children (Sofia, 2, and David, 5 months) in Oceanside. (You can catch her blog at

"I turned 30," she adds, "so I'm a little obsessed with skin care now." She's in search of the perfect moisturizer, and appreciates being able to test samples rather than having to buy expensive, full-size products she might not like.

Samples are nothing new, and standard at department store makeup counters. But those from Birchbox -- and a growing list of competitors -- come straight to your door. In pretty wrappings.

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"You're like a kid in a candy store," says Arata. "I get a gift every month."

Her March box includes Benefit concealer, Caudalie eye cream, Miss Me perfume and more, in sizes that should last a few weeks, she says.

As for that perfect moisturizer? Arata hasn't found it yet. But she did flip for TheBalm's Hot Mama shadow-and-blush in shimmery peach. She'll buy it full-size, for sure -- as soon as she finishes her sample.