It’s Actually Pretty Easy to Get Free Beauty Products
Everyone knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch—but what about a free lipstick? With that question in mind, I spent several weeks couponing, emailing, and soliciting my way to free beauty products. Below, I break down six hacks for scoring free stuff, only some of which worked out (my bloated email account is still salty with me).
1. Email Freebies
How it works: A basic give-and-take between you and a company. You give them your email and home address and they send you a sample—and spam mail for the rest of your life.
Best score: My one and only score (see below): a Mario Badescu sample pack with seven skincare products. To get it, I simply filled out a questionnaire about my skin type.
Worth it?: NO. I spent an entire afternoon filling out every free-sample form—toothpaste, perfume, shampoo, foundation—I could find online. Samples are supposed to arrive within four to six weeks. Five weeks later, I’d received only one thing.
How it works: New products will often have a “Try Me Free” sticker on them. You pay for the item upfront, then send in the sticker and your receipt to get a full manufacturer’s refund. On a recent trip to Walgreens, I saw these stickers attached to conditioner, foot lotion, and deodorant wipes.
Best score: Conditioner from Not Your Mother’s haircare
Worth it?: Totally. As long as whatever you’re getting costs less than a stamp.
3. Coupon Stacking
How it works: Most stores will let you “stack” one manufacturer’s coupon and one store coupon on a single item. Sometimes, this covers the entire cost of an item. And if you throw in drugstore rewards (more on those in the next section), you can often earn money buying products.
One thing worth noting: Sales tax still applies on the pre-coupon total, meaning you often pay a few cents for your “free” product.
Best score: A tie between a free full-sized Colgate toothpaste and an Almay Softies eye shadow. (Oh, and lest you think a measly $1 coupon isn’t worth much on its own—I got several Maybelline eye shadows from Dollar Tree for free. No stacking required.)
Worth it?: Yes, if you have the time and energy to track down all those coupons (and the math skills to figure out the best deals). If you don’t feel like whipping out the calculator, sites like Passion for Savings keep up with the latest coupon-stacking deals.
4. Drugstore Rewards
How it works: Sign up for a (free!) frequent-shopper account and earn points on the things you buy. Then redeem those earned points like cash on future purchases.
And technically, you don’t even have to drop dough to earn these. If you coupon stack to a zero balance, you still “spent money.” At CVS, I even got $3 in rewards for signing up for its Beauty Club, which I then used to score two Wet n Wild products on the house. Walgreens, meanwhile, has a special program that awards you points for logging workouts, daily weigh-ins, blood-pressure readings, etc. Before I knew it, I accrued enough activity points to earn a $5 reward, which, when combined with a coupon, was enough for a Maybelline Great Lash mascara.
Best score: Maybelline Great Lash mascara
Worth it?: Yes, it’s probably the easiest way to get free stuff. And the least guilt-inducing—you’re “earning” those points after all.
5. Product Review Sites
How it works: Certain websites—Toluna and PINCHme are two examples—send members free products to use and review. When you review a product on the website, you earn points that you can trade in for more products to review.
For the purpose of this experiment, I signed up for PINCHme and requested a nail-polish sample, which I was told would arrive within 21 days.
Best score: N/A
Worth it?: Probably not—my product still hasn’t come. About two weeks after I made my request, I got an email informing me that some of the samples were taking longer to process. Five weeks later, I still haven’t received it.
6. Just Ask
How it works: Behind many cosmetics counters are drawers filled with promotional samples. Even if there aren’t ready-made freebies, at some stores they’ll hand-fill sample containers with any product if you ask.
Though it can feel funny asking for free stuff, it’s best to just be straightforward and explain why you’d like a sample: “I’ve heard some good things about this moisturizer, but I’d like the chance to try it out first.” In most cases, this approach worked for me. And the sales associates were actually nicer to me since I didn’t spend 15 minutes pretending to be an interested buyer.
Best score: A six-pack of Kiehl’s samples, handpicked by me and hand-wrapped in a cute little bag by the sales associate—with zero sales pressure.
Worth it?: Yes. In some cases you can get really great samples—not only did a Clinique employee give me a free two-week supply of spot corrector (honoring a long-expired Facebook promotion), he also invited me to bring the empty bottle back for another two-week supply. That’s nearly a full-size bottle’s worth.
Now, this won’t work every time: for every three times you ask, expect to strike out twice.