Subtl Beauty Stak Review
The Subtl Beauty Stak builds on the excellent makeup of the original with better build quality and a much more effective applicator.
- Plastic construction and twist closure feel solid
- Solid pigmentation for most of the makeup
- Makeup transfer between modules minimized with brush and cleaner tool add-on
- Relatively bulky overall size
- Cylindrical shape not the most efficient to pack in squarish toiletry bags
- Powder can break in transit
4.9 oz (138.9 g)
with 8 makeup types, lid, brush, and dry brush cleaner
3.125 in x 2.125 in x 2.125 in (7.9 x 5.4 x 5.4 cm)
with 8 makeup types, lid, brush, and dry brush cleaner
Materials are globally sourced
The Subtl Beauty Build Your Stack was a concept we really liked. Picking your own makeup and putting them all together into a multi-layered cylindrical unit you can take with you anywhere as a single piece sounds excellent for travel, and for the most part, it was. It was a first-generation product, though, so improvements were bound to come forth, and now they have. Meet the Stak.
Key improvements include better build quality, a better applicator, and the inclusion of a flip-up mirror. These address most of the issues we had with the original version. If you’ve read our review of that, you’ll surely want to know our thoughts on the updated version—let’s get into it!
Let’s do a quick refresher on the whole concept of the Stak (previously known as the Build Your Stack). Simply put, these Staks are made of individual makeup modules you combine and take apart by twisting them on top of each other. You can buy pre-made Staks curated by Subtl Beauty or build your own Stak and add as many makeup modules as you need. They even have additional tools, such as a dry brush cleaner module, a brush set, and a cosmetic bag. In this review, though, we’re mostly taking a look at a custom Stak that’s not too far off from the basic pre-made ones.
We’ll start with improvements over the previous version. The most notable upgrade is the twisting mechanism. No longer does it feel like you can twist modules together too tightly. Instead, a very perceivable stop lets you know you’ve turned far enough. This is important since the Stak’s containers are made entirely of plastic, so they can get a bit stuck together if you twist them together too tightly.
Two more key improvements include a cap that doubles as a mirror and switching from an applicator pad to an applicator brush. The former is particularly handy since it eliminates the need to carry around a separate mirror. We’re always trying to cut back on gear, and every ounce and square inch counts, you know? As for the latter, it makes a huge difference when applying makeup—we’ll get back to that later as we discuss the makeup itself.
If you purchase the starter Stak, you get the cream concealer, lip and cheek cream, powder highlighter, shine control powder, and a bronzer. We’ve added blush and eye shadow modules to complete the setup we felt we needed. Unfortunately, the eye shadow came broken, highlighting the cons of using powder while traveling—they’re really prone to breaking. We were able to press down on the powder to lock it back into place well enough, but it’ll continue to break up over time, so we’re pretty careful when opening that module.
Most of the Stak’s makeup is powder-based, such as the aforementioned eyeshadow, bronzer, blush, highlighter, and shine control. Fortunately, only one of them arrived broken. Plus, the advantage of these powder-based ones is that we find they often last longer than their cream-based counterparts. That’s most likely because it’s easy to scoop up more cream than you need if you’re not used to cream-based makeup, though your mileage may vary.
Based on our experience, one of the key limitations of the original version was the applicator pad. It simply retained a lot of unapplied makeup, whether powder or cream-based. This led to a lot of makeup transferring to other modules, effectively contaminating them. We minimized this by solely using the applicator pad for the shine control pressed powder, so it almost felt too underutilized most of the time.
Subtl Beauty fixes this problem in two ways. First, the move to a brush from a pad means you’re using a less absorbent tool, but one that’s just as effective in applying makeup. Second, the optional dry brush cleaner takes care of any leftover residue, making it, in our opinion, a must-have module (though it’s sold separately from even the pre-made stacks). To be clear, both solutions don’t completely eliminate makeup transfer, but they minimize it to a point where we’re confident enough to use the brush on all of the makeup modules.
As for the makeup quality, its effectiveness remains largely the same as the original. The cream concealer works well in hiding minor skin blemishes but not anything too heavy, like major acne scarring or intense hyperpigmentation (it’s great for redness, though). Meanwhile, the eye shadow still delivers good pigmentation, and that’s despite arriving broken out of the box. The application is still as smooth as it was with the original, with only minor creasing with hooded eyelids.
The lip and cheek cream still took us some time to get used to again (we switched back to powder-based ones since testing the original), but it was only a matter of time. Pigmentation is also largely excellent, though we still have to hold ourselves back since it’s fairly easy to overapply if we get too carried away with the brush strokes.
If we had any small gripes regarding Subtl’s makeup, it’s that they don’t have the widest range of shades. This isn’t an issue for most of the makeup, but it’s definitely a concern with the bronzer and the concealer. It’s definitely something to watch out for if you’re looking for the perfect match.
Based on our previous experience with Subtl Beauty’s cream highlighter, we doubled down on usage to see immediate results. Fortunately, the highlighter is now a powder, and that makes it somewhat easier to apply without going overboard with the amount.
All that said, this makeup is incredibly buildable. Use as little or as much as you want, and if it fades throughout the day (we rarely had to), you’ll have the Stak right on hand to refresh your blush or reapply concealer using the compact mirror in the lid.
In terms of packability, you get a lot of makeup and functionality in a one-piece kit. Yes, you can get makeup palettes that are far slimmer and rectangular, but you also lose the customizability of those individual modules. Think of it this way: you can add and take away modules as you see fit, which you can’t really do with your usual monolithic makeup palettes.
On the other hand, the cylindrical shape just isn’t very efficient if you’re trying to maximize the available space in your toiletry bag. Still, the amount of makeup and functionality the Stak encompasses more than makes up for the inefficiencies of its rounded shape.
On the face of it, the Stak is a lot bulkier than the original version. Indeed, the updated version is bigger module-for-module, although that added bulk also comes with substantially better build quality. Not only is the locking mechanism much more tactile and easier to use, but the plastic just feels more robust overall. In terms of tallness, the updated version is simply taller due to having more modules, like the dry brush cleaner and the flip-up mirror. Overall, the added size is a worthwhile tradeoff versus the benefits we’re getting.
Oh, and did we mention that you can also refill these new modules now? Yep, there’s no need to throw them out once they run dry like the original version, so there’s that.
One of the closest comparisons outside of Subtl Beauty’s lineup we thought of is the Alleyoop Stack the Odds. Though it’s much more compact, it’s also much more limited since there’s next to no customization at the time of this review. It also only has three kinds of makeup: blush, bronzer, and a highlighter, with a flip-up mirror at the top.
- Container is lightweight and sturdy
- Eyeshadow insert came broken—still functions, but it’s a little messy/powdery
- Interested to see how the makeup lasts when applied
- Really easy to build on the pigmentation
- Eyeshadow stayed together but was still a little crumbly
- Digging the built-in lid mirror