Once upon a time our advent calendars were filled with chocolate, now we’re older and wiser our tastes have developed into something a little more luxe.
Enter: beauty advent calendars. Twenty-four (twenty-five if you’re lucky) mornings of treats spanning skincare, makeup and fragrances. What’s not to love?
But with some costing as much as £400 (yes, really), we wanted to find out what’s really worth your cash.
One rainy afternoon we locked ourselves away and opened 150 doors, drawers and boxes, rating six advent calendars on their contents, appearance and value. We looked at a range of advent calendars – including No7, M&S, ASOS, Bodyshop, Look Fantastic, Birchbox, Elemis and L’Occitane – rating them on contents, appearance, value, and surprise factor.
While we won’t reveal what’s behind every door (we’re not a Christmas Scrooge), we will be rating them out of five and say whether they’re a worthwhile purchase.
Score - 4.5/5
First impressions: It’s HUGE and incredibly pretty, covered in traditional Christmassy illustrations (think: snowy shop windows, sledges and families spending time together). There’s big focus on activism, too, after The Bodyshop launched a new sustainable concept store, adding it was keen to get back to its roots. You could also reuse the box.
Products: There’s a really nice mix of products spanning The Bodyshops entire range, including shampoos, body butters, eye-makeup removers and hand creams. There’s also a few pieces from its premium range, Oils of Life, and the classic, long-standing products you might have used for years. The retailer hasn’t scrimped on sizes either, a large proportion of products are full-sized (which is rare for advent calendars, which are often full of minis).
Verdict: It’s good value for money (the value of contents is almost £250) and a great opportunity to try out new products.
Score - 4/5
First impressions: It’s very great Gatsby, a big navy box with gold embellishments. From appearance alone, it looks much more expensive than the price tag. The drawers are easy to remove and put back, so once you’re done with it, it’ll be easy to reuse, although there’s little information on the box that suggests it’s recyclable.
Products: Expect everything from eyeliners and mini lipsticks to glycolic acid pads and hair products, so you get a good mix of skincare, makeup and haircare. And as there’s no base makeup products such as foundation except for one translucent powder, it’ll be a great present for all skin tones.
Advent calendars from places such as Look Fantastic mean you get a variety of brands and products, which is great if you’re as curious as we are. We won’t give away the contents, but you never get the same brand twice. Within each drawer there’s a product wrapped in tissue paper and a small card explaining what it is and how to use it. Helpful if you’ve never heard of the product before.
Verdict: Overall we were impressed, if you want a bit of luxury with an advent calendar but don’t want to spend a fortune, this is the perfect compromise.
Marks & Spencer Advent Calendar, £40 (when you spent £25 in store or online)
Score - 3/5
First impressions: The box is a lovely non-traditional design, decorated in pink, gold and green in a compact size that won’t be hard to hide from if it’s a surprise for someone that can also be recycled.
Although once opened, the star design made up of boxes looks nice until its stood upright, when it promptly falls out every-time you pull out a new box. Maybe we’re being heavy handed? Who knows.
Products: Of the 25 products, six are full size, with the majority of products nicely considered, think pillow sprays to aid sleep, travel size perfumes and lash-lifting mascaras. Some of the smaller products like brushes and lipglosses also have excessive packaging, being in unnecessary big boxes, so it loses points for that.
Verdict: In our opinion, Marks & Spencer has a brilliant beauty section, with smaller, niche brands that can be difficult to shop in store, but this calendar missed the mark by not including some of its best products. There’s no Pixi, Pestle & Mortar or Rosie for Autograph products to be found, which is disappointing. But it is very good value for money.
Score - 4/5
First impressions: ASOS’s beauty blockbuster has decent sustainable credentials – the box itself is cork and designed to be reused, whereas the individual inner boxes are printed with soy ink and 100% recyclable. The irony is that the contents are full of small, plastic minis.
Products: Inside there are 25 boxes, neatly stacked in neon and animal prints, a distinctly non-Christmas vibe albeit our favourite so far. The products are definitely well thought out, with shampoo and conditioner sets behind one door and cult brands throughout.
Plus you’ll be able to get your hands on with next day delivery. Our only gripe is the sheet mask, while only one of 25 products, comes in a huge box which frankly feels like a big waste.
Verdict: Perfect for a cult beauty addict looking to try out new products. They’ll love the mix of luxury and high street finds.
Score - 1/5
First impressions: Bright, but budget. It’s much smaller and hasn’t got the same wow factor the others have.
Our immediate bug bear is how hard it is to find the numbered doors to open in order because of the busy design. (Top tip: number one is bottom left.) The doors are more like a traditional chocolate advent calendar with perforated doors designed to be ripped open, thus rendering the whole thing useless once you’re finished with.
Products: The biggest problem with this is the same problem with all one brand advent calendars: variety. We counted two hand creams, three shower gels, four face creams and three soaps. Unnecessary.
Verdict: Poor quality. Disappointingly the casing holding the products inside is made from plastic, which seems ironic against the eco-friendly tips written on either side of the box.
Score - 2/5
First impressions: A glorious tribute to all things traditional Christmas, this tree shaped beauty decorated in red and gold is a show stopper. And have you seen the price?!
Products: Immediately our expectations are high, but we’re a little let down. The majority of the products are travel size, miniature almost. Disappointing considering the drawers are quite large, the products practically rattle around inside.
There is one redeeming feature: a full-sized product, which costs £85 on its own – over half the cost of the whole thing.
Verdict: You’d be better off buying the full-sized product.
First Impressions: It’s sparkly, colourful and fun to look at, and not excessively big either, with what looks to be full size products throughout the 24 days. It’s also one of the more affordable options so we’re keen to find out how much product that gets us.
Products: Well, we’re sworn to secrecy and can’t reveal the exact products until 23 October (boo!). But we were pleased to see a good balance of skincare and makeup in the mix. Disappointingly, however, there were only a couple of full-size products and some of the windows had vouchers behind them (meaning a trip to Boots to get your gift).
Verdict: Overall it’s nice, but there’s little thought to sustainability. The interior of the calendar is plastic. I’d say the hype around this is better than the reality.
First Impressions: It’s big, impressively so, and gorgeously decorated in blue and white. It’s also tied together with ribbon, which is a nice touch.
Products: The drawers are huge, suggesting many full-sized products ready to greet you on cold December mornings. In reality, there is only one full-sized product and that’s on Christmas day – when, let’s face it, you’ll already have enough gifts to open. Instead the drawers are filled with little mini products, and it all feels slightly anti-climatic.
Verdict: It feels wasteful – each drawer comes with streamed paper which is just filler for the smaller products like an eyeliner or mini serum. Looks-wise it is beautiful, but it’s more style than substance. Not worth your money.
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