Autumn is upon us, which means only one thing: the festive season is fast approaching. As we start making plans with friends and family in the run up to 25 December, another way to enjoy the countdown to Christmas is with a beauty advent calendar.
Over the past few years, more and more brands and retailers have released their own versions, filled with mini and full-size products across make-up, skincare and haircare. Some are more anticipated than others, and luxury department store Liberty London is the market leader, with its gigantic beauty offering selling out every year since it first launched in 2014.
One retailer selling a growing number of coveted brands is M&S, and its annual beauty advent calendar is usually a great opportunity to try its wide range of products that you may not have tried before.
For 2021, its calendar is available from 28 October in store and online. It is retailing for £40 when you spend £30 on clothing, home and beauty at M&S, and inside you’ll find an estimated £300 worth of beauty treats. This makes it one of the more affordable beauty advent calendars, as many retail for over £50 and some into the hundreds.
How we tested
Ahead of its release date on 1 December, we opened up every drawer to find out if it’s worth your hard earned money. We examined the contents, size of the products and their variety, the packaging and if overall it’s a worthwhile way to countdown to Christmas.
M&S beauty advent calendar: £40, Marksandspencer.com, available to buy from 28 October
Number of days: 25
Product sizes: 7 full-size, 18 travel-size
Value of products: £300
Price: £40 when you spend £30 on clothing, home and beauty
It comes in a neatly packed tin box, decorated with blue and gold detailing. It’s a nice size, not so big you’d struggle to carry it, and it can easily fit on a windowsill, shelf or desk without getting in the way.
It’s wrapped in cardboard branding, and the products are individually packaged too. The good news is that there’s no plastic wrapping – a pleasant surprise considering many beauty advent calendars can be overloaded with it.
The products are arranged in two layers, the one on top has numbered boxes one through 12, and the bottom layer stores the remaining 13 to 25. There’s not an inch of space left, and the product boxes have been neatly placed in a tetris style pattern, making use of all the room.
It’s a sturdy box that doesn’t scream Christmas, with the tagline “Beauty lies within” on the front. However we loved its elegance and how easy it would be to reuse as anything from a cake tin to stationary pot, or simply as a larger storage option for a growing beauty routine.
We were disappointed to see that some of the travel-size products were small but packaged in a box twice its size. Not only did that seem wasteful and unnecessary, but it also feels like the retailer has compromised on bigger boxes to make it look fuller. So, design-wise, there is room for improvement.
In our eyes, M&S is an underrated beauty destination and is home to some brilliant brands including Aveda, L’Occitane, Philip Kingsley, Ren, Emma Hardie and Nails Inc. So, if it’s on your Christmas list, look away now as we’re about to spill what you’ll find in its 2021 calendar.
Some of the stand out products include a full-size Aveda strengthening leave-in treatment (£28, Marksandspencer.com), a full-size Percy & Reed wonder balm hair primer (£19, Marksandpsencer.com), and a Stila brown waterproof eyeliner (£16, Marksandpsencer.com). There’s also an Eyeko brown liquid eyeliner (£16, Marksandspencer.com) and an Autograph colourbalm lip shine (£10, Marksandpsencer.com).
Alongside the Aveda treatment you’ll also find a travel size Emma Hardie moringa cleansing balm (full size £47, Marksandpsencer.com), and a full-size Ultrasun lip protection SPF30 (£8, Marksandspencer.com). Plus, a mini L’Occitane shower oil (full-size £19.50, Marksandspencer.com) and a deluxe Philip Kingsley elasticizer hair mask (full-size £22.50, Marksandspencer.com).
Other mini goodies we love include the Ren Atlantic kelp and magnesium body wash (full-size £22, Marksandspencer.com) and a travel size Nails Inc nail polish in ‘tis the reason to sparkle – a shimmery red that’s perfect for your festive plans this year.
However, there’s quite a lot of product repetition with this advent calendar, with five facial moisturisers, three hand creams, three shower gels and two eyeliners.
Considering the umbrella of beauty brands stocked at M&S is vast, it’s a shame not to have seen products from other brands. The additions of the likes of Pixi, Living Proof, Lumene, Murad, Nuxe, or Origins could have made this box feel more varied in its product offering. We felt the retailer missed an opportunity to show off a wider showcase of the beauty products it offers.
Value for money
Each Christmas, beauty advent calendars get bigger along with their prices, but this, at £40, is definitely more affordable.
However, it comes with a caveat of spending £30 or more, which means it’ll set you back a minimum of £70 to purchase, which is quite expensive considering the contents are made up of mostly miniatures and travel-size.
We should note however that just two of the six full-size products within it combined would cost more than the entire advent calendar.
We wish we could have seen more cult, high end beauty brands you can shop at M&S, like Living Proof, Murad and Nuxe, which would have made it feel more luxurious. Instead it contains a lot of lesser known products, which admittedly still offers the opportunity to try new products, even so, we felt it missed a trick.
Lastly, the amount of product repetition makes it less value for money than we’d been expecting. It’s difficult to see what need there is for five moisturisers, for example.
The verdict: M&S beauty advent calendar 2021
Overall it’s slightly disappointing as we were hoping to get a much wider range of the M&S beauty hall. Unless you’re already a fan of its smaller, in-house brands or want products which can be shared, we wouldn’t call it a must-have.
That said, we were impressed with the box it came in, decorated with a luxurious blue and gold pattern that can easily be res-used, and we’ll definitely be putting it to good use once 25 December is over.
The individual product packaging was a let down too, with some of them excessively big for the products inside, which is not only misleading but wasteful.
M&S beauty advent calendar
Buy now £40.00, Marksandspencer.com
For the latest discounts on beauty advent calendars and other skincare offers, try the links below:
Read more about the best beauty advent calendars for 2021
Beauty advent calendars 2021 – our ultimate guide to this year’s Christmas treats from M&S, Cult Beauty and more
Fortnum & Mason advent calendar – from traditional to 3D pop-ups versions, food fit for a feast and of course, the beauty advent calendar, you’re spoilt for choice
The Body Shop advent calendar – this year’s calendar features a selection of the ethically conscious brand’s cult classics
Cult Beauty advent calendar – it’s overflowing with skincare and make-up from Charlotte Tilbury, Sunday Riley and more
Benefit advent calendar – calling all Bene-babes, the gift you’ve been waiting for all year is here
Lookfantastic advent calendar – brimming with skincare, haircare, make-up and bath treats from all your favourite brands
Charlotte Tilbury advent calendar – the luxury beauty brand has gone all out for 2021, but is it worth the money?
The White Company advent calendar – sink into 25 days of utter indulgence with the brand’s seasonal offering
Clarins advent calendar – there are festive options for men and women this year and both are busting with cult products
Lush advent calendar – the eco-conscious brand has revealed its joyous gift set with a sustainable focus
Asos advent calendar – we got our hands on the fashion retailer’s festive box and there’s plenty to shout about
Next advent calendar – this year’s offering is packed with treats from big names such as Clarins and Mac
Liberty advent calendar – with treats from Augustinus Bader and Olaplex, this year’s calendar lives up to the hype
Jo Malone advent calendar – it’s stuffed with bestselling candles and bougie bathroom treats
Diptyque advent calendar – the French perfume house has unveiled a cabinet of curiosities
John Lewis advent calendar – with £600 worth of beauty products, is it worth the hype?
Mac advent calendar – packed with bestsellers, this one will sell out fast
Net-A-Porter advent calendar – with £1,300 worth of products for just £255, this is worth considering
Selfridges advent calendar– this one comes with a 45-minute beauty concierge appointment