The appeal of a giant makeup or skin-care advent calendar as a holiday gift — once you stomach the steep price point, often starting at around $45 and going up to over $500 — is twofold: There’s a little something for everyone, even if you don’t know the recipient’s taste, and it’s almost always a bargain once you account for the retail price of every item individually. “What’s great about beauty advent calendars is that behind every door there’s something new to try,” says Emma Chiu, global director of Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, which makes it a great bet for curious beauty lovers who are always on the hunt for their next favorite product. And, according to Jenni Middleton, the director of beauty at trend-forecasting agency WGSN (with over 16 years of experience in the health, retail, and beauty industries), an advent calendar is also a way to start “the self-gifting early” because “who doesn’t want and need some treats once we start our very busy December schedules?” Since these calendars are already hitting the shelves, we consulted Middleton and Chiu about the best ones to buy right now (eagle-eyed observers may note the exception of the collectible M.A.C calendar, which is sadly only available in the U.K. for now), plus ones that give you much more than you pay for.
A curated assortment from a retailer with good taste is one of the savviest ways to shop for these sets. “Some of the beauty of these is knowing and trusting a particular brand,” says Middleton. “You trust that whatever you’re going to get from them is going to surprise and delight you.” She cites Space NK’s A Beauty Anthology as a good example of this fact. This year, that means 25 cult favorites like Olaplex’s No. 3 Bond Perfector, Eve Lom’s Original Cleanser, Sunday Riley’s Luna Sleeping Night Oil, and others — at a fraction of their usual prices.
The Liberty London Advent Calendar “is as eagerly awaited as Santa with his sleigh, as every year it features a great value set of products,” Middleton explains, including 18 full-size products and seven sample sizes, including Diptyque’s Baies Scented Candle, Byredo’s Rose Rinse-Free Hand Wash, and a Nars Blush and Bronzer Duo. The set has already sold out in the U.K., despite increasing production by over 40 percent this year, so we suggest snapping it up fast.
“If you’re talking about a beauty house that has a reputation for pulling together great brands, it’s Look Fantastic,” says Middleton. It doesn’t preview which brands are included in the set until you open it, so if you prefer to be surprised, read no further. But online spoilers reveal that this year we’ll see a Morphe eye-shadow palette, Eyeko Lash Alert Mascara, and Mellow Cosmetics Liquid Lip Paint, among others — all things that are ideal for executing holiday makeup looks.
For luxury beauty nerds, Net-a-Porter is known for its taste, as well as including products that are often uniquely cult-y and expensive. Chiu calls it “a bit of a beauty splash out,” but is worth it because you can find “luxury skin care, hair and makeup.” The edit is focused on getting you through the taxing holiday-party season, featuring highly pigmented makeup products to get ready with, as well as post-soirée skin saviors. This year’s set, for example, clocking in at just over $250, includes some of our most beloved (and pricey) hair and beauty brands at the Strategist, from Dr. Barbara Sturm and Dr. Dennis Gross skin care to Charlotte Tilbury and Sunday Riley — so this is one we’d recommend scooping up before it sells out.
At a lower price point, for the person who identifies as a Sephora aficionado. And Middleton loves this affordable Frosted Party advent calendar for its variety. Note that these are exclusively makeup minis from Sephora’s in-house collection, with highlights that include “a charcoal nose strip, eye mask, lip mask, and makeup remover wipes.”
Beyond a curated potpourri of minis from bigger retailers, beauty-obsessed people might want something more specific to their high-end tastes. The selection from Diptyque — one of the most cult-y luxury brands — never fails to disappoint, and this year’s advent calendar contains 25 mini-candles, plus perfumes and oils, for $425 (which, when you consider the cost per item, is still a steal). Middleton says this one hits a sweet spot of being both festive and appropriately lavish: “Who doesn’t want to have a candle during the holidays? Anything that’s super-indulgent, with bath and body and luxury, from relaxing candles to relaxing fragrances, or body soufflés and body butters, people will want to spend more money on those, especially if they think they’re getting more value out of them.”
We also like this beauty set from L’Occitane, which tends to be a hit with moms (and people who hoard their hand creams). And when you consider that a single hand cream typically runs for $12 a pop, the fact that you’re getting a pocket-size medley of goodies — from soaps to creams — makes this a really nice investment set for the holidays.
Another consistent best seller is Rituals’ advent calendar, whose popularity Middleton attributes to the fact that “Rituals has raving fans and such a luxury following.” And it’s got utility beyond your own personal use, she adds: “Everyone’s hosting guests for Christmas, or they’re traveling themselves, so I always think mini-samples are just wonderful to have around the house at Christmas so you can offer something special for your guests to use.”
“Elemis always has a great offer behind each window of their advent presentations,” says Middleton. Elemis offers 12 skin-care products from its Pro-Collagen Marine Cream, formulated with powerful marine actives, to its Camellia Tea Seed Oil–enriched Skin Nourishing Body Cream, and more nourishing skin-care products that are ideal for dry winter skin.
For sheer presentation alone (look at all this glitter), plus the hyperpopularity and cost of Charlotte Tilbury products, Middleton also suggested checking out Charlotte Tilbury’s advent calendar of 12 makeup and skin-care staples, from her iconic Pillowtalk lipstick to her deeply rich magic cream. “Charlotte Tilbury’s Glittering Galaxy of Make-up Magic just looks fabulous with lovely glittery gold boxed drawers that reveal enough makeup for two makeup looks and lots of skin-care treats too,” she says.
For clean beauty lovers, look no further than BareMinerals, says Middleton. “It offers anyone who buys it a complete skin-care and makeup look,” including lipstick, highlighter, and blush. “I am pretty sure you’d want to use all of these products — there wouldn’t be any languishing in the back of a bathroom drawer until next Christmas.”
According to Middleton, “Sustainability is really important to consumers, so calendars that can be reused or refilled will be popular.” Kiehl’s is offering a reusable and refillable organic-cotton advent calendar, with each of the 12 pockets decorated by Finnish illustrator Janine Rewell, making the calendar reusable and something shoppers will want to keep, she says. “The outer packaging is a seeded bag, which can be planted in the garden,” once the weather warms up. It’s filled with enough masks, serums, cleansers, and moisturizer minis to last you for months.
For fans of luxury beauty, we suggest Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Advent Calendar, which features 21 of her cult-status skin-care products, including her beloved hyaluronic serum. As Rio explains: “Everyone loves Dr. Barbara Sturm, and I haven’t yet found a product of hers that doesn’t have over-the-top rave reviews.”
Middleton calls this year’s ESPA calendar “super-elegant” with “lovely gray and gold drawers opening to reveal the Espa classics,” like its Restorative Bath Oil, Skin Rescue Balm, and 24-Hour Replenishing Eye Moisturiser.
“Expect to find some interesting new brands in the Glossybox advent calendar,” from New York’s Winky Lux to London-based Advant Skincare, says Chiu. “This affordable advent calendar has 25 products, worth over $500 for a fifth of that price.”
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