In a year as terrible as 2020, it’s no surprise the countdown to Christmas has started earlier than ever.
While there are plenty of things to look forward to this December, for beauty junkies one of the key hallmarks of the season is the beauty advent calendar.
Once a gimmicky rarity, the space has exploded over the past few years with more and more names packaging 24 of their best beauty treats to mark the runup to the big day.
Amplifying that same joy you felt peeling back the foil each morning for a tiny chocolate, the benefits of beauty advent calendars are more than just handfuls of mini samples.
Typically priced much lower than purchasing all the items individually, they’re a great way to experiment with new products you may otherwise have never purchased. While the contents vary from brand to brand, you also often find more full-size products than expected.
With this in mind, we strapped on our Santa hats and started the most wonderful time of the year in September. Not only were we on a mission to find the calendar offering the best value for money, we wanted something that replicated the joy of unwrapping presents beneath the tree every single morning.
Testing every product behind every window, we were looking for a selection of products with the potential to become staples in our beauty routine. The more variety and full-size items the better. Here are our festive favourites.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Latest In Beauty award winners the beauty advent calendar
This might be organised less like a calendar and more like a beauty box, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. Worth over £300, it’s a selection of 24 of mini and full-sized top products. Expect big and small names alike, from Murad and Marc Jacobs Beauty to Skin Chemists and Invisibobble. We immediately reached for the mini Color Wow dream coat supernatural spray – a holy grail of ours that works well on frizzy locks, simply saturate wet hair and style as you wish. In the absence of individual drawers or boxes, there’s minimal packaging waste and you can pick which gift you receive each day (if you have the self-control to stop at one). Festive and functional.
Buy now £70.00, Latest In Beauty
Nars advent calendar
We’ve always loved Nars lip products – not only are they incredibly high-pigmented, but its colour range is second to none. Party season might be cancelled for 2020, but this calendar stocks you up for 2021 and beyond. The hexagonal gold calendar folds out to reveal separate compartments hiding 12 full-size versions of Nars favourites. This covers three of its most popular lines – the powermatte lip pigment (the most powerful liquid lipstick we’ve ever encountered), a velvet matte lip pencil and traditional lipsticks. There are truly no weak links in this calendar, but our favourite product was the Cruella lip pencil. As striking as you’d expect from its villainous namesake, it’s so easy to apply and can even withstand several hours beneath a face mask. While the calendar is pricey, it’s worth £268, making it a good investment for anyone rarely found without a lip product in their pocket.
Buy now £175.00, Nars
NYX diamonds and ice please 24 day advent calendar festive countdown
Pink and glittery, this calendar looks like the Christmas party season we deserved in 2020. The contents are just as glam, spanning 24 different goodies from the brand’s diamonds and ice please collection. Everything from NYX always manages to outdo the expectations of a high street brand and luckily this calendar leans heavily into its greatest strength: lip products. Our tester’s go-to butter gloss made an appearance in not one but three shades (we recommend crème brûlée for a natural light pink glow). With the exception of the scrub and balm, all the products are minis. However, they’ll all serve as handy top-up products in a post-lockdown world.
Buy now £80.00, Beauty Bay
The Fragrance Shop advent calendar
Committing to a new perfume is tough, so we were excited to use The Fragrance Shop’s first ever calendar as a chance to audition new scents. As well as fragrance offerings from the likes of Calvin Klein, Pepe Jeans and Jennifer Lopez, the 25 doors also hide make-up and skincare surprises (including the very timely Purdy & Figg hand sanitiser). However, we were most excited by Burberry’s 7.5ml my Burberry blush, a fruity, floral scent attracting compliments even while social distancing. Considering the purse-friendly price tag, it’s unsurprising that you don’t receive a full-size fragrance. However, one door does include a £10 voucher off your next purchase of £40 or more. Pre-order now so you don’t miss out.
Buy now £69.50, The Fragrance Shop
Dr. Hauschka advent calendar
All-natural and made with organic medicinal plants, Dr. Hauschka’s products are formulated under the belief that all cosmetics should let the skin breathe. With this in mind, the 23 minis and final full-sized gift within the calendar are light and nourishing on both your face and body. Considering the brand’s concern with self-care, it’s no surprise that everything feels and smells soothing, transforming advent into an at-home spa day experience. This was especially true of the moor lavender calming oil which, when slathered from head to toe, feels like a cocoon of relaxing deep hydration. Every item combined is worth over £100 and the packaging is simple yet festive – you can’t go wrong with some red and green at Christmas.
Buy now £85.00, Dr. Hauschka
Charlotte Tilbury bejewelled chest of treasures
These advent calendars get more beautiful by the year, with 2020’s edition taking the form of a glamorous, glittering set of drawers packed with some of the brand’s bestsellers. There are only 12 gifts, but a quarter of these are full-size and even the travel size products go a long way. As expected, several drawers hide old-school Charlotte Tilbury staples, such as the pillow talk matte lipstick and magic cream. However, you’re also treated to new releases like the much-hyped pillow talk push up lashes! mascara. While we were impressed by the latter, the most exciting product was the airbrush flawless setting spray. Sprays usually oversell its setting powder, but this locked down a full-face of makeup, even beneath our face mask. The stuff of miracles.
Buy now £150.00, Charlotte Tilbury
Body Shop make it real together ultimate advent calendar
If you’re after a little bit of self-care, this one’s for you. Body Shop’s ultimate calendar not only provides 25 indulgent pampering treats, but each box comes with a suggestion on how to brighten up the day for you and your loved ones. Unlike most calendars, every single skin, hair and body care gift is full-sized. Already overwhelmed by the uber festive packaging, we felt truly spoiled for choice when deciding what to try first. Of the £226 worth of products, our stand out was the Nicaraguan coffee intense awakening mask – it sits like a face mask for 15 minutes before rinsing off and exfoliating skin to reveal a more glowy and refreshed you.
The ultimate calendar is the biggest and most luxurious of Body Shop’s three offerings for 2020, but for more low-key options it also offers the big advent calendar (£70) and the small advent calendar (£50).
Buy now £130.00, Body Shop
Amazon Beauty advent calendar
Amazon might not be the obvious choice for a beauty retailer, but the website hides thousands of hidden gems. This year’s calendar contains £215 worth of its very best, including our tester’s favourite sunscreen – Altruist dermatologist sun cream, which is SPF50, sits evenly beneath make-up and doesn’t cause breakouts on even the most sensitive skin. A lot of the items inside are equally as practical, especially when it comes to skincare. From sheet masks to toners, it provides the pillars of a stellar skincare routine. However, it also offers some decent make-up products too, including a Sleek eyeshadow palette and Rimmel highlighter.
Buy now £60.00, Amazon
Kiehl’s limited edition advent calendar
Designed by artist Maïté Franchi, this calendar is a festive Art Deco dream, opening up to reveal a Christmas scene featuring Mr Bones (the skeleton doctor welcoming you into the brand’s physical stores). Shopping in person can seem daunting right now, but luckily this calendar has enough to keep you going well into the new year – the contents of all 24 boxes range from shampoos to serums, with 20 travel-size products, three full-size and one bonus surprise. The brand’s ultra-facial cream is a staple for many, but we were most excited by its midnight recovery concentrate. A few drops applied pre-moisturiser is the closest thing to a Christmas miracle, smoothing out textured skin and plumping up tired complexions. There’s no need to worry about the guilt of unnecessary waste dimming that new glow – the calendar is made in the UK from fully recyclable materials.
Buy now £89.00, Kiehl’s
L’Occitane luxury advent calendar
If there was ever a year to indulge in self-care, it’s 2020. Here to help is the luxury edition of L’Occitane’s calendar, which boasts £135 worth of body, hair and skincare treats. As you’d expect, everything smells incredible (particularly the products with the brand’s trademark almond scent) and nourishes your skin more than you thought possible. Most helpful is the inclusion of four hand creams to get you through the upcoming combo of both winter and hand sanitiser-induced dryness. With four main drawers holding daily compartments, it’s much more compact than other advent calendars. The best gift? The overnight reset serum, a silky formula which, massaged across the whole face, takes you from dull to luminous overnight.
Buy now £99.00, L’Occitane
ESPA no place like home advent calendar
Named after our newfound love of home comforts in 2020, this calendar is also packaged in a rich green to reflect ESPA’s ongoing commitment to sustainability. It feels high quality and more study than a lot of other beauty calendars. Priding itself on products that indulge the skin, body and mind, ESPA has handpicked the best of the best for December. Skincare lovers will fall hard for our favourite – the optimal skin pro-cleanser, which acts as a three-in-one cleanser, exfoliator and mask. While it applies like a cream, it massages into a luxurious oil and visibly brightens skin after just one use. However, special commendation goes to the winter spice candle, which smells like the fantasy Christmas.
Buy now £145.00, ESPA
Ciaté mini mani month
Decorated with a merry pink London scene, this calendar contains 24 gifts – including 22 mini polishes, a non-polish surprise, and a full-size shade that screams Christmas. This isn’t Ciaté’s first advent calendar, but it does mark the debut of the brand’s new “plant pot” formulas, which are vegan, cruelty-free and of up to 80 per cent natural origins. Glitter has had a bad eco-rep for a while now, so we were relieved this extended to biodegradable alternatives for festive polish. As if that’s not enough, all formulas are now infused with biotin, bamboo and bakuchiol extracts, which combine to boost your nail health and prolong your manicure. The perfect way to replenish your 2021 polish supply. While every shade is perfect for the upcoming festivities, our personal favourite is dark matter – a deep, dark, shimmery purple.
Buy now £59.00, Ciaté
OPI nail lacquer 25-piece advent calendar
If there’s any month where it’s acceptable to change your nail colour every day, it’s December. Thankfully this calendar has 25 different mini 3.5ml polishes – a mixture of OPI’s most recognisable shades and its festive limited edition shine bright collection. Whether you prefer muted greys or hot pinks, there’s a colour for every occasion. We personally loved the shade gingerbread man can, which is a shimmery brown shiny enough to mimic a gel manicure. There are also three glitters (our favourite is bling it on, an iridescent, icy blue).
Buy now £65.90, OPI
Origins 12 days of Christmas advent calendar
Origins made its name as one of the first brands to embrace natural, minimal beauty and has gone the same way with its advent calendar. Spanning 12 days, it features mini versions of some of its top-selling products. This includes its famous mega-mushroom relief and resilience soothing treatment lotion, which totally transformed our skincare routine. Used between cleanser and moisturiser, it’s a light, liquid formula that soothes sensitive complexions. While this is definitely one for the skincare afficiendos out there, the final day features a full-size beauty product. This is also our winner for packaging – decorated with colourful nutcrackers, you’ll want to keep and repurpose the box after.
Buy now £50.00, Origins
Lumene Nordic nature advent calendar
Inspired by the snowy landscape of a Nordic winter, this calendar is probably the closest thing you’ll get to a white Christmas this year. Behind all 24 doors are a mix of miniature and full-size versions of the brand’s top vegan products. Worth £240, this is a combination of 17 skincare products and seven make-up products. There are mini versions of some of our all-time favourites (namely the Nordic-C glow reveal moisturiser and the invisible illumination instant illuminizer) and even a surprising but very welcome treat from Lumene’s Moomin collaboration. We also found a new go-to moisturiser: the Nordic hydra fresh moisture 24hr water gel. It both feels and smells refreshing, absorbs quickly and managed to control our tester’s oily T-zone. As if that’s not enough, the calendar’s plastic interior is made of 80 per cent recycled plastic and the whole calendar is recyclable.
Buy now £89.90, Feel Unique
Essence ho ho home advent calendar
This is one of the most festive calendars we reviewed, folding out to reveal a picture-perfect snowy street. The Christmas theming doesn’t stop there as the 24 gifts inside include several limited edition cosmetics designed specifically for the season, including a gingerbread colour-changing lip balm. Essence products are usually aimed at a younger demographic and this calendar is no exception – it includes Christmas hair ties, fake body tattoos and a mini notebook. But that doesn’t mean it forgoes quality: the I Heart Extreme volume mascara has a full, natural bristle wand which gives you fluffier lashes than a lot of high-end products.
Buy now £24.99, Just My Look
Catrice Cosmetics DIY advent calendar
Probably the most wholesome entry on this list, this calendar is completely customisable and provides you with an afternoon of festive DIY. Stocked with 24 gifts, paper bags and stickers, it’s up to you to put together a Christmas countdown for either yourself (if you don’t mind not being surprised) or a loved one. Seeing the gifts beforehand does take away some of the fun, but you do get the added bonus of eyeing up your favourites ahead of time. Catrice is a German brand known for its stellar line of affordable, cruelty-free products, and this calendar serves as the perfect primer for some of its bestsellers. Our favourites? The shimmery, deeply pigmented copper eyeshadow palette and the brow colourist, which gradually tints your brows darker over the course of two weeks. One of the easiest brow products we’ve ever used and an absolute game changer for at-home beauty treatments.
Buy now £34.99, Just My Look
fresh 12 days of beauty advent calendar
It only lasts 12 days, but this calendar is a joy from start to finish. We’re always excited to try new products from fresh – not only are they made with natural ingredients, but they consistently smell divine – and each day improved on the last. In addition to classics like the soy face cleanser, we loved the kombucha antioxidant essence and sugar caramel hydrating lip balm (which literally smells and tastes like you’ve dipped into a selection box early). The best of the best? The black tea firming overnight mask. A light layer over your skincare routine, rinsed off the next morning, works miracles on tired complexions and fine lines. While we adored every single product, it’s worth noting that everything is travel-sized.
Buy now £106.00, fresh
OTO mindful CBD Christmas calendar
OTO launched in 2019 after co-founder Gemma Colao discovered CBD’s ability to alleviate anxiety and stress. Determined to spread the same sense of relaxation in 2020, the brand has wrapped up 12 of its best products in this luxurious calendar. Each of items features the recommended daily dose of CBD oil — 40ml to 60ml — and cover everything from pillow mist to cocktail bitters. A total CBD newbie, our tester dove straight for the sleep drops, which soon proved to be the best of the bunch. With one drop held under the tongue for 30 seconds each evening increased the quality of our sleep at 50mg per dose. We also loved the night cream face mask and the ritual lip balm. It might be pricey but comes in at around £200 cheaper than the retail price of each individual product making it a good investment for anyone looking to experiment with CBD oil.
Buy now £329.00, OTO
The verdict: Beauty advent calendars
It might not follow the traditional calendar structure, but the Latest In Beauty box is our top pick thanks to its unbeatable collection of old and new beauty favourites. If you’re looking for a lower price point, skincare gurus everywhere will appreciate the Kiehl’s limited edition advent calendar.
For more advent calendar inspiration, read our guide to the best gin advent calendars