It is without doubt the Marks and Spencers Christmas Advent Calendar is one of the most loved calendars available. When it comes to its price and value it is hard to beat – but what sort of products are in it this year? Are they any good? Are they repetitive? This review will split the items in categories, look into their ingredients and compare it with other calendars on the market.
£40 when you purchase £30 on clothing, home or beauty
Makeup: 4 items
Unfortunately, the 2021 Marks and Spencers calendar only has four makeup items. Out of these, three products are for the eyes. The Eyeko Black Magic Liquid Eyeliner comes in full size and it is worth £16. The M&S calendar offers the eyeliner in the colour brown. The wand allows for a precise line, both thick and thin. It is supposed to be waterproof and smudge proof, but I find that the black version of this eyeliner bleeds quite a bit under my hooded, oily eyelids. This product is vegan.
The second eyeliner comes in a pencil form, and it is the Stila Smudge Stick Waterproof Eyeliner in full size which costs £16. Although this is another eyeliner, it will allow you to achieve different eye looks. The Eyeko one is perfect for lining your top lid, while the Stila one will allow a more smudged and soft look, both on the upper and lower lid. You could also use this to line the waterline of your eyes. From the presentation picture it is suggested that this will come in the colour brown. This product is supposed to last all day and be waterproof.
The third item for the eyes is mascara. This is the predictable Eyeko Black Magic Mascara in a travel size worth £10. Although this is a mini size, as I have previously mentioned in other calendar reviews, mascaras need to be changed every three months and therefore smaller sizes are still usually enough to be used for more than enough. The mascara comes in the colour brown, which is a first for a popular brand in calendars. Brown mascara has recently seen a huge surge in popularity after big names in the beauty industry suggested it looks more flattering, especially during daytime or on certain colouring. This is a chic move for M&S to make and proves they pay attention to beauty trends. This mascara is supposed to offer both volume and curl and it is infused with keratin and shea butter to also condition and protect the lashes.
The only other makeup item in the Marks and Spencers calendar for 2021 is a lip product. This is the Autograph Colour Balm Lip Shine which comes in full size and it costs £10. This is a moisturising lip tint that can come in various shades of pink. The specific shade that the M&S calendar offers is not mentioned. This is a fun and cute item to be included in the calendar. It is also vegan.
Skincare: 8 items
Starting with the cleansing routine, the M&S calendar has a cleanser in – the popular and loved Emma Hardie Moringa Cleansing Balm. This comes in an unspecified deluxe size, but from the presentation picture it looks generous enough (perhaps around 30ml). Without the exact size it is impossible to calculate the worth of it, but Emma Hardie is an expensive brand, so it will be more than £20- £30. This is a balm cleanser with a thick and waxy consistency that removes all makeup and sunscreen. This does contain a multitude of potential irritant and skin sensitising ingredients, such as citrus oils and bergamot. It also contains some ingredients that are on the EU’s list of potential skin allergens that have to be written separately on the ingredient list, such as limonene, benzyl alcohol, citronellol, geraniol, linalool and citral. However, this is a rinse off product and therefore the product would not sit for long on the skin.
After cleansing your skin in the evening, you could use the Alpha H Rose Liquid Gold which comes in another unspecified deluxe size. Again, from the presentation image this looks generous enough, perhaps around 50ml. Alpha H is another expensive brand and a deluxe size would be worth around £20. This is a liquid exfoliant that has 5% glycolic acid. This is an alpha hydroxy acid, perfect for smoothing out the skin, helping with fine lines and sun damage. This product also contains silk proteins, which could give the skin a smooth feeling. It also has licorice root extract which has skin soothing and antioxidant properties. However, the second ingredient of this product is alcohol which could dry the skin, weaken and sensitise it, especially when being the second most predominant ingredient in a product.
As an evening cream there are two options. The first one is the Formula Absolute Sleep Cream which comes in 15ml and is worth around £7. This is an anti ageing cream supposed to make you look more rested. This product has a very long list of ingredients. The third ingredient is niacinamide, which can improve skin’s texture, protect it from environmental factors while also being an antioxidant. In addition, it has many emollients and silicones. Silicones are not bad in skincare – if you want to read more about their function click here. This cream contains fragrance which can be a skin sensitiser.
The second choice as a night cream is the Prai 24K Gold Wrinkle Repair Night Crème which comes in what looks like 30ml which would be worth £21. It contains peptides and hydrating ingredients as well as silicones. This combination will hydrate, protect and prime your face. This is fragranced which could sensitise skin and it also contains the potential skin allergens amyl cinnamal, citronellol and limonene. This cream was also in the M&S Beauty Box 2020.
For the morning, there are also two choices of creams. There is the Ren Evercalm Global Protection Day Cream in an unspecified deluxe size. From the presentation picture it looks like this will be somewhere in between 15 and 20ml. Ren is another high end brand, so 20ml would cost around £14. This is a rich cream supposed to be comforting even for sensitive skin. It promises to help with skin inflammation and irritation. It is also rich in antioxidants. Despite its claims to be ideal for the most sensitive skin types, this cream contains fragrance which can irritate and sensitise skin. It also contains several potential skin allergens such as citronellol, geraniol, limonene and linalool. In 2020’s version of the M&S beauty box there was the mask version of this cream.
The second day cream is the Pure Super Hydrate Day Cream which seems to come in full size (50ml) which costs £16. This cream is supposed to be non greasy while hydrating well. It has emollients such as cocoa butter and camelina sativa seed oil as well as skin softening triticum vulgare germ oil. However, this cream contains perfume and the potential skin allergens linalool, geraniol, limonene and the potential skin irritant citrus oil. This cream claims to have an SPF of 15 including some UVA protection.
There is also a cream from L’Occitane – their Precious Cream which is another anti ageing cream. It promises to moisturise and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. There isn’t much information at all about its main marketing line, which is the essential oil of Immortelle flower. This cream contains fragrance and the potential skin allergens linalool, citral and limonene. Its size included in the calendar is unknown, but from the presentation picture this looks like 10 or 15ml which would be worth around £10. This cream can be used both in the morning and evening.
Lastly, there is some lip care. The Ultrasun 30 SPF Lip Protection comes in full size and is worth £8. This is a hydrating lip balm that will also protect your lips from sun damage. This has good UVB and UVA protection. I am currently testing this lip balm and while it is not the most hydrating one, I like it so far. It is also vegan and fragrance free.
Haircare: 4 items
For the hair there are four items. There is the Aveda Botanical Repair Strengthening Leave-In Treatment which appears to come in full size (100ml) which would be worth £30. It is supposed to detangle hair, prevent breakage and be a heat protectant. It also protects the hair from UV (sun) damage. This is a vegan and cruelty free product. It is also present in this year’s Look Fantastic advent calendar and Elle’s calendar.
Another hair treatment is the Philip Kingsley Elasticizer which comes in an unspecified deluxe size, but it looks around 20ml. This deep conditioner is supposed to hydrate the hair, reduce frizz, strengthen and reduce breakage, adds shine and gloss, amongst many other benefits. I enjoy this hair mask although I do have others that give a more visible change to my hair. This product is cruelty free. It is also present in the Next calendar and Feel Unique calendar.
Another product from Philip Kingsley is their Pure Colour Gloss which comes in another unspecified deluxe size, but it looks to me like 40ml from the picture. This is supposed to extend your colour in between appointments at the salon, as well as help with frizziness, leaving your hair smooth and glossy. It is also supposed to provide heat protection as well as fending off UV damage.
Lastly, there is the Percy & Reed Wonder Balm Hair Primer which from the promotional picture seems to come in full size (75ml) which is worth £18. This product is supposed to be used before styling your hair. It is suitable for all hair types and is supposed to provide shine, moisture and to be anti-frizziness. This product was included in my 2020 beauty favourites.
Body, Bath & Other: 9 items
There are several items that you can use in the shower or bath. The Apothecary Calm Body Wash comes in a deluxe size which seems to be 50-70ml from the presentation picture. This body wash has lavender oil and clary sage with notes of sweet orange and cedar wood. It is vegan. This is the time to mention that for body and hair products I am more relaxed in terms of ingredients, as the skin on our body is less sensitive and most are wash-off products. However, I believe I should mention that this body wash has methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone, which are preservatives that could be sensitising even in the low amount permitted in wash off products.
There is also a shower oil, the L’Occitane Shea Shower Oil which comes in another unspecified deluxe size, most likely in 40-60ml. This product promises to be nourishing and leave the skin soft, without body lotion being necessary. I think shower oils are amazing for winter as they can protect the very dry skin.
There is also the Ren Kelp Body Wash which comes in another unspecified deluxe size. It looks to be about the same size as the two other shower products, possibly in between 40-60ml. This is supposed to be anti fatigue and to energise you. This has a refreshing smell that is also sweet. I previously tried it from the M&S Summer Beauty Box and it was one of my favourite shower gels as it had a unique scent.
To pair with the shower gel, there is also the Ren Kelp Hand Lotion which comes in the same size as the shower gel, possibly somewhere in between 40 and 60ml. This will have the same scent as the shower gel and it is a lovely addition to the calendar – pairing your shower gel to your body lotion can be one of the most fun things! Our hands also tend to get drier during the winter months.
Another hand cream is the Prai Ageless Hand Crème in another unspecified deluxe size. This is supposed to hydrate your skin, improve the skin’s elasticity and help with age spots. This cream has the properties and ingredients of a face cream, which is a very useful thing to have. Many people do not realise that besides the face, the hands are one area of the body that needs special care as well. Our hands are constantly exposed to the light, which means they age faster. This cream does contain fragrance and potential allergens so if you get sensitive and cracked skin during winter you might want to avoid it if it stings.
There is also a third hand cream, the Fragrance Society Orange, Bergamot & Lemon Grass Hand Cream which comes in another unspecified deluxe size. This looks like it is coming in around 20-30ml. This is a very affordable item. It contains a potent fragrance which is the main marketing point of the product. The top notes are of orange, bergamot and lemon; the middle notes are of jasmine, rose, clove and ylang ylang; while the base notes are of musk and galbanum. Of course, with this delicious fragrance the allergens are also present, as fragrance and the fragrant components can sensitise and irritate skin. However, as this would be used on the hands or on the body, your skin might tolerate it more than on your face. This product is vegan and cruelty free.
To follow up this fragranced cream there is also a perfume. The Shay & Blue Tallulah’s Camellia Natural Spray Fragrance is an expected presence in the M&S calendars. It comes in 10ml and is worth £25. This is Shay & Blue’s fragrance of 2021 which is inspired by Tallulah Bankhead. The top note is bluebell, the heart note is white gardenia flowers and lily, while the base note is white tea and soft blonde wood. This is an ideal size to be taken with you in your bag allowing you to top up throughout the day.
On a similar note there is also a fragrance oil that could help you manage your mood. This Works Stress Check Breathe In comes in 8ml and costs £18. You could use this throughout the day or before bed. It has essential oils, including eucalyptus, lavender and frankincense, which promise to help you feel less stressed and tense. Because of its tiny size, this can be easily taken with you throughout the day as well.
The Marks and Spencers calendar also contains nail polish. The Nails INC Tis The Season To Sparkle Nail Polish is a festive appropriate colour. It looks like a full size, although the price is unknown as this specific nail polish seems to be out of the market. It is a beautiful sparkly red colour.
The Marks and Spencers beauty advent calendar for 2021 comes in a slightly different presentation than other calendars. You get a reusable tin box in navy blue that reminds of the night sky. Inside there are all the boxes containing the products packed and stacked together. Each product comes in a cardboard box with golden stars on. Hopefully the boxes are arranged in a way that allows you to slowly move through the box without having to lift too many boxes beforehand. The colours and aesthetic chosen do not necessarily remind me of Christmas or of the festive season but it is beautiful nevertheless.
The M&S calendar has 25 items, offering something for Christmas day as well.
In terms of the brands, most brands in the calendar are high end ones, such as L’Óccitane, Aveda, Shay & Blue, Stila, Ultrasun and Emma Hardie.
IS IT WORTH IT?
In terms of sizes of products, the Marks and Spencers calendar does offer generous sizes. Although the exact size of the items is not mentioned, the presentation picture clearly shows some big packages amongst medium and small ones. The total worth of the calendar is advertised as being £300. It costs £40, which means you are getting seven times and a half your money’s worth, which is the best value I have encountered in my 2021 calendar reviews. The catch is that you need to spend £30 at M&S either in clothes, home or beauty, but you could easily do this while purchasing Christmas gifts for other people or perhaps necessary items for yourself (underwear, winter jumper etc.).
The makeup section is weak in the M&S calendar. With only four items, it has two eyeliners, a mascara and a lip product. The eye products are in the colour brown, and while there is no rule for eyeliner or mascara colour, brown might be too washed out for people with darker tones. This is by far the weakest area of the M&S calendar and it could have been greatly improved with a bigger variety of products.
For this reason, I would not recommend the M&S calendar for makeup lovers that are mostly excited about colour cosmetics when it comes to advent calendars.
The skincare section is twice as big as the makeup section and has a cleanser, an exfoliating toner and some cream options both for the morning and the evening routine. Some of the items look generous in size, such as the cleanser, the exfoliating toner and one of the creams, but some also seem to come in tiny sizes of around 15ml. All of these items, excluding the lip balm, contain fragrance and potential skin allergens so this calendar would not be suitable for people with sensitive skin. Most skincare items are anti ageing, targeting a more mature skin.
The biggest section of the calendar, by far, is the hair, body and miscellaneous section. There are several treatment conditioners as well as some styling creams. Two of them come in full size which is amazing and will allow you to be using them for a long time. However, I do find the haircare section repetitive. For example, a shampoo or a scalp treatment would have made the calendar more complex in terms of choices. The body section is also repetitive, offering three body washes and three hand creams. Some people might enjoy the multiple choices in these areas, others will not be such great fans of it. Some of the hand creams could be used on the body as well though. The fact that the M&S calendar does have a nail polish and a perfume is a great plus, offering some variety to the contents.
In terms of vegan and cruelty free items this calendar does not offer many choices.
Although I feel like this year’s calendar is definitely not as good as previous years, it still offers 25 items to choose from for one of the cheapest prices on the market. Even the Next calendar is almost double the price. It is impossible to beat the £40 price tag when it comes to beauty advent calendars containing mixed brands, especially when it contains mostly high end brands. So if you want to surprise a beauty lover with an advent calendar that does not break the bank and you can spend the £30 in the shop on things that matter – then go ahead and make sure you get your hands on one!
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Disclaimer: This article is not sponsored and does not contain any affiliate links.
Although some analysis has been performed on the ingredient lists, this is not an exhaustive review of each ingredient for every product.
The claims of vegan and cruelty free products have only been added where they are clearly stated on the brand’s website. For a thorough understanding of which items are truly vegan or certified cruelty free, independent research is encouraged.
None of the images used are Lipstick Café’s copyright and have been used solely for the purpose of reviewing the product.