Review: Marks and Spencer beauty advent calendar

I decided to treat myself to a fancy advent calendar for the first time last Christmas. The previous year I had jealously watched as the internet showed off the beauty nuggets it had found behind the cardboard doors and I was determined not to be left out in 2017.

Come December, I had already planned to buy a duvet from Marks and Spencer so was already well over the “must spend over £35” threshold to qualify for purchasing the shop’s beauty calendar and cheerily added the extra £35 cost at the till to take it home with me.

Unlike my friend who two years before had impatiently opened all the boxes on 1 December, I had decided to stick to giving myself a daily treat by opening each one with my breakfast.

First up was the Rosie for Autograph Amazing Radiance Body Glow which for someone whose legs are naturally milk bottle white will be a necessity once the season’s 60 deniers are retired. Day 2’s offering was from a brand I’m not familiar with – Filorga – and as masks aren’t part of my regular skincare routine, I’ll be interested to see whether it makes a difference.

Days 3 to 5 started a trend for more products in tubes – Nuxe’s shower oil, Gatineau’s advanced rejuvinating cream and Rodial’s dragon’s blood sculpting gel, which if I’m honest, I don’t really know what to do with.

I was starting to get face cream fatigue by this point so was excited to finally get a makeup product on day 6 from Stila, only to be disappointed by the generic shade – it would have been nice to get a bold colour, but I accept it’s safer with these things to opt for an inoffensive nude.

Day 7 was a dreamy-smelling wild rose night cream from Korres – a brand I’m fond of – and I immediately slapped it on my face. Days 8 and 9 were similarly exciting – an Eyeko mascara and a Nails Inc nail varnish in copper, both of which were gratefully received, though the former lacks drama and is strictly for daytime.

Days 10 and 11 were firmly planted in exfoliation territory with Formula’s radiance peel and Alpha Skincare’s liquid rose gold, the latter of which was for me, the standout offering. I would never have bought a full size bottle without trying it first, which is what makes calendars like this so useful (and lucrative).

Day 12 was a sculpting sponge I will never use. Ever.

Shay and Blue’s blood orange perfume was in day 13’s box. Marketed as a “cult classic” by the M&S beauty PR team, it got mixed reaction from myself and my friends – too fruity for me, a winner with another, but a “meh” from the third. A nice, weighty addition to the calendar though.

I was looking forward to Emma Hardie’s cleansing balm, which came the day after.  It generally garners mixed reviews from beauty bloggers and I’m adding to that list. It removed my make-up well enough but the smell is a bit off-putting and the seedy texture is a bit like rubbing cat litter in your face. Still, it had been on my ‘to try’ list for a long time and will certainly be used down to the last scrape.

I had conflicting feelings about day 15 – it was undoubtedly nice to get a full-size product, but did I really need a Diego Dalla Palma mascara when I’d already had one from Eyeko? An eyeliner would have made a nice change, but that aside it’s a nice product and better than my current L’oreal mascara by miles.

I rolled my eyes hard at day 16’s hairspray offering and moved swiftly on to enjoying day 17’s Ren firming shot, which does what it says on the tin. I haven’t yet tried the following day’s Ameliorate body lotion which claims it will “transform” my skin. We shall see.

I actually shouted “yesssss” when day 19’s Leighton Denny glitter nail varnish rolled out of its tissue-paper. I promptly applied a layer over one of my gels and stared at it like a magpie for the rest of the day. But my beauty high was quashed by another nude lip gloss from Pixi on day 20, which brings me neatly to my main gripe about the calendar.

Regardless of the fact it was a poor choice of product from a brand far better known for its skincare range, it left me wondering – where’s the eyeshadow stick? Or the lip balm? If I’ve spent £35 on an advent calendar, I want something notably different every day. I for one would much rather get a smaller sample from one of the other lovely brands stocked by M&S, like Origins or Neom, than two products that are essentially the same.

Things were looking up on day 21 with a Balance Me facial oil – a product which I am a nightly user of – except for when I’m slathering my face in day 22’s Formula X night cream, which I am already a big fan of. But then days 23 and 24 were both primers which reignited my annoyance about duplication. The final day was a cute little polka dot bag needlessly ruined with some mumsy embroidery. Shame.

So, would I buy it again? Looking over the items, I was really pleased with 10, had no use for 5, and ambivalent about the remainder, but will give them a try with a view to being pleasantly surprised. With those maths, come December I probably will buy another calendar but in the hopes the M&S team provides a more even split between skin care and make-up products and is perhaps a little braver with the latter.

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Beauty woes: Stumped by the smoky eye

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Picture: Pawel Kadysz

I have a confession to make.

I am 30 years old and have still not perfected the daddy of all makeup techniques – the smoky eye.

This seems like a gross oversight given the sexy raccoon look really comes into its own at this time of year, coupled with the fact that every magazine I pick up seems to be imparting helpful advice on how to ‘go from desk to dance floor in five easy moves’ – a transformation which typically involves sweeping a wash of ‘sparkly slate’ or ‘rich chocolate’ over the lids.

Not that this scenario particularly presents itself often –  I’d much rather go home and eat a shepherd’s pie than go out on the lash at 6pm on a Wednesday, but it would be nice to know how to achieve the look of a woman adept with a make-up brush should the need ever occur.

Yet despite the abundance of step-by-step beauty guides at my fingertips, my own attempts to make me look all sultry, etc, end up looking like I’ve rolled around face first in a box of broken Crayola.

Because, somewhat bizarrely for someone who was practically the poster girl for Barry M circa 2005, it turns out I have absolutely no idea how to properly apply eyeshadow.

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My sister won’t thank me for this photo but it’s the only one which illustrates the two-tone eyeshadow and keeps my dignity intact

Back then, I regularly caked my eyelids in clashing shades of neon in the name of ‘new rave’, frequently coordinating the colour scheme with matching glitter and securing it to my face – to the horror of dermatologists everywhere – with half a can of L’oreal Elnett.

But as I’ve matured (ahem), I’ve found myself adopting the failsafe combo of red lippy and a black eyeliner flick; a reliable but winning combination that’s become a sort of facial uniform.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for lack of curiosity that I’ve fallen into a makeup rut. I’ve often found myself loitering around make-up counters wondering if I should experiment more with shadows and blush before the onset of crow’s feet.

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Red lips and black eyeliner can do no wrong in my book

But overly bronzed counter staff scare the bejesus out of me and I find myself backing away quietly at the thought of them coming at me with their utensils and on the occasions I have been brave enough to sit through a consultation, I’ve spent it awkwardly perched on the edge of the chair ready to bolt and wondering how many products I’m obliged to buy. Sure, I know there’s no commitment to part with cash, but by God I’m British and I can’t accept a freebie.

It’s this combination of fear and laziness that has found me entering my 30s and lacking the necessary skills to confidently manipulate a stick of kohl, let alone execute the coveted smoky eye, case-in-point being the time I recently rooted out an ancient eyeliner pencil and ended looking like I’d gone ten rounds.

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That’s a relatively cheap mistake to make, but when you’re investing in your face it can add up – particularly if it doesn’t work out – and despite poring over various beauty bibles, I’ve still managed to make a number of costly mistakes in recent months, resulting in beautiful yet unused purchases languishing in the bottom of my make-up bag.

Sure, I know I should fork out £20 for the much-lauded Mac 219 to overcome my eyeshadow fear, but I can barely master a £3 version, so why break the bank? So what I’d really like for Christmas is for some kindly, impartial beauty expert to show me how to actually use a chubby stick and a blending brush so that I can start looking more my age and not like a startled lemur.

It’s either that or I go back to two-tone eyeshadow and glitter.