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The best beauty bang for your buck

'Tis the season for parties, and cookies, and shopping, and holiday beauty gift sets.

Hourglass Ambient Lighting Edit Volume 3
Hourglass Ambient Lighting Edit Volume 3Read moreHourglass

'Tis the season for parties, and cookies, and shopping, and holiday beauty gift sets.

Sometimes the sets are full of filler — and sometimes they're really, really good.

Here are the holiday beauty offerings that offer the best bang for your buck.

Birchbox, the subscription beauty box about which I have raved in the past, has special holiday edition boxes designed for gift giving (to yourself or others). Though a regular Birchbox gets you five or six sample-size products for $10, these limited-edition boxes range from $48 to $66 and are packed with full-size beauty, hair, and jewelry items, all in a box ready for giving. I opted for the Time to Dazzle box, $66, which has a retail value of $240 and includes among its offerings a Beauty Blender makeup sponge, a set of makeup brushes, an eyeshadow palette, and a pair of sparkly earrings.
Perfect for: The sister-in-law you rarely see, who will love the variety.

Hourglass for the last few years has issued a limited-edition palette it calls the Ambient Lighting Edit, which includes multiples of its Ambient Lighting powders in a sleek metallic case. This year's version, Volume 3 ($80 at Sephora), features three cult favorites and three new shades available nowhere else. The powders, which feature photoluminescent technology, give the skin a diffused glow — no glitter or sparkle involved.
Perfect for:
Your bestie the beauty junkie, who will love having the exclusive shades.

Tarte releases limited-edition gift sets each year, and they are so good — no filler products in sight! Sephora and Ulta each gets a unique set, which coordinate but don't duplicate, so if you were really good this year, you could buy yourself both. (I'm always tempted!) Even better, these contain colors most of us would actually wear daily. (Not that there's anything at all wrong with lime-green eyeshadow.) This year, the Magic Star Collector's Set, $49 at Ulta, includes 25 eyeshadows, two blushes, a bronzer, a highlighter, mascara, liner, and two lip products; the Limited-Edition Treasure Box Collector's Set, $59 at Sephora, includes 24 shadows, two bronzers, two blushes, a highlighter, mascara, liner, and a lipstick.
Perfect for: Someone just getting into makeup who would like a lot of options.

Sephora Favoriteslimited-edition sets of the company's top-selling products — are something I always recommend, but they get particularly good around the holidays. Packaged sets range from hair products (Sephora Favorites Prep & Protect, $24) to highlighting powders and cream (Sephora Favorite Glow for It, $40), but my favorites to give are the fragrance sets. The Sephora Favorites Perfume Sampler and Sephora Favorites Cologne Sample, each $65, come with fragrance samples (17 perfume; 12 cologne) and a certificate that can be redeemed for a full-size bottle of one of the fragrances.
Perfect for: A man or woman you'd like to spoil, without knowing how their fragrance tastes run.

Alison Smith is often guilty of shopping for herself when she should be buying presents for others. Got a burning beauty question? Email