The Crème de la Crème…
the Rolls Royce of Skin Care
Why trust this list? Four reasons, of many:
As a longtime journalist in the beauty industry, I can tell you: not all recommendations you see in magazines and websites are sincere. Publications have advertisers to please, editors have stories to fill and writers can suggest products because they have strong relationships with PR reps or simply because they have listicles to fulfill. This isn’t the case all the time, but it’s a common reality. I’m providing a space of trust where you can rely on trusty information about skin care. I will never recommend something that I don’t think actually works. This is my promise to you.
Since 2009, I’ve been digging deep into scientific studies and interviewing (interrogating) top estheticians, celebrity dermatologists and skincare experts, such as Kate Somerville, Renee Rouleau, Jessica Wu, MD and Alicia Yoon.
As a beauty copywriter, I’ve worked with cosmetic chemists, formulators and brand founders who’ve revealed the secrets and shams of the skincare industry. This includes products that make unfounded or hyperbolic claims, include filler ingredients and more (ugh). I can also tell you: there’s a lot a company can write on their bottles and descriptions that are solely intended to convince you to buy. I’ll filter those out and suggest the products formulated with integrity.
My skin is the perfect guinea pig. My editors have always loved assigning me “I tried it” pieces because my skin belongs in every category you can think of. It’s dry/dehydrated and oily at the same time, it’s resilient but thin and highly reactive to new products, and it toggles between blemished and clear. So if a product works well on me, it means it’s really f*cking good.
We use affiliate links, but we absolutely do not recommend products we wouldn’t use ourselves and force upon our closest of friends. These links just help us keep our site running! We update this page whenever we find something worthy.
I did NOT include any products packaged in jars, however good they may be. I’m absolutely opposed to jars, as it’s common knowledge they’re prone to breeding bacteria and force oxygen contact on the formulas, which decrease effectiveness. Formulators and founders have both confessed to me they still use jars because customers like the way they look and are still demanding them.
THE BEST FACIAL SERUMS & TREATMENTS
Best Alpha & Beta Hydroxy Acid Serum: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum
I recommend this serum to anyone who complains about their pimples. This serum’s extinguished a gamut of pimples (teeny bumps to full-blown cysts), and this stuff will most likely work for you too. This isn’t the only product that contains both alpha (glycolic and lactic) and beta (salicylic) hydroxy acids but the exact proportions along with other ingredients were formulated perfectly. Even when I don’t have breakouts I use this once a week to keep my skin fresh, clear and smooth (it’s my version of a super-simple facial). *Note: don’t use when pregnant or breastfeeding.
Best Daytime Antioxidant/Vitamin C Serum: Sunday Riley CEO Rapid Flash Brightening Serum
Of all the skincare products I’ve tried, this is the one I’ve repurchased the most (I’m counting at least 20 times so far). The texture is heavenly—it’s somehow rich and lightweight at the same time—and it smells like citrus in a slightly artificial yet very pleasant way. Also, it contains one of my all-time favorite ingredients, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, a gentle, powerful and most importantly very effective form of vitamin C that keeps your skin looking visibly bright and youthful. On top of that there’s glycolic acid which lightly refines skin. I look forward to slathering this on every morning!
Best Nighttime Retinol Treatment: Skinceuticals 0.5 Refining Night Cream
If your skin is able to tolerate retinol, this is an extraordinary option. (There’s also a 1.0 version, but start with this unless you’re a retinol vet.) I think it may be the dimethicone but this retinol product feels like a super-velvety-soft primer—it glides on smoothly, making your skin feel like satin goodness. After years and years, when you realize you’re aging like Halle Berry, you’ll be convinced retinol is the gold standard of anti-aging ingredients. In the meantime, just enjoy the texture every night. If you want more moisture, wait half an hour (ugh, I know, such a pain) before applying moisturizer.
THE BEST MOISTURIZERS
Best All-Around Moisturizer for All Skin Types: CV Skinlabs Calming Moisture for Face, Neck and Scalp
What? The best moisturizer isn’t sold at Sephora?! Uh huh. CV Skinlabs is a natural brand but you wouldn’t be able to tell based on its pharmacy-like, drugstore-esque packaging. But this moisturizer is in fact 99.4% natural. Despite the unsexiness of its tube, this moisturizer beats all other moisturizers. It applies and absorbs wonderfully—and it works! I experience periodic dry patches and this is the only moisturizer that has actually gone in and replenished moisture, as opposed to slipping around on my face and pillowcase and doing absolutely nothing. Apparently the secret is in their Tri-Rescue Skin Complex, which is a mix of turmeric, alpha-bisabolol (an active element of chamomile) and reishi mushroom, which together help preemptively calm your skin before it gets angry. Note you don’t have to have red, irritated skin to enjoy this. My skin is oily and dry at the same time and it works wonders.
Best Moisturizer With SPF: Olay Regenerist Regenerating Lotion With Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50
Some people are turned off by drugstore skincare products, but companies like Olay have the big bucks to invest in large-scale research and hire fancy experts to create formulas that produce some serious results. Not all drugstore products are good but some are exceptional, like Olay’s SPF moisturizer. It features vitamin C, green tea, niacinamide and peptides—all proven to help your skin look better today and years from now—which are topped off with a blend of sunscreens. This moisturizer goes on seamlessly and leaves a dewy finish and it also blends well with foundation if you want to alchemize your own tinted moisturizer.
THE BEST FACIAL OILS
Best Single-Source Facial Oil: Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil
I consider this deep-orange oil a classic since it was the first-ever facial oil I’ve tried! And it’s stayed on top of my favorites ever since (which is a feat considering I’ve tried at least 100 oils since then). Technically, BioRegenerate isn’t made from only one source: there’s rosehip extract from the seed and the fruit, but also a bit of vitamin E and rosemary. But it’s mostly rosehip, and if you know anything about natural skin care you’d know rosehip is like the retinol of nature. It’s not as powerful, but it’s amazing at kicking blemishes, pigmentation dryness and fine lines in tha face. There are a lot of other rosehip oils on the market, and they are much cheaper, but Pai’s rosehip is way better and therefore, more effective. Instead of the run-of-the-mill cold-pressed rosehip oil, Pai uses a “volcanically sourced CO2 supercritical extraction” process that prevents oxidation and contamination of the nutrients. Trust me—this shit works.
Best All-Around Everyday Facial Oil: Mahalo Care Vitality Elixir
I found Mahalo’s delicious oil when I googled “carrot seed, black cumin, sea buckthorn facial oil” after extensively researching botanical oils and deciding those three were the ones my temperamental skin needed most. Like rosehip (see above), carrot seed oil is another crème de la crème ingredient for your skin, while black cumin targets blemishes and sea buckthorn is super-duper moisturizing. I was thrilled to learn this oil also contains tamanu and kukui oils, which I became obsessed with after a trip to Hawaii and Tahiti. Mahalo recently also added astaxanthin, which is the substance that makes shrimp pink and offers crazy anti-aging collagen-producing benefits. (I happen to take astaxanthin supplements and they have made me glow like no other—and this is coming from someone who is suspicious of all supplements).
Best Luxury Facial Oil: Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum
Truth be told, I didn’t want to include this one on the list because, well, EVERYONE includes it on their lists. But it would be a disservice not to. Founder April Gargulio harnessed her wine-making background and got 22 of the most powerful skin-friendly botanicals to ever exist and put them through a three-week-long extraction process to yield this crazy facial oil that makes you look like a starlet. If you’re open to ponying up $185 for a bottle, do it. You’ll see your face and completely forget how much your wallet is starving!
Best Booster Oil: Odacité An Autumn On The World
This facial oil revolves around the same form of vitamin C in Sunday Riley’s C.E.O. (see above): tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. I love using this oil as a booster whenever I want to add some C action and/or dewy moisture to another product. I always have this on hand during summers and vacations so I can prevent hyperpigmentation and sun damage. It works wonders and smells divine!
THE BEST FACE MASKS
Best Acne Mask: GLAMGLOW SUPERMUD® Activated Charcoal Treatment
Blemishes got squat on this mask! Featuring the triple-threat acid combo, lactic acid, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, along with dirt-sucking kaolin clay, this extreeeemely popular mask is the next best thing to a detox facial. Your facialist probably hates this mask.
Best Mask for Everything: Hanacure All-in-One Facial
This trendy mask is not a trend. It is legit. I look 100x scarier than Drew Barrymore when wearing this mask (so scary my playfully blunt husband didn’t say a word when he saw me with it on, and I swear he pretended he didn’t see me, LOL!). However, this mask is for real. I’m extremely wary and skeptical of masks because most of them don’t do crap besides layer on moisture on top of your skin (so you LOOK more “radiant” although you can achieve the same effect with a moisturizer) but Hanacure has been replacing my trips to the esthetician, which is also how I justify the cost. This is a mask that will give you visible results instantly and over the next few days. This mask has done K-beauty good.
THE BEST EYE CREAMS
Best All-Around Anti-Aging Eye Cream: NeoCutis Lumiere Bio-restorative Eye Cream With PSP
I once completed a tedious-as-hell assignment from a review site similar to The Wirecutter that required me to research over 200 eye creams. Yes, 200. I was given a highly specific algorithm to narrow down the list until I determined the top spot. This came in second. You’ve probably never heard of this eye cream, but nearly every dermatologist I’ve interviewed swears by it and uses it themselves. I know there are plenty of people who think eye creams are glorified moisturizers in smaller bottles, but I love using them because of their higher concentrations of ingredients—but more so because eye products remind me to focus on my eyes during my skincare ritual and give them some TLC. This eye cream is seriously amazing. I’m convinced I won’t inherit my mom’s droopy eyelids when I’m 50 because of this cream.
Best Retinol Eye Cream: DENNIS GROSS SKINCARE Ferulic + Retinol Triple Correction Eye Serum
This serum came in first place for the abovementioned assignment—only because it contains retinol and NeoCutis’s doesn’t. I love this, too, although it’s more gel-like, which I don’t prefer as much for the eye area. Either way, this ingredient combo is major kickass. Dr. Gross knows what’s up. I alternate between the two eye creams to ensure I’m getting my retinol on, or sometimes I’ll use this first and layer Neocutis above it. Extra!