Last December, we predicted that skin care was going to rule 2020. And while there was a lot about this past year that didn’t go according to plan (for anyone), it turns out, we were right in our prediction. While these last 12 months have been—to borrow a phrase that we’re all sick of hearing—”unprecedented,” the beauty world somehow managed to deliver skin care that exceeded even our wildest expectations. And given all the time our editors spent at home, we had a chance to try them all.
After months of tests and trials, we sussed out the 35 new products that we used down to the very last drop this year. Scroll through for the best of what the skin-care world had to offer, and prepare to be tempted to give your own routine a complete overhaul in the new year.
This face wash is so effective, it will cut your double-cleansing regimen down to a single step. It transforms from a jelly to an oil to a milk, and works to magically whisk away makeup, dirt, and impurities without stripping your skin. It’s also got squalane and elderberry, which work to infuse your complexion with moisture and antioxidant protection.
Shop now: Biossance Squalane + Elderberry Jelly Cleanser, $28
According to derms, enzyme-powered powdered cleansers are one of the best ways to exfoliate your skin without compromising the health of your barrier. This one is made with a combo of Vitamin C, papain, bromelain, and hyaluronic acid to buff away dead skin cells. Plus, you can customize the texture (aka how gritty it is) with the amount of water you choose to add to it.
Shop now: Holifrog Sunapee Sacred C Brightening Powder Wash, $44
As part of Neutrogena’s new “Skin Balancing” line, this creamy face wash provides a one-two punch of active ingredients to oily and acne-prone skin. It uses kaolin clay to clear out your pores, and gently exfoliates with a two percent concentration of polyhydroxy acid. And what’s more? The PHA helps your skin retain moisture, so you won’t be left with any sort of dryness after you cleanse.
Leave it to a makeup brand to develop a cleanser that actually works to melt away your makeup! Nudestix launched its Nudeskin line in October, and its face wash offering has proven to be the star of the show. It acts as a four-in-one to remove makeup and cleanse, soften, and brighten skin, and will render your old school makeup removing wipes virtually useless.
5. Mara Algae Enzyme Cleansing Oil, $58
Get the best of every part of the cleansing world with this exfoliating oil, which cleans, brightens, and hydrates skin all in a single application. It’s made with fruit enzymes (which have a teeny, tiny granule texture) to gently exfoliate, and a combination of natural oils, marine botanicals, and squalane to leave skin hydrated and nourished.
Shop now: Mara Algae Enzyme Cleansing Oil, $58
1. Sobel Skin Rx 30% Glycolic Peel, $46
Famed dermatologist Howard Sobel sought out to bottle up his in-office chemical peel, and the result was this 30 percent glycolic serum. It’s nearly as intense as the type of treatment you’d get at the hands of a pro (so is probably not a wise purchase for someone with sensitive skin), but is formulated with calendula, cucumber, and chamomile to help soothe any irritation and redness. Dead skin cells don’t stand a chance against this stuff, which will leave skin looking all sorts of shiny and new.
Shop now: Sobel Skin Rx 30% Glycolic Peel, $46
Finding dark spot correcting products that work effectively on darker skin tones is still a frustratingly difficult task, and Unilever’s new line of Melé products was designed specifically for the sake of simplifying that process. It was formulated with the help of dermatologists of color, and uses retinol to reduce the appearance of discoloration while simultaneously targeting signs of aging and offering gentle exfoliation.
Shop now: Melé Even Dark Spot Control Serum, $24
3. Maelove Moonlight Retinal Serum, $35 [OUT OF STOCK UNTIL FEB FYI]
Thanks to retinal—retinol’s gentler and faster-acting cousin—this super-smart nighttime serum stimulates cell turnover while you sleep. The result? A glassy complexion with no irritation in sight.
Shop now: Maelove Moonlight Retinal Serum, $35
Fenty Beauty’s first foray into skin care marked one of the most exciting launches of the year, and it’s safe to say the brand lived up to the hype with the products it delivered. This toner/serum hybrid is packed with niacinamide and antioxidants to improve the appearance of dark spots, calm irritation, and brighten skin.
Shop now: Fenty Beauty Fat Water Pore Refining Toner, $28
Celebrities and skin gurus alike have long sworn by Augustinus Bader’s moisturizers, and in 2020, the brand expanded its line to include a do-it-all exfoliating toner. The formula works to exfoliate and decongest your pores, and is made with hydrating ingredients that enhance the skin’s ability to attract and retain moisture.
Shop now: Augustinus Bader The Essence Exfoliating Toner, $85
Niacinamide was one of this year’s buzziest ingredients thanks to the fact that it helps soothe mask-induced irritation, and The Ordinary’s 100 percent formulation of the stuff could not have come at a better time. The powder is meant to be mixed with water or your favorite water-based serum, and works to calm skin and strengthen its barrier.
Shop now: The Ordinary 100% Niacinamide Powder, $6
L’Oréal has added its first pure retinol serum to its Revitalist Derm Intensives line (joining the glycolic and hyaluronic acid serums that we’ve long-loved). It’s made with a 0.3 percent concentration of the active to plump skin and diminish the appearance of fine lines.
While you sleep, your skin works overtime to restore itself, and this oil makes the job easier. With a one percent retinol and holy basil blend, it stimulates cell turnover and collagen production so that you’ll wake up with a complexion that’s brighter, smoother, and firmer overall.
Shop now: Naturopathica Holy Basil & Retinol Ageless Oil, $124
9. ZitSticka Hyperfade, $34
ZitSticka took its technology of post-pimple skincare into these dark spot-fading patches, which work to target the discoloration that acne scars leave behind. Over the course of two hours, its microdarts deliver niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and Vitamin C to restore your skin’s texture and color to its former glory.
Shop now: ZitSticka Hyperfade, $34
Forget having to use dozens of different serums to give your skin the actives it needs. This one combines both retinol and Vitamin C—two ingredients derms say deserve a spot in everyone’s routine—to fight fine lines and dullness at the same time.
Catching an ingredients theme yet? With Vitamin C, peptides, and a whole laundry list of other antioxidants, this gel-cream serves as a serum and moisturizer at the same time. Plus, it leaves skin looking instantly dewier.
Shop now: RoC Multi Correxion Revive + Glow Gel Cream, $30
Ceramides are essential for keeping your skin barrier strong, and this moisturizer harnesses their power in a rich, cushiony cream. It’s also got fig fruit extracts and osmolytes, which bind and restore moisture into your skin, plus antioxidant-packed buckwheat honey and royal jelly that act as humectants to draw hydration into your skin.
Shop now: Farmacy Honey Halo Ultra-Hydrating Ceramide Moisturizer, $45
Olay upped the ante on its beloved rich cream and developed an even richer version than the one we’ve been slathering on our faces for years. It’s made with niacinamide and peptides to calm and plump skin, and it gets its ultra-creamy texture from an infusion of shea butter.
Shop now: Olay Regenerist Ultra Rich Moisturizer, $29
If retinol has always been too intense for your skin, this moisturizer is here to change your mind. Because it’s a moisturizer (instead of a serum), it’s gentle enough to be used on all skin types and is still ultra effective. It uses something called “tri-retinoid technology,” which means that it’s formulated with three different types of retinoids to offer a triple threat for combatting lines and wrinkles. There’s a fast-acting retinoid that works to plump your skin, a time-released retinoid that works to stimulate cell turnover over time, and a retinol booster that pushes them both to work at their maximum capacities.
Shop now: Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream, $82
The dreamy, marshmallow texture of this p.m. cream makes me look forward to applying it to my skin every night. It’s got hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and adenosine—three of the skin-care world’s most moisturizing ingredients—to keep your skin barrier moisturized and protected well into the morning. Plus, it has a light lavender scent that is completely divine.
Shop now: IT Cosmetics Confidence in Your Beauty Sleep Night Cream, $54
You can always rely on Supergoop’s products to get you excited about applying sunscreen, and this 2021 launch was no exception. Instead of leaving behind a dull, matte finish (the way many SPF products do), this stuff leaves skin looking radiant and pearlescent. It’s great for layering under your makeup as a sun-protecting primer, or for wearing on its own to give your complexion an added glow.
Shop now: Supergoop Glow Screen SPF 40, $36
2. Flesh Beauty Hydrating SPF Serum, $32
Instead of using an SPF-spiked moisturizer, why not try a sunscreen/serum, instead? This one is packed with fruit-derived antioxidants that deliver nourishment and brightness to your skin, and offer protection from UV damage with SPF 35.
Shop now: Flesh Beauty Hydrating SPF Serum, $32
If the term “mineral sunscreen” makes you shudder with nightmares about applying something that is chalky, white, and super thick, this stuff will force you to reconsider. It feels like a serum, looks like foundation, and delivers SPF 40 protection using non-nano zinc oxide. If you weren’t already a physical SPF devotee, this stuff will officially convert you.
Shop now: Ilia Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40 Foundation, $46
This sunscreen not only helps protect your skin from sun damage by way of physical SPF 40, but it’s also made with ingredients like ginger root and squalane that works to treat some of the effects of sun damage your skin has already experienced, like dark spots and textural changes.
Shop now: EltaMD UV Restore Broad Spectrum SPF, $37
5. Iris and Romeo Best Skin Days, $64
This makeup-skincare hybrid functions as a five-in-one product that will cut your a.m. routine in half. It’s a hydrating antioxidant serum, moisturizer, sunscreen, and foundation, plus it’s packed with antioxidants to protect from blue light and pollution. It’s lightly tinted to provide sheer complexion coverage, and delivers SPF 25 protection.
Shop now: Iris and Romeo Best Skin Days, $64
According to derms, this hydrating wash is basically a tall drink of water for your skin. It’s made with lipid replenishing ingredients like glycerin and shea butter, which strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier and alleviate dryness, and is gentle enough to be used on your face and body.
2. Nécessaire The Body Serum, $45
Heavy lotions are so 2019. In 2020, it was all about lightweight serums, and this cult-fave launch was the leader of the pack. It manages to deliver all of the best hydrating ingredients—including hyaluronic acid, vitamins B3 and B5, and ceramides—without being goopy.
Shop now: Nécessaire The Body Serum, $45
3. La Mer The Body Crème, $285
La Mer’s legendary moisturizer now comes in a body-friendly formulation, and it might just be the most luxurious thing to happen in the history of body care. It’s so rich and hydrating, you’ll be scraping the bottom of the bottle to make sure you’re not missing out on a single drop.
Shop now: La Mer The Body Crème, $285
4. Flamingo Light Hydrating Spray, $10
This $10 spray completely converted me from a longtime lotion hater into someone who slathers her body in product twice a day, every day. It’s made with sugarcane-derived squalane, which dermatologists often refer to as “a big gulp” for your skin since it offers up both instant and long-lasting hydration, plus apple extract, which attracts moisture from the environment and will leave your limbs feeling dewy hours after you apply.
Shop now: Flamingo Light Hydrating Spray, $10
Deodorant got an unexpected glow-up this year with the rise of AHA formulations, which use hydroxy acids to clear away odor-causing bacteria. This one, from Kosas, is so effective in banishing B.O. that it’s turned a number of natural D.O. skeptics into full-blown believers.
Shop now: Kosas Chemistry AHA Serum Deodorant, $15
Our hands have been through a lot this year as we’ve doubled down on washing and sanitizer use, and this next-gen serum helps keep them hydrated using ingredients that are usually reserved for our faces. It’s made with skin-strengthening prebiotics that help to restore your microbiome, and will keep your hands soft no matter how many times you lather and rinse.
Shop now: Pai Free Bird Prebiotic Hand Serum, $14
Another hand-care innovation we were extra excited about this year? Dove’s moisturizing hand sanitizer, which kills germs without stripping your skin the way your usual alcohol-based cleansers do. Plus, it’s scented with calming lavender, and we could all use a little extra zen these days.
Shop now: Dove Lavender and Chamomile Moisturizing Hand Sanitizer, $3
Considering our entire beauty team has been using Dr. Dennis Gross’s exfoliating peel pads on their faces for years, we couldn’t wait to get our hands (and chests, and butts) on the derm’s new below-neck formulation. Thanks to a combo of glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acid, body acne doesn’t stand a chance.
With its new body care line, Drunk Elephant proved that you don’t need soap—and its harsh, skin-stripping surfactants—to make an effective cleanser. This one is formulated with coconut-based surfactants plus amino acids and passionfruit oil to leave the skin clean, quenched, and smelling of sweet almonds.
Shop now: Drunk Elephant Kamili Cream Body Cleanser, $20
10. Ouai Hand Wash, $32
Read the ingredient list of Ouai’s ultra-chic hand soap, and you’d swear you were looking at your favorite serum or face moisturizer—they’re that nourishing. It’s got exfoliating jojoba beads, plus a moisturizing blend of avocado, rosehip, castor, and jojoba oils to leave your hands silky smooth.
Shop now: Ouai Hand Wash, $32