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Truly exciting formulas are few and far between. I don't mean to sound jaded—I love beauty products. I love the ritual of the whole thing, the textures, smells, and results. I love it all. But as I sit here, surrounded by products at my desk (a place I lovingly call a luxury garbage dump), it's easy to feel overwhelmed by excess and sameness.
That said, there are always offerings that catch my eye. And rather than dump hundreds of products in here, I decided to list off the few I'm planning to buy in 2021 (after my gifted sample inevitably runs dry). That's right, these are the cream of the crop, in my humble opinion. I'll continue adding to it slowly as the year goes on, so make sure to check back here often. Below, find the concealers, serums, brushes, candles, moisturizers, and masks I've fallen in love with.
Pat McGrath Labs Skin Fetish Sublime Perfection Concealer Brush
Pat McGrath is an icon in the makeup industry—not only for her artistry but for her makeup collection as well. And while McGrath is lauded for her use of color—uber pigmented, glossy, shimmery, holographic, the works—to me, she's a champion of skin. Skin Fetish, a collection of highlighters, foundation, and, now, concealer, is awe-inspiring. The finishes are luminous, soft-focused, and glowy, offering medium-to-full coverage with dimension rather than cakiness. That, and the shade ranges are fantastic.
The newest launch, Sublime Perfection Concealer, is a dream. The formula is creamy, lightweight (yet full-coverage, which is a feat) and offers a natural, radiant-matte finish (so your skin still looks like skin, only beautifully blurred). According to McGrath, you can use it as an under-eye brightener and to spot-treat breakouts and stock up on a few shades to personalize your coverage. My favorite part, though, is this: You can also use it as foundation wherever you need coverage. I love a two-for-one deal.
The genius is in the texture, which includes a blend of vitamin serums to moisturize and diffusing pigments for that coveted soft-focus finish. It's smooth, but never tacky. It's glorious.
Pat McGrath Labs Skin Fetish Sublime Perfection Concealer Brush
Skin Fetish Sublime Perfection Concealer, described in detail above, is sold alongside a brush designed to mimic McGrath's finger. She's known for applying makeup with her hands—a trick she employs to keep the look natural. Though, try as I might, I've never been able to recreate the finish. This brush was created to remedy that issue. It's small enough to fit into every last difficult-to-reach crevice, including the inner-corners of your eyes and around your nostrils, and delivers a soft, diffused finish. It's the first time I've ever really successfully been able to spot-treat my coverage.
Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré
After a years-long love affair with acids and peels, I feel a bit over-exfoliated. As such, I've made a promise to myself, and my face, that I'll spend more time protecting and championing my skin barrier in 2021 with a "less is more" attitude. The first step is using Embryolisse's Lait-Crème Concentré ($16) every chance I get.
I fell in love with this lightweight but potent moisturizer a few years ago, when the French fixture became more accessible stateside. It's been a makeup artist favorite forever—often touted as a the perfect canvas ahead of application or even a stellar makeup remover. But, more than that, I love it because it's simple. It's nourishing, smells clean, and helps hydrate without a ton of bells and whistles. I glob it on like it's my job after applying my usual cocktail of serums and spend a few minutes massaging it in. The result? Super glassy, hydrated, dewy, happy skin.
One thing to note, in the interest of transparency—the second ingredient is mineral oil, listed by its Latin name of paraffinum liquidum. The ingredient is comedogenic (you can read all about the pros and cons of it here), but it is something to be aware of if you're prone to breakouts. If not, you'll love it.
SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum
I've heard the buzz about this product for a while now, I think I may have even tried it once or twice over the years. However, after using it twice a day for a full month, it has absolutely become staple in my skincare routine. And, once something gets initiated into that exclusive club, it pretty much never gets rotated out.
This dual-chamber serum won one of our coveted skincare awards, and for good reason. It features two active formulas (they're in separate chambers until you pump them out and mix them together on the back of your hand), one brimming with protein (aka growth factors) and amino acids and the other with peptides and antioxidants. Together, it's an anti-aging and brightening powerhouse that very literally helps to regenerate your skin cells (and reduces inflammation at that). I can't recommend it enough. It's expensive, I know, but it absolutely delivers real results. I apply it twice a day and have gotten more compliments on my skin than ever before.
Rodan + Fields Recharge Detox Mask
After a particularly late, booze-filled evening, I took one look at my tired, sallow-looking face and applied Rodan + Fields' Recharge Detox Mask. It's a blend of charcoal, bark extract, volcanic sand, mango seed butter, and coconut and avocado oils—which means it works to draw out impurities, gently exfoliate, and nix excess shine, as well as offer intensive moisture.
I applied it over clean, dry skin and left it on for about 15 minutes—the directions say five to ten but I needed a skin miracle. After letting it dry and removing it, I felt fresh, rejuvenated, and far less like garbage (due to my glutenous eating and drinking from the night before). Then, I used it once a week to continue the results, and it's a really lovely addition to my Sunday masking extravaganza.
As an aside, products containing coconut oil are not a great facial ingredient for everyone, but in this formula, it worked like an absolute charm on me. The fatty acids replenished my sad skin, leaving me feeling less hungover (a plus) and totally supple.
Clark's Botanicals Jasmine Vital Cream
I very rarely switch up my moisturizer—practically never. I'm a Dr. Barbara Sturm's Facial Cream Rich ($230) loyal stan and I hardly ever waver. That said, I was in a bind one morning when I ran out and had zero backups in my bathroom. I remembered I had brought home a sample of Clark's Botanicals' Jasmine Vital Cream ($70) and fished it out of my bag. Within seconds of smoothing the cooling gel formula on my skin, I knew it was good.
It felt bouncy, lightweight, and deeply hydrating, plumping up my skin immediately on contact. It's made with red algae, which offers polysaccharides to help with moisture retention in your skin, as well as niacinimides for brightening, and, jasmine extract to clarify, and calendula to reduce inflammation. It's a really beautiful formula, one that promotes healing and glow while also offering antiseptic, antibacterial, antiviral properties.
I used it for a week before decided it was going to stay in my rotation (I'll never fully turn my back on Dr. Barbara Sturm but this is great, more affordable option). My skin consistently feels petal-soft, soothed, and nourished after I apply it and even more so in the morning.