Just in case it wasn't already quite clear from the sheer number of love letters we've written over the past 12 months, we'll go ahead and say it: 2016 was a banner year for beauty. With brands looking to bring professional-level results right to our vanities, product effectiveness is at an all-time high—not to mention there's been an increased focus on sourcing quality ingredients and leaving out the harsh extras. This alone made reflecting back on the products that stood out most a daunting task. How could we possibly narrow down our absolute favorites?
But that we did, and what you'll find below is a stellar roster of skincare, hair, and makeup items sure to take any regimen to the next level. Keep reading to see our reviews of the best products of 2016.
"This product isn't new—frankly I don't how I've gone this long without it—but I just tried it for the first time this year and I'm never going back. It's an overnight peel of glycolic acid and retinol that targets fines lines and wrinkles and discoloration. I swear to you, when I use it, the next morning I wake up with skin that actually glows. I don't know how to describe it other than magic (it's another one I'm tempted to wear every night)."
"My colorist has been using Olaplex in my blond for I don't know how many foils. And then there was the rumor of the at-home Olaplex—heard of it, never seen it or tried it until recently. First, let me say I'm not a hair mask person (well, I'm really just not a hair person—even brushing my hair is a chore for me), so I rarely dabble in any sort of treatment. But lately my hair has been feeling dry (okay, straw-like) and I'm not liking it. Enter: Olaplex No.3. Quick refresher: Olaplex is a bond builder. That means it actually re-seals broken bonds on a structural level (think the shampoo commercial illustrations). The result? Smooth, healthy, shiny hair. I'm converted."
"I'm obsessed with all things brightening and approximately 0.5 seconds into reading this product description I was sold. It's an antioxidant-based two-step treatment you can rinse off after 20 minutes or leave on; obviously, I opt to leave it on. It comes with two sets and I'm not even halfway done with the first one and I'm seeing a difference in my skin. And you can apply a double layer to noticeable dark spots, which I've been doing in attempts to erase some post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation left behind after some stubborn breakouts and it's helping. I cannot wait to finish the system; I'm basically expecting to have 12-year-old skin by the end of it. My only concern is that I may be too obsessed. I'd double layer it and leave it on every night if I could. Lately I've had to remind myself to give my other products some love too."
"You know a product is going to be big when the PR team has press samples on backorder, and this magical cream seriously lives up to the hype. It's basically this luminous balm with a subtle warm tint, and the point is that it's the ultimate multi-tasker: You can use it on its own as a highlighter, or you can mix it with any kind of powder eye shadow or blush to give it a creamy, dewy finish.
"No matter how you use it, the subtle glow is ridiculously flattering, especially on bare skin. On most mornings, I usually just swipe a little bit of Master Mixer on my cheekbones, eyelids, and cupid's bow, add a layer of mascara, and I'm out the door."
"This is easily in my top three favorite skincare products of all time, which is saying a lot. I've only been using it for a couple months, but it has completely transformed my complexion in that time. I seriously never wear foundation anymore because just using a few drops of this serum three times a week gives my skin an incredibly luminous, even finish. It's insane—like an Instagram filter in a bottle."
"I traveled a lot this year, and planes always do a number on my skin, which is hopelessly dry to begin with. This mask hydrates like nothing else, and I love that it's a clear gel that you can just leave on—perfect for inconspicuous facials at 39,000 feet."
"Thanks to a pared-down makeup routine, I turned my focus more on playing up my natural features this year. This ultra-nourishing oil became a staple after I tried using it on my brows and lashes on a whim; the conditioning effect was so obvious that I never looked back. It seriously makes my brows look thicker and my lashes have never been so long on their own. It's a godsend for dry hair, too!"
"Jaclyn Hill's blush and highlighter palette for Becca is one of those products that broke the internet this year, and for good reason. Her Champagne Pop highlighter has become my go-to product when I want to glow until they can see me from space. I'm also obsessed with all the super-pigmented blush shades in the palette. The insanely luxe packaging doesn't hurt either."
"I got super into slicking my hair back this year, and Ouai's new pomade is the product that inspired it. The stuff is super flexible, easy to work with, and versatile—I use it to create an all-over sleek look to texturize my ends or to define my waves when I curl my hair. Plus, it smells incredible."
"This was the year I fell in love with glycolic acid, and it all started with Renée Rouleau's AHA serum. I rely on this stuff to keep my skin clear and bright. What's also great about Rouleau's line is that she offers the product in multiple different concentrations depending on how much exfoliation you want. This year I've been using the 10%, but in 2017 I think I might kick it up a notch."
"I know, I know—it's ridiculous that it's taken me this long to get on the Eve Lom bandwagon. Our news editor, Victoria, has been raving about this product since she started at Byrdie, but I've always slightly dismissed her enthusiasm (sorry, VH!). At the end of the day, it's a cleanser. How life-changing could it really be? The answer is: VERY. The smell will transport you to your most luxurious, heavenly spa experience, and the texture—a thick balm that dissolves into a creamy oil—is so buttery you'll want to slather it on from head to toe (but you'll refrain, because it's $80). The best part about this cleanser is the fact that it actually removes all your makeup—like, for real. I wear eyeliner and mascara on a daily basis, and this cleanser dissolves them both in one fell swoop. My skin looks plump and clean afterward—never stripped or dry. It's pricey, but if you're looking for a way to spend your Christmas gift card, you can't go wrong with this pick."
"This mascara is weird, and I'm obsessed with it. My problem with most mascaras is that they either add volume to my lashes but completely deplete them of curl, or lengthen them and keep the curl without adding any volume. Then, this $6 mascara with the strange-looking brush entered my life and changed everything. The base of the brush is wider, which allows me to build volume easily, while the tip is super skinny, so I can grab every lash and pull it upward and outward. I usually have to use a lash primer or apply multiple layers to get the thick, fanned-out effect I like, but with Spider Effect I can achieve it in just a few swipes. Be warned: You have about 5 seconds to 'sculpt' your lashes into the desired shape and intensity before the formula dries and the effect becomes thick and clumpy, but once you get the hang of it, you'll never go back. "
"I like to consider myself a highlighter connoisseur—I will swipe and swatch every product that comes my way in the quest for a Lupita/Shay/Gigi-esque glow. When it comes to cream formulas, I look for two things: blendability and light-reflecting ability. My final goal is to have dewy skin that glows when it catches the light, and this indie highlighter from Rituel de Fille has accomplished just that. All three of the shades are amazing, but I get the most compliments when I wear Ghost Light, an iridescent, almost holographic shade that's basically the cream version of Urban Decay's Afterglow Highlighter, and Anthelion, a goldish tint that's J.Lo-reminiscent (the latter of which prompted a co-worker to immediately purchase the product after she saw me wearing it). The formulas are incredibly creamy, and I love that they're so easy to use—swirl your finger in the formula to warm it up, and then tap it along the high points of your face and your cupid's bow and reflect light like the angelic being you are."
"This product is yet another life-changing one—it's unlike anything I’ve ever applied to my face. The velvety formula is full coverage yet feels completely weightless. It’s also chock-full of as many anti-aging and protective benefits as your favorite moisturizer. With just two pumps and a damp beauty blender, say sayonara to discoloration, redness, cystic acne, dullness, et al."
"Off the suggestion of a fellow editor, I tried this color balm to revive my tired, over-processed strands. I was trying to limit my color sessions (for fear my hair would likely break off) but still wanted it to look bright without any brassiness. It's meant to be applied as a gloss to towel-dried hair, but I just use it in lieu of conditioner about once a week. The formula subtly deposits color (yay!) while canceling out unwanted yellow tones (double yay), plus it nourishes and conditions your hair in the process."
"I recently tried this cult-fave serum (our beauty director Deven wrote a love letter to it, it's that good) and can no longer imagine a time when I didn't use it. The facts: CE Ferulic combines 15% pure vitamin C, 1% vitamin E , and 0.5% ferulic acid to protect your skin from environmental factors that cause dullness and wrinkles. I can genuinely say it has made my complexion look better, brighter, and more even every single day. At the risk of completely gushing, it's pure magic."
"I can't say enough good things about Bioeffect EGF Serum. It comes in a teeny tiny bottle which makes me anxious because I'm a serum addict so I constantly worry about running out, but one small drop is enough to fully hydrate my complexion, so my anxieties are eased with each use. I love that my skin is always radiant and glowing after I apply it—dry patches be damned."
"This is hands down the BEST acne treatment I've ever used. All you need to do is dip in a Q-Tip, grab the thick pink liquid that settles at the bottom (don't shake it up!) and apply it directly onto your breakout. It's very similar to the Kylie Jenner favorite, Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, but I've never tried that formula so I can't speak to its efficacy. However, this treatment will completely dry up even the most stubborn pimple overnight. Everyone who suffers from breakouts needs it in their lives."
"I'm obsessed with purple-toned mascaras because they're a bit of *surprise.* You can't tell at face value that your lashes are purple, but once the light hits just right, everyone around you notices. Not only does this deliver the most beautiful red-purple color, it's incredibly volumizing and flake-free. Another amazing factor is that while most mascaras tend to smudge and create that dreaded raccoon look when you wash up at night, this easily washes away like watercolor paint. It's truly a magical formula."
What are your top products of the year? Call 'em out in the comments below!