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It turns out you don’t need to be shipwrecked on an uninhabited land mass to find out what your “desert island” products actually are—you just need to not leave your house for three months. Back in February, I would’ve probably said that I could not live without my beloved Benefit Cosmetics They're Real! Lengthening Mascara and Shiseido Eyelash Curler. Then March came, and the meaning of the word “essential” changed forever. When a trip to the drugstore or supermarket suddenly becomes a panic-inducing experience, you’re not going to get too picky about which shampoo you’re picking up.
That’s why when Team Byrdie was reflecting on some of our favorite products of 2020, we found ourselves naming so many classic products in addition to some of the new launches we tried this year. As we pared back our skincare routines and left our eyeshadow palettes collecting dust, we instead began reaching for the staple products we’ve trusted for years. Yes, it was sometimes out of necessity (I didn’t step foot in a Sephora for six months), but also, we found comfort in our old standbys. In this new and scary world, people everywhere were turning back to the basics (hello, bread baking), so it only made sense that our beauty routines followed suit.
While our passion for discovering the latest and greatest in beauty is still as strong as ever, we also realized that there will always be room for our beloved staples. Behold, the best classic beauty products we fell back in love with this year.
Leah Wyar, GM/VP
“After reading this slugging story, I started using Aquaphor daily and honestly got so many compliments on my skin. I put it on top of my makeup for a natural looking highlight and as a last step in my nightly skincare routine to lock everything in.”
Faith Xue, editorial director
“After brief stints with fancy liquid formulas, I rediscovered my love for this simple matte formula this year (mostly because it was the only thing that hid my maskne). There's something about this concealer that just makes it so reliable. Maybe it's the ease of application—you dip your finger in it, pat it in the area where you want to conceal, and you're ready to go. Or the texture—unlike other pot concealers, it has a smoothing, blurring effect that covers anything you want it to, yet it never feels dry or cakey.”
“The microblading on my brows has faded significantly this year, which has brought me back to my barely-there brow state. I've got no energy to painstakingly fill in my brows with a pencil, but am starting to feel naked with just my bare brows. Enter: my holy-grail brow tint, Benefit Gimme Brow. This brow tint makes my brows full and fluffy-looking in just a few swipes. I use shade 4, a cool-toned brown, and I'm amazed at how easy it is to fake a fuller, natural-looking brows. It's almost like a three-second microblading session. Almost.”
“I've rediscovered these classic exfoliating pads this year, and honestly, I'll never be without them again. I'm a sucker for testing all types of chemical exfoliators, but there's something about the ease and effectiveness of these that really makes them a skincare staple. Plus, I couldn't get over how noticeable the effects are—my skin always feels baby-soft afterwards.”
Hallie Gould, senior editor
“In high school, before dry shampoo was a whole "thing," I'd put baby powder in my hair to get rid of greasiness. I can't even remember who initially taught me to do that. It wasn't until my mother noticed I had a powder-gray tint to my hair (I often overdid it) that she brought home a bottle of Klorane Dry Shampoo with Oat Milk from her favorite drugstore. It was a revelation to me then, and still is now. Since then, I've bounced around from brand to brand, trying new products and innovations in the dry shampoo space. It wasn't until I was stuck at home without a beauty closet that I went back to my old-faithful formula and fell in love all over again. It's true I barely see anyone at all, so greasy hair is less of an issue in that regard, but it feels so good to use the same product I had as a teenager. It's gentle on your hair, easy to apply, and staves off oil for days. It's a classic for a reason.”
Lindsey Metrus, senior editor
“When I travel to visit my parents, I don't pack any of my skincare because my mom has such a great collection that I just borrow hers (she offers to share, I promise). One of those is SK-II's über popular essence, which is fortified with pitera, a yeast extract. Over 40 years ago, it was observed that elderly sake brewers in Japan had insanely smooth hands, while their faces were still appropriately aged. The conclusion was that the yeast from touching the sake was essentially reversing the wrinkles on their hands, and thus, the yeast-based essence was created. I recently used it on a visit home and was reminded how much I love it. The hydrating, illuminating effects are pretty instant, but long term use will keep your skin looking healthier than ever.”
Kathryn Vandervalk, editorial and strategy director
“I packed to stay at my boyfriend's place in a hurry, which meant I brought six books, four comic books, no bras, and no dry shampoo. At the drugstore, I picked up the classic Batiste teal bottle and remembered why it was the first dry shampoo I'd ever fallen in love with. For starters, it really works to sop up oil and add volume to second (and third and fourth...) day hair. I can brush and massage out the white cast on my medium-brown hair, but for those of you with really dark tones, the Batiste Divine Dark works just as well. At about $8 a bottle, I can't find a better value option.”
Star Donaldson, social media editor
“This year has meant more handwashing than ever. From washing my hands after I touch *anything* outside of my apartment, and doing my dishes every night, I’ve become acquainted with my old friend eczema. Enter—Eucerin Eczema relief. In college, eczema was a huge part of my life because of the lack of humidity in Colorado and this was always my go-to. Although prior to working at Byrdie I worked with Eucerin, I haven’t needed to reach for this product since my college days. So glad that this still solves my mild eczema needs without a trip to the dermatologist. The lotion comes in varying thicknesses and is unscented so it’s perfect for my chapped hands.”
Karli Bendlin, email editor
“This is one of those products that as soon as you start using it again, you wonder why you ever stopped. I started using it again in April when I was looking to scale back my skincare routine until it was basically just a single step. I love that I can use it as a daily moisturizer and makeup primer (for those days when I’m actually motivated enough to put on concealer). Katie Jane Hughes also suggests applying it post-foundation on the high points of your face for a subtle highlight, which I will be trying the next time I have an excuse to put foundation on.”
“My lips are perpetually dry, and I never go anywhere without some type of lip product that I can apply every five minutes. I normally go for richer lip masks, but like most people, I became way more germ-conscious recently. Suddenly the idea of sticking my fingers into a tub of product to apply directly to my mouth seemed like a sinister idea. While I do still love applying my masks before bed, during the day I’ve returned to using the first beauty product I ever loved: Chapstick. This Black Cherry Lip Moisturizer version, however, is a major upgrade from the original Cherry I once hoarded in elementary school. It smells *divine* and keeps my lips feeling just as soft and hydrated as any lip mask does.”
“When I first discovered eye masks a few years back, I truly couldn’t get enough of them. I would apply them before every big “event” (pretty much every Saturday night) to feel fancy and give my under eyes a dose of hydration. I’ve tried a ton of different iterations, but I kept coming back to these KNC beauty shooting star ones that inspired thousands of Instagram selfies. Like many products I’ve gone through phases with, however, I eventually got lazy and stopped applying them. During one particularly dull evening this summer, I decided to humor myself and put them on despite the fact that my big plans were to be in bed by 9 p.m. After taking them off 20 minutes later, I swear my eyes looked less puffy and more alive. Either way, I was officially re-sold on their powers.”
Avery Stone, commerce editor
"When New York shut down, I ran out of my body lotion. Unable to go snag another one, I searched under my sink and discovered this classic, which I used all the time growing up because I had (and still have) dry, sensitive, eczema-prone skin. In short, I remembered all the reasons I used to love it: It's soothing, hydrating, and—although it's fragrance-free—its natural oat scent is comforting. Forget under the sink; it now has a place in my medicine cabinet (and my heart!)."
Eden Stuart, associate editor
“My commitment to a full beat is surpassed only by my commitment to public health, so I’ve spent much of 2020 figuring out how I can maintain a full face of makeup underneath a face mask. This led me back to a category I had kind of abandoned: setting powder, specifically Coty Airspun. It’s got the finely milled texture of powders three times its price, comes in a variety of shades (I go with suntan), and does a fantastic job of minimizing transfer. Full disclosure: As the packaging suggests, this product is retro–so the scent is very strong. Definitely not for those sensitive to smell!”
Olivia Hancock, Byrdie contributor
“Shea Moisture's Curl Enhancing Smoothie was one of the first products I tried when I was learning how to care for and style my curls during middle school. It was one of the few products back then that actually kept my curls hydrated and defined. It’s infused with nourishing ingredients like silk protein, neem oil, and coconut oil, which all work together to strengthen and nourish your strands from root to end. I've incorporated this into my routine on a few recent wash days, and once my hair dried, I remembered why it used to be my go-to. My curls were bouncy and moisturized, just like they were in middle school.”