“This is all a bunch of bullshit,” said my dear boyfriend Casey, gesticulating contemptuously, as I showed him the table full of buzzy 2019 beauty products we’d be trying. “I hope not,” I responded with a smile, already delighting in his cynicism of the industry in which I’ve made my living for the past five years. “But we’re about to find out.”
Every late autumn, beauty editors around the web round up reviews of the year’s best products and most-hyped launches. But this year, I decided to do something different and have the most unbiased party I know help me review eight of this year’s most hotly anticipated new beauty items: my boyfriend.
When it comes to beauty products, Casey is generally a very good sport. He generously keeps his thoughts to himself as I take up 90% of the counter space in our bathroom. As someone with sensitive, redness-prone skin, he’s even cultivated his own skincare routine (and by “cultivate,” I mean he succumbs under my pressures to chemically exfoliate, moisturize, and apply sunscreen).
But what Casey does not possess is attachment or blind loyalty to any brands. So, I thought it would be entertaining (and probably legitimately insightful) to gather some of the most exciting launches of 2019—the vitamin C serums, hydrating masks, and brow pencils that beauty fanatics everywhere bought in droves—and compare my reviews as a seasoned beauty editor to Casey’s, as someone who couldn’t care less about what beauty brands are considered “cool.” Keep scrolling to read my lengthy reviews, as well as his no-BS, cut-to-the-chase, brutally honest ones.
Peach and Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum
“This much-anticipated serum is milking the whole South Korean ‘glass skin’ trend for all its worth, and a formulation containing anti-inflammatory niacinamide, plumping peptides, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and a bunch of nourishing plant extracts set my expectations high. Now, gel formulas are generally not my favorite—I’m not a fan of the tacky residue most gel serums, including this one, leave on the skin (it fades after about an hour, but still). I used the product five days in a row, and it did create a subtle 'glassy' effect on the skin and mildly softened my pores. However, considering the promising ingredients (and hype) I must say I did anticipate a slightly more dramatic result.”
“This is supposed to make your skin ‘transparent?’ What does that even mean? It smells like plastic. I wish it came in a glass thingy. Jar? Bottle? What is this? My face feels STICKY. I don’t like it. Wait, I do look kind of dewy though. Huh.”
Dr. Barbara Sturm Calming Serum
“Queen Legend High Priestess of Skincare Dr. Barbara Sturm launched her iconic serums in mini (read: cheaper) sizes this year, and now that the line is available at Sephora, her products are more accessible—and buzzier—than ever. Casey and I decided to put her antioxidant-packed Calming Serum to the test, since we’ve been traveling a ton and dealing with inflammation (me, acne and dullness; him, redness and sensitivity). I instantly loved how weightless this product feels on the skin. You truly cannot feel it, and it doesn’t pill or misbehave under makeup. After about a week of use, I noticed my chin breakouts actively soften, and it made a dent in the redness around my nose. Ninety dollars for 10 ml of serum is definitely enough to make you dizzy, but if you’ve got the cash, you’ll see results.”
“It’s not that I dislike it, it’s just that my face is still pretty pink… so…”
Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinol Serum
“Back in January this new retinol hit the market, and I have been using it three times a week ever since I got my eager little hands on it. Now, I am a full-on Sunday Riley zealot, so I went into this product assuming I’d love it (especially because one of my favorite facialists Cynthia Franco explicitly recommended it to me as a gentle but effective retinol). The product contains a six-and-a-half percent concentration of stabilized retinoid blends, plus CoQ10, and I can safely say over the months that I’ve been using it, I have not developed a single new wrinkle, my skin tone looks more even, and my chin acne has been kept at bay. The product has never felt irritating or made my skin peel. Actually, I feel like it actively hydrates my skin. Hype or no hype, this stuff has fully been incorporated into my nightly skincare routine.”
“So this is supposed to prevent wrinkles? We’ll see about that. Check back in 10 years. It smells like chemicals.” [Editor’s note: Casey has very sensitive skin, and this did not cause it to break out or peel. Just had to say that.]
Farsali Hydration Bae Hydrating Base Mask
“Let me just say this product had me confused as hell for the first five minutes I spent trying to discern what I was about to put on my face. At first glance, the clear gel mask, speckled with tiny blue serum ‘bubbles,’ looks like an old-school drugstore microbead exfoliator. In reality, I’m glad to report that the product is instead a no-rinse hyaluronic acid mask, which you leave on for 10 minutes—bubbles intact—before rubbing it in to ‘burst’ the tiny blue spheres, which contain a hibiscus oil serum. So in the end, it’s really a two-part mask. Now personally, I don’t stan a non-intuitive face mask, and when the bubbles exploded, I really had to rub them in well so they wouldn’t leave a bluish tint on the skin. But all that said, once I figured the product out, I was very pleased with the end result. The weather where I live in Los Angeles has been Gobi desert-level dry lately, and this mask’s non-sticky, non-greasy formula battled the elements to make my face soft, dewy, and plump. I also love that it’s vegan, cruelty-free, and non-toxic (no parabens, sulfates, or any of the other yucky stuff you hate to see on labels). Is it the #1 hydrating mask of 2019? Not quite. (That, IMHO, would be this one.) But, I will say that I used it again this morning and I cannot keep touching my face. It’s crazy soft.”
“A little greasy. And the blue balls? They’re trying too hard. I wouldn’t buy this.”
Summer Fridays CC Me Vitamin C Serum
“Every skincare brand and their mother seemed to launch a new vitamin C product in 2019—Glow Recipe, Sunday Riley, Kora Organics, the list goes on. But clean-at-Sephora, cool-girl brand Summer Fridays was one of the buzziest, at least among beauty editors. I love that in addition to brightening Vitamin C, the product contains other high-performance ingredients like squalene, peptides, and niacinamide (which works in conjunction with Vitamin C to balance skin and reduce discoloration). The product had a subtle pleasant scent, lightweight texture, and has not caused any breakouts. My only real qualm is the stickiness (which I don’t get with my regular vitamin C serum). But for the price point especially, I’d say it’s a solid vitamin C serum that lived up to the buzz.”
“Again, too sticky and it smells like plastic when it first comes out of the bottle. Wait, this looks exactly the same as that ‘glassy face’ serum you made me try. Is this different? Oh, it protects you from the sun. Okay great, I need that. Yeah, gimme another squirt, it’s not that bad.”
I Dew Care Masks
“I couldn’t log onto Instagram in 2019 without seeing this too-cute new line of affordable masks, which are packaged like little tubs of ice cream. We decided to try the Sugar Kitten Hydrating Holographic Peel-Off Mask and Matcha Mood Soothing Green Tea Wash-Off Mask. The hydrating holographic mask is a mesmerizing, iridescent purple gel that looks like the skin of an alien. It was fun to apply and peel off (though it takes a full 30 minutes to dry), but I can’t say it quite hydrated my skin, like it promised. A little gimmicky. The other, by contrast, is lovely—cooling, soothing, and refreshing on the skin, thanks to its formula of green tea, aloe, and Vitamin B3. I’d be down to try the rest of the line’s wash-off masks, though I’d probably skip the peel-offs.”
“I liked the creamy texture and the edible-looking presentation of the green mask. The peel-off was oddly satisfying and came off very easily, but it made my skin feel sticky and irritated."
Sunday Scaries Unicorn Jerky CBD Candy
“Well, kudos to Sunday Scaries for cutting through the cluttered CBD market to create what is perhaps the most fun CBD product I’ve ever seen: pieces of gummy rainbow ‘jerky’ containing 10 mg of broad spectrum CBD. 2019 was the year of CBD, and though it’s great that we’re now looking to cannabis for natural pain and anxiety remedies, it’s also incredibly challenging to tell what of this completely unregulated new industry is safe and effective and what isn’t. As for Sunday Scaries, I love how transparent the brand is with their sourcing and ingredients (unlike so many brands hopping aboard the CBD bandwagon), and I am obsessed that they donate a portion of this product’s proceeds to the Trevor Project, a suicide lifeline for LGBTQ youth. As for the results, these vibrant little gummies definitely, noticeably chilled me out (I will say, for any CBD novices reading, that I had to take CBD probably 10 separate times before I started noticing the effects… but this stuff definitely works). I can also totally see myself buying these as a holiday stocking stuffer for my wellness-minded friends.”
“Really pretty packaging. The presentation was super nice. Love how colorful they are. Made me want to eat it. But the dose was so light for me, even after taking one or two strips, that I couldn’t tell if I felt it. Also, they tasted pretty good, but as I kept eating them, they developed a weird after-taste. Better for people new to CBD.”
Glossier Brow Flick
“First I’ll just say that I tried this fine-tipped brow marker for the first time four months ago, then it sat in my car until I pulled it out again for this story, and it hadn’t dried out, so that’s one Brownie point for Glossier. I am obsessed with how this product applies—so effortless! So smooth!—but I did have trouble creating visible hair-like strokes that looked natural. No matter how delicate my hand, the final result ended up looking a little bolder than I wanted, which perhaps is because the ‘brunette’ shade is just a little too dark IMHO, especially since there are only three shades offered. All in all, I’d say I like this product in theory more than I do in practice. I think I’ll stick to my Boy Brow.”
“I actually use brow products every day because I don’t really have natural eyebrows, so I feel more qualified to judge this one. This product is a cool idea, and I like the way it goes on better than pencils and gels. It’s less annoying to apply. But it doesn’t look as natural as I would’ve hoped. Maybe it’d be better for someone who has more natural brow hairs because then it wouldn’t look so drawn-on.”