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The Byrdie team collectively tests hundreds—no exaggeration—of makeup products in a year, and this one (though coupled with masks) was no different. Though 2021 had many of us skipping aspects of our beauty routines, pragmatism gave way to our love of makeup and all it's joy-inducing creativity. Even if we sat at home for most of the year, we spent a lot of that time swatching, sweeping, brushing, and blending an array of innovative, exciting textures and colors. And we'd be remiss not share our favorites. Below, take a look at our 2021 Beauty Award Winners in the makeup category.
"I have two simple rules when it comes to primers: They need to maintain the integrity of my foundation, and they need to help me keep my face beat intact for as long as humanly possible. As high as those standards may be, e.l.f’s Jelly Pop Primer always meets and exceeds them. The tacky-but-not-sticky finish is fantastic at gripping product, and dries down quickly with a lightweight feeling. It’s generally pretty 'neutral' as far as finishes go (apart from a touch of brightening), meaning your dewy foundations stay dewy, and your matte foundations won’t look flat. And as is the case with almost all e.l.f. products, you’re getting a high quality, cruelty-free product at an extremely wallet-friendly price." - Eden Stuart, associate editor
- Light-to-medium coverage
- Hyaluronic acid meant to help hydrate during wear
- Dewy finish
"I typically steer clear of foundations marketed as 'dewy' or 'glowy' as it usually renders greasy on my combination skin. But the 'natural glow' promised by Neo Nude actually delivers; as the day wears on, the heat and natural oil production from my skin mixes perfectly with this formula to give off a healthy sheen. I constantly get complimented on my complexion—even during Zoom calls—thanks to this lightweight, creamy foundation. I apply it with a foundation brush for seamless, buildable coverage that hydrates thanks to hyaluronic acid so my skin never feels dry or tight. It's been my go-to for two years now. I can't get enough of it." - Lindsey Metrus, associate general manager
Best Tinted Moisturizer
"Tower28’s SunnyDays Broad Spectrum SPF 30 gives skin the airbrushed finish you thought could only be achieved with the help of an IG filter. It’s easy-to-use: Just squeeze the purple tube and the lightweight liquid will dispense exactly where you want it, thanks to its precise applicator tip. The buildable skin tint glides across skin for a natural-looking, streak-free finish.
"Even better is the brand’s thoughtful formulation. It was created to be gentle on sensitive skin (having earned the National Eczema Association's Seal of Acceptance) and is formulated with SPF 30 to help protect your face and neck from sun damage. We rave about Tower28’s genius formula on Team Byrdie as one that has made us ditch some of our beloved complexion products." - Jesa Calaor, editor
Best Skin Tint
"I prefer to wear lightweight complexion products such as skin tints. Out of the dozens I've tried, Ami Colé's Skin Enhancing Tint is the best. The brand's founder, Diarrha N'Diaye-Mbaye, worked tirelessly to develop shades that beautifully enhance Black and Brown skin. Her efforts certainly paid off because I love how this product looks and feels on my skin. After dabbing it on with a makeup sponge, it leaves behind a stunning satin finish. Beyond the natural glow it blesses me with, I appreciate that the Skin Enhancing Tint is loaded with nourishing ingredients like baobab seed extract, hibiscus extract, and pumpkin seed extract." - Olivia Hancock, editor
"There's a reason this concealer has a massive fan base. It's creamy, non-creasing, and blends like a dream. It's also got a large doe-foot applicator that's perfect for spot-treating all areas of your face from the under-eyes to little areas of discoloration. I've personally been using this one concealer for years and have yet to find another formula that comes remotely close to being able to match its performance. For those who can truly can't get enough of the product, it's also available in a super size version sold exclusively on QVC." - Lindsey Metrus, associate general manager
Best Cream Blush
- Blends seamlessly onto skin
- Non-sticky, weightless finish
"The rosy glow your face naturally creates—usually as a result of your body being under some kind of stress—is fleeting. But you can recreate the effect and have it last for hours with Rare Beauty’s Stay Vulnerable Melting Cream Blush. Housed in a pink compact (with a beyond-satisfying magnetic closure), this water-resistant cream blush does exactly as its name says and melts as you swirl your fingertips along its surface. As you tap it on and blend it across your cheekbones, you’ll find that it deposits just the right amount of color, creating a natural-looking warmth to your complexion while feeling totally weightless." - Jesa Calaor, editor
Best Powder Blush
- Long-wear formula
- Buildable color
Learn more: the best products and brand overview of Clinique.
"While a cream blush formula is my day-to-day choice for a natural flush, when special occasions arise, I'll turn to a powder formula for longer staying power. My favorite is this high-definition formula from Clinique that blends so effortlessly into the skin and can be built upon depending on your desired level of color opacity. The powder itself, sculpted into an intricate flower, is so beautiful you almost don't want to use it, but trust me that once you dip in, you'll be tempted to return time and time again. My favorite shade is Pink Pop, a slightly shimmery coral-pink that works nicely with my cool-toned fair complexion. No matter your skin tone, you're sure to find a shade that suits you to a tee." - Lindsey Metrus, associate general manager
"I'm a bronzer-365-days-a-year kind of person. My skin is naturally quite fair and needs a bit of product to help warm up my complexion and give it a bit more depth. It can be hard to find a formula that doesn't read too deep, too orange, or too shimmery, but this two-toned brick from Victoria Beckham is the absolute perfect product. First, let's talk about the packaging: rendered in her signature tortoise compact, the pan itself is refillable and recyclable so you not only save money when you need a re-stock, but you can also rest assured that you aren't tossing product in a landfill.
"Next, the product itself—a duo of complementary shades allows you to customize your color. I use a long, narrow contoured face brush to sculpt my cheeks and easily trace my hairline and jawline. I'll swirl it into both shades (I use 01) to create a soft brown that gently warms up my skin tone. It's the perfect matte hue that reads like a natural dose of sunshine rather than a faux bronze. I've used it just about every day for the past few months and still have yet to make a dent in the pan." - Lindsey Metrus, associate general manager
Best Liquid Highlight
"On days I’m after next-level radiance (which are most days), I reach for my Em Cosmetics Cushion Highlighter. The cushion holds a lightweight creamy highlight that is infused with skin-loving ingredients like barrier-supporting squalane and vitamin E, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and more.
"When you’re first met with this iridescent compact marked with Em Cosmetics’ cosmic logo, you know the contents are going to be magic. Then, after pressing on the pillow-soft formula, you'll see the sorcery play out in a subtly shimmery, lit-from-within way." - Jesa Calaor, editor
Best Powder Highlight
- Features refillable packaging to cut down on cost and waste
- Buildable and lightweight formula made to work on all skin tones
- Made from certified organic ingredients
- Byrdie Clean
"For sculpting products, I tend to go either all-cream or all-powder across the board. Therefore, it stands to reason I have favorite highlighters in both categories. When I’m using a powder blush or healthy dusting of bronzer, this formula from Kjaer Weis is always the product I reach for. It’s super buildable for a dramatic (or subtle) dewy glow depending on your preference. Plus, the packaging is refillable, which helps us highlighter devotees cut down on plastic consumption." - Madeline Hirsch, news director
Best Multi-Use Makeup Product
"Lately, I’ve been obsessed with creating bright makeup looks. Danessa Myricks' Color Fix helps me live out my bold beauty girl dreams. The multi-purpose product is suitable to use on your lips, eyes, and cheeks. I've applied it to all three areas, and I can tell you this product doesn’t disappoint. It delivers such a bright, even pigment wherever you place it. It dries down quickly, so you don't have to worry about it moving or transferring as you create your look. If that wasn't impressive enough, the formula is also designed to be waterproof, crease-proof, and last 24 hours." - Olivia Hancock, editor
Best Liquid Eyeshadow
"I'm a liquid eyeshadow fanatic, yet matte choices are few and far between. Singer Halsey's makeup line, About-Face, has a super-pigmented formula and it's the best of the best. It takes a while to dry down—which is optimal for blending—but once it does, it doesn't budge. With a primer, it never flakes or gets patchy, and it feels weightless on the lids. When this product came into my life, I knew I wanted it in every color—and there are many to choose from. My everyday go-to shade is Cloned, which is a great option for anyone intimidated by bright or dark colors." - Kathryn Vandervalk, VP content strategy, entertainment
Best Powder Eyeshadow
"I'm not particularly dexterous when it comes to applying makeup—a career in beauty editorial gives you access to products, but not as much the skill needed to apply them—but these shadows make it so easy. McGrath herself even likes to apply them with just her fingertips. They’re soft, velvety, hyper pigmented, and apply with absolute ease. Plus, they come in just about every color and finish you could ever want." - Hallie Gould, editorial director
Best Eyeliner Pencil
"I'm a huge fan of Underlined Kajal Eyeliner in Rain Check, which is a striking teal-blue. Its applicator easily glides onto your lids, leaving you with a super silky cream finish that stays put for hours on end. It's also super pigmented, so just one swipe is enough—no back-tracing needed.
"A little bit more about the brand: Kulfi is a female South Asian-owned business, founded by visionary Priyanka Ganjoo. The brand name comes from the Indian word for 'ice cream,' which is Ganjoo's ode to growing up in Delhi spending summers eating the sweet dessert. The brand's commitment to opening doors and cultivating community extends to its mission of empowering self-expression and authenticity. Kulfi has partnered with South Asian Sexual & Mental Health Alliance, with a goal to fight cultural stigmas, educate, and empower the South Asian American community by providing helpful resources." - Cristina Cianci, jr. art director, bkr
Best Liquid Eyeliner
- Waterproof formula
- Flexible felt tip for precise liner looks
- Delivers saturated, bold pigment
- Byrdie Clean
"Mario Dedivanovic's namesake makeup line is full of gems, but the Master Mattes Liquid Eyeliner is a true standout. As someone who wears winged eyeliner often, I've run into my fair share of disappointing liquid eyeliners (think: those that run or have zero pigment). Dedivanovic's version allows me to create a sharp cat-eye with ease, thanks to the flexible felt tip. When I run this one across my lid, the saturated matte black ink creates a bold and defined liner look that instantly makes my eyes pop. Most importantly, you don't have to worry about smudging throughout the day since the formula is waterproof." - Olivia Hancock, editor
Best Eyebrow Product
- Offer a lamination effect
- Volumizes, lifts, nourishes, and polishes your brows all at once
- Comes in both tinted and clear
- Byrdie Clean
"My brows have become very important to me, and as such, finding the best arsenal of products to care for them is paramount. This one does so many things at once: volumizing, lifting, polishing, nourishing, et al. They have this amazing lamination effect—which is perfect for me because my brow hairs are quite curly—to keep each hair in place and brushed-up. There are microfibers for fullness, tint to fill in any sparse areas, and castor oil to help keep the actual hairs healthy." - Hallie Gould, editorial director
"When I wear mascara, I want it to add definition, volume, and length to my lashes, so they're noticeably visible when I take a selfie or hop on a Zoom call. Uoma Beauty's Drama Bomb Mascara makes my lashes look bolder in just a few swipes. The expertly designed hourglass wand makes it easy to evenly coat your lashes from root to tip. In addition to making my lashes more vivid, this mascara also conditions and strengthens them. It's ingredient list is 100% vegan, cruelty-free, and paraben-free, with star players like castor, avocado, and golden jojoba oils, as well as rice wax and synthetic beeswax. To top it off, the formula is also smudge- and flake-proof." - Olivia Hancock, editor
"I love Mented lipstick because it truly encompasses the celebration of every skin tone. However, their emphasis on ensuring that women of color specifically can find the right shade for them through their shade finder quiz is what sold me on the product. I was able to find a nude shade that doesn't wash me out and really compliments my yellow undertones. This Black- and women-owned brand is broadening the beauty landscape for women of color and setting an important standard for the color cosmetics category." - Tiana Crispino, visual editor
Best Tinted Lip Balm
- Adapts to the pH of your lips for custom color, according to the brand
- Provides all-day hydration
- Comes in a variety of lip-enhancing shades
"I can’t understate the magic of this cult-favorite balm. Yes, it hydrates and smoothes like any other quality offering on the market, but this is not your average lip balm. Not only does it help me achieve that highly-desired 'your lips but better' color, it actually makes my lips glow (very apropos given the name). Thanks to its color-reviving formula—which reacts to the lips' moisture level—it delivers a custom, lip-enhancing hue that looks different on every person and flatters each skin tone. Plus, it’s infused with ingredients like cherry oil and shea butter for a layer of moisture that lasts for hours, so I don’t need to keep reapplying. The original pink shade is a classic, but I also love the new mahogany and cherry hues for when I want a little more color. It’s one of those rare products that takes seconds to apply, but instantly makes me look more put together." - Karli Bendlin, senior editor, PEOPLE
Best Lip Gloss
"This winner will come as a surprise to few. Fenty's Gloss Bomb Universal Lip Luminizer has been a favorite of beauty-lovers, influencers, and makeup artists alike since its launch in 2017 (yes, it's been that long). Since then, the brand has expanded its shade range and added to its 'gloss bomb squad' with cream and heat lip products, but nothing really compares to the OG Lip Luminizer in Fenty Glow. With an oversized doe-foot applicator, the perfect amount of shimmer, and a universally-flattering pinky nude color, this gloss is the one I've been buying on repeat. Thank you, Rihanna, as always." - Erika Harwood, senior style editor
Best Makeup Brushes
- 25-piece professional brush set with synthetic taklon bristles
- Comes with a leather tube case and microfibre towel
- Allows for effortless blending
- Byrdie Clean
"I was a sponge girl through and through—until the day I tried these brushes. They are absolutely flawless—soft when they need to be, sturdy when they need to be, and blend like an absolute dream. For years I watched KJH’s makeup tutorials and never had quite the right brushes to recreate the looks for myself, so when this 25-piece synthetic set launched I had to have them. My tip? There are two No. 8 brushes for a reason—this is your go-to for natural-looking concealer, foundation, and any base-blending you need." - Hallie Gould, editorial director
Best Makeup Sponge
- A first-of-its-kind tool designed for blending and buffing, the Beautyblender can be used to apply liquid, cream, and powder makeup.
- Start by dampening your Beautyblender, watch it double in size, then use the brand's famous "bounce" technique to dreamy, seamless coverage.
- This sponge's unique shape allows you to work on all areas of the face; use the rounded bottom for cheeks and the pointed tip for under-eyes.
"The Beautyblender has simply changed the makeup game. I have deep, dark under-eye circles that no expensive concealer or color corrector could ever effectively cover. But as it turned out, I just wasn't blending correctly. With a damp Beautyblender, I'm able to press the product into my skin with tiny bouncing motions, which helps my concealer penetrate my fine lines and deep hollows (which means better coverage). It's also a really impressive tool for applying your favorite complexion productions. Using the rounded end of the sponge, I'm able to sheer out my favorite blush for a natural flush and press my highlighter into my cheekbones for an ethereal glow that looks like my actual skin. I'll even use the pointed end to bake my under-eyes with setting powder for all-day staying powder. The Beautyblender is a forever staple in my routine and something that can make any product look like professional quality." - Holly Rhue, senior editor
- Has a unique powder-cream-gel texture
- Available in 16 shades
- Can be applied wet or dry
"This is one of the most amazing shimmery eyeshadows on the market that really catches the light. It comes in about 16 wearable shades and is super easy to use—you just press it on with your ring finger and you’re done." - Katie Jane Hughes, celebrity and editorial makeup artist
Best Makeup Palette, Eyes
- Utilizes mica instead of glitter, a natural alternative
- Finger application allows for more saturated color payoff
- Texture allows for a "wet look"
- Byrdie Clean
"I typically steer clear of glittery shadows—they can read too excessive for a typical day-to-day makeup look. But Róen's responsibly-sourced mica cream-powder hybrid gives off more of a wet look than a cheap glittery finish, almost like a glossy lid without the oily/sticky feel. This über popular shade collection is the perfect quad of bronze, gold, and pearlescent hues to complement all skin tones.
"It's actually encouraged that you use your finger to apply these shadows—the first-of-its-kind Lid Illume formula is activated by the heat and pressure of your finger. However, if you want more of a diffused look, you can use an eyeshadow brush. I personally like to combine the shades to make my own custom hue that garners compliments just about every time I wear it." - Lindsey Metrus, associate general manager
Best Makeup Palette, Face
"This is such a useful little palette for travel because it has a little bit of everything you might need—perfect for people on the go. It also has the benefit of a huge mirror, which makes doing your make up really easy." - Katie Jane Hughes, celebrity and editorial makeup artist
Best Nail Polish
"Sundays Nail Studio is a lovely salon with two locations in New York City. On top of a generally serene experience, the brand uses 10-free polishes to ensure your nails are being treated with a gentle formula. The color payoff of these polishes is impressive, as is the staying power (I can go a week or more with no chips, and I'm very hard on my nails).
"I also appreciate the application experience. The handle is designed to be a 'comfortable grip' and the brush is a professional-grade flat style, both features of which help to deliver an expert-level manicure from the comfort of your home." - Lindsey Metrus, associate general manager