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There's something about good skincare; the experience of applying and seeing visible results gives us the tingles every time. It's personal, it's intimate, and it's part of our daily grounding rituals. As such, it was particularly difficult to narrow down winners in this category. Not only have we fallen in love with so many products, but more importantly: Everyone's skin is uniquely different.
Without further ado, we can't wait to give proper due to the formulas we brought with us through this rollercoaster of a year. They're the ones that made us feel best, whether that's cleansing, toning, hydrating, evening, firming, or a myriad of other adjectives that give us those same aforementioned tingles. Below, take a look at our 2021 Beauty Award Winners in the skincare category. Ready? Let's do this.
Best Gel Cleanser
- Gentle daily cleanser with olive and grape leaf extracts
- Lightweight, anti-inflammatory, and radiance-boosting
- Fresh herbal and citrus scent
Learn more: Here's more on the benefits of marula oil for your skin.
"This lightweight, foamy-gel cleanser is genuinely the best I’ve ever tried. It smells fresh; faintly herbal and citrusy but not in an obtrusive way. It's clarifying, so it rebalances my skin while still hydrating, nourishing, and soothing inflammation. Together, the ingredients (grape and olive leaf extracts, as well as linolenic acid) work to promote cell turnover, bring the radiance back to my skin, and leave my face feeling bouncy and happy. Plus, the brand creates this product using the Waste-Not Sourcing Initiative—this means Circumference partnered with Brightland Olive Oil to upcycle the leftover olive leaf to use in their products." - Hallie Gould, associate editorial director
Best Cream Cleanser
- Contains Japanese rice water, which is part of a long-standing cleansing tradition
- Formulated to soften and moisturize skin
- Has a rich, creamy texture and intoxicating smell
Learn more: Here are some more of Tatcha's best products.
"I still remember the first time I used this cleanser: The rich, creamy texture and intoxicating smell had me immediately hooked. With a sensitive-skin safe formula, Tatcha is a savior for us combination-skin folks. Being one, I use this cleanser year-round. Plus, the silk lather delivers on its promise, always leaving my skin softer after one use." - Madeline Hirsch, senior news editor
Best Oil Cleanser
- 99.9% naturally-derived ingredients
- Contains fermented rice extract to balance the skin’s PH levels
- Gentle on the eyes and for sensitive skin types
Learn more: Here's everything you need to know about argan oil for the skin.
"Here at Byrdie, we do not gatekeep our skincare secrets, but this product is so good I’m tempted. This delicious oil cleanser is one of my favorite smells on the planet. The skin-feel is also perfect: not too greasy and not too thin. It emulsifies into a light, milky texture when you add water and removes makeup after one cleanse. Plus, I love the value: A little goes a long way, and this cleanser smells, feels, and works like a luxury product for a relatively affordable price."- Madeline Hirsch, senior news editor
Best Cleansing Balm
- Soft sorbet texture
- Breaks down makeup and sunscreen
- Doesn't leave behind residue
Learn more: Here's our full review of Farmacy's cleansing balm.
"This is the first cleansing balm that I fell in love with. The soft sorbet texture instantly transforms into oil when massaged into the skin. It breaks down makeup and sunscreen flawlessly and leaves the skin feeling nourished and without any excess residue or film." - Sean Garrette, esthetician and skincare influencer
Best Moisturizer for Oily Skin
- Lightweight water-cream moisturizer
- Helps fade the appearance of dark spots
- Refreshing on the skin
Learn more: Here's why niacinamide may be the secret to glowing skin.
"If you're someone with oily skin, water-cream moisturizers are the way to go. They hydrate and moisturize the skin without being too heavy or pore-clogging. This one from Naturium is lightweight and nourishing. Niacinamide is a great ingredient for oily skin as it helps regulate excess sebum production." - Sean Garrette, esthetician and skincare influencer
Best Moisturizer for Dry Skin
- Thick, creamy, and ultra hydrating
- Offers ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol for skin barrier support
- Perfect to keep skin supple in arid and/or cold climates
Learn more: Here is Byrdie's review of SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2.
"Though this moisturizer isn’t the remedy for deep wrinkles, what it does in turn is moisturize your face so cracks don’t become more pronounced. That’s thanks to Skinceuticals’ 2% ceramides, 4% cholesterol, and 2% fatty acid moisturizer. Each of these ingredients nourish skin and help with skin barrier support. Visible dry skin will be quenched—with a beautiful radiance, to boot." - David Yi, founder of Good Light
- Includes ceramides, niacinamide, and snow mushroom
- Smooths, exfoliates, and helps heal damaged skin barrier function
- Massage into your skin after cleansing and before serum application
Learn more: We tried and reviewed all of Good Light's products.
"I knew I'd love this toner before I even tried it—I’m a sucker for anything milky. That said, Good Light’s Moon Glow Milky Toning Lotion is so much more than just texturally pleasing. It has ceramides (my favorite for skin barrier protection), meadowfoam seed oil to keep inflammation in check, and some AHAs to get that glow I love. It's so cushiony and makes my skin soothed and smoothed." - Hallie Gould, associate editorial director
Best Chemical Exfoliator
- Gentle yet effective exfoliator
- Lactic and mandelic acids exfoliate while hydrating the skin
- Great for sensitive, dry, and/or reactive skin types
Learn more: Here's what you need to know about using antioxidants in skincare.
"This has become my holy grail exfoliant because of how gentle yet effective it is on the skin. Lactic and mandelic acids are great ingredients for those with sensitive, dry, or reactive skin. They gently exfoliate while hydrating the skin. This toner helps improve texture, tone, and radiance in the skin." - Sean Garrette, esthetician and skincare influencer
Best Physical Exfoliator
- Gently refines and removes dry, flaky skin
- A blend of vitamin A and purslane to calm, smooth, and hydrate your skin
- Jojoba oil, shea butter, and sweet almond oil soften the skin as you cleanse
Learn more: Find out why purslane extract is a hidden gem in anti-aging skincare.
"I’m a Dr. Barbara Sturm devotee: I use all her products on a consistent rotation (they’re pricey but I stand behind them 100%). This scrub is perhaps one of the most gentle, effective, lovely physical exfoliator I’ve ever had the pleasure of applying. It removes dry, flaky skin and promotes cell renewal courtesy of vitamin E, purslane, and horse chestnut—ingredients which work together to exfoliate, hydrate, and calm your skin." - Hallie Gould, associate editorial director
Best Retinol Serum
- Contains lactic acid to smooth and brighten skin
- Uses encapsulated retinol for a slow release and less irritation
- Shani Darden is a leading esthetician with a huge celebrity following
Learn more: Here are the benefits of using Shani Darden's Texture Reform Gentle Resurfacing Serum.
"I’ve spoken (and written) at length about my often fraught relationship with retinol (I do not have the patience for a skin purge). But, like any good beauty editor, I hunted for years to find a daily retinol my skin likes. And I finally found one thanks to Shani Darden. This serum contains encapsulated retinol, allowing for a slow release that’s less irritating for sensitive skin. This is a top shelf classic for a reason: It’s effective, gentle, and works for a variety of skin types."- Madeline Hirsch, senior news editor
Best Serum for Hyperpigmentation
- Targets dark spots, dullness, and uneven texture
- Smart packaging helps keep the product potent
- Suitable for all skin types
Learn more: Here's why vitamin C is good for your skin.
"There are certain skincare categories with an overwhelming number of options, and vitamin C is among them. So it’s a real testament to the quality of a product when you aren’t willing to part with it—which is exactly how I feel about Hyper Skin’s Hyper Even Brightening Dark Spot Vitamin C Serum. Packed with vitamin C, E, and kojic acid, it’s become the most important product in my arsenal for fighting post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. And the opaque pump packaging helps keep it potent—meaning it really is good to the last drop." - Eden Stuart, associate editor
Best Calming Serum
- Clinically studied hemp complex soothes irritation
- Lightweight and gentle for most skin types
- $1 of every sale of Deliverance goes to the Floret Coalition
Learn more: Here is Byrdie's deep dive into Dieux's Deliverance.
"Now that my feet are planted firmly in my thirties, I have three areas I routinely focus on in my skincare routine: redness/irritation, fine lines, and congestion. To address the latter, I often turn to a rotation of retinol and chemical exfoliants (which can leave my skin a bit chapped and vulnerable). This ultra-calming serum—with redness-curbing ingredients like a proprietary hemp and water lily complex and barrier-repairing ingredients like niacinamide and peptides—help balance out my skin. I love skincare that's strongly backed by science, and Dieux's founders took care to conduct clinical studies on the efficacy of three doses of cannabinoid complexes in reducing induced inflammation, so there is clear data to back up the claims." - Lindsey Metrus, project director
Best Hydrating Serum
- Feels thick, pillowy, and comforting upon application
- Protects against pollution, light, climate, and other irritants
- Vitamins E and F work to calm skin redness
Learn more: Here are the benefits of using vitamin E on your skin.
"Dr. Loretta’s Replenishing Serum is like a luscious, comforting blanket of moisture. I've never used a serum this thick and pillowy. Plus, it plumps, increases luminosity, and keeps your skin healthy and smooth. The formula is a blend of vitamins E and F to calm redness, glycolipids to replenish moisture loss, as well as an antioxidant called lipochroman, which protects against free radical damage caused by pollution and UV radiation. And, just so you know, Dr. Loretta's skin is stunning. So, yes, it works." - Hallie Gould, associate editorial director
Best Face Oil
- Made with caviar-derived retinol and lipids
- Lifting, firming, and line-smoothing
- Luxurious, silky feel
Learn more: Check out Byrdie's review of La Prairie's Skin Caviar Nighttime Oil.
"I found my soulmate in La Prairie's Skin Caviar Nighttime Oil. The formula, made with caviar-derived retinol and lipids, is highly effective. But, as an added bonus, it's also gentle and luxurious. This oil literally cushions your skin, and I promise you’ll wake up with a happy, moisturized face even if you’re a sensitive skin haver like me. I didn’t know retinol could be indulgent (I usually settle for “not irritating”), but this La Prairie has spoiled me rotten." - Madeline Hirsch, senior news editor
Best Hydrating Face Mask
- Formulated for dry, sensitive, and eczema-prone skin
- A blend of colloidal oatmeal, centella asiatica, and ceramide to replenish and protect
- Excellent for reducing the look of redness
Learn more: Read full review of the Topicals products.
"This thick, whipped hydrating mask is my go-to for when my skin feels tight or inflamed (I love to use it directly after a treatment or peel to keep things calm and hydrated). It offers colloidal oatmeal, the best-of-the-best for soothing irritation and redness, as well as ceramides and centella asiatica to support your skin’s moisture barrier and nourish your skin. The best part? It’s specifically formulated for dry, sensitive, and eczema-prone skin." - Hallie Gould, associate editorial director
Best AHA Mask
- Deeply exfoliating clinical-grade mask
- Offers a visible difference in your skin after just one use
- Use once weekly at nighttime
"Coined a facial in a bottle, this mask blends together reishi mushrooms (for protection again pollution, smoke, and other environmental stressors) and AHAs (everyone's favorites for exfoliation and evening skin tone), as well as super hydrating ingredients including glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin E and B. The formula deeply exfoliates—it's clinical grade—and helps improve the appearance of fine lines and skin texture. You'll notice a difference after the very first use. Before applying to your face, try a patch test to make sure you don't cause any irritation. Once that's done, use it once weekly at nighttime and avoid highly active products 24 hours before." - Hallie Gould, associate editorial director
Best Overnight Mask
- Includes white truffle extract to fade the appearance of expression lines
- Strengthens, smooths, and firms skin overnight
- Thick, luscious texture and easy to use
Learn more: Here's why dermatologists love meadowfoam seed oil.
"This overnight recovery mask has become one of my go-tos to strengthen, smooth, and firm my skin while I snooze. A mix of fatty acids (my favorite for skin nourishment and bounce), white truffle extract (to fade the appearance of expression lines), and wild butterfly ginger root extract (to improve luminosity), the formula is luscious, effective, and so easy to apply. I just pop it on before bed and wake up to skin that looks and feels better." - Hallie Gould, associate editorial director
Best Clarifying Mask
- Works to soothe, tighten, and add radiance
- Can be used all over or as a spot treatment
- Pricy, but worth the splurge
Learn more: Find more of our favorite masks for oily skin.
"This mask works wonders. It soothes, tightens, and adds radiance to your skin all at once. Anytime I have an active breakout, I use it as a spot treatment and as well as all over to increase radiance and even my skin tone. This mask has been recommended by celebrity estheticians like Aida Bicaj and has a reputation as a miracle treatment. It’s a bit pricey but considering that it’s multi-use and a thin layer goes a long way, it's worth the splurge." - Star Donaldson, senior social media editor
Best Face Sunscreen
- Vegan & cruelty-free, natural ingredients, & reef safe
- Recycling program where you can send in your empty bottles for them to recycle and you receive a promotion
Learn more: Here's why dermatologists love avocado oil for your skin.
"Not only is this sunscreen super affordable and accessible (available at my favorite store, Target, for $16), but the product itself is like no other. It's made specifically for melanin skin by Black women, keeping in mind the skin issues we typically face like sun damage and hyperpigmentation. The best part? It doesn’t leave behind a white cast and is ultra-moisturizing with ingredients like avocado and jojoba leaving your skin feeling (and looking) silky smooth." - Araziel Jackson, assistant social media editor
Best Eye Cream
- Sits nicely under makeup
- Brightens the under-eye area
- A blend of hyaluronic acid for moisture and glycogen for luminosity
Learn more: Read more about our favorite eye creams.
"I really love how creamy this is—it makes a full-coverage concealer look absolutely incredible and really brightens the under-eye area." - Katie Jane Hughes, celebrity and editorial makeup artist
Best Lip Balm
- Made with mango, moringa, avocado, and shea butters
- Ultra-rich formula to comfort, hydrate, and protect lips
- Recently reformulated with amino acids and peptides
Learn more: Here are the benefits of moringa oil on your skin.
"This has been a staple in my coat pockets and handbags for over a decade, and this year the already A+ formula got an upgrade. The combination of butters—mango, moringa, avocado, shea—instantly soothe and comfort lips. I recently spent a week in Arizona, where the sun and dry air stripped my lips, leaving them dry and cracked for days. This was the only thing that saved them. I also love the addition of antiaging amino acids and peptides to keep the skin around the mouth plump." - Leah Wyar, General Manager & SVP
Best Face Mist
- Soothing, cooling, and hydrating
- Formulated to provide relief during hot flashes
- Calms skin and reduces redness
Learn more: See why Pause made it onto our list of LGBTQ+-owned brands to support.
"This soothing, cooling, hydrating face mist is made specifically to provide relief during hormonal changes brought on by menopause. I took notice at first because there are so few skincare companies even talking about menopause. And then I tried it. You don’t need to be dealing with hot flashes to fall in love with the instant relief just one spritz of this formula brings. It reduces redness, calms your skin, and can be used over makeup." - Hallie Gould, associate editorial director
Best Acne Spot Treatment
- Blends together sulfur, BHAs, and zinc oxide
- Minimizes irritation and redness
- Helps prevent future breakouts
Learn more: Here is Byrdie's review of Kate Somerville's EradiKate Acne Treatment.
"This is one of those time-tested, editor favorites for good reason—it works. A blend of sulfur to exfoliate, BHAs for anti-redness benefits, and zinc oxide for oil control, this little pink product minimizes breakouts and helps to prevent future ones. It's that simple." - Hallie Gould, associate editorial director
Best At-Home Peel
- Unclogs pores, exfoliates, and adds radiance to skin
- A blend of four different acids
- Safe to use on sensitive skin
Learn more: Check out our full review of Renée Rouleau's Triple Berry Smoothing Peel.
"If you’ve read my writing over the years, chances are you’ve heard me sing the praises of Renée Rouleau’s Triple Berry Smoothing Peel once or twice (or a million times). This peel is one of my (as well as the other Byrdie editors') all-time holy grail items. It’s one of those magical products that produces fresh, clear, bright, and entirely unclogged skin after every application. It’s brimming with four different acids, as well as bromelain, an enzyme derived from pineapple, and blueberry (to reduce inflammation)—and it smells and looks like jam. Once removed, my skin looks like glass: shiny, even, soft, smooth, and about 15 other adjectives for exactly what I want my face to look like." - Hallie Gould, associate editorial director
- Uses red and infra-red light
- Use for 10 minutes up to five times a week
- Boosts circulation and helps stimulate the production of collagen
Learn more: Here's even more effective LED masks to get acquainted with.
"For years I felt the allure of anti-aging skin devices, but couldn't ever find one to fit into my routine. I'd try it once or twice and then never actually use it consistently enough for it to work. Then, I met CurrentBody's Skin LED Light Therapy Mask. The red light is meant to stimulate the production of new collagen, calm redness, and help even skin tone. The Infra-red light penetrates deeper to boost circulation. It is so easy; all you do is pop it on for 10 minutes three to five times a week. After four weeks, you'll be able to see all the tone, texture, and firming results." - Hallie Gould, associate editorial director