[Ed. note: This post was originally published December 19, 2017; it has since been updated to reflect new discoveries, and republished on April 27, 2018, October 11, 2018, and March 20, 2019.] Continuing in my best of everything round-up series, I’m sharing today my absolute favorite beauty products. I’ve featured most of these on the blog dozens of times, but thought it’d be easier to share in one post. I’m leaving some categories blank — like, for example, concealer, because I don’t think I’ve found the ideal concealer yet, despite a valiant effort — and will attempt to update periodically!
Also — don’t forget to check out my Best of Everything: Affordable Beauty Products post, where all beauty products are under $50. The reader comments are a gold mine of additional discoveries!
The Best Skincare Products.
Eye Cream: La Mer. I know. It costs a freaking fortune. But, truthfully, it’s the only eye cream I’ve ever used that has actually yielded significant results. My undereye area looked so moisturized and brightened, and I swear the fine wrinkles disappeared. One of these tubs also lasts a very long time — I’d say mine lasted six months? Worth the investment. Just give it a try once and see. I will alternate between La Mer and Ole Henriksen’s Banana Bright Eye Cream, which is a VERY good eye cream at a good price. I don’t see the long-term results that I get from LaMer, but it’s hydrating; it goes on like a dream and sort of glides into your skin. (Gross.). I have yet to find an undereye cream that really does much with my dark circles, though.
Facial/Peel: m61 Power Glow Peel. I literally could not believe my eyes after I tried a sample — I felt like it shaved off a few years of life and restored a youthful glow. OBSESSED. Do yourself a favor and try this, and then immediately buy for all of your girlfriends. (I love it so much I added it to my list of gifts I would actually give.). I use these peels before a big event — they do tingle/mildly burn so I don’t want to overuse. However, I use these similar but less intense inexpensive glycolic acid treatment pads every other night after removing my makeup. They’re a similar product, but in different levels of intensity.
Moisturizer: La Mer Soft Cream is the ultimate in hydration. I seriously feel guilty about using it because it is so expensive and I go through it fairly quickly (unlike the eye cream, which lasts awhile). I will indulge every now and then, but I’m also a huge fan of Avene’s Eau Thermal Hydrance Legere in the summer — it’s a lightweight, unfussy, gentle French pharmacy classic. For winter/very dry skin, I can’t sing the praises of Belif’s The True Cream Aqua Bomb enough. It’s a heavily hydrating gel and it’s the only thing that saw me through those ultra-dry winter months. I’d often supplement La Mer with it!
Makeup Removing Wipes: Billie Wipes. These are a beauty must-have: they are effective, gentle (can even be used on eyes), beautifully-scented, and inexpensive — AND infused with serum, which makes them twice as wonderful. (One-step skincare, wow!) I use these every single night before bed and then follow every other night with Glycolix 15% glycolic acid pads, which – in addition to my regenerating cleanser – have left my skin clearer and brighter than it’s been in years.
Serum: Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum or Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum. I alternate between these two and I think they yield remarkably similar results. VD is extremely expensive and heavily perfumed — two factors worth considering and contending with — but it somehow completely cleared up the sporadic breakouts I’ve been struggling with for the years (since around the time I got pregnant with my first). My skin is brighter, more even in complexion, younger-looking–and, most importantly to me: blemish-free. I feel that the Mad Hippie serum is similar, but the formula is not as elegant — VD glides in and feels as though it hydrates instantly. MH has a tackier/stickier feel upon application.
Skin Cleanser: Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser. For years, I tried dozens of skincare products but always returned to my unsexy Proactiv Cleanser, which I’d used since I was about 14 — I liked it because my skin was always blemish-free while using it, but it’s super harsh and drying and it kind of feels like I’m using clorox on my face (I actually think it does contain bleach because it discolored some of my clothing!). Then I discovered Tata Harper’s cleanser and never looked back. This stuff is AMAZING. The secret is to exfoliate with it for 1-2 minutes every morning; my skin is gleaming and clean, but without dryness or irritation. If using at night, I use micellar water to remove makeup first — I like Bioderma and Garnier.
Acne Solution: Mario Badescu Drying Lotion. Any time I have a big presentation or a formal event to attend, a blemish appears on the eve of said event. My mom turned me onto Mario Badescu’s drying lotion, a watery-clay-like substance you apply directly to the blemish. It dries and shrinks the situation within hours. Let’s be clear: it doesn’t make the problem go away, but it makes it more manageable and less noticeable in an SOS-situation.
Mask: Peter Thomas Roth Rose Stem Cell Face Mask. I love this gentle, hydrating mask, which I leave on over night once or twice a week. I wake up with the dewiest skin! I have given this as a gift to multiple friends. Runner up: Origins Original Skin Retexturizing Mask with Rose Clay. I love the way it feels — it tightens your skin while it dries, but without leaving you immobile or in pain or anything, and then washes right off to reveal the softest, rosiest, happiest skin.
Face Oil: Chantecaille Rose Oil. This stuff is magical for dehydrated skin in the dead of winter. I loved it while living in Chicago, where the winters last approximately nine months (two years ago, it snowed at the end of May.) It smells wonderful; has a wonderful, lightweight texture; and leaves the skin more supple and elastic, if that makes sense.
Face Spray: Chantecaille Rosewater or Caudalie’s Beauty Elixir. Yes, Chantecaille’s formula is stupidly expensive for rose-scented water, but I’ve tried less expensive varieties/dupes, and I find that this stuff does a better job hydrating/softening the skin AND the bottle has a much better spray, emitting a lovely spritz that moistens the face all over. Other bottles feel like a Windex spray to the face. This is a nice-to-have, to be honest — but I love misting some on after I’ve applied my makeup to sort of “soften the edges” and “set” things, and then spritzing it all over my face after the shower, or when I need a midday pickup. A few months ago, I started using Caudalie’s Beauty Elixir as a less-expensive substitute and I was really impressed with the results. It’s weirdly addictive, though the scent takes some accommodating (minty and abrasive) — I often keep it in my handbag and spray it throughout the day as a way to refresh my face. I also love to use it when setting my makeup and applying foundation/concealer with a sponge or beauty brush.
SPF: La Roche Posay Fluid Sunscreen. I wear this daily. I apply it after my serum but before my moisturizer. It glides in and leaves no white cast.
Night Cream: Korres Sleeping Facial. This thick beauty cream feels like heaven going on — like a velvet layer of hydration that smells of fresh laundry and rose petals — and looks like heaven when you wake up. You’ll have such gorgeously hydrated skin in the morning! When I’m acne-prone, I switch to Origins’ Night-a-Mins High-Potency Mineral Enriched Renewal Cream, which smells like an orange peel, deeply hydrates, and also treats blemishes!
The Best Cosmetics.
Mascara: Giorgio Armani. I am something of a mascara junkie and will try any and every new entrant onto the mascara scene because I love thick, black, goopy, dramatic lashes. I was a longtime devotee of DiorShow, but after testing Armani, will never go back. It elongates and separates lashes like no other and is far gentler than any other mascara I’ve ever used. It never cakes or flakes and is easier to remove than many other formulas, too.
Blush: Bobbi Brown in Pale Pink. I know what you’re going to think when you look at this — it looks way too bright! But it’s not! It’s the perfect shade of every day pink and I’ve worn this for maybe a decade. It also lasts a LONG time. I also love Tata Harper’s Volumizing Lip and Cheek tint, though it does take a minute to figure out how to use it without looking like a clown. I feel like Harper’s has a very natural finish when applied with a light touch — it does not look like makeup!
Bronzer: Guerlain Terracotta. The best. I had been a Nars Laguna devotee, but I found that I went through a palette of it every few months, and it was prone to crumbling. Guerlain’s goes on very naturally, and lasts for a long time (without crumbling!)
Eye Primer: Laura Mercier Eye Basics in Linen. Most days, I don’t wear eye shadow, but I nearly always use Laura Mercier’s eye basics. It evens out skintone and leaves the whole eye area looking a little brighter — but looks very natural and “undone.” I love this stuff.
Eyebrows: ELF cosmetics clear eyebrow gel. For years I used Glossier’s Boy Brow. In general, I didn’t know I needed a brow gel until I tested the Glossier stuff — it’s wonderful. It adds a level of finish and polish and definition to your everyday look, and no one will ever guess you’re wearing it. It makes your natural brows look more groomed, fills in blank spots, and evens out color. However, I often griped that the tube was VERY small. I don’t get why they don’t produce it in a normal size and charge twice as much for it. I’d be much happier that way! I find that within a week or two (no joke), it feels as though the tube is empty and I’m scraping the sides for the next few weeks before I begrudgingly renew my supply. A reader recommended ELF’s $2 clear eyebrow gel and I immediately ran around the corner to Duane Reade to test it. I’m never going back. It’s inexpensive, it keeps brows in place, and it doesn’t leave them crispy. It does mean that you need to use a pencil/second product to fill in with color if you need to even things out (I use Dior’s), but on most mornings, it’s a quick swipe of ELF and I’m done.
Tinted Lip Balm: Fresh. I am obsessed with pretty much every flavor/color of this product. If you’ve never tried it before, start with “Rose,” which imparts the most beautiful natural pink tint on your lips.
Highlighter: RMS Beauty Living Luminizer or Nars Illuminator in Copacobana. The first is an everyday hero — I wear it daily over my makeup for a little gloss and sheen, but it’s not metallic or flashy; it has no color. It just adds “dewiness” to your skin. I apply it to my cheekbones, the tip of my nose, and my cupid’s bow area. For evenings out, I favor Nars. It’s much bolder and should be applied with caution — but it’s great for that dramatic Kardashian face glow.
Tinted Moisturizer: Chantecaille’s Just Skin Tinted Moisturizer. I switched to this product after using Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer for a decade. Both are really solid products but I prefer the way Chantecaille’s formula glides into the skin and leaves a more natural finish. I like the feel of it, and it offers a touch more coverage than LM. That said, LM is still a solid bet for less: it smooths, evens out skintone, moisturizes, and blocks out sun — but without adding bulk or cakiness or any of that stuff. If you’re having a serious bout of redness or acne, I would up the ante and graduate to an actual foundation, but I wear this about 90% of the time. When I need it, I like Too Faced’s Born This Way foundation. A makeup artist used it on me and I could not believe the results — it was the most natural, radiant foundation application I’d ever seen! I immediately bought my own jar.
Powder: Laura Mercier Secret Brightening Powder and Hourglass Ambient Lighting Strobe Powder. I don’t always wear powder because I don’t like the cakey look they leave, but Laura Mercier’s secreting brightening powder is great for setting undereye concealer. It’s superfine and reflects light well. On the occasion where I want to wear powder elsewhere — especially at night, I love Hourglass. It illuminates the face.
Daytime Lipstick: Nars Satin Finish (Roman Holiday) or Chantecaille Lip Chic (Bourbon Rose). For everyday wear, I love the satin finish lipsticks by Nars and Chantecaille. They go on super light — almost like chapstick — and don’t need to be applied with a mirror. I wear either of these nearly every day, and the other days, I wear tinted lip balm by Fresh (see above).
Nighttime Lipstick: Mac Matte Lipstick. Should be applied with a heavy coat of balm / 8 Hour Cream (see below), but it actually stays and doesn’t dry out the lips as much as others. I will also line my lips with Nars Velvet Lipliner to prolong its staying power.
Eyeliner: Nyx Eyeliner. Inexpensive, glides on and does not drip, with a needlepoint tip. Almost identical to Stila’s liquid liner, which I’d used prior.
The Best Haircare Products.
Round Brush: Spornette 2.5″. This is incredible for getting that supermodel blowout. I have been hooked on it for years after a hair stylist I trusted raved about it. It’s inexpensive, easy to manage, lightweight, and apparently Gisele’s stylist uses it on her. If it’s good enough for Gisele…
Brush: Mason Pearson Junior Mixed Bristle Brush (less expensive here than anywhere else I’ve seen). Full review here, but this is an investment well worth it. Something about its design redistributes oil better than any other brush you’ve ever tried, leaving hair glossy and smooth.
Mini Brush: DryBar Mini Lemondrop Detangler. I’ve talked your ear off about this one, but I’m in love with this mini detangling brush, which I carry with me EVERYWHERE. It’s the perfect size and it works beautifully. So much better than those cheap plastic fold and flip brushes that I used to mess around with.
Curling Iron: Hot Tools. These last forever, conduct heat very well, and heat up instantly. I have a few different barrel sizes, but currently use the 1″ one the most frequently. Don’t mess with the ones with ceramic/colored barrels — those don’t work as well. The classic won’t do you wrong.
Hairdryer: Revlon One Step. I rave about it in full here, but this has changed my hair game. It is so easy to use and it gives me the most amazing salon-quality blowout. The trick is letting hair air-dry most of the way before using.
Hairspray: Drybar Money Maker. Keeps its hold, but without the crunchiness.
Texturizing spray: Bumble + Bumble Thickening Dryspun Volume Spray or Ouai Volumizing Hair Spray. A full, glowing review of the former here; I like the Ouai stuff, too, because it smells great and really gives off that beach hair vibe.
Hair primer: Bumble + Bumble Don’t Blow It Fine Hair Styler or Davines Oi All-in-One Milk. Using Bumble + Bumble changed the game when I started blow-drying my hair every 2-3 days. It protects your hair and makes it so much easier to manage/work with — I find that my hair looks shinier and sleeker, and that it also “behaves” (i.e., holds a bend in the right way) when I use it. I also like Oi — the scent is heavenly! — and it detangles hair beautifully.
Shampoo/Conditioner for Treated Hair: Oribe’s Bright Blonde series. It’s very pricey, but it does majorly hydrate your hair and leave it looking brighter/fresher for longer.
Hair Mask: Oribe Mask for Beautiful Color. In the winter months, I use this instead of conditioner. It is SO good at hydrating dry, color-treated hair! It leaves my hair soft, pliable, shiny.
Hair Ties for Everyday: Invisibobble. I love these; they never kink my hair and somehow never lose their shape.
Hair Ties for Exercise: EmiJay. These are fantastic for exercise. They hold hair in place without breaking them, and, since you’re working out, the fact that they’re ugly doesn’t matter.
Styling Clips: Drybar. I use these daily and am obsessed with them; I keep two spare ones in my suitcase so I never travel without them. I much prefer these to a hair tie when washing my face in the morning — they feel so much less fussy and prevent the awkward ponytail indent in your hair — and they’re a must when sectioning hair for my beachy wave thang.
The Best Body Products.
Lotion: Fresh, in the Life or Hesperides Scents. Could not live without this beautiful, thick, stunningly-scented body lotion. Like heaven. I always stock up on these during Sephora’s 20% off promotion period.
Balm: Tata Harper Body Balm. My bestie gave me this after mini was born, having read that it was good for massaging into post-birth skin. It is a wunderproduct — I love using it after a shower and apply it almost nightly to my feet. You really need to work with it to blend it into your skin (it’s super thick and pasty), but it works wonders.
Bar Soap: Fresh Oval Soap. I love (LOVE!) the prettily-packaged oval soaps from Fresh. They’re well-scented and a great size — some body soaps are too thin and dinky. You need a nice size to really work up a lather. But I will say these soaps are not long for this world — they dissolve fairly quickly. Most of the time, we buy enormous cases of Dove Beauty Bars at Costco or — now — via Amazon Prime. They smell good, clean well, and are inexpensive.
Maternity: Clarins Tonic Body Treatment Oil. I applied this every day of my pregnancy and have zero stretch marks. Just saying.
The Best Nail Products.
Nail Polish: Essie Gel Couture. The name is misleading, as this isn’t actually gel/no-chip polish — but this is a GREAT formula. It lasts a solid week, which is a miracle for me. With this polish, you don’t apply a base coat; you apply the color to the nail and use a special top coat.
Nail Strengthener: Duri Juvacote. This stuff is great when my nails are brittle or overly thin — apply a coat a night and you’ll see much stronger nails in no time.
Hand Cream: Codi or Aesop. Codi’s not ritzy, but this stuff actually works when you have cracked/dry hands, and the scent is gender-neutral enough for the man in your life, too. My old manicurist in Chicago swore by it and gifted me a tube once. Aesop smells like absolute heaven, hydrates deeply, and is the most amazing indulgence to treat yourself to.
The All-Around MVP: Elizabeth Arden 8-Hour Cream.
My mother and sisters and I go nowhere without a tube of Elizabeth Arden 8-Hour Cream, which is the answer to nearly any issue you encounter: softening cuticles, dry skin, chapped lips, mild burns and abrasions, even smoothing flyaways or adding a little gloss to your cheekbones if you’re looking drab. You must have this.
The Beauty Tools
Tweezers: Tweezerman Stainless Steel Slant Tweezers. I’m sure everyone already owns a pair, but if, by chance, you don’t — do yourself a favor and upgrade. (And don’t mess around with those needle-point ones — how do those work?) These are wonderful for grabbing tiny eyebrow hairs, and they remain sharp and aligned for a very long time — but if they don’t, I have it on good authority that you can send them to Tweezerman and they’ll sharpen them/re-align them for you!
Mini Scissors: Fiskars. The brand is less important than the fact that you have them. I use my beauty cabinet scissors CONSTANTLY — to trim eyebrows, to cut tags, to remove threads, to take care of a random overlong bang, etc, etc.
Storage: See my storage section here.
Makeup Applicator: Artis Oval 6. I’ll never use anything else — this applies makeup so smoothly, without leaving any traces/tracks, and does not absorb any product. In love love love.
Powder Brush: Laura Mercier Finishing Brush. Oh God how I love this brush. I use it for bronzer, which I’m probably not supposed to do, but I find it has the most perfect application for the cheek and forehead area, and it deposits just the right amount of product. It also has the perfect handle length — I’ve had other brushes that feel too long/unwieldy, or too stubby. This is perfect. (I think it’s meant to be for face powder, which I typically don’t use.)
Blush Brush: Laura Mercier Blush Brush. It’s straight-forward, but it’s the right size and heft for blush.
Facial Cotton: Shiseido. If you’re using those rough rounds or inabsorbent cotton balls to remove makeup, you’re in for a treat with Shiseido’s ultra-soft, ultra-thick facial cotton. I’ll never use anything else.
Razors: Billie. To be honest, I don’t think there’s anything remarkable about the razor itself (though the colors are cool), but I absolutely love the low cost and subscription model. I don’t ever need to think about running low on blades/using dull blades again! One less thing to worry about.
Continuous Misting Spray Bottle. Love this for re-wetting my hair before using the Revlon One-Step if I’ve let it air-dry too long.
P.P.S. What are your unsung heroes?