A Definitive List of the Best Beauty Products of All Time
Whether their formulas have changed with the times or stayed delightfully the same, these 26 must-haves are the best beauty products and deserve a permanent place in your medicine cabinet.
Behold the lotions, potions, and fragrances that, according to 300 experts, have claimed their spots as the best beauty products of all time for your skin, your hair, and everything other beauty concern.
Calgon Bubble Bath
With an unforgettable 1960s ad campaign (“Take me away!”), Calgon’s fragrant soaks introduced the concept of bathroom as sanctuary.
FYI: The company started out as a water-softener brand in 1933. The name Calgon is derived from “CALcium GONe.”
To buy: $12.33, amazon.com.
In 1923 Leo Gerstenzang conceived the idea of a “ready to use” cotton swab after watching his wife wrap cotton around a toothpick to clean their baby’s ears. The swabs’ uses continue to evolve, as in the introduction of Q-tips Precision Tips in 2011. “Q-tips were my first beauty tool. I’ve used them on everyone from my babies to Beyoncé,” says Mally Roncal, the creator of Mally Beauty.
To buy: $4.79, walgreens.com.
Dove Beauty Bar
Soap dates back to at least 600 B.C., but until 1957, when the Dove Beauty Bar was introduced, it was always considered drying. Touted as the first soap-free cleanser on the market, the Dove bar was innovative in that it cleansed without stripping skin.
FYI: It is Dove’s best-selling product globally, with more than 1.2 billion sold annually.
To buy: $6.49 for six bars, amazon.com.
In 1870, after watching oil riggers use a paraffin-like wax to help heal their burns, Robert Chesebrough introduced “Vaseline Petroleum Jelly” to the public.
FYI: In the 1920s, movie stars used Vaseline on their teeth to help them shine onscreen.
To buy: $7.49, walgreens.com.
In the 1800s, Charles Browne Fleet created the first ChapStick by wrapping lip balm in foil. Now it comes in four classic flavors (plus limited editions, like Citrus Jelly Bean).
FYI: During the Watergate break-in, empty tubes of ChapStick were used to conceal microphones.
To buy: $3.49 for three, walgreens.com.
Oil of Olay Beauty Fluid
In the early 1950s, a chemist named Graham Wulff and his wife, Dinah, developed a new kind of facial moisturizer that was meant to mimic sebum. Ironically, in 2000 the “Oil of” was dropped to represent the light texture of the lotion more accurately.
To buy: $8.94, walmart.com.
Pond’s Cold Cream
With 50 percent moisturizer, this cream cleanser removes makeup while providing hydrating comfort. Since 1905, the all-in-one product has amassed a cult following that spans generations of women.
FYI: In 2010, sales in the United Kingdom quadrupled after pop star Kylie Minogue gave it her seal of approval.
To buy: $6.90, amazon.com.
Introduced in 1945, the balm was first used as a base for preparing other emulsions. It was revamped as a multipurpose salve and, in 1998, became known as the “Healing Ointment” that we use today.
FYI: It has just seven (fragrance-free) ingredients.
To buy: $11.39, target.com.
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
Since 1947, this mild wash has remained a dermatologist favorite. Soap- and fragrance-free, the gentle formula (developed by a pharmacist) is safe for all skin types and is now available in travel-friendly cloths.
To buy: $12.99, walgreens.com.
Clinique Facial Soap Bar
Created in 1968, this now ubiquitous cleansing bar was (and still is) part of the three-step skin-care system Clinique is famous for. Formulated by dermatologists, the bar creates a soft, nondrying lather.
FYI: A liquid version was introduced in 2006.
To buy: $15, macys.com.
Launched in 1997, the strips were a first of their kind to remove blackheads without squeezing. The secret? Special ingredients that bond to dirt and oil trapped in pores. “Using Bioré Strips was such a horrific yet liberating experience,” says Jerrod Blandino, the co-founder of Too Faced cosmetics.
To buy: $5.99, target.com.
Dubbed the “all-weather hair spray,” this product is famous for providing a firm, lasting hold in any climate.
FYI: AquaNet is prominently featured in a memorable scene in 1989’s "When Harry Met Sally...", in which Meg Ryan’s Sally sets her hair on a car trip to New York City.
To buy: $7.76, walmart.com.
Invented in 1965 for setting curls, the gel, with its unique, jellylike texture, later gained popularity among young men. Subsequently, the packaging went from a jar to a blue squeeze bottle, which can still be found on shelves today.
FYI: When he was a teen, the late rocker Eric Carr of Kiss reportedly drenched his hair in Dippity-do and pulled a stocking over his head before bed in an attempt to get his curly hair to lie flat like the Beatles’.
To buy: $9.84, amazon.com.
Johnson’s Baby Shampoo
In 1953, more than 60 years after Johnson & Johnson first sold baby powder, the family-friendly company introduced a mild shampoo for kids. The unique formula, later trademarked as “No more tears,” gently cleans hair without soap and doesn’t sting the eyes.
FYI: An updated formula, free of formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, hit shelves in early 2014.
To buy: $5.49, walgreens.com.
John Frieda Frizz-Ease
This serum was the first to target frizz on hair of any texture. “When Frizz-Ease came out,” says hairstylist Harry Josh, “it instantly became a staple in every stylist’s kit. Decades later, it’s still an essential part of my arsenal.”
To buy: $9.97, walmart.com.
Clairol Professional Shimmer Lights Shampoo
Predating the explosion of color-enhancing and preserving shampoos and conditioners, this instant classic has been around for more than 30 years, keeping hair of all shades (blond, brunet, red, and gray) vibrant.
To buy: $12.99, sallybeauty.com.
Aveda Shampure Shampoo
Featuring 25 pure flower and plant essences, this aromatic hair cleanser has a soothing scent that has since become a signature for the brand and its many spa locations.
FYI: Each year, 100 million gallons of Shampure Shampoo are purchased worldwide.
To buy: $14, aveda.com.
Herbal Essences Shampoo
You may, ahem, recall the commercials. In fact, the “organic experience” shampoo did have green beginnings, at least in a literal sense: The original formula was green in color and had a woodsy scent unlike that of any other product.
To buy: $4.49, target.com.
Coty Airspun Loose Face Powder
In 1935, beauty pioneer François Coty helped design a pretty tin for his scented loose powder. Oil- and fragrance-free formulas have been introduced since then, but the charming powder puff-adorned package remains virtually the same.
To buy: $5.97, walmart.com.
White Diamonds Elizabeth Taylor
As an homage to the rocks she loved, the actress sought to provide women with a sense of “sparkle and uplift” each time they sprayed on her perfume.
FYI: Since its launch in 1991, the beauty product remains one of the most successful celebrity fragrances of all time.
To buy: From $53, macys.com.
Chanel No. 5
Setting out to create a scent for the modern women for whom she designed clothing, Coco Chanel enlisted the help of Ernest Beaux, a perfumer who worked for the Russian royal family. After several months, Beaux presented Chanel with an array of samples, and she picked one corresponding to her lucky number, five.
To buy: From $80, sephora.com.
MAC Cosmetics Lip Pencil in Spice
Praised as the “perfect nude” by countless makeup artists, this toffee lip pencil first gained popularity in the 1990s when supermodel Linda Evangelista publicly professed her devotion. Because of its ongoing popularity, the pencil is a part of MAC’s permanent collection. It can be worn alone or as a base to warm up cool-toned lip colors.
To buy: $18, nordstrom.com.
Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage
This concealing duo (one shade matches your skin, the other matches your undertones) provides natural-looking coverage.
FYI: The makeup was inspired by a treatment Mercier discovered through a plastic surgeon to minimize redness from burns.
To buy: $35, lauramercier.com.
Dr. Pepper Lip Smacker
In 1973, Jess Bell created the first flavored lip gloss. Forty years and 800-plus flavors later, the balms are still a fan favorite. “Whenever I went to the store with my mom, I would sneak one into the basket and coyly ask, ‘How did that get in there?’” says Kerry Cole, the style director of Becca Cosmetics.
To buy: $5.02, amazon.com.