Real Simple Smart Beauty Awards 2021: animated lipstick

Here Are the Winners of the Real Simple Smart Beauty Awards 2021

We tested hundreds of products—brand-new and tried-and-true—to find these 31 winners that will streamline your routine and help you look and feel refreshed. We even tell you how to organize them.
By Heather Muir Maffei
February 26, 2021
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

In Your Purse

Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick
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Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick

$34; sephora.com

Until everyone is vaccinated, face masks will probably be our number-one accessory. But that doesn’t mean lipstick has to take a backseat. Before your next important Zoom meeting or socially distanced gathering, treat your lips to this stay-put formula that’s so good, it brought longtime gloss wearers over to Team Lipstick. Created by British makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury, its square tip mimics the shape of a lip brush, so you can apply with precision even if you don’t have a steady hand. It comes in more than 30 stunning shades (our favorites are the berry rose, cherry red, pink coral, and taupe) and delivers lasting color without drying, flaking, or feathering. The chef’s kiss: Luminous pigments give the illusion of a fuller (but not fake) pout.

bath & body works antibacterial spray
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Bath & Body Works Hand Sanitizer Spray

$6.50; bathandbodyworks.com

Sanitizing is so important, and these mists make staying safe feel fun. With 72 percent ethyl alcohol (that’s 20 percent more than the CDC-recommended minimum), this formula kills 99.9 percent of germs but doesn’t strip hands of moisture, thanks to nourishing aloe and essential oils. The 12 delightful scents—like white tea and sage, sunshine and lemons, and black cherry merlot—make you want to reapply. Or go with the fragrance-free option if you are sharing with the full fam or have a sensitivity. We also mist it onto germ magnets like doorknobs and steering wheels.

aveeno dry shampoo
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Aveeno Fresh Greens Blend Dry Shampoo

$9; amazon.com

When you don’t have the time or energy to wash your hair, this dry shampoo is the next best thing. Spiked with rosemary, peppermint, and cucumber, it ticks all the boxes: It absorbs oil, soothes your scalp with colloidal oatmeal, adds texture without spinning your ends into straw, and goes on invisibly (no white dust on your favorite black T-shirt). Testers raved about its clean scent, which is especially nice after cooking or hanging by the firepit. Even after you use the shampoo a few days in a row, there’s zero grittiness to your hair—a true miracle on mane street.

Clairol Root Touch Up Temporary Root Powder
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Clairol Root Touch Up Temporary Root Powder

$10; ulta.com

Load up the brush with powder and you’ve got yourself a retoucher for grown-out roots and rogue grays. The stubby, sturdy brush is much less intimidating than drippy sprays and intense markers. It deposits pigmented powder (available in light, medium, and dark brown) exactly where you want it. Better yet, the color actually stays there until you shampoo—even sticking around through a sweaty workout or unexpected rain shower. And you can make thinning hair look thicker and fuller: Dab powder along a receding hairline when you’re wearing a ponytail or along your part when your hair is down. Sparse brows? A few light strokes take arches from measly to major.

In the Shower

joy razor
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Joy Razor

$9; walmart.com

Shaving doesn’t have to be a drag. This razor’s nonslip silicone handle makes playing pick-up sticks on the shower floor a thing of the past. The lubricated rubber head has five blades that glide over armpits and the backs of knees with ease, leaving them free of burns and bumps. Not great at replacing your blades? Schedule a subscription based on how often you shave. Our tester finally stopped stealing her husband’s razor. You’re welcome, guy.

dove bodywash
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Dove Instant Foaming Body Wash

$6; target.com

With a whopping 250 pumps per bottle (talk about family friendly!), this cloud-like foam gets rid of gunk and makes skin silky soft. Since it comes out frothy, there’s no need to work up a lather with a pouf or loofah—your own two palms are perfect. It rinses away cleanly and quickly, with no residue or film. And in a pinch, it doubles as shaving foam. The lipids and moisturizers work so well that even on days we skipped body lotion, our skin didn’t feel tight.

herbal essences hair mask
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Herbal Essences Argan Oil & Aloe Vera Sulfate Free Hair Mask

$6; target.com

In a year when travel was impossible, this tropical-scented hair mask felt like a nano-vacation to Hawaii. (Flower crown not included.) But the perks go beyond aromatherapy: The sustainably sourced aloe and other botanicals deep-condition parched strands, and argan oil helps reverse hair sins—hi, flatiron; we see you, bleach. It made one tester’s semifried strands look and feel more lifelike. Even more impressive, it didn’t weigh down another tester’s fine hair.

curel moisturizer
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Curél Hydra Therapy Wet Skin Moisturizer

$11; target.com

The beef with body lotion is that you have to wait for it to dry before getting dressed or hopping into bed. Not so with this pick, which lives in the shower. After your normal sudsing, turn off the water, then massage the cream all over skin while enjoying your warm, steamy bathroom. Because wet skin absorbs moisture best, your skin is already winning. Ceramides, shea butter, and eucalyptus leaf extract sink in with no greasy residue, so you can jump into jeans without a fight. Towel off (it doesn’t stain), and go through your day with baby-soft, slightly sheeny skin.

ogx biotin shampoo and conditioner
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OGX Extra Strength Biotin & Collagen Shampoo and Conditioner

$8; ulta.com

Consider these bottles personal trainers for your tresses—with hydrolyzed wheat proteins to help strengthen, they add volume to even the skinniest strands. After one wash, a tester described her hair as noticeably fuller. Another tester, who was experiencing postpartum thinning, said it amped up her crown as well as her confidence, just when she needed it most.

In the Medicine Cabinet

olay regenerist collagen peptide
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Olay Regenerist Collagen Peptide24 Moisturizer

$47; amazon.com

Collagen is a superstar at smoothing, plumping, and firming. Unfortunately, most topical treatments contain molecules too large to penetrate skin. This jar, however, packs peptides that permeate the skin’s surface to trigger natural collagen production. The luscious formula is rounded out with vitamin B3, glycerin, and snow mushroom extract. After just a month, our tester was no longer distraught about her Botox wearing off.

Secret essential oils
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Secret Essential Oil Deodorant

$11 (was $14); amazon.com

Of course you want a product that keeps underarms dry and smelling fresh—and this one does that, for an impressive 48 hours (without leaving streaks on black tanks or bras). But it also elevates the mundane morning ritual of swiping on a stick: One tester described it as a “spa in my pits,” thanks to the gentle fragrance that complemented, rather than competed with, her perfume.

clarins eye lift
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Clarins Total Eye Lift

$74; amazon.com

The skin around the eyes is very delicate, and given our skyrocketing screen time and stress—insert eye-roll emoji here—a seriously soothing cream has never been more necessary. Apply this silky, sheer formula with a few gentle taps of your ring finger. Your skin will look brighter, and you’ll look like you actually got some sleep. Brow-raising bonuses: The balm doesn’t pill under makeup, and the 94 percent plant-based ingredients and recycle-ready glass jar are as easy on the earth as they are on your eyes.

living proof curl moisturizing shine oil
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Living Proof Curl Moisturizing Shine Oil

$30; sephora.com

Our testers had various curl types (from 2A to 4C), but they all agreed this citrus-scented dry oil was the ticket to better hair days. This silicone-free blend mimics natural oils, so it absorbs into the hair shaft rather than just sitting on top of it. It smoothed, softened, and increased shine—all without weighing down spirals. Use it on wet hair before styling, on dry hair as a finisher, or (our fave) as a five-minute preshampoo treatment.

estee lauder advanced night repair
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Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Multi Recovery Complex

$75; ulta.com

When it comes to skin-care steps, we like to skip (er, curate and streamline) as many as possible. That’s why this one-and-done serum is such a worthy splurge. It helps brighten tone, even texture, smooth lines, hydrate parched patches, and even rev up radiance. You can wear it at night, as the name suggests, but it also works as a daytime staple, protecting your complexion from blue light, pollution, and dust particles. Our adult acne-prone tester was thrilled to find a lightweight, non-greasy anti-ager that reduced lines without triggering zits.

ouai finishing creme
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Ouai Finishing Crème

$24; ulta.com

The first thing to catch our attention was the sexy, sophisticated fragrance, with violet, gardenia, ylang-ylang, and white musk. But this hair cream’s versatility—it replaced four bottles in our bathroom—made it a true winner. We used it to prevent singeing before blow-drying (thanks to hydrolyzed keratin and vegetable protein), add shine on air-dry days, nix flyaways and static, and, in heavier helpings, put zing in curls. Oh, also? It prolongs color by sealing in dye and blocking UV rays. It’s basically a Swiss army knife for your strands.

supergoop sunscreen
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Supergoop Daily Dose Vitamin C + SPF 40

$46; sephora.com

This cute, sunshine-hued bottle combines two of the most important products for youthful-looking skin: sunscreen, to ward off lines and dark spots, and vitamin C (an impressive 14 percent), to smooth and brighten existing imperfections. Our testers loved the supple texture, fresh aroma, and clever airless pump that minimizes waste.

On Your Vanity

Lawless Beauty The Little One Eyeshadow Palette
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Lawless Beauty The Little One Eyeshadow Palette

$25; sephora.com

This palette proves that basic neutrals are anything but boring. The velvety matte and metallic shadows pack impressive pigment, don’t crease (even after a full day on oily lids), and can be mixed and matched for endless options. Use them as primers, as liners; apply dry for a smudgy look, wet for a precise one...we could keep the ideas going all day! The short course: It’s the most practical palette on the planet.

it cosmetics
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It Cosmetics Your Skin But Better Foundation + Skincare

$39.50; sephora.com

It’s a rare occasion when all three of our beauty editors (of varying ages and skin types) agree on the best foundation. But this was a clean sweep. The liquid covers dark circles, redness, zits, and sun spots like a second skin, without looking cakey. And the 40 shades mean you won’t stress about having a ring around your neck (bless). Skin-care ingredients—hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, aloe vera—made our skin look smoother even after we washed off the foundation.

air volume mascara
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L’Oréal Paris Air Volume Mega Mascara

$14; at ulta.com

Most volumizing mascaras make lashes stand up. The problem: Lashes don’t stay up, since they tend to droop under the weight of the product. So cosmetic chemists crafted this airy formula that boosts lashes and keeps the flutter flyin’ high. (Until you want to lower it—it washes off easily and completely.) Get this: One tester was asked if she was wearing lash extensions.

maybelline
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Maybelline New York Brow Precise Micro Pencil

$8; at ulta.com

Powders, gels, pomades, tinting, and even microblading—we’ve spent all the money and tried all the buzziest brow treatments on our quest for golden arches. And maybe the joke is on us, because the best results came from the simplest tool: this pencil with an itty-bitty tip (11/2 millimeters) and a spoolie to blend and fluff. In seven shades, it lets you mimic realistic hair strokes. Whether you need a little or a lot of filling in, your brows look like yours—only better.

rare beauty
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Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez Liquid Touch Brightening Concealer

$19; sephora.com

Arguably our desert island product, this hydrating liquid concealer (in 48 shades) covers those subterranean hormonal chin zits and sleep-deprivation raccoon eyes like a champ. One tester loved how the angled doefoot applicator reached tricky areas, like her blue-tinged inner eye corners. We’ve spent years spackling on thick putties, but it turns out creamy liquids are the secret to looking fresh and well rested—no ring light required.

fenty beauty
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Fenty Beauty Cheeks Out Freestyle Cream Blush

$20; sephora.com

Give your skin a lit-from-within glow with the most believable, blendable blush to ever grace our cheeks. It’s pigmented enough not to disappear by lunch, yet it’s soft enough to never look clownish. And unlike powders, which can settle into fine lines, this bouncy cream melts into skin for a dewy, watercolor-like wash. Pick from 10 hues (there’s one or two for every skin tone), ditch the brush, and just use your fingers. One tester put the leftover on her lids and lips for a full face in a flash.

On Your Nightstand

neutrogena rapid wrinkle repair
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Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Oil

$38; at ulta.com

Ask any dermatologist for their top anti-aging recommendation (after sunscreen), and they’ll shout “Retinol!” until the cows come home. But to reap its wrinkle-releasing benefits, you have to deal with some downers (redness, peeling, and stinging), which made our seasoned beauty director steer clear of it for years—until now. This hero packs 0.3 percent retinol complex in a lightweight, nourishing oil to help mitigate all the annoying side effects. Massage a few drops into clean skin morning and night, then top it with moisturizer. If you want to bypass needles, this is your best bet.

tph overnight mask
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TPH by Taraji After Dark Overnight Mask

$15; tphbytaraji.com

We know Taraji P. Henson as an actor (Empire, anyone?), but during college, she made a name for herself doing wet roller sets on her classmates. Her passion for hair didn’t stop there—she’s launched a line of 18 products, including this mask enriched with grapeseed oil, mango seed butter, and horsetail extract. A tester raked it through clean, damp hair before bed, then wore a bonnet to protect her pillowcase. After shampooing in the a.m., she reported happier, more hydrated hair. Not into night care? Apply it just as you would a regular hair mask for a quick rehab. TPH, ILY!

sally hansen nail mask
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Sally Hansen Spa Collection Peel-Off Nail Mask in Hydrate

$10; at target.com

Sanitizing and handwashing have taken a toll on our tips (show us your spirit fingers for ragged cuticles and gnarly nail beds!). This sponge-tipped tube comes to the rescue, softening and smoothing with hyaluronic acid. Squeeze a dab onto each nail and massage in, then multitask for 15 minutes—unlike with bulky spa gloves, you can still do things (e.g., text and type). Peel off as you would a face mask, and rinse to reveal a nail makeover. A tester, who used it on bare nails and polished ones, said it spiffed them right up and felt pleasingly pampering.

summer fridays lip butter
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Summer Fridays Lip Butter Balm

$22; sephora.com

Lip balms are a dime a dozen, but we consider ourselves connoisseurs, especially now that masks chafe our mouths, leaving lips thirsty, cracked, and, well, not cute. With shea and murumuru seed butters, vegan waxes, and a natural vanilla flavor, this balm-mask hybrid is our new go-to. It acts as a plumping gloss, but there’s no buzzkill tingle. One tester slathered it on before bed, and even in the dead of winter woke to a pillowy pout. Another used it throughout the day for a healthy sheen; it’s not sticky or goopy, she noted, and her lips felt supple for hours.

renee rouleau anti-bump
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Renée Rouleau Anti Bump Solution

$49.50; reneerouleau.com

Oh, pimples, how we loathe you. While there’s no magic wand for clear skin, this bottle makes the bumps in the road—and on your face—more manageable, whether your breakouts are bacterial or hormonal (or a bit of both). The potent serum reduces the look of surface blemishes and also activates underneath the skin, for those oh-sopainful cystic honkers. Lactic acid cleans pores, and citric acid reduces inflammation. But the key ingredient is methyl gluceth, which gently exfoliates to prevent discoloration and scarring—because acne aftermath is often worse than the bump itself. Our tester loved that it doesn’t dry out skin. Plus, it’s clear and colorless, so you can wear it under makeup.

Beside the Sink

in beauty
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InnBeauty Project Down to Tone Exfoliating Toner

$26; innbeautyproject.com

Boy, have toners gotten a glow-up since those burning, 200-proof astringents of our adolescence. This alcohol-free liquid has six acids to dissolve blackheads, sugarcane and bilberry extract to brighten, and niacinamide to hydrate. The results rival those of a professional peel. Before bed, pat on a loaded cotton round, then follow with moisturizer. Our tester reported no scent, a subtle tingle, and reduced maskne in under a month.

Oral B iO Series 9 Electric Toothbrush
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Oral B iO Series 9 Electric Toothbrush

$300; amazon.com

If the pandemic delayed your regularly scheduled cleaning, this splurge feels almost like bringing the dentist to your doorstep. Six years in the making, it combines gentle vibrations with a dentist-inspired oscillating round brush, so you feel like you’ve had a pro cleaning every day. Our overly enthusiastic (Virgo) tester especially liked the pressure sensor, which prevents you from brushing too hard, and the brush-coaching app that alerts you to neglected areas.

hello toothpaste
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Hello Naturally Whitening Fluoride Toothpaste

$16 (was $25); amazon.com

Made with zesty peppermint to freshen, tea tree oil to tame bad breath, and coconut oil to moisturize your mouth, the fluoride formula strengthens enamel and brightens your smile. It has the American Dental Association seal of approval—and doesn’t have sulfates, peroxide, triclosan, or dyes. Our tester said that of the many, many all-natural pastes she’s tried, this one gave her the cleanest feeling. Her dentist said it was his fave too.

cerave cleanser
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CeraVe Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser

$17; amazon.com

Most cleansers are good at getting rid of dirt, but finding one that does so without disrupting the skin barrier—the secret to healthy skin—is a high hurdle. That’s why CeraVe’s mild, simple washes have become so popular. This fragrance-free foam uses ceramides, amino acids, and hyaluronic acid to protect the barrier and reduce water loss. Our tester was pleasantly surprised when it removed a full face of makeup, mascara included, yet left her skin soft. She compared it to a double cleanse in one step.