Here at Real Simple, our writers and editors test out a lot of beauty products. No matter how niche—we've reviewed a facial steamer that unclogs pores using sonic vapor and cryotherapy cold brush that styles hair without heat—or how generic, if it's a product on the market, we've probably gotten our hands on it at some point or another.
And this year was no exception. We tested thousands of different beauty products, including anti-aging favorites and effective hand sanitizers, and have reported on the latest and greatest skincare trends to find the absolute best. Together, we came up with a list of 30 favorites ranging in price from $6 to $98 that are worth every penny.
Anneke Knot, Assistant Beauty Editor: I know that I should be applying a hair mask once a week, but I rarely do—or at least I rarely used to. I have used a little bit of my extra time at home to pamper my strands. My hair is long and fine, so keeping it healthy can be a challenge. This nutrient packed, creamy formula hydrates and nourishes any and every hair texture and reduces hair fallout after continued use. My favorite part? It only takes five minutes.
Hana Hong, Associate Editor: In the hilarious words of Robert Pattinson, who said that a SK-II face mask was the coworker who made his Twilight experience the most rewarding (I'm still cackling about this), these Dr. Jart+ face masks made my WFH experience very rewarding. Not that my coworkers aren't absolutely amazing because they are (shoutout to the fab RS team), but considering that I didn't have any coworkers with me in my apartment in 2020, I have to concur and say that face masks make for a pretty awesome workmate.
Summer Cartwright, eCommerce Writer: I ditched makeup wipes after reading about how terrible they are for the environment (not to mention how harsh they are on your skin). Cleansing balms have had my heart since, specifically this one from Eve Lom. It smells like an expensive spa treatment and feels just as dreamy. The creamy balm removes everything from eyeliner to blush with ease, and doesn't feel like it strips the skin, even after double-cleansing. This is something I'd recommend to anyone looking for a makeup wipe alternative. It's so easy to use, and your skin will feel like butter after.
Tess Garcia, eCommerce Writer: If I loved Tracee Ellis Ross before, consider me a superfan now. The Curl Gel from her haircare line smells like something I'd only ever have the privilege of encountering in a salon chair, and that's only part of the reason I love it. Its creamy, lightweight texture never leaves my curls crunchy, yet it somehow provides more hold and definition than the stickiest formulations I've tried.
Emily Kehe, Creative Director: I didn't like putting on foundation during the day when at home, but I have rosacea so I need to cover the red. This is just the right amount of coverage for a Zoom call. And the oil moisturizes and gives me a nice glow. And, it makes my skin SO soft.
Christie Calucchia, eCommerce Lifestyle Lead: I tried countless skincare and makeup samples in 2020, from sellout eye creams to trendy facial sprays. But the one product I used the most and can't stop talking about is a simple lip balm from Lanolips. The balm comes in a tube for easy application that won't leave your fingers sticky or force you to touch your mouth (we left that bad habit in 2019). It deeply hydrates for long-lasting relief from chapped lips, which is why I don't go anywhere without it.
Flavia Nunez, Associate Fashion Editor: I fell in love with this product on the first use. The consistency is so smooth and thick, but still super breathable. I've been using it for a little over three months now and I've noticed a big difference in my skin's texture, plus the serum definitely brightens up dark spots and my upper lip melasma.
Tara Gonzalez, Fashion eCommerce Writer: Considering this year has already emotionally drained me, one of my New Year's eve resolutions is to look as glowy as possible. Ilia's liquid light serum highlighter does just that and it without a doubt lives up to its name. I apply a little bit of it at the top of my cheekbones and I instantly light up—literally—and suddenly look like I've slept 10 hours (I most likely haven't) and am having the best day (I'm usually not because 2020/2021). It's become my go-to product and I love that it gives me this natural beautiful shine. Not to mention the way it illuminates my cheekbones makes them look like Bella Hadid's.
Eva Thomas, Celebrity & Entertainment eCommerce Writer: My hair tends to be on the frizzy side and I had just about given up on having that smooth, frizz-free shine we see in the movies until I discovered Moremo Miracle 10—it's literal magic in a bottle. It promises to repair hair in just 10 seconds, and while I was a bit skeptical, after my first use, my hair was silky, smooth, and so easy to brush through. I also noticed I could go longer between washes (my roots were less greasy on day two after using this treatment). I also got my sister hooked.
Rachel Nussbaum eCommerce Beauty Writer: I fill in my brows every single day—rain, shine, or inside and not experiencing the weather for weeks at a time. I used to not be picky about what brow filler I used, but ever since learning about parabens' estrogenic traits, I made a concerted effort to find something clean to use (it is on my face all day everyday, so.) This one looks super natural, and one pot has lasted me almost a year and a half, and counting.
Marilyn La Jeunesse, Shopping Newsletter Manager: Since masks have taken away my one true beauty love (read: lipstick), I have fully embraced the colorful world of liquid eyeliner. My favorite long-lasting liner comes from a Latina-owned small business called Reina Rebelde. The brand's liquid eyeliners Chiflada, a serpentine green, and Bandera Bonita, a stunning royal blue, have completely upgraded my quarantine beauty looks. Also, these colors look phenomenal on brown eyes!
Brealyn Wood, Health & Wellness eCommerce Writer: I used to brag about skipping expensive shampoo and conditioner. It felt like an accomplishment to find beauty spaces where I could save money rather than spend it. Then I tried Ouai's shampoo and conditioner. It stands out from other formulas because it's specialized to your hair strand type—thin, medium, or thick—rather than your scalp concerns or overall hair texture. As someone with lots of hair but noticeably finer strands, I discovered the Medium Shampoo and Conditioner set was my perfect match earlier this year. Fast forward to present and I'm still obsessed with the body and shine it gives back to my stands. Bonus: It also smells amazing.
Amina Abdelrahman, Product Reviews Writer: I've tried so many different pimple patches over the last few years, and nothing compares to these from Rael. Not only do they clear up pesky whiteheads overnight, but they even prevent me from mindlessly picking at my face and popping pimples during the day. Plus, no one can ever tell I'm wearing them on FaceTimes and Zoom calls.
Lily Gray, eCommerce Shop Writer: The Biossance Rose Oil works its magic to brighten, tighten, and hydrate skin with its clean ingredients like Vitamin C, squalane (derived from sugarcane), and rose flower extract. With the combination of these two powerhouse serums, I haven't seen a blemish in months and the expense was worth every penny.
Carly Kulzer, eCommerce Writer: This under-the-radar skincare brand saved my skin in 2020 with its oil control kit that includes a foaming cleanser, moisturizer, primer, and face mask. I have combination skin that tends to be more oily in the summer, and this assortment of products not only provided oil control, but it also cleared some acne, too. Plus, it's super affordable.
Eva Thomas, Celebrity & Entertainment eCommerce Writer: My shampoo struggle has been very real. I've tried hundreds of different options and was never satisfied—that is, until I tried the anti-shampoo product that is New Wash. New Wash cleans and conditions hair without those harsh detergents you find in shampoos. After the first wash, my hair felt cleaner, hydrated, and was totally tangle-free.
Katie Macdonald, Senior eCommerce Food Writer: This gentle cleanser has quickly become my favorite way to start and end the day. Made with hydrating marine peptides and soothing chamomile essential oil, Dr. Loretta's gel cleanser leaves my skin soft to the touch—even in winter. I love that it doesn't strip away my skin's natural oils, and that it also absorbs pollution particles from the air around me.
Eden Lichterman, Amazon eCommerce Writer: I stumbled across the Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Superfoods Hair Mask when it came as a sample in one of my Sephora orders. I'd never used a hair mask before, so I figured I'd give it a shot. After just one use, my thin hair felt soft and looked more voluminous than ever. Not to mention, it smells delicious. I immediately purchased the full-size product, and it has now become part of my weekly self-care routine.
Brealyn Wood, Health & Wellness eCommerce Writer: I rarely finish every last drop of a beauty product, so when I spent extra time scraping the last bit of serum from this bottle, I knew it was a winner. The anti-aging pick has become a standard in my daily routine for evening my skin, brightening dark spots, and reducing the appearance of pores. It's pricey, but I've already purchased a second bottle.
Lily Gray, eCommerce Shop Writer: In 2020, I committed to trying out a few new serums. I struggle with cystic acne on my chin, uneven skin tone, and a few pesky acne scars. After incorporating Sunday Riley's U.F.O. Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil into my routine, I was absolutely amazed with the results. It's infused with tea tree oil, salicylic acid, and licorice root that fights acne and purifies clogged pores. Plus, it brightens dark spots.
Jaclyn Mastropasqua, Creative Content Producer: This is the tool your threading lady doesn't want you to know about. Start writing them a farewell letter now because I'm officially putting an end to your codependent love story. The Tweezerman Smooth Finish Facial Hair Remover has single handedly helped me *not* turn into a caveman during quarantine. The spring tweezer removes unwanted facial hair in the quickest amount of time. It's no more painful than what we are used to and it's as easy as rubbing your fingers. It's salon beauty in the comfort of your own home. Thank me later.
Amina Abdelrahman, Product Reviews Writer: I've been a fan of the IT Cosmetics Matte CC+ Cream for years, but now I'm hooked on the brand's new lightweight foundation. It's infused with hydrating ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, so it goes on smoothly even when my skin is super dry. I love that it evens out my skin tone and makes redness less noticeable without completely covering up my freckles.
Emily Kehe, Creative Director: This is a little treatment for my face when I don't have Zoom calls! It feels so good going on and revives my skin. Plus, it smells great and does not leave my skin oily.
Jayla Andrulonis, eCommerce Writer: Every winter, like clockwork, my skin has a tendency to dry up like the Sahara Desert. But thankfully, this year I had Drunk Elephant's F-Balm Electrolyte Waterfacial in my corner and it's made all the difference. The leave-on mask is the last step of my nighttime skincare routine and each morning, I awake with a visibly more plump and hydrated complexion. It also works its magic on the drier areas around my eyes, too, so I look more refreshed for all of my video calls 2020.
Summer Cartwright, eCommerce Writer: My skin is more temperamental than my 6-year-old niece (whom I love very much). Acne flare-ups, dry patches, and discoloration were normal occurrences for me—until I started really investing in the products I used. One of the best is this SkinCeuticals cleanser. It has glycolic acid so that my skin looks vibrant after each use, and it doesn't strip away any of the natural oils that provide hydration and buoyancy. It's a light and refreshing cleanser that I'll never stop using.
Eva Thomas, Celebrity & Entertainment eCommerce Writer: A delicious face oil that doesn't leave my combination skin extra oily? This is it. So many celebs swear by this Mara Universal Face Oil, like Chrissy Teigen and Olivia Munn, so of course I had to try it. After first use, my skin felt ultra hydrated, which is just what I need for a Minnesota winter. I also really noticed a difference in the appearance of fine lines of my forehead after regular use for a week. A winner!
Rachel Nussbaum eCommerce Beauty Writer: Yes, $75 is steep for a serum, but this one from One Love Organics is like liquid gold. It smells supremely gorgeous, like a clean, fresh cucumber floral, thanks to the medley of botanical antioxidants, and it leaves my skin so dewy that I rarely need foundation. I usually reach for unscented skincare (thanks to the inclusion of hormone-disrupting phthalates in most normal fragrances), so I love this serum's transparency and pleasant scent all the more