The “most improved of the decade” award goes to sunscreen, hands down, and Josh Rosebrook’s formulas are leading the way. Mineral sunscreens are finicky fellas because of their thick, chalky white makeup, but Josh’s lineup incorporates pulverized nanoparticles of zinc oxide for maximum blendability and lightweight wear. A beige tint that dries clear rounds out its total perfection. Wear it as a moisturizer with SPF or layer it over another moisturizer and use it exclusively for its sunscreen factor. Either way you won’t be leaving the house in an unearthly hue.
If you want to be technical about it, this Korean cleanser came out in 2006, but it only made its official stateside debut last year. We probably needed a few extra years to get the song and dance of double cleansing down pat anyway. It’s simple: a pea-size scoop rubbed on a dry face to melt makeup and push out pore junk. With Banila’s formula, a thorough rinse is made easy and sets you up for the second wash to follow. If you’re insistent on a single cleanse, fine—you’re missing out but you won’t break out. Don’t let Banila’s Crisco facade fool you, this stuff never comes up short.
New to acids? Start here. It’s gentle enough for beginners to jump right in. Acid veteran, but still fighting blackheads? Madness! Retreat! Quit the extravagant stuff and return to a tried-and-true. Two-percent salicylic acid goes deeper into clogged pores than other acids can, and flushes out the gunk it meets along the way. Standard fare for a BHA certainly, but what makes this little liquid come out on top is everything it doesn’t do—irritate or damage your skin. Chalk it up to its easy-to-read ingredient list; it’s a case study on straightforward, serious skincare.
Retinol is so ubiquitous these days that brands go to great lengths to make theirs stand out. And while add-ons and bells and whistles may catch your ear, there’s no greater selling point than Kelly Rowland’s face. Just look at it! No doubt forged by genetics at birth and amplified by aesthetician Shani Darden right now. Shani’s retinol isn’t your run-of-the-mill fine line preventer and softener—with lactic acid and niacinamide in the mix, it also evens skin tone and helps pores look smaller with immediate effect. You’ll still need to wait the requisite six to eight weeks for the retinol to kick in, but at least that's shorter than Shani’s appointment waitlist.
No need to adjust your monitor—this eye cream is back for its second Top 25 rodeo. When you’re good, you’re good, and when you can mask dark circles with repeat success you’ll get a Top 25 invite as quickly as we can send it. Now, for the question of the hour: is it makeup or is it skincare? The answer: kind of, sort of, both. A dose of vitamin C plays the long game in fighting undereye darkness and the cream’s peachy tint brightens for immediate gratification. A makeup artist trick that’s makeup optional—good ol’ Ole and his color wheel are on your side.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, your skin will go on chugging along, keeping the good things in and the bad things out. But when your moisture barrier feels like it could use a little help, what it needs are special lipids called ceramides—have we mentioned this watery serum’s got lots of ‘em? Centella, too! Dr. Jart takes on the redness and irritation you have right now and works on rebuilding what you might have stripped away. So basically, it’s exactly what your skin needs to get back to normal—sometimes simple can be innovative.
Of all the great mysteries in life—Bigfoot, Area 51, Simone Biles’ relationship to gravity—bronzer didn’t have to be one of them. It just needed more shades, people! Leave it to Rihanna to pave the way with not one, not two, but eight different shades to finally take the guesswork out of proper application. The pigment is relatively dense so a little goes a long way, and it lasts long enough to carry into the night. The look is a natural warmth, which is the miracle result you’d expect when you finally have access to a face-flattering shade.
After the great brow massacre that began in the '90s and stretched to the early aughts, Boy Brow swooped in like a Marvel crusader. It’s a real do-it-all production—action-packed. The pomade-inspired gel thickens hairs while locking them into place, and the petite spoolie makes shaping with minimal dexterity quite easy. One swipe fills the area where you got tweezer-happy, a few back brush strokes plus one or two more and poof! You’re Cara Delevingne.
If necessity is the mother of invention, it’s no coincidence that mother is also makeup legend Pat McGrath’s backstage nickname. Back when highlighter was nothing more than a layman’s term for neon markers in the school supplies aisle, Pat was on set mixing up a special balm so that models could glow and look dewy under the most unforgiving lights. In 2016 she released it to the public, and in 2018 it claimed a permanent place in mother’s line. It’s the second best thing to having your face touched by Pat herself.
How many Monthly Favorites appearances does a product need to get an automatic spot on the Top 25? This concealer answers: two. In April, its creamy, flexible formula completely won us over, fully replacing an out-of-whack classic—we won’t name names. And it was still on our minds (and in our routines) come October. The stick format is what makes it superior: you’ll get clean, targeted application on zits or undereyes, and full-coverage that won’t dry up. It’s really the only concealer you need. With 17 shades from lightest to darkest, you get a concealer! You get a concealer! You get a concealer!*
*From your local Sephora.
The territory between makeup and skincare often gets wishy-washy, but everything you want a tinted moisturizer to do is right there in the name: it should feel hydrating on skin while glossing over blemishes and dark marks in one fell swoop. Bareminerals delivers on those promises, thanks to squalene, hyaluronic acid, and an inclusive range of 20 sheer shades with varying undertones, and then one-ups ‘em with an added SPF 30. It’s the clean beauty brand you loved before clean beauty was a thing, and it’s still the best.
When Blu-rays came out in 2006, did you buy one? Probably not—and eventually, high-def TV became the norm anyway. But just like we had to switch our screens to accommodate the new and improved picture quality, actors suddenly needed a foundation that could stand up to the relentless HDTV lens. Make Up For Ever gave them this full-coverage but never cakey skin-finish foundation that looks just as great on camera as it does in real life. It launched with 40 shades in 2015 (that’s as many as Fenty brought to the table two years later) and they’ve added 10 more since. It’s basically impossible not to find your perfect match.
The salon industry is so clever. Just when you cracked the code on how to fake a professional manicure at home, they upped the ante and introduced gels. Thwarted again! Luckily, not for too long: a few years later, Sally Hansen introduced its lacquered trump card. Forget about replicating the longevity of a gel manicure, you’ll always need the real salon deal for maximum shelf life. But when it comes to the sharp shine and cushiony effect, these polishes know how to hold their own. Way cheaper than a standing appointment.
Dry shampoo is the beauty equivalent of astronaut food: it’s what happens when you use science to engineer pure convenience. Living Proof takes it one step further with their proprietary molecule OFPMA, which keeps hair shiny and never sticky. The result is a dry shampoo that shakes off to reveal a pretty convincing fresh wash on fair and dark hair alike. And suddenly, a good hair day isn’t a fluke.
A world without consequence is pure horror, but a bottle blonde job without damage is just Olaplex. It’s not conditioner, it’s not shampoo: it’s
DiGiorno a treatment, and it quite literally rebuilds the hair bonds that go through the ringer after a chemical process. So, less breakage after bleaching, perms with less frizz, and curls with more definition than ever. Thank the salon version for some of the most iconic hair moments of the 2010s (like when Kim Kardashian went from black to platinum blonde in one sitting) and No. 3 for being the biggest game-changer in at-home haircare since some cavemen stuck some sticks together and called it a brush, probably.
This one’s for the girls with the curls. OK boys, too—anyone can partake. If you think of cleansing conditioners or co-washes as oil cleansers for hair, it’s not hard to wrap your head around their mechanism of action. The oils lift the dirt, and since there aren’t any surfactants in play, the wash doesn’t dry out hair like a shampoo would. But not all cleansing conditioners are created alike—a lot are too heavy, fostering an environment for scalp buildup and flakes that look like dandruff (they are not). However Goldilocks, Unwash gets the delicate balancing act right—not too much, not too little, just right.
Hair trends come and go, but the allure of lived-in waves springs eternal. It’s the kind of style that looks effortless—implying “done” hair taken for a romp, or at the very least the luck of the air dry—but actually hinges on product. Ten years after its launch, Oribe’s texture spray is still the easiest way to get the look. A spray and a scrunch give squeaky clean hair just the right amount of grit, hold, and volume to imply far better texture than you’ve got. It’s a staple in the Top Shelf for a reason.
Ahh, the smell of Manhattan: an intoxicating cocktail of garbage, marijuana (it’s sort of legal!), and an undeniable whiff of Santal 33. From the nose of Frank Voelkl to a crowded elevator near you, its universal charm is no accident: complicated and perfectly calibrated notes of cardamom, sandalwood, cedar, and violet smell warm and sexy on just about anyone. The fact that it works just as well close to skin as it does diffused through a room is the reason its launched a million dupes in its shot to fame, but nothing beats the original. We’re calling it the fragrance of the decade, but it’s also a lasting classic.
All hail Katie Sturino, who took pity on our battered, war-torn thighs and invented a bag-friendly remedy. The solve is a salve, and two swipes of it in the morning curb what would otherwise turn into a walk of pain at the end of the day. Sure, there are plenty of other anti-chafe sticks milling about now, but there’s only one that everyone agrees is the best. You’re looking at her.
It doesn’t matter how many body lotions you have in your bathroom—if you don’t use them, they won’t work. But if slathering your body in cold goop morning and night isn’t your thing, Kate McLeod’s body stones present an intriguing alternative. Instead of getting all over your hands, you hold it in yours to massage away dry, rough skin. And then, when you’ve worked it all the way down to a wee little nub, toss it in the bathtub (a pro-tip from Kate herself) for a moment of true luxuriation. Body care isn’t a chore anymore.
Is there anything that sounds more luxe than a serum you use on your entire body? Ren’s take is more like a serum, lotion, and exfoliator all in one, because smooth legs aren’t just about hydration. You still get ultra-nourishing shea butter and particularly of-the-moment probiotics, but lactic acid, the product’s third ingredient (read: high concentrations), is really the star of the show. Exfoliation that doesn’t make you work for it—no scrubbing or washing it off—is really quite utilitarian, if you think about it. Pragmatic, even!
Hot tools! They’ve come a long way from the crude metal plates you’d smash your hair between at the beginning of the decade (but no judgement if that’s still your game). At the pinnacle of heat styling technology is the Dyson. It uses the Coanda effect to create a continuous stream of air around the barrels, attracting hair like a magnet and physically wrapping it for you. Curls not your thing? Brush through to dry wet hair while you straighten. The detachable heads mean your outlets will never blow out, and your blowout will always be exactly how you like it in 15 minutes flat. No appointment necessary.
No, these aren’t prehistoric hominid tools. These are makeup brushes! Show some respect for excellence. Nothing grabs and deposits pigment as evenly as these guys, no matter the formula—powder, liquid, or cream. The magic is in the stout, densely packed bristles that end in a tapered tip for utmost softness. The shadow that once required three swipes for adequate coverage now only needs one. Foundation stretches further, highlighter goes on with record ease. Are they expensive? Absolutely. They’re also the last makeup brushes you’ll ever buy.
It sounds like a riddle a troll bridge might throw at you on your way to the land of clear skin: what takes makeup off, never runs out, and only asks that you add water? The answer of course, you clever beauty consumer, is Face Halo—little round washcloths with microfibers 100 times finer than human hair. Once they’ve taken everything off, throw them in the wash and do it all over again next week. Good for your skin, even better for the planet.
They say not to judge a book by its cover, but—come on. All it takes is one look at your aesthetician’s complexion to decide whether or not you want them working on your face. If you haven’t been sold on Melanie Simon’s ZIIP by its countless glowing reviews (here and elsewhere!), have you Googled her? The woman has a face like porcelain, and chalks her defined cheekbones and reduced breakouts all up to consistent nanocurrent treatments. If you buy one skincare device before the year’s end, make it hers.
What just missed the list? Quite a lot! Read up on Ashley, Ali, and Emily's top five products of the year.
Looking for more recommendations? Explore last year's list here.
Photographed by Devin Doyle.