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Top 25 2021
  • The Klog Pimple Patch See More
  • Experiment Avant Guard Mask See More
  • Differin Gel See More
  • Glossier Cleanser Concentrate See More
  • Stratia Liquid Gold See More
  • Bioré UV Watery Essence
 See More
  • Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer See More
  • Makeup By Mario Liquid Eyeliner See More
  • Göt2b Glued See More
  • Ami Colé Lip Treatment Oil See More
  • Bausch + Lomb Lumify Eye Drops See More
  • Tower 28 SunnyDays Foundation See More
  • Lashify Whisper Light Dual-Sided Bond See More
  • Kosas Chemistry AHA Serum Deodorant See More
  • Baby Foot Original Exfoliant Foot Peel See More
  • Hanahana Beauty Shea Body Butter See More
  • Bathing Culture Mind and Body Wash See More
  • L'Oréal Elvive 8 Second Water See More
  • Bread Beauty Supply Hair Mask See More
  • Hair Bungees See More
  • Denman D3 Styling Brush See More
  • No Crease Clips See More
  • Dior Vernis See More
  • Nemat Fragrance Oil See More
  • Brooklyn Candle Studio Minimalist Candles See More

Top 25 2021

Cheap Thrills.
The past year filled our emotional bingo cards, but if there’s one thing we could stand to feel more of, it’s buoyancy. A beauty product (bought on impulse for no reason at all) offers a little of that, especially when the price is right. Every product on this list costs under $35 and punches far above its weight. They’re winners not because they’re dupes, but because they’re one of a kind—not because they’re cheap, but because they’re fantastic.
The Klog Soft Shield Pimple Patch

K-beauty e-tailer Soko Glam helped make hydrocolloids for acne “a thing” stateside, so the fact that they’re pimple patch experts should come as no surprise. Through their exclusive brand The Klog, they offer 42 dots for just six dollars, allowing even persistent acne sufferers to patch with abandon. But you don’t suffer for quality—these things are invisible. Slim beveled edges give the hydrocolloid a soft blend into skin and increased bendiness. The lowkey matte finish doesn’t draw stares. And unlike the visiting family member rummaging around behind you on Zoom, you’ll actually forget they’re there.

Experiment Avant Guard Silicone Sheet Mask

There’s a triangle whose rule governs skincare: embossed on each point respectively, the words “sustainable”, “affordable,” and “life-changing.” Most of the time, you get to pick just two. But the loophole has its own loopholes—one for each ear! This reusable silicone face mask is the first and only product from Experiment, a brand founded by two beauty chemists fed up with settling. It keeps moisture from evaporating, actives snuggled up close, money in your wallet, and trash from piling up. Got a product you already love? Underneath Avant Guard, you’ll love it even more.

Differin Acne Treatment Gel

Retinoids were so close to being easy. They’re some of the simplest skincare ingredients, since they treat nearly every complaint in the book. (Acne? Fine lines? Bumpy texture, dullness, uneven skin tone? Retinoid and done.) But too many people get caught in retinoid quicksand. There are so many types! Here’s the simplest breakdown: Differin is the closest you can get to a prescription retinoid without a prescription; it’s the OG adapalene treatment, and likely the only retinoid you’ll ever need. Use it every night if you can kick it, or every other night (over moisturizer) if you can’t. Simple, people! That’s really it!

Glossier Cleanser Concentrate

Who cares about a cleanser? They’re all the same. Or they’re just OK. Or they are never…great…until Cleanser Concentrate rolled around. It’s the one face wash in your cabinet worth writing home about. Gentle but action-packed acids leave your skin smooth and soft before you pile on any moisturizer. A cortado-esque foam makes even the lather phase an enjoyable one, and because this baby is concentrated, a little goes a heck of a long way. A luxury cleansing experience if there ever was one.

Stratia Liquid Gold

The Dress. RompHims. Chronic anxiety. The internet has blessed us with many things, but Liquid Gold is one of the good ones. It’s your favorite heavy-duty moisturizer dressed up in a lightweight formula. A mix of ceramides, oils (Rosehip! Sea buckthorn!) vitamin E, niacinamide, and squalene come together to make this moisturizer razzle dazzle without feeling heavy on your skin. It’s so perfect and adaptable that you can use it year-round, or at the very least, as your go-to nighttime hydrator.

Bioré UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence Sunscreen

So you don’t like sunscreen. What, do you not like vegetables either? Get over it! And get yourself to an Asian drugstore, where the sunscreens feel like serums and never leave a white cast. Approval for new UV filters takes a long time in the US, but the process is quicker in Japan and Korea and it shows. There are so many amazing Asian sunscreens, but Aqua Rich is a standout that’s pretty easy to get stateside. (Also one of the cheapest in a decent-sized bottle.) Go on, pack on this hyaluronic acid-rich gel—you won’t feel a thing! It’s also acne-safe, SPF 50, and both water and complaint-proof.

Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer

If the saying “a little goes a long way” had a mascot, it would be this stuff. Because even though you might mistake its stout .3 ounce jar for a testing sample, that’s really all you need. Do not try to use this like a regular complexion product: Touch it gently with the corner of a nail, and that’s enough to cover undereye circles and errant zits. Mix a dot with cream for a DIY tinted moisturizer, or use a brush to warm up a scoop on the back of your hand for full-coverage. No matter how you use it, the special honey and jojoba base has such a skin-like finish that any touch ups go completely undetected.

Makeup By Mario Master Mattes Liquid Eyeliner

Black eyeliner? Nothing groundbreaking—but this one is a matte jet black with just one swipe. Felt tip liner? Seen it—except, this one is jumbo-sized, with a stable, wide base that lengthens into a razor sharp tip. Waterproof’s not new, but it was still impressive when this liner didn’t budge all day. And the easy glide liquid formula stayed inky for months without even the tip drying out. Which is all to say: you’ve probably experienced something like this before, but until you pick up makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic’s perfected liquid liner pen, you don’t really get it.

Göt2b Glued Styling Spiking Glue

Hair and makeup: two households, both alike in dignity, backstage where we lay our scene. We can only imagine a little team collaboration led to the ubiquity of this ugly yellow tube—did hair squeeze out a glob to tame a model’s edges, and share a spoolie with makeup? Did makeup leave their brow gel at home and have to get creative? Regardless of how it got there, you’ll find this hair gel in so many MUA kits because it works better than anything made for brows. Just a dot gives all day lamination-level hold with a clear finish and no flakes. And unlike brow-specific competitors, it’s just 2 bucks per ounce.

Ami Colé Lip Treatment Oil

Kudos to Diarrha N'Diaye-Mbaye, who made a beauty treatment downright sexy. Her Lip Treatment Oil works twofold: a who’s who of oils comfort and moisturize lips, and a slight tint with a mirror-shine finish gives the whole experience a look. This is not a drill; this tube has already achieved cult status!

Bausch + Lomb Lumify Eye Drops

Glaucoma is the unexpected beauty gift that keeps on giving, with both Latisse and now Lumify accidentally discovered while treating the optic nerve. It turns out that Brimonidine Tartrate, a glaucoma medication, used at 1/8th the medicinal dose just makes eyes really, really white. The overall brightening effect is so strong that it rivals makeup, effectively camouflaging emotional breakdowns, late night emails, and even woking smeed. Lumify takes one minute to work, lasts eight hours, and unlike other redness-relief drops, doesn’t leave you with more redness later. Ahh, liquid privacy.

Tower 28 SunnyDays Tinted Sunscreen Foundation

All other mineral sunscreens are dead to us now—this version from Tower 28 is the one. No matter where you fall on the complexion spectrum, there is no white cast to be found from this sunscreen-meets-foundation hybrid. Delivering a finish that’s moisturizing enough to usurp your usual lotion, the medium-pigmented formula also blurs out blemishes and unevenness in a finger-friendly, no-tools-needed application. And did we mention it’s completely mineral-based? This is huge.

Lashify Whisper Light Dual-Sided Bond

An inconvenient truth: all this time, you thought false lashes were hard to use. Really, it’s the glue! Lashify innovated the glue delivery system, and it makes applying falsies as easy as mascara. (Seriously.) The brush end deposits an undetectable black glue from root to tip; the other is for creating little anchoring dots along the waterline. Then, pop lashes underneath your natural ones, and they seem to snap into place with magnetic precision. Miraculously, we found that the $28 Whisper Light is totally usable with any lashes, and even makes a $4 drugstore pack look as good as extensions.

Kosas Chemistry AHA Serum Deodorant

You buy deodorant because it deodorizes. That’s it! So while peeling off your sweater and smelling like a boys’ locker room is a bummer, getting gaslit by a plastic tube is unforgivable. This aluminum-free deo actually works. It uses a scentless, totally clear cocktail of alpha hydroxy acids (mandelic, lactic, citric, and the lesser-known shikimic and tartaric) to turn your armpits into a low pH landscape where no stinky bacteria can survive. The acids also brighten pigmentation and minimize ingrowns, proving that low bars are incredibly easy to hop over.

Baby Foot Original Exfoliant Foot Peel

An acid foot mask that de-scales your raggedy feet over the course of a week? It doesn’t get more Bottom Shelf than Babyfoot…or, effective. A high concentration of exfoliating salicylic acid is at work here. After applying the treatment (conveniently stored in disposable plastic booties), your feet will look the same. But give it a day or two. By then, large chunks of old skin will fall off to reveal the feet no pumice stone ever afforded you. It’s disgusting. It’s also the best.

Hanahana Beauty Shea Body Butter

Scented body butter, like cartilage piercings and star stickers, is not one of those things you expected to take into adulthood. And yet, here we are—it’s not just nostalgia, Hanahana’s shea is really, really good. It’s better at moisturizing than regular shea because it’s whipped up with oils, which sink in to moisturize long after the cream rubs off. But the butters make it more nourishing than straight up oils, and a dollop melts easily into a bath in their stead. That sounds grown up and sexy, right? Even hotter is the sheen it leaves on skin, which glows like highlighter and feels silky smooth.

Bathing Culture Mind and Body Wash

You take a shower to get clean, and not to dry out your skin. And yet, so many body washes do just that! Except for Bathing Culture, whose body wash has a minimal relationship with skin-stripping surfactants. The result is the most moisturizing shower of your life—this body wash is so hydrating, even shea butter made the ingredient list. And on top of that, the completely refillable bottle looks objet-like in your shower. An elevated shower experience sounded insane, until now.

L'Oréal Elvive 8 Second Water

Everything about this product feels wrong, from its waterweight texture to instructions for use (rinse after just 10 seconds). But 8 Second Water is the real deal, thanks to something called lamellar technology. “Lamellar” means thin layers stacked on top of each other—think of flaky-looking samurai armor—and in this case, allows proteins and amino acids to gloss over strands weightlessly. This stuff is the anti-mask, perfect for those with damage, fine hair, or chronic laziness. And while K-beauty stakes claim to the OGs, this L'Oréal version gives dry hair salon-level shine and costs less than 10 bucks at any drugstore.

Bread Beauty Supply Hair Mask

This hair mask looks like vanilla frosting, smells like vanilla frosting, even squeezes out of a piping bag like vanilla frosting. A key difference, folks: Betty Crocker is for eating, and a cupcake’s worth of this stuff leaves hair baby soft. Bread’s sugar and silicone-free recipe includes light-but-soothing oils, nourishing shea, moisture-loving glycerin, wheat proteins to rebuild damage, and dash of vitamin C-rich kakadu plum. But don’t call it a guilty pleasure! The environmentally friendly pouch actually holds more product than a typical hair mask tub (even though it’s priced like conditioner), so you can go ahead and indulge.

Hair Bungees

You deserve to build a better pony; let these bungees lead you the way. Unlike regular degular hair elastics, bungees allow you to assume more control in your ponytail-making. You can create the exact amount of tension in your pony that you desire by looping it precisely where you want to—you aren’t limited to one, two or three loops, as you would with standard ties—think of it as making one and a half, two and three quarters loops…whatever you want! And because you have more control over the tension, you are less likely to damage your hair overall. Plus, not to mention: No. More. Bumps.

Denman D3 Original 7-Row Styling Brush

The Mason Pearson is pretty, but it’s limiting. The Denman, on the other hand, is a real crowd-pleaser. Use it on wet, dry, straight, or curly hair—it’s going to meet all your detangling, blowdrying, smoothing, styling needs. The bristles are nothing to laugh at either, and can hold up for years no matter how vigorously you brush. Truly, it may be the only 5-in-1 product that will get the ITG seal of approval.

No Crease Clips

Off duty models wear vintage jeans, cropped white tees, and leather jackets. But the on duty model? She’s wearing these clips, which can always (always, always) be found backstage at fashion shows. They’re basic duckbills, but the addition of a plastic top piece keeps creases from forming. Now you’re free to experiment with the getting ready order of operations: Style your hair before putting on makeup. Pin back curtain bangs and go hard on the facial oil. Let a bouncy blowout set while you run errands. There are various branded versions, but the jumbo pack at the beauty supply is still the best.

Dior Vernis Nail Lacquer

Dior’s nail polishes are what all other nail polishes should aspire to be. Each bottle feels like a treat, but it’s no show pony. The bottle is outfitted with a brush that is neither too thin nor too wide; the formula is smooth and pigmented, and the colors get better every season. They got a lot of other brands beat right there, but the bottle! That beautiful bottle. It sends this lacquer into a league of its own.

Nemat Fragrance Oil

The Attarwala family has been making attars, which translates to fragrant oils, in Udaipur for over 160 years. And even though they’ve gone global, it’s still family-run with family recipes. The architectural bottle, featuring an arabesque pishtaq label and chhatris-shaped cap that looks like a gilded Hershey’s Kiss, is reason enough to have one of these on your nightstand. But you’re going to want to use it: every oil is concentrated but wears close, the kind of skin scent you notice mid-hug that makes you pull a person in tighter. Sounds expensive, right? Psych! This perfume won’t even set you back 20 bucks.

Brooklyn Candle Studio Minimalist Candles

The perfect candle doesn’t need a lot of bells and whistles. Bells and whistles are where so many go wrong! Brooklyn’s transformative candles get this, with a lineup of clean scents that smell as real as each candle’s name. Fern and Moss transports you to grassy lawns touched by fresh dew, Leather Jacket tickles your nose with the scent of a buttery coat. It’s no small feat they were able to bottle these fragrances in wallet-friendly candles. We’re just happy they did.

Looking for more recommendations? Explore last year's list here, and the best of the last decade here.

Photographed by Alexandra Genova.