2021 Skincare Favorites

Friday, December 31, 2021

I’ve returned with just enough time to share my favorite products of 2021. Nothing like getting in under the wire, huh? Amongst my favorites in this post, products I would recommend are nestled within as well. Enjoy this post as we say goodbye to another whirlwind year in a panorama and say hello to a better tomorrow in 2022. 

In 2021, I left my job at Sephora after five wonderful & hard working years. Although I’ve moved to Washington D.C., I’ll remain (one of) your go-to sources on all things skincare, makeup, and more as long as you’ll have me. I still have plenty of product to work through myself and share my utterly candid and honest thoughts. 

Since this post focuses on skincare, I wanted to share a disclaimer on how I won’t be getting into the nitty-gritty of ingredients. However, I only used the products below because of their ingredients followed by their effectiveness. 


Makeup Remover 

Glossier Milky Jelly: I’ve used so many bottles of this over the years that I’ve lost count. I repurchased a full size this year during a random sale Glossier had. I welcomed this makeup remover back into my life with such happiness because it’s that great. I love the formulation of this gel-like cleanser because it’s formulated with the same cleansing stuff found in contact solution, which means it’s super gentle on the eyes, and rosewater, which is a pleasant and soothing ingredient on the skin. 

When I use it, one-two pumps is enough to remove the amount of makeup I wear on a daily basis: full coverage foundation, blush, contour, bronzer, etc. The works, you know? It’s also gentle enough on my eyes and doesn’t leave them cloudy ever. I seldom use it on my eyes because I’m such a die hard user of the Garnier Waterproof Micellar Water but it’s worth mentioning how gentle Milky Jelly is on the eyeballs. 

My one complaint is the packaging. After using this for a few months, the last quarter is impossible to get out. It stops pumping it out around that point so I’m reduced to tipping it over and emptying it into empty jars that I continue to hoard. Glossier, if you can figure out a new packaging for this wonderful product, then I’ll have nothing more to complain about. 

Belif Aquabomb Cleansing Balm: This may be one of the most overlooked cleansing balms out there at the moment. First came the iconic moisturizer and then the cleansing balm was the added sibling to the Aquabomb family. This multi-textured balm does a brilliant job of breaking up all of my face makeup as it starts as a solid and transforms into an oil before emulsifying and rinsing away down the sink. 

In comparison to Farmacy’s Green Clean, this is creamier and rinses away in a better way, I think, than Green Clean. I started selling it whenever I could when I worked at Sephora but due to limited inventory, I sold out more frequently than I did of Green Clean.

Cleanser

Caudalie Gentle Foam Cleanser: I love a good foaming cleanser in the morning. Caudalie’s has been a favorite of mine for years. I finally owned my own (make it three) in 2021. Caudalie redid all of their packaging in 2021 to make all of their products fully recyclable, which made me love the brand even more than I already do. Especially with a cleanser like this that has a pump and spring inside, which is usually hard to recycle. This cleanser is gentle enough for the driest or most sensitive of skins out there as it’s soap free. It also uses a base of sage and grape water to calm and soothe while gently cleansing. It’s not enough to remove makeup unless you wear a little tinted moisturizer or concealer here and there. 

Fenty Skin Total Cleans'r: If you visited me at Sephora anywhere from the end of 2020 until August of this year, you probably heard me show and explain my newfound love and appreciation for Fenty Skin. I won’t lie, I rolled my eyes when the patent for Fenty Skin was announced last fall but I promised I’d give it a chance after how much I loved Fenty Beauty. 

Well, Rihanna is crushing yet another field in the beauty world with her skincare. I knew I’d love this cleanser after trying it on the back of my hands time after time at Sephora. Upon using it, I found myself walking out of the hotel bathroom I was staying in and expressing my sheer surprise and happiness as I massaged this creamy cleanser that created such a wonderful lather all over my face. 

This cleanser is wonderful for everyone. I would only steer anyone away if added fragrance bothers you or irritates your skin. My only issue is the packaging of this one. I’m not a fan of the twist and lock opening on the bottom of the cleanser. If anyone is too rough with this, they’ll break the opening and there goes their cleanser. Drunk Elephant learned this lesson a couple years ago when they changed their twist-and-lock to a flip top. Fenty Skin is also one of the more lower priced lines at Sephora with this cleanser coming in at $25 for a full size. 

Princess Products (essences, toners, face mists)

Fenty Skin Fat Water Toner Serum: Fat Water may be one of the most unique products of the whole year. It calls itself a toner serum but I use it after cleansing/masking/exfoliating and before serums. I typically pat a nickel size amount into my skin at night. Over time, I’ve found this product has helped brighten and even out my skin tone. My favorite trademark was how Fat Water drips like a gel and absorbs like water. 

I highly recommend Fat Water to anyone and everyone looking to balance out their skin and simplify their skincare routine. It’s also only $28 for a full size bottle that’s bound to last six months to a year. 

Fresh Black Tea Kombucha Essence: I’ve had an on-off love affair with this product for over three years. No matter how many times I use it a week, it never seems to end, which is an amazing achievement for a product that is one of the most expensive I own. The longevity has really made me analyze its efficacy and if it’s worth investing in another one for real this time (I didn’t pay for my current one). I use this in the same step as mentioned above with Fat Water but where this one differs is its purpose. An essence falls within the Korean Beauty routine and acts as a booster for any other skincare layered over top. I always equate it to a child’s booster seat at the adult table. 

This one hydrates, brightens, and boosts all at the same time. Beware the glass bottle though. It would be an utter shame to shatter that beauty on the floor. 

Exfoliator

Kora Organics Turmeric BHA Brightening Mask: When it comes to products I get genuinely excited about, this mask was one of them. I’ve loved it for years and enjoyed selling it to all my clients when appropriate. It looks like dirt as my fav Allanaramaa once said but leaves the skin so smooth afterwards. I would use this in the shower once a week, sometimes even once a month because I can be finicky about physical exfoliation and how rough it can be on the skin. Because of its dirt-like appearance and consistency, the shower keeps the mess out of the sink. But this mask does it all in the realm of exfoliation with physical, chemical, and enzymatic exfoliants all working together. 

Vitamin C Serum 

Youth to the People 15% Vitamin C + Clean Caffeine Serum: The holy grail vitamin C is in this brown bottle. Trust me y’all. I found the one. 

I love the fluid-like consistency of this serum. It dries down perfectly on the skin, especially pre-makeup. There’s no metal smell, tackiness, or any other negative things I wouldn’t want in a vitamin C serum. 

I found over time my skin looked healthier, more well-rested, and brighter when I used this. I just think it’s perfect. It’s a bit more expensive at $68 but also an average $60-something for a quality vitamin C. I can’t wait to buy a second one. 

Acid Serum 

Drunk Elephant TLC Night Serum: Over my five years at Sephora, this product intrigued me beyond belief but I could never bring myself to pay the price for it. Luckily in my last year at Sephora, I got my own at work and it ended up lasting over three months! The longevity alone is enough to justify the price for a second bottle. 

The multi-acid base works to exfoliate on a chemical basis which leads to a smoother, clearer skin overnight. I was able to use this every night but I still used a moisturizer mixed with an oil afterward almost every time. This is a perfect serum if you’re looking for gradual fading of discoloration and texture over time rather than a few times a week via other treatments. 

Retinol 

Shani Darden Retinol Reform: This retinol is still new to the beauty world but I sold out of it almost weekly when I worked at Sephora. The combination of a beautiful, effective, and hard working retinol and the small business ownership was everything to me. I love Shani Darden’s formulation of combining acids with a retinol is perfection. You really get what you pay for with this one. I alternate my retinol AT NIGHT ONLY (a certain other brand tries to tell you otherwise) with whatever acid-based serum I’m using at the moment. Shani Darden sells a mini size of this in case the $88 price gives you cold feet. But I don’t think you’ll refrain long from ordering that full size…

Age Prevention Serum 

The Ordinary "Buffet" & Copper Peptide: I used to hammer The Ordinary on a daily basis when I worked at Sephora and it’s an activity I’ll still gladly participate in today if anyone asks (sometimes they do, sometimes it’s self invited). However, this is the one product that I think is the perfect combination of stellar and amazing. I first learned about the efficacy of copper peptides from Alex Steinherr (her skin!) and felt the need to buy something with the ingredient. In comes this serum. 

I focused it nightly on my forehead because of my hard fought campaign to keep fine lines at bay up there (even the teeniest of tiniest lines). I can guarantee I’ll be picking up another bottle of this in the future! 

Eye Cream 

Biossance Marine Algae: If you can have a love affair with a skincare product, I think this would be mine. I’ve loved this eye cream since it hit the shelves during my Sephora days. It’s creamy consistency always hydrated my undereyes during the day and provided a smooth canvas for concealer too. A little goes a long way which lead to it lasting over three months for me in the morning time. This may have been my second or third jar and I still have two more waiting to be used. If that doesn’t tell you how much I like using this eye cream then I may have to go into the billboard business to get my message across here. 

First Aid Beauty Eye Duty Niacinamide: I surprised myself when I picked this as one of my favorites! A 2021 release that sold out continuously, sometimes not even from my doing. The sparkly nude undertone may seem off putting when opening the jar but trust me, it’s incredible. This eye cream instantly brightens the under eye while also treating for the long term. It’s equally hydrating and concealer friendly for the daytime. I would gladly purchase a second jar of this. 

Day Moisturizer 

Bubble Level Up: This moisturizer was one of the least expensive items amongst all of my favorites but it was also one of my top choices from the whole year. I had the pleasure of getting to know the founder of the company during her visit to my Sephora last year and I fell in love with the company shortly after. This lightweight gel moisturizer lasted around three months from using it every morning. It was enough during the Charleston summers and into the fall in Washington D.C. One pump is the perfect amount every time and was flawless under my many long makeup wearing days. Run to your local WALMART and pick one up immediately (or Slam Dunk if you have dry skin). 

First Aid Beauty Coconut Water Cream: This moisturizer and I go back around three or four years. I still have a fondness for it after losing count of the countless jars I’ve gone through. It has a lightweight gel consistency that also has a slight cream texture rather than a watery one. It dries down with a soft matte finish, perfect for slightly oily or greasy, oily faces. It’s also a top contender to go under makeup. 

Fenty Hydra Visor SPF: Fenty Skin really has knocked my socks off and presumably me off my feet. I scoffed at yet another celebrity brand when the patent for this came out, but it’s time for me to eat my skepticism with a slice of humble pie. I love every product Rihanna has done in her skincare range. This moisturizer is quite possibly the true star of the whole lilac/lavender show here. 

Y’all, Rihanna made a moisturizer with SPF FOR OILY SKIN!! This concept did not exist in Sephora land during my five years there (except for Murad, but we don’t talk about them around here). Hydra Visor is spectacular for EVERYONE, even the oily!! Trust me! But don’t get too excited and use more than one pump. That’s all you need, unless you’re reapplying later. This SPF moisturizer is pink in color to brighten the skin first before it moisturizes and protect your sweet face from the harm of the sun. I could be here all day talking about this moisturizer.

Night Moisturzer

Drunk Elephant Protini: If there was another product I could have a love affair with, it would be Protini from Drunk Elephant. I’ve known this product since it was birthed onto the Sephora shelves in Fall 2017. This baby is age prevention in a jar, although not a cheap jar at $68. But I always told my clients at Sephora that one day I would willingly fork over my $68 precious dollars for this (and sales tax…details, details). The peptides are the best part of this moisturizer because it plumps the skin while giving it a healthier and smoother appearance. One pump is enough. Trust me. That’s all you need. Make it last. 

Youth to the People Adaptogen Deep Moisture Cream: There’s a hefty handful (or two) of products I would use forever and this moisturizer is one of them. It had been at least a year, if not two, since I last used Adaptogen. This December, I opened up a fresh jar and instantly remembered why I loved it.
First, the lightweight consistency was perfect for my non-dry skin. Second, it mixed easily with any face oil I had opened. Third, the results from it gave my skin a better appearance by morning. It really is the bee’s knees. Tread lightly if you have a nut allergy though. That sometimes can be a factor in irritation with this for some people. 

Face Oil 

Model Off Duty Beauty Blue Tansy: At last, a less expensive version of the infamous Lapis Oil from Herbivore. If you don’t have $72 to invest in Herbivore, Model Off Duty Beauty is the one for you  (Although Herbivore finally made a smaller Lapis oil). I included this oil as my only favorite of its kind because of how happy I’ve been with it throughout the year. I believe I opened it at the beginning of the year or at least by the spring. The Blue Tansy ingredient is great for evening out skin tone, especially excess redness or for breakout prone skin. I liked using this if I was experiencing a breakout or just wanted to focus on calming my skin at night. 

Face Masks

Caudalie Instant Detox: This mask and I have been in a fully committed relationship going on three-four years. It’s spectacular anytime you’re looking to tighten pores, brighten skin, or just have a good detox once in a while. Caudalie is there for you when you need some extra love in the skin department. I’ll never forget a friend once told me she believed her skin continued to look better and better after using this mask. The two clays and caffeine inside provide perfect harmony for this mask. It will always live in my collection. 

Summer Fridays Jet Lag: I seldom tell every person I interact with about skincare to go buy one thing but the Jet Lag mask is that one item everyone needs. I remember first reading about it in fall 2017, trying to figure out the concept of it and whether it was just another princess product. After all those years, and encouragement from one of my friends, I’ve fallen in love with Jet Lag. It does it all, truly. I prefer it as a nighttime moisturizer or sleeping mask because the creamy, white toothpaste-like consistency is on the richer side for me. By morning, my skin looks more even in tone, spots are diminished, and I’m still well hydrated once I get out of bed. Buy this mask and everything should work out for you in life. 

Tatcha Violet-C Radiance: This was the face mask I always swore to buy upon my departure from Sephora one day. In August I was true to my word and bought my very own. This mask is a pricey splurge at $68 but it’s not one to regret. Tatcha is known for luxury and formulas for good reasons. I’ve really found it performs when it comes to brightening and hydrating. 

Peach & Lily Super Reboot: I always equate this mask to the Herbivore Blue Tansy mask but this mask is stronger because of the different acid it uses to resurface. I love using this mask once a week or once a month to act like a chemical Roomba on my face. The result is smoother texture and a happier self. I already have a second one open! 

Fresh Vitamin Nectar: This is a holy grail mask and one of my favorites of all time. I cherish it in my collection the way one may cherish a favorite child. The citrus chunky texture of this makes me feel like I have bits of fruits all over my face. This mask does a great job of brightening the appearance of the skin while being gentle at the same time! It’s pricey at $62 but worth the investment, I promise (or buy the little one to start). 

That's all for now everyone. See you next year! 

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