Now that you know which makeup, hair and beauty products impressed me the most over the last 12 months, let's talk about the real heavy lifters in my routine—my skincare products!
I've got 39 to share with you here, so along with the 37 favourites I talked about in Part 1, that makes 76 altogether. And here I was telling you that I've become "low-maintenance"! 😂
But while I may not have used fewer skincare products in 2020, I think they were smarter products. As I mentioned in my fall routine, I ended the year feeling happier than ever with the state of my skin, and I owe that to the items on this list. They include not only my most trusted, go-to actives (BHAs, niacinamide and retinoids), but also new innovations like this serum sunscreen and this lightweight moisture stick.
Here's the complete lowdown on all the skincare I used and loved last year, from head to toe.
The Best Skincare Products of 2020
Micellar Water: Odacité Blue Aura Cleansing Water
I've gone through almost a full bottle of Odacité Blue Aura Cleansing Water, which is an all-natural alternative to drugstore micellar waters. I use it as both a makeup remover and (on days when I haven't worn makeup or SPF) a full-fledged cleanser. For some reason, the instructions tell you to avoid the eye area, which seems strange for a cleansing water, but I always apply it there with no issues.
Cotton Pads: Shiseido Facial Cotton
I've been using Shiseido Facial Cotton for years now, and they're the only cotton pads I buy. They're so soft and thick, and I feel like they don't waste as much product as other pads. Any micellar water or toner in my routine gets applied with one of these. Once you try them, you'll never want another brand!
Cream Cleanser: Blume Daydreamer Super Gentle Face Wash
Of all the new cleansers I tried in 2020, Blume Daydreamer Super Gentle Face Wash was probably my favourite. I'd recommend this one to everybody. It's creamy and non-lathering, yet so effective at removing dirt, oil and makeup. And it rinses clean without leaving a film behind. Plus it's way cheaper than most cleansers out there!
Gel-Cream Cleanser: Herbivore Pink Cloud Creamy Jelly Cleanser
I used Herbivore Pink Cloud Creamy Jelly Cleanser as my nighttime cleanser in the fall, and it's so satisfying if you love a rich, creamy lather. I like this one because it cleanses thoroughly like a gel, but is gentle and hydrating like a cream. A little goes a long way, and again, there's no residue left behind on your skin.
Foaming Cleanser: Dr. Barbara Sturm Cleanser
Dr. Barbara Sturm Cleanser is a splurge, yes, but it's also one of the only foaming cleansers that I'd recommend for all skin types. It's extremely gentle, with a minimalistic ingredients list that includes glycerin, aloe, panthenol and urea (and no sulfates or fragrance!). I went through a mini version in the summer (from the Advent Calendar) and wouldn't hesitate to get the full size.
Gel Cleanser: Caudalie Vinopure Purifying Gel Cleanser
In the summer, Caudalie Vinopure Purifying Gel Cleanser was fantastic for getting off all the day's sweat, sunscreen, oil and grime. This is a foaming gel cleanser that's geared at combination, oily and acne-prone skin, so it contains salicylic acid and antibacterial essential oils. Still, it's not harsh, irritating or drying.
Cleansing Brush: PMD Clean Smart Face Cleanser Device
I got so many questions last year about the PMD Clean Smart Face Cleanser Device, and how it compares to the Foreo Luna, that I had to test it out for myself. I don't think you can go wrong with either one. Both are made of silicone, which is soft on the skin and won't harbour bacteria. And both use sonic vibrations to give you a far more effective cleanse than your fingers alone. There are some minor differences, but for me the main one was that this has a handle and the Luna doesn't, which is really a matter of personal preference.
Face Scrub: Dr. Barbara Sturm Facial Scrub
I'm not the biggest fan of scrubs, since I prefer acids for exfoliation, but I was pleasantly surprised by Dr. Barbara Sturm Facial Scrub. It has a unique texture—super creamy, not gritty, and infused with tiny round beads that help to lift off dead skin. I still think acids are more effective, but if you can't tolerate them or just prefer a manual exfoliation, this is a great choice.
Toner: The Inkey List PHA Toner
I got really into toners in 2020, and The Inkey List PHA Toner was my top pick. In the past, I struggled with toners because they were usually too drying and filled with irritants like alcohol, witch hazel and essential oils. Either that, or they'd react with any acids I applied over top, causing an hour or two of hot, red, flushed skin (I'm looking at you, Indie Lee and Herbivore). But not this one. With 3% PHAs and 3% niacinamide, it gently exfoliates and brightens while removing cleanser residue and prepping your skin for your next step. My only complaint is that I wish the bottle was bigger!
Essence Toner: Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow PHA + BHA Pore-Tight Toner
Another toner I tried was the new Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow PHA + BHA Pore-Tight Toner—but I'd describe it as more of a hybrid between a toner and an essence. It has a thicker texture, so rather than swiping it on with a cotton pad, it makes more sense to pat it in with your fingertips. I love that it contains my favourite BHA, betaine salicylate, along with gluconolactone (PHA), willow bark, hyaluronic acid and glycerin. So you could easily use this as a one-step gentle exfoliator and hydrator underneath your sunscreen. (The only reason I don't use it more often is because my skin likes stronger exfoliation.)
Acid Toner: Farmacy Deep Sweep 2% BHA Pore Cleaning Toner
If you ask me, Farmacy Deep Sweep 2% BHA Pore Cleaning Toner was the best acid toner to launch last year. Finally, a formula with 2% salicylic acid and no alcohol, fragrance or essential oils! So this toner isn't harsh or drying, and it can be used not only for controlling oil and breakouts but also for general exfoliation and brightening. If I wasn't already devoted to COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, this would definitely be my BHA of choice.
BHA Treatment: COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid
No surprise here, COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid continues to be my go-to exfoliant... which has been the case since 2017! I don't use AHAs, as they only exfoliate the skin surface and can be irritating. BHAs like the betaine salicylate in this product do so much more—they work on both the surface and under the skin, deep-cleaning pores, and are calming and anti-inflammatory. I do a thin layer of this product twice a day, and it's what keeps my skin clear, even and glowing. A Holy Grail!
Niacinamide Serum: The Inkey List Niacinamide
My skin LOVES niacinamide, so I've tried most of the formulas out there... and The Inkey List Niacinamide might be my favourite one yet! Besides having a high 10% concentration, I love it because of the silky texture (so it could replace the need for a separate hydrating serum). It also doesn't cause pilling or foam up like The Ordinary's does.
Clarifying Serum: Versed Just Breathe Clarifying Serum
Another niacinamide-based serum that I enjoyed last year was Versed Just Breathe Clarifying Serum. This one is specifically formulated for acne-prone skin, so it also has willow bark, zinc and salicylic acid. All of those ingredients will help to control excess oil and breakouts. What's also great about this serum is that it has a thin, watery texture that sinks in right in. Another great option if you're in Canada (that is thicker and more moisturizing) is Consonant Vitamin B3 + Zinc Serum.
Hydrating Serum: COSRX Propolis Light Ampoule
In case you missed it, I experimented with avoiding oils and creams for most of 2020, using serums and gels to hydrate my skin instead. I bought COSRX Propolis Light Ampoule to try after falling in love with another propolis serum in 2019 (GEORGANIC Propolis Acne Care Serum, which I still recommend!). This one has a similar amount of propolis, 83%, which has hydrating, healing, soothing and oil-controlling benefits. I love the gooey, non-greasy texture, which absorbs really well.
Gel Moisturizer: Benton Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel
I was inspired by Kate Bosworth's skincare routine to start using an aloe vera gel as my moisturizer (I mean, have you seen her skin?!). Benton Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel is, in my opinion, the best one on the market. It's comprised of 80% aloe vera and 10% propolis extract, and is silicone-free, fragrance-free and non-sticky.
Gel-Cream Moisturizer: Versed Dew Point Moisturizing Gel-Cream
Versed Dew Point Moisturizing Gel-Cream was another moisturizer I had in high rotation. I would say it's a lot more gel-like than creamy, featuring a high concentration of humectants (glycerin, propylene glycol, aloe and hyaluronic acid) along with squalane. Even though it absorbs quickly, and doesn't feel like there's anything on your skin, it's actually a very effective hydrator.
Moisturizer: Augustinus Bader The Cream
Before I started my "no moisturizer" experiment in the summertime, I used Augustinus Bader The Cream for the first few months of the year. As far as creams go, this is a very good one. Not only is it silicone-free and fragrance-free, it moisturizes with ingredients like fractionated coconut oil, glycerin and shea butter while ceramides repair the skin barrier. As for its famous TFC-8 anti-aging complex, I didn't find it comparable to a retinoid or anything, but if you don't want to go that route, this could be a good "all in one" treatment.
Moisturizing Balm: Tatcha The Serum Stick
The concept of a portable moisturizing stick is genius, and especially when it's made up of 80% squalane like Tatcha The Serum Stick. This balm was one of my favourite innovations of the year. It's so convenient to swipe on (I usually do it around my eyes and nose) if I feel like I need a little extra moisture during the day. It's lightweight, sinks in beautifully and is unlikely to clog pores.
Lightweight Eye Cream: Dr. Barbara Sturm Eye Cream
Dr. Barbara Sturm Eye Cream is one of two eye creams I fell in love with in 2020. Eye cream is a category I have a lot of trouble with, as most formulas end up irritating the delicate skin and causing it to look dry and red. Fortunately, this cream doesn't, maybe because it's more about lightweight hydration than delivering a ton of actives. It's ideal if you are looking for a light, non-greasy eye cream that wears well under makeup and contains only clean ingredients.
Anti-Aging Eye Cream: Versed Zero-G Smoothing Eye Cream
I also became a big fan of Versed Zero-G Smoothing Eye Cream, which is amazing value for the price. This one has a gel-cream texture that's sort of like yogurt, and while it's not oily at all, it's definitely more hydrating than Dr. Sturm's. It also has two peptides to help firm the eye area, and a tiny bit of mica for an instant brightening effect. I think it's one of the must-try products from this brand!
Serum Sunscreen: EleVen by Venus Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35
If I had to name the single most innovative product of 2020, it would undoubtedly be EleVen by Venus Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35. All the reasons people struggle with sunscreen were addressed here. It has the texture of a light serum, so it doesn't look or feel greasy. And it's also invisible, so even on deep skin tones, there's zero white cast. Best of all, it contains 25% zinc oxide for the ultimate UVA and UVB protection. Plus it's fragrance-free and silicone-free. Anyone who hates sunscreen needs to try this!
Lotion Sunscreen: EleVen by Venus On-the-Defense Sunscreen SPF 30
My other favourite sunscreen discovery of the year was the Unrivaled Sun Serum's sister product: EleVen by Venus On-the-Defense Sunscreen SPF 30. This one has a more traditional lotion texture, which you need to massage in, but it's still super light and non-greasy. It, too, is invisible on all skin tones, and protects with the highest possible concentration of zinc oxide. I couldn't be happier with these two sunscreens!
Face Mist: NIOD Superoxide Dismutase Saccharide Mist
Why use just any face mist when you could spritz on NIOD Superoxide Dismutase Saccharide Mist? This is a really juicy, hydrating spray, but that's not what impressed me about it. What's unique here is that it actually protects against oxidative stress—in fact, the active ingredient was shown to reduce UVB-induced inflammation by 100%. So it's a great product to add to your routine for additional protection when you're outdoors.
Retinol Serum: Shani Darden Retinol Reform
When Shani Darden Retinol Reform was recently reformulated, of course I had to find out how the new version compared to the OG. While the ingredients are not the same, I couldn't detect any difference in the texture or performance—huge sigh of relief! So it's still holding the number one spot out of all the retinol serums I've tried. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a gentle but effective retinoid that is lightweight, silicone-free, fragrance-free and oil-free. See my full review here.
Retinol Cream: A313 Cosmetic Cream with Retinyl Palmitate
Then there's A313 Cosmetic Cream with Retinyl Palmitate, which I love just as much, if not more. The big development in 2020 was "A313 gate"—a name and packaging change that led some of us to suspect they might be fakes. But I personally verified with the manufacturer and distributor that it's all legit, and also tested a new tube myself, which was as active as ever. This stuff is really GOLD. I kid you not, I get multiple messages every week from people thanking me for introducing it to them. It works that well! See my full review here.
Lip Balm: Vis Viva Honey + Vanilla Hydrating Lip Balm
I'm still a major Lanolips devotee, but a new lip balm came into my life last year, and it's the only formula I've tried that works every bit as well as pure lanolin. Vis Viva Honey + Vanilla Hydrating Lip Balm is a blend of lanolin, fractionated coconut oil and extract, honey, beeswax, glycerin, squalane, willow bark, allantoin and vitamin E. Honestly, it is the perfect lip balm in every way.
Face Mask: Dr. Barbara Sturm Clarifying Mask
I didn't do a lot of face masks in 2020, and I have no idea why because I was at home the whole time! But I did go through the Dr. Barbara Sturm Clarifying Mask that I got from the Advent Calendar. This is a lovely clay-based mask with oil-absorbing and calming benefits. It also stays creamy, which is better for your skin than clay masks that dry out (and suck out all the moisture).
Light Therapy Device: Red Light Man Red Light Device
My Red Light Man Red Light Device is still going strong, and I purchased it way back in 2016! I've gotten more use out of this device than any other, as I shine it on my face almost every single night. It's great for reducing inflammation, clearing and preventing breakouts, repairing sun damage and overall firming (not to mention relaxing you before bed). You should also know that this company's lights are far more powerful than other LEDs on the market, and use the most effective wavelengths of light (which means shorter treatment times). See my series for more on red light benefits and how to choose a device.
Microdermabrasion Device: PMD Personal Microderm
I've had my PMD Personal Microderm for a few years now, but it had been a while since I used it until I busted it out in the summer just for fun. It's not something I need in my routine since I already chemically exfoliate every day (and you're technically not supposed to do that when you use this). But if you prefer manual exfoliation for whatever reason, I do believe this is the most effective option, and the next best thing to a professional microdermabrasion treatment.
Microneedling Tool: Nurse Jamie Beauty Stamp
I didn't get to do as much microneedling as I would have liked over the past 12 months, but I did finally try the Nurse Jamie Beauty Stamp, which I'd been curious about for ages. This tool has very shallow 0.2mm needles, and I used it a few times a week before Retinol Reform to help enhance the penetration. You're meant to toss it after 45 to 60 days, so the BeautyBio GLOPro is probably the better investment (since you can buy replacement heads). But I did like this stamp—it's not as intense, so it's a nice introduction to microneedling.
Body Wash: Avène Cleanance Cleansing Gel Face and Body
The best body wash I tried last year—which also doubles as a face cleanser—was Avène Cleanance Cleansing Gel Face and Body. It's a soap-free gel with a silky texture that produces a mild lather (and you only need a small amount). Although January Jones uses it on her face, I would probably only do that in the summer, when my skin is more oily. But for body, I don't find it drying, so it's perfect year-round.
Body Scrub: Herbivore Coco Rose Coconut Oil Body Polish
I've long been a fan of Herbivore Coco Rose Coconut Oil Body Polish for buffing off any dry, scaly skin on my legs. I love how dense and gritty this scrub is, and that it's made with only a few natural ingredients (including sugar, coconut oil and shea butter). Plus, the packaging is just so pretty to display in your bathroom.
Body Moisturizer: REN Neroli and Grapefruit Body Cream
After going through a whole tube of the brand's AHA Body Serum (which I loved), I bought REN Neroli and Grapefruit Body Cream to try. This stuff has an amazing texture—it's thick and rich without feeling heavy or greasy—and it moisturizes with ingredients like fatty alcohols, jojoba oil, glycerin and shea butter. The citrus scent is subtle, so it doesn't fight with your fragrance.
Body Oil: Monoï Tiki Tahiti Ylang Ylang
I tend to use body oil instead of lotion in the summer months, and there's a little-known brand of fragrant coconut oils from Tahiti that I've been obsessed with for years. Monoï Tiki Tahiti Ylang Ylang is the latest one I've tried, and it's just coconut oil infused with tiare petals (monoï), ylang-ylang and vitamin E. It smells like a tropical vacation!
Body Sunscreen: Juice Beauty SPF 30 Sport Sunscreen
Usually, I go through a lot more body sunscreen in the summer, but in 2020, it wasn't meant to be. When I did get outside, the SPF I used was Juice Beauty SPF 30 Sport Sunscreen, which I like because it's water-resistant (so it stays put even if you're sweating or swimming). You do have to rub it in to get rid of the white cast from the 20% zinc oxide, but I've found that it protects well and is very moisturizing.
Hand Lotion: Lano Rose Hand Cream Intense
I have so many tubes of Lano hand lotion floating around at home, including Lano Rose Hand Cream Intense. It's definitely my favourite brand of hand lotion. One quarter of the formula is pure lanolin, which is why it's so healing on dry, chapped skin. It also has shea butter and cocoa butter, and is 98.59% natural.
Cuticle Cream: Lansinoh Lanolin Cream
Speaking of lanolin, I also keep a tube of Lansinoh Lanolin Cream on the nightstand... and no, I don't use it for its intended purpose as a nipple cream! This is just pure lanolin, so it's an intensive ointment that you can put on any areas of dry skin. I always rub it into my cuticles (I don't even miss Dior Crème Abricot anymore!) and it's also great on lips and heels.
Foot Exfoliant: Deborah Lippmann Get Off Callus Softener Intensive Treatment
As someone prone to getting calluses due to over-pronating, I've relied on Baby Foot a few times a year for a deep exfoliation. The problem was, some of the acid would always get on the top of my feet, and the itching and irritation would drive me crazy for days! Enter Deborah Lippmann Get Off Callus Softener Intensive Treatment. This is a spray, so you can be a lot more targeted with where you apply it. You're meant to leave it on for five minutes, and then buff away the skin manually with a foot file. The results aren't as dramatic as you get with Baby Foot, but I've been really happy with this as a maintenance product.
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