The 26 Best New Skin Care Products Of 2021

The High/Low: from cleansers and moisturizers to retinol and facial tools, both over and under $20.

By TZR Editors
Two models posing together for  TZR The High/Low awards

Adjusting your skin care routine can depend on a number of factors — the season, your location, your stress levels, and more. That’s why a solid lineup of vetted products is so important, ensuring that you’re able to give your skin exactly what it needs on any given day. From the core essentials like face wash, moisturizer, and SPF to the niche specialities like a vitamin C serum for dark spots and an eye cream to combat fine lines, the best new products over and under $20 will help to keep your complexion as healthy and glowing as possible.

We only include products that have been independently selected by TZR’s editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

Best Facial Cleanser

Under $20:

Glossier’s always had a reputation for to-the-point products with just enough frills to add some fun and whimsy, but this powerhouse cleanser is all killer, no filler — so you can go no filter. “This is a fantastic cleanser,” guest judge Sofie Pavitt says, point-blank. “It contains malic and lactic acids, which dissolve the bonds between dead skin and healthy skin underneath — which leaves the skin feeling so smooth and looking radiant.” Clearly, the mega-brand is on to something with its famous “skin care first” philosophy.

Over $20:

It almost seems like the ultimate skin care paradox: a gentle cleanser that completely eliminates lingering dirt, oil, makeup, and debris while maintaining the skin’s oh-so-delicate moisture balance. Tatcha’s bestselling face wash manages to do just that, with zero dry or stripped skin to be found, and it looks especially sleek on your bathroom counter, too. Guest judge Sean Garrette points to the feather-light granulation of the formula as one of its most notable features: “I love the inclusion of microcrystalline cellulose as it adds a gentle exfoliating property that helps smooth and refine skin,” he says. “Your skin feels hydrated and supple after every use.”

Best Moisturizer

Under $20:

If you’re between the ages of 15 and 70, there’s a solid chance one of your first-ever skin care products was from dermatologist-loved Cetaphil. Better yet, no matter what age you are, it’s highly likely that one of your favorite skin care products is still from Cetaphil. In the case of this use-anytime moisturizer, the immediate hydration and sensitive skin-safe formula prove why the brand’s been a science-backed stalwart for so long. Guest judge Sydney Utendahl says she found the cream to be “perfectly hydrating” and appreciated the tubbed packaging, too. She notes that “this product sits well on top of serums” for those with a multistep skin care routine. If you’re worried about disturbing your sensitive skin, this cream is a must for peace of mind (and glowy skin).

Over $20:

Say hello to the ultimate skin care overachiever, delivering skin-saving hydration with every pump. Loaded down with a staggering five different types of hyaluronic acid alone, the moisturizer combines them with the brand’s signature, patent-pending hydra-siren blend technology for a promise of 48-hour hydration — and guest judge Sofie Pavitt can attest to that. “Ultra-hydrating without the heaviness usually associated with a richer moisturizer,” she says of the cream, calling it a great moisturizer for post-exfoliation or after retinol. “It left my skin extremely dewy and luminous. I use this in the evening as my final step in my routine, and I’ll for sure be repurchasing this.”

Best Exfoliator

Under $20:

From the moment Starface burst onto the scene with its signature look-at-me star-shaped pimple patches, it was clear the brand was destined to join the constellation of skin care superstars. But while the patches might have been just the thing to grab attention, this powerful, fan-favorite exfoliant keeps it. “I love this combination of alpha, beta, and polyhydroxy acids for a combination exfoliation,” guest judge Dr. Fatima Fahs affirms. “The dispenser is perfect for getting a small amount on a cotton pad without wasting product, and the price makes it a bang for your buck!” Whether you’re tackling dark marks left over from acne, or determined to smooth away any texture issues, this affordable exfoliant is invaluable for your skin care lineup.

Over $20:

This product is nothing like what you’re used to from a cleanser — that’s what makes it so fun and effective. A finely milled powder that transforms into an exfoliating foam wash the second it hits warm water, the cleanser is especially great for acne-prone skin thanks to the added green tea enzymes, which help to limit oil production. Guest judge Kristina Rodulfo says it’s fun to use, too. “There’s something very therapeutic about mixing together the loose powder and water to make the foaming paste,” she says. “My skin feels unbelievably soft afterward!” If you haven’t found that holy grail exfoliator yet, or have been too quick to write off physical exfoliants, this formula definitely deserves your attention.

Best Toner

Under $20:

It’s the very definition of flower power — center-stage ingredient passionflower oil is rich in vitamins A and C and has natural anti-inflammatories for an oil-balancing, skin-calming formulation. This toner also dispenses as a mist, which means you’ll save on cotton pads in the long run. To top it all off, the floral fragrance is so realistic you’ll think you’re in a lush tulip field rather than… let’s say, a tiny apartment bathroom, for example. Kimberly Bernhardt, BDG executive vice president of communications, calls the product wonderful and credits its soft-spray mist and fast-drying formula. “It left my skin feeling refreshed and toned,” she says. “I also like the lovely packaging and found it to be of tremendous value price-wise.”

Over $20:

An incredible toner is kind of like a life-changing spiritual experience — once you’re in, you’re really in and left questioning exactly what life was like before that moment. And this toner, which walks the tightrope between moisturizing and brightening (shoutout to the symphony of pyruvic, citric, malic, and glycolic acids), has the converts to prove it. “An acid toner runs the risk of being too harsh, but this expertly crafted formula keeps your skin balanced with a base of calming aloe juice that actually leaves you feeling more nourished and supple,” says TZR Deputy Beauty Editor Hannah Baxter. “Any texture issues I had are gone and it’s minimizing my pesky hyperpigmentation every time I use it.” It’s ideal if you have sensitive skin and are new to the exfoliating toner game as well.

Best Face Oil

Under $20:

A highly effective formula, a fun-to-use dropper tool, and a perfectly punny name? Is this a... perfect skin care product? Considering this moisturizing oil doubles as a sunscreen and triples as a light-reflecting illuminator, it sure seems like it. “The fact that this is an oil and a sunscreen is everything,” says Rebecca Iloulian, TZR associate director of marketing and audience development. “It was super hydrating on my dry skin and got double the work done with one product.” Regardless of natural melanin, all skin needs at least SPF 30-level protection — and MELĒ makes remembering to wear it actually fun.

Over $20:

The best face oils should make the user feel like Cleopatra herself, adjusting a gold headpiece to smooth on some lush blend of extracts. Joaquina Botánica’s glow-boosting oil does just that, minus the kingdom and crown. Though vitamin C is arguably the star ingredient, it’s nearly eclipsed by a slew of superfruits like papaya and maracuja that leave skin dew-soaked and juicy. “I am obsessed with this oil,” guest judge Cait Kiernan raves, highlighting the formula’s fruity blend in particular. “I would apply it after washing in the morning and night and it really left my skin glowy, bouncy, and supple. What more could I ask for?”

Best Hydrating Serum

Under $20:

Why can’t everything in life be this convenient? It’s all the radiant, bounce-boosting hydration you love in a bottled serum, cleverly packaged as a glide-on stick. So moisturizing is the tiny stick that Sam Rullo, BDG associate director of editorial operations, can barely believe the price point. “It’s so immediately cooling and hydrating when you put it on, and the stick makes it so easy to apply, without any greasiness,” she says. “I had a sunburn at one point and I thought it helped that a lot, too!” Perfect for sleepovers, vacations, and your nightstand alike, the gel-based swipe-on uses sodium hyaluronate to calm and refresh parched skin while green microalgae and lactic acid keep bacteria — and excessive oil — at bay.

Over $20:

Remember those little play chemistry kits from childhood, with their tiny plastic beakers and cups and packets filled with colorful powders ready to be poured and mixed? This is essentially the adult version of that, but with the added bonus of major, major hydration. Just pop open the freeze-dried hyaluronic acid capsules and mix them in your palm until they dissolve into a liquid. TZR writer Amanda Ross calls it her favorite HA serum ever and says it’s great for anyone using retinol or another intense exfoliant. “I notice a lot more moisture and reduced appearance of fine lines in my forehead and nasolabial folds,” she explains. “The results are pretty staggering.” The activator serum also contains purslane to help brighten the skin, plus white mulberry and pomegranate extract to drench your skin in antioxidants.

Best Vitamin C

Under $20:

Not all vitamin C serums are created equal, and it takes just a few weeks of using Indeed Labs’ version to learn that firsthand. Encapsulated, non-oxidizing vitamin C is at the core of this serum, which is a whopping 15 times the efficacy found in plain ol’ vitamin C on its own. Combined with exciting, exotic-sounding ingredients like volcanic soil, using it is a fast-track to a radiant, even complexion. “Whilst pregnant with my third, I developed darker patches on my face and have been on the hunt for a product that dulls them,” Kimberly Bernhardt, BDG executive vice president of communications, shares. She says the serum did just that. “I absolutely loved this product and will continue to use it.”

Over $20:

To straight-up name a product “number one,” there has to be some serious confidence in its efficacy. A few pearlescent drops of MUTHA’s cult-favorite serum and it’s clear why this couldn’t be named anything but. The brand’s proprietary, bio-fermented blend of hyaluronic acid, kefiran, and rice peptides make up the signature MUTHA Core Technology at the serum’s heart, while stabilized vitamin C fades dark spots and encourages collagen production — which is why guest judge Tennille Jenkins calls the serum her new skin care rock star. “It leaves my skin so freakin’ smooth, like soft, plump baby skin,” she raves. “For anyone looking to use one serum morning and night, this is number one. So happy to add it to my skin care lineup.”

Best Retinol

Under $20:

Good Molecules’ research and development team definitely understand the ultimate retinol struggle: It’s used to improve skin texture in every sense, but the often-irritating potency and subsequent redness or discomfort can leave you feeling more insecure than before. Thankfully, this cream comes with a built-in frontline defense in the form of soothing grapeseed oil and allantoin. Says TZR Deputy Beauty Editor Hannah Baxter, “An affordable and gentle retinol is the perfect entry point for this must-have skin care category. The formula’s added nourishing and hydrating ingredients are a major bonus. And truly, the price is unreal — such a good value for the radiance I saw on my skin.”

Over $20:

Fact: Retinol is the ultimate secret weapon for smooth, bright, supple skin. Fiction: You need prescription retinol to make that happen. Maelove uses retinaldehyde, a form of vitamin A that is one step closer to converting to retinoic acid and becoming active on your skin, and is the most powerful retinoid you can get over the counter. That essentially means more bang for your buck. The bright yellow serum also does pure retinol one better with a balancing blend of hydrators like squalane and hyaluronic acid mixed in to banish irritation and dryness. “I couldn’t believe the instant difference this retinol made on my oily-combination skin,” says BDG Executive Beauty Director Faith Xue. “My skin texture looked smoother, my pores were less noticeable, and my skin felt plumper. I also love that the black glass packaging keeps the retinol stable for longer, and that the silky texture sinks in instantly with zero pilling.”

Best Eye Cream

Under $20:

After a long, tiring day, simply holding this eye cream pen’s metal tip to your skin is relaxing enough to elicit actual sighs of relief — as would the brightening, hydrating formula. On the ingredients list, Persian silk tree is just as smooth and supple as it sounds while hibiscus flower acids gently layer in some exfoliating AHAs for a bright-eyed look, no matter how distressing last night’s dream was. Sam Rullo, BDG associate director of editorial operations, loves the cooling effect of the metal applicator and says the cream itself helped brighten her dark circles overnight. Plus, she says, “you don’t have to use much to get your whole undereye area,” which means the product is a great value for the already affordable price.

Over $20:

It’s as if Shani Darden herself managed to eavesdrop on every conversation about eye cream, possibly ever, to develop the be-all-end-all of high-end eye care. The formula itself is steeped in peptides for trampoline-level bounce and silk tree extract that illuminates deep under-eye circles. But the way the pump dispenses the product, in actual ribbons of satiny cream, defeats all other eye cream packaging for good. “I love the texture of this eye cream, which feels thick and hydrating without veering into goopy,” BDG Executive Beauty Director Faith Xue says. “It’s become my holy-grail eye cream because it makes a noticeable difference in the fine lines creeping up in my under-eyes, plumping them up and helping me look more awake.”

Best Face Mask

Under $20:

When VERSED describes this treatment as an instant resurfacing mask, they really meant it — and guest judge Sydney Utendahl can back that up. “It helped make my skin smoother and it brightened my skin,” she explains of the fast-acting mask. “It is definitely worth the price and is a great mask that shows a difference after a couple uses only.” Despite her skin’s typical sensitivity to chemical exfoliants, this didn’t irritate it thanks to the gentle but mighty resurfacing power of glycolic and lactic acids. If you want to banish those dark spots for good, a weekly session with this treatment is the ideal place to start.

Over $20:

Most beauty products can be divided into two camps: workhorses and show ponies. But virtually everything from Gen Z-adored brand TOPICALS seems to occupy both. The Like Butter mask is refreshingly thick and cool, with its green tea extract, colloidal oatmeal, turmeric, and ginseng blended into a whipped texture that glides on… well, like butter. Guest judge Sydney Utendahl says the mask helped soothe her own dermatitis and rehydrate her skin post-chemical exfoliant. “It also doubles as a nice overnight hand/foot mask,” she adds.

Best Sunscreen

Under $20

Please direct your attention to the undisputed star of the summer. You’ve seen the retro packaging peeking out of only the coolest pool bags, but the trendsetters who love this sunscreen aren’t just obsessed with how it looks. “It was impossible not to love this, from the scent to the application, this SPF was dreamy and perfect,” Elite Daily Editor-in-Chief Kylie McConville says. “There was no white cast left behind — not that I expected one — but this was creamy and hydrating and really, really nice to use, both on the beach and as a daily SPF.” Thanks to a highly protective formula and incredible scent (it was developed with a master perfumer), the tropics-in-a-tube SPF turns even a block-long dog walk into a sunset Malibu stroll.

Over $20

Bask’s reef-friendly sunscreen is more than just pretty packaging — though to be sure, it’s got that covered, too. Beyond the summery, butter-colored tube, this SPF is just how sunscreen should be: truly sheer, silky to the touch, non-clogging, and fast-absorbing. “This sunscreen is great with no white cast and the most delicious scent,” guest judge Sofie Pavitt says, adding that its formula is ideal even for sensitive skin types.

Best Acne Treatment

Under $20:

It’s easy to imagine stubborn zits being zapped away by this drying treatment while an old-school sound effect announces their defeat with a dramatic womp-woooomp. A perfect remedy for skin-pickers, dabbing this cream on active and under-the-surface acne can dry out zits overnight — and the bright white dot left behind is like a giant stop sign discouraging any popping. Bustle Entertainment Editor at Large Samantha Leach says she personally experienced the treatment stopping a stubborn zit in its tracks and now describes herself as “obsessed.” With results like these, it’s pretty clear why.

Over $20:

Breakouts can feel like betrayal — “I do my skin care but my skin doesn’t care!” is a major meme for a reason. When they pop up, it can be tempting to go full scorched-earth and burn every pimple to the ground with extractors and harsh treatments, but Peter Thomas Roth’s spa-strength clarifier is always a better move. “This is an incredible exfoliant for those who suffer from breakouts and congested skin,” guest judge Sean Garrett says of the liquid, itself powered by a carefully calibrated blend of PHA, AHA, and BHA. “While this product is quite expensive, it works well on blackheads and whiteheads, and helps pores look more refined and clear.”

Best Skin Tool

Under $20:

Think of it like a power tool for your face — albeit a very gentle one. This palm-sized silicon gadget vibrates and pulses to help remove makeup and daily grime while stimulating blood flow for a plumped, clean finish that’s primed for your next skin care steps. “The vibration felt amazing,” NYLON Entertainment Editor Claire Valentine says, “and for the price, this is definitely a great product to add a little extra oomph to your self-care routine.” If your teeth deserve an electric toothbrush, your skin definitely deserves a tiny turbo-cleanse.

Over $20:

While this pocket-sized wand may look unassuming, it’s really four spa-quality functionalities in one, perfect for slipping into TSA-approved travel bags. At once a skin-lifting massager, tightening microcurrent device, and spot-fading LED mask with red light therapy, it’s the sort of skin tool you can use while slack-jawed in front of a Netflix marathon — and then marvel at the results. “I have seen a difference in my skin’s overall brightness and I think it looks more plump and smooth after using this for a few weeks,” guest judge Sofie Pavitt shares, recommending daily use for maximum results.

Top Image Credits: On Davina (left): Alix bodysuit, Wempe earrings. On Janice (right): Alix bodysuit.