Beauty, and the rituals of self-care it goes hand in hand with, have played an interesting, and for many, undeniably important role in 2020. For some, it provided the chance to devote more time to their routines. Whether you delved into at-home facials, DIY nail art, or even bravely attempted hair color at home, it was a year when self-care was needed, perhaps, more than ever. Testing out 2020's latest and greatest beauty products is part of the job for TZR staffers — and sometimes that means playing guinea pig a little bit (no complaints).
That said, the writers and editors at TZR try a lot of newness (and some cult favorites), so it takes a lot for these items to become a true standout. These are the products that changed the game for them during a highly unusual, 'unprecedented' year.
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.
Kathy Lee, Editorial Director
"Hands down the NuFACE Microcurrent Facial Toning Device, particularly the ELE attachment which focuses on the eyes and lip area [was a standout for me]. Since I haven't been to an esthetician for a while, the NuFACE device is a fantastic alternative — not only does it noticeably lift, tone, and firm my face after one use, it's also great for contouring, especially on those days you wake up looking puffy."
Angela Melero, Deputy Editor
"My skin has definitely experienced the adverse effects of constant mask-wearing, so I've been trying to detoxify as much as possible without over-drying. I recently discovered the Rose Cleansing Mask by Plant Bloom Essentials, which was created by my neighbor Athena! I love the brand's holistic approach to beauty and that the formulas are natural and plant-based. This mask has been my saving grace in that it keeps my skin clean and refreshed while also giving it a nice moisture boost!"
"I've been obsessed with Mara Beauty's product line for a while now, but the brand's Algae Retinol Face Oil is definitely at the top of my must-have list. This nighttime staple allows me to wake up with radiant glowing skin (no highlighter required) — and the clean ingredients are super gentle on my complexion."
"Despite the season indoors, I still get outside about four times a day to walk my pup Molly, so I always make sure to keep SPF in my regular rotation. That said, I've become pretty lazy about my beauty routine, so this swipe-on sunscreen from Supergoop is a must in that it's easy to apply and gives my skin a nice glow."
Madge Maril, Beauty Writer
"Like most people, my skin really went through the ringer this year, though my culprit was my apartment's moisture-zapping heating rather than maskne. My top pick this year is Alpyn Beauty's PlantGenius Melt Moisturizer — I don't stick just to clean beauty but I definitely understand the hype now since it's basically all powerful ingredients without any fluff. (Seriously, go check out the ingredient list, it's that good.)"
"Elemis' Pro-Collagen Marine Cream SPF 30 has been a savior when I don't want to apply traditional sunscreen while sitting inside by windows. "
"Finally, Topicals' Like Butter mask soothes my skin when I accidentally get too carried away with exfoliators."
Aemilia Madden, Senior Fashion Editor
"Though as a kid I had light blonde hair, now, it takes appointments at the salon to revive the silvery highlights that came naturally before. While I'm always testing out new toning products to keep my hair from turning brassy, I've been particularly impressed with my latest discovery (bonus is that it smells great too!)."
"The end of 2020 also marks my 30th birthday, and I've celebrated the occasion by finally introducing a retinol product into my routine. I've been pleasantly surprised by how well my skin has responded to introducing this serum once-weekly into my routine. It isn't harsh or drying, it's light and hardly noticeable."
Ashley Tibbits, Lifestyle Writer
"REN's Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic is by far the most transformative product I have ever used. I first saw makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes use it in one of her videos and noticed how insanely glowy she looked after one swipe and I am happy to report that it wasn't camera trickery! My skin has never been more noticeably glowing or soft and it's even gentle enough that my sensitive skin can still use it every day. I've already gotten friends and family who noticed my skin over Zoom to buy it for themselves."
"Essence has been a game changer. I never really understood its purpose before but after listening to Kate Berlant rave about its benefits on her POOG podcast I decided to add one into my routine. I've been using the Hydramemory one by Comfort Zone and layering it under my beloved Belif Aqua Bomb (NOTHING is better to hydrate my oily, sensitive skin!) and I must say it's amped up the plumpness and hydration. "
"I suffer from hormonal acne on my chin and although it's hard for any product to be able to reduce that, BalmLabs Clear Balm products (I especially love the Gentle Foam Cleanser) make a huge difference in reducing the inflammation. The ingredients are so clean but also powerfully effective."
"Does facial spray really do anything? I don't know and I don't care, because even if it's just a placebo effect, this fragrance-free spray makes my skin feel so calmed, cooled, and hydrated when I spritz it on post-toner and pre-essence. In the rare event I put makeup on these days, I'll also add a layer over the top."
Anna Buckman, Lifestyle Writer
"I love absolutely everything from Camila Coelho's new beauty line, but especially this lip and cheek stain. It creates the most beautiful, natural-looking color on my lips and even stays on through my mask. It also really does look beautiful as a cheek stain, too, and the best part is I use it every day and it's lasted me months with no sign of running out."
"My love for Hourglass' Extreme Lash Mascara is *almost* tied with its Vanish Airbrush Concealer, but this one wins out in the end in my book. Nothing — I repeat, nothing — has ever made my lashes look so long and fluttery. Out of the 20+ new mascaras I tried this year, Hourglass' wins by a landslide."
"As someone with very oily hair (who hates washing it), it's a constant battle for me trying to get any life into my strands. This saves the day every time. Not only does it give the perfect amount of texture, it also sort of doubles as a dry shampoo (for me, anyway), never leaves a weird gritty feel, and smells incredible."
Danielle Naer, Fashion Writer
"I have hyper-sensitive, acne-prone skin — so I’m generally hesitant when it comes to trying out richer moisturizers and oils. Then, I tried Summer Fridays’ Jet Lag mask (bravely, as someone who typically never goes heavier than a serum). It immediately gave my skin a new glow that I’ve never experienced before, evening my complexion and texture without inducing the proverbial flare up. Net net: It’s well worth the hype."
Sara Spruch-Feiner, Beauty Writer
"I put my skin through a lot, trying new products near...daily, and amazingly, it mostly puts up with the constant change. And so, honestly, no one is more surprised than I am when I continually reach for something — let alone finish it. One such product in 2020: Kate Somerville's DeliKate™ Recovery Cream, which, thanks to the ceramides and peptide complex it contains is seriously nourishing and soothing. Though it's intended for sensitive skin, which I do not actually have, I would recommend this moisturizer to anyone who can handle something on the richer side. And if you play around with skincare a lot, like I do, it's also a perfect "reset" button."
"Ok, I know it sounds dramatic, but I promise you, this deodorant is life-changing. I had tried every 'natural' deodorant on the market, and none did...well, very much at all. Until Kosas introduced its Chemistry Deodorant. The secret? It uses AHAs (like the ones you use on your face) which essentially works to lower the pH in your pits, making it less habitable for odor-causing bacteria. If you've just about given up on natural deodorants—try this one first. Another tip: It actually helps to apply deodorant at night. I try to remember to do this, and happily, wake up (and stay) BO-free.
"Josh Rosebrook is one of my favorite skin care brands. Rosebrook is an extremely careful formulator, pouring years of research into each and every product (which leads to lots of eager anticipation before a new product drops). 2020's hit: the Daily Acid Toner. Unlike some acid-based toners, this product does not sting (though admittedly, I am very used to acids), and is safe for daily use (as its name implies). It blends less common acids like pyruvic, malic, and citric, with glycolic acid. The acids are in a hydrating base of micronutrient-dense aloe juice, and rich clay minerals to name a few of Rosebrook's meticulously selected ingredients."
"To be totally honest, once March hit, I stopped wearing makeup. But—in the short bit of 2020 I spent out in the world, I was newly obsessed with Ilia's Super Serum Skin Tint. I used to get ready to leave the house in just about 15 minutes and this is the kind of product that helps make that possible. With nourishing squalane, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and skin-barrier boosting niacinamide, it really does act like a true serum. SPF 40, is of course, a must, and the tint helps me look glowy and even-toned with just one product."