It feels like every day there’s a new serum, moisturizer, or mask promising to upgrade your skin care routine and deliver bouncy, cherub-like skin. Buzzy new ingredients like deep-sea algae and licorice root tease visible results, from smoother skin texture to fewer dark spots, all while housed in sleek, #shelfie-worthy packaging and backed by clinical data. In other words, the skin care industry is thriving — but this also means that the sheer amount of options can be overwhelming.
Case in point: In the quest for a new wrinkle-smoothing, dark circle-busting eye cream, where does one even begin to start to narrow things down? Sure, you can spend hours poring over reviews online, but consider the TZR Beauty Awards: The High/Low your shortcut. Our team rigorously tested hundreds of products over the past year to award the best skin care products on the market — with one winner over $20 and one below $20, because we know everyone spends and splurges differently. Ahead, find the best skin care launches of 2022, no matter your budget.
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Best Cleanser Over $20
Eve Lom Foaming Cream Cleanser
Foaming cleansers aren’t usually synonymous with plump, hydrated skin, but this product is changing the game for good. That’s not just because of its formula, which utilizes water to activate its unique cream-to-foam lather, either. Surprisingly, it also manages to leave users feeling the opposite of stripped — even when added to a multistep cleansing routine. “It hydrates and moisturizes my sensitive, mainly dry skin,” says Kaitlin Cubria, Elite Daily Deputy Lifestyle, Fashion, and Beauty Editor. “I particularly like using it as part one of my makeup removal process.”
Best Cleanser Under $20
Byoma Creamy Jelly Cleanser
An audible reaction is a surefire sign of a skin care winner, and it’s just one of the reasons this cleanser took the top spot in its category. “When I first rubbed this on my face, I actually said ‘Oooohhh!’” admits Kelsey Stiegman, senior fashion editor at Bustle. It’s easy to believe — upon contact with warm water, the formula creates a rich lather with a silky texture. Plus, with a lineup of brightening, conditioning, and barrier-boosting ingredients including green tea extracts and licorice root, it leaves skin both feeling and looking good afterward.
Best Essence Over $20
La Mer The Treatment Lotion
The benefits touted by La Mer’s The Treatment Lotion reads like an entire dictionary of skin care solutions (“Plumping, hydrating, good for dryness, pores, and loss of firmness,” it claims). But even with the inclusion of the brand’s mythical “Miracle Broth,” it’s hard to imagine this watery lotion could deliver on all of the above. Believe it, though — the skin care base ticks off so many boxes for TZR contributor Maria Del Russo, she’s already thinking about repurchasing the $125 splurge herself. “Obsessed with this,” she says, explaining that she used the product both morning and night during her trial. “Love how easily it absorbed into my skin and how bouncy it made it look and feel.”
Best Essence Under $20
Mario Badescu Facial Spray With Aloe, Adaptogens, and Coconut Water
Thanks to Hailey Bieber, “glistening” is a term thrown around a lot these days. While it may seem like that perfectly dewy look can only be achieved through an excessively complicated routine, Amanda Chan, BDG vice president of content strategy, says otherwise. As she puts it, this $9 mist is “great for making my face look glistening, not in a gross and sweaty way, but in a ‘yes, my skin really is just that hydrated’ way.” As if that’s not enough to convince you, Chan says it leaves her “feeling refreshed” and smells good (but not overpowering) to boot.
Best Exfoliator Over $20
Shani Darden Lactic Acid Serum
At this point, we might as well start calling Shani Darden the serum whisperer. She’s earned the moniker with her retinol treatment, which now enjoys icon status after years as a go-to treatment for celebrities and beauty insiders. According to TZR Beauty Editor Amanda Ross, the retinol isn’t the only legendary formula with which Darden has blessed the world. Ross fell in love with the brand’s Lactic Acid Serum after adding the product to her skin-cycling routine. “This is the perfect, most ideal exfoliator for the exfoliation nights,” she shares. “My skin didn’t feel tight or stripped the next day, and I had a noticeably more even tone — which might be because this gave me such a glow overnight.” In fact, she says, its gentle yet effective formula has become her new go-to for special-event prep. “It’s so smoothing!”
Best Exfoliator Under $20
Well People Plant Powderfoliant Renewing Charcoal Exfoliating Powder
Unfortunately for skin everywhere, exfoliator formulations are often as aggressive as their descriptors. They “scrub,” “polish,” and “deep clean,” leaving users feeling irritated and stripped of all moisture. Well People, however, seems to take the opposite approach. Using a powder-based exfoliator that’s activated by water, this product features charcoal, kaolin clay, and green tea in order to gently soften, brighten, and renew complexions. And it’s pretty much for that exact reason that BDG Executive Beauty Director Faith Xue says she was blown away when using it. “I love that it lathers into a satisfying foam and leaves my skin feeling smooth and clean, but not tight or dry,” she says. It’s simply a bonus, then, that it’s travel-friendly. “I replace my cleanser with this product on short trips away.”
Best Eye Cream
Best Eye Cream Over $20
Korres Greek Yoghurt Wide Awake Eye Gel
The extra step of slathering on eye cream is already a stretch for many skin care minimalists. Add in a bulky, inconvenient jar and the fact that you have to get your hands dirty one more time, and you’ve got a recipe for never using eye cream again. That’s actually the primary reason Korres’ roll-on serum won a place in the heart of Bustle Senior Lifestyle and Beauty Editor Rachel Lapidos as a product she says she now LOVES. (Yes, in all caps — and more than once.) “I love an eye product that has a rollerball application (perfect for lazy gals who don’t usually use an eye cream).” The cherry on top? Its combination of Greek yogurt and caffeine “truly works wonders on puffiness,” she says.
Best Eye Cream Under $20
Versed Smooth Landing Advanced Retinoid Eye Cream
Versed’s philosophy of creating high-performance products at accessible prices is front and center in this smoothing eye balm. At $18, it’s a steal — yet it’s still packed with firming and moisturizing ingredients like Granactive retinoid, shiitake mushroom extract, and vitamin E to ensure it does the most. Even the texture got an upgrade here — rather than the typical cream, TZR Associate Beauty News Editor Annie Blay says it has a balm consistency with an oil-like feel that’s not at all greasy. “I noticed a significant improvement in my dark circles,” she says of her experience, noting that you can also expect it to last a while. “A little goes a long way,” she says. “I use it every day, and I’ve had it since January.”
Best SPF Over $20
Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Sunscreen SPF 50
You know that one friend who just knows their way around an eyeshadow palette and owns basically every version under the sun? They’re the person you’d trust with any recommendation, and always turn to for advice. That’s how BDG Executive Beauty Director Faith Xue is with sunscreen. A self-proclaimed “connoisseur” (and, of course, an industry vet), she’s a bona fide SPF expert. So when Xue says this Glow Recipe formula has “won a permanent place” in her heart, you can trust it’s that good. “It’s so silky-smooth and sinks in instantly with no evidence it was there before,” she says of her experience with the product. “I love that it feels more like a light lotion than a traditional SPF, and layers well under makeup.”
Best SPF Under $20
Sun Bum Original Glow SPF 30 Sunscreen Face Lotion
There are other glow-inducing sunscreens out there, to be sure. But why buy those when this $16 option is, according to TZR Senior Designer Lindsay Hattrick, equally as good? She says it’s a near-exact dupe of a well-known (and more expensive) cult favorite, and really does add a “beautiful glow” to the skin that works just as well under foundation as it does on its own. Plus, she loves “how sensitive skin-friendly it is” and that it doesn’t make her break out at all.
Best Toner Over $20
Cocokind Turmeric Illuminating Solution
Most exfoliating toners leave sensitive-skinned people running for the hills. But TZR Deputy Beauty Editor Hannah Baxter says that’s absolutely not the case with this formula, which “provides a gentle option to fight dark spots.” Using a combination of 2% mandelic, 2% PHA, and 3% glycolic acid, it aims to deliver on softer, more even-toned skin without all the harshness. “I really saw a difference when I used it a few times a week,” notes Baxter, adding that she loves how its ingredients are suitable for all skin tones.
Best Toner Under $20
Thayers Natural Remedies Hydrating Milky Toner
There’s a time and place for skin care with all the bells and whistles. But sometimes, you just want a straightforward product that simply does what it promises. This toner falls squarely into the latter camp: The $15 buy features a blend of snow mushroom, hyaluronic acid, and elderflower water, and is meant to tone while boosting moisture levels. That was pretty much Alexa Pipia’s takeaway exactly. “I love the way this toner felt and it really was very hydrating,” says the NYLON and Elite Daily Social Media Manager, explaining that she felt it helped her skin absorb more of her moisturizer and other products in her routine.
Best Soothing Serum
Best Soothing Serum Over $20
Laneige Water Bank Blue Hyaluronic Serum
Warning: The scientific description of this serum’s star ingredient sounds complicated, but the results are simple — and remarkable. According to the brand, the blue hyaluronic acid was created by putting regular HA through a double fermentation process with fucoidan (“a moisturizing agent derived from deep sea algae,” it explains), and then subjecting it to a 10-step microfiltration process. Thanks to all that, though, your skin will be equally glazed after its use. As BDG Executive Beauty Director Faith Xue describes it, the serum yields a “juicy, plump finish,” while also soothing her skin. “This serum feels like a tall drink of water for my skin,” she shares. “I’m obsessed.”
Best Soothing Serum Under $20
Naturium Vitamin K Liposome Serum
Think of Naturium’s serum as a therapist for your skin. It features ingredients like vitamin K liposome, encapsulated curcumin, pine bark, bisabolol, and vitamin F, which come together in a blend that Hannah Baxter, deputy beauty editor at TZR, says acts as a soothing salve in times of distress. “My skin is super sensitive and gets irritated and red easily, but adding in this serum calmed everything down after one use,” she shares.
Best Moisturizer Over $20
Dieux Skin Instant Angel
The wordy list of ingredients in Dieux Skin’s Instant Angel moisturizer (phytosterols, free fatty acids, palmitoyl hexapeptide-12, urea, dipalmitoyl hydroxyproline, and more) might not mean anything to you at first glance. But as Hannah Baxter, TZR deputy beauty editor, points out, the lineup is basically a “who’s-who of all-star moisturizers.” And they clearly work well together — Baxter says she’s so obsessed, she’s already gone through three tubes. “The glow on this moisturizer is truly next level, and it leaves your skin feeling buttery soft and hydrated all day long.” Sounds like it’s time for a fourth.
Best Moisturizer Under $20
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Matte Moisturizer
This oil-free, non-comedogenic moisturizer comes from French pharmacy brand La Roche-Posay, a cult favorite for skin-soothing formulas that don’t break the bank. Layla Halabian, NYLON culture editor, remarks that the French version of “matte” is more comfortable than how Americans interpret it. “It’s not dewy, but it’s very moisturizing,” she says. BDG VP of Content Strategy Amanda Chan calls this moisturizer “perfect” and praises its lightweight texture. “It easily soaked into my skin, and didn’t leave my face feeling greasy or heavy,” she says.
Best Brightening Serum
Best Brightening Serum Over $20
Sisley-Paris Sisleÿa L’integral Anti-Age Radiance Anti-Dark Spot Serum
Waiting to see results from your beauty products is a lot like waiting for Rihanna’s next album — you know it has to happen at some point, but it feels like it’s taking literally forever. While there’s nothing you can do about the RiRi scenario, Sisley-Paris has introduced a solution for the former with this fast-acting gel serum. It uses Lansium extract and hexylresorcinol to target uneven complexions, while soy peptide extract and adenosine work to restore luminosity. And yes, it does perform quickly. NYLON and Elite Daily Social Media Manager Alexa Pipia says she saw near-immediate results. “I was using another anti-dark spot corrector before this one that was taking super long to show results — not this product,” she says, confirming that it’s definitely worth the (admittedly high) cost.
Best Brightening Serum Under $20
Ferver Fermented Prebiotic Glow Serum
Ferver is a Gen-Z brand you might have seen on TikTok — but it packs serious skin care benefits in all of its affordably-priced products. The glow-boosting serum harnesses the power of fermented probiotics — supposedly four times more potent that vitamin C — to brighten and help your skin look more selfie-worthy. “I was surprised at how much I enjoyed using this serum,” says Faith Xue, BDG executive beauty director. “I used it morning and night and saw a noticeable difference in how glow-y my skin looked after just a week.”
Best Face Mask
Best Face Mask Over $20
Noble Panacea Chronobiology Sleep Mask
The description for this sleep mask is fancy enough to match its $310 price tag. It’s “carefully calibrated to optimize and work in synergy with the skin’s natural overnight biorhythm of regeneration and self-repair processes,” writes the brand. But don’t let the price or mission scare you. Based on the review by Hannah Baxter, TZR deputy beauty editor, that’s just a fancy way of saying it’ll revive your skin even after the most taxing situations — and with how well it works, you might not even mind the price tag. “I went to sleep with this overnight mask on after a night of drinking martinis, and I looked so well-rested the next day — a very impressive feat,” she shares.
Best Face Mask Under $20
Starface Super-Sulfur Magic Mask
Gone are the days of abrasive acne masks and treatments that strip your face of natural oils and leave it worse for the wear. Now, the skin care gods have blessed us with formulas like Starface’s new Super-Sulfur Magic Mask that helps treat oily and acne-prone skin sans irritation. The “magical” cocktail of ingredients includes 10% maximum strength sulfur, kaolin clay, and calming blueberry extract that work in tandem to unclog pores and remove excess oil while leaving the complexion baby-soft and squeaky clean. Even if your skin isn’t acne-prone, this mask is a great way weekly detox treatment.
Best Oil Over $20
Klur Unseasonal Kind Lipid Replenishment Oil
The paradox of needing skin care to recover from skin care is all too real — just ask TZR contributor Diana Tsui, who started adopting face oils in recent years “as my skin sometimes needs it after using retinols and glycolic treatments,” she says. While finding yourself in that situation is always a little disconcerting, Tsui says this formula is one she’ll definitely keep using to help. The antioxidant blend of squalene, CoQ10, and vitamins C and E worked wonders as a final evening step: “It created a tight seal over all my products and I woke up with smooth, glowing skin,” she explains. “It has outperformed all of my other face oils by far.”
Best Oil Under $20
Derma-E Vitamin C Glow Face Oil
Derma-E’s latest launch is a must for those seeking brighter, more radiant skin. The healthy dose of vitamin C, mica, and turmeric brighten and nourish to deliver a natural glow that you have to see to believe. Plus, at just $16, the price point can’t be beat. “I used this for a week as the final step in my nighttime skin care routine to seal in my serum and moisturizer, and loved the way my skin looked in the morning,” says BDG Executive Beauty Director Faith Xue. “It’s now a product I recommend to anyone looking for an affordable face oil.”
Best Retinol Over $20
Common Heir 0.2% Retinol Serum
In conversations regarding retinol, you’re almost as likely to hear the word “scary” used as much as “smoothing.” And that’s basically how TZR contributor Taylor Stephan describes her feelings before trying this product. “I am not someone that uses retinol regularly, so I was nervous to see how my skin would react.” Spoiler alert: After a trial with the gentle nightly treatment, Stephan found herself so pleasantly surprised. “Not once did my skin dry out, and I even noticed an improved texture,” she says — results that are no doubt thanks to the formula’s added trinity of botanicals, squalane, and algae oil designed to smooth, moisturize, and protect.
Best Retinol Under $20
RoC Deep Wrinkle Retinol Patches
You’d be hard-pressed to find a retinol under $20. In fact, our top pick in this category barely makes the cut — but, at $20 it is definitely a worthy option. With a skin-loving cocktail of retinol, hyaluronic acid, and peptides, these patches target your areas of concern (crow’s feet, forehead, smile lines, etc.) and deliver visible results after a the first application.
Top Video Credits: Find Me Now tank top, The M Jewelers earrings.
Model: Rae Rodriguez
Director of Photography: Clarence Fuller
Stylist: Stephanie Sanchez
Hair: Junya Nakashima
Makeup: Frankie Boyd
Manicure: Eri Handa
Associate Creative Director, Video: Samuel Schultz
Photo Director: Alex Pollack
Executive Beauty Director: Faith Xue
VP Creative, Video: Lauren Sofair
SVP Fashion: Tiffany Reid
SVP Creative: Karen Hibbert