The Beauty Buys That Give Our Editors Serious Results

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
If you think Refinery29's beauty editors just sit around playing with lipstick all day, well... you wouldn't be entirely wrong. Sampling products is indeed one of the perks requirements of the job, and we try a hell of a lot of stuff.

So for us, hitting the pan on our favorite eyeshadow or finishing the last drop of a body wash is rare. When we do though, that means the product is seriously stellar — like so good we'll resort to scooping out the last bits with a Q-tip or cutting open a bottle with scissors.

Over the past few months, our editors have been dutifully collecting their #empties (from lip balms to rich body creams) — and we've got a serious haul of products to show for it. Ahead, learn more about the 41 beauty buys that have carried us through the winter.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Alix Tunell, Senior Beauty Editor
"This empties batch is me in a nutshell: I love cheeky packaging, indie brands, and derm-backed, results-driven skin care. A handful of these — 3Lab, SkinMedica, Living Proof, and Sara Happ — are tried-and-true favorites, but the majority were fun new things I didn't expect to love as much as I did."
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"Was this the most thirst-quenching, moisturizing balm of my life? Far from it. Was it the cutest thing to keep on my desk and absentmindedly reach for every 15 minutes? You bet. I couldn't get enough of it, in large part because it smells like the sugary soda I've never allowed myself to drink. "

Lip Smacker
Sprite Cup Lip Balm, $3.95, available at Lip Smacker.
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"I love this organic, nature-inspired line; I feel like I'm being really nice to my skin whenever I use the products. This scrub is perhaps a little too gritty and rough if you're sensitive, but it was great for exfoliating rough patches on my heels and legs. Plus, it smells so fresh and citrus-y."

Captain Blankenship
Lime & Coconut Salty Sweet Body Scrub, $32, available at Captain Blankenship.
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"The word 'obsessed' is overused, to say the least, so I'll just say this tinted balm is pretty damn perfect and I love it a whole lot. It smells like sweet, fruity candy (I promise, I don't like sugary gourmand perfumes — just balms). It's also so buttery and leaves this really pretty, dark fuchsia stain behind. I used it approximately 75 times per day and it lasted for months, so yeah, it's worth it."

Kiss Balm Lip Balm in Berry Burst, $4.99, available at Ulta Beauty.
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"There's nothing new I can say about this dry shampoo — and that's a phrase I wrote the last 10 times I raved about it. I go through it like I go through water bottles because it's the only product that makes my dirty hair look better than my clean hair after a blowout. Seriously."

Living Proof
Perfect Hair Day Dry Shampoo, $22, available at Birchbox.
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"The classic La Mer cream is lovely, but far too heavy for my skin. I figured I'd have to wait until I was old and super-dry to really appreciate it — and then the brand launched this lotion. It's so light and fast-absorbing it almost feels like a serum. But it's expensive as hell, and when I walked into my bathroom one morning to find the guy I was dating using it, well, I wasn't exactly nice."

La Mer
The Moisturizing Soft Lotion, $260, available at Nordstrom.
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"I didn't find this base to be as light and sheer as it claims to be — which was a good thing. It's just the happy medium between a too-light tinted moisturizer and a medium-coverage foundation and never creases or pills by 5 PM."

Bare Escentuals
BareMinerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream, $29, available in February at Bare Escentuals.
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"This spray contains soothing lavender, hydrating coconut oil, and anti-microbial tea tree oil, so it's the perfect post-shave toner and moisturizer in one."

Under Aurora
Coconut Oil Spray, $8, available at Under Aurora.
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"In my opinion, this serum is the closest you'll get to topical Botox. It contains human growth factor, smells funky, and looks like red jelly, so it's not without its critics, but for my skin, it's youth in a jar. I have to remind myself to only use one pump morning and night because I'd bathe in it if I could."

TNS Essential Serum, $281, available at SkinStore.
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"We've said it before: You don't need to buy a lip scrub when you can easily make one at home. But if you're lazy, want to treat yourself, or have cash to blow... go for the Sara Happ version. It tastes like heaven (I can't advise that you eat it, but I also can't tell you I don't lick it off my lips in the shower every morning) and is thick and packed tight, which most aren't, so it doesn't separate and turn oily when you rub it on."

(Ed. Note: Sara Happ's Peony Lip Scrub was unfortunately limited-edition. Good thing the brand has many other versions!)
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"This is another fountain-of-youth, ridiculously fast-acting cream. It dramatically smoothes texture, erases dullness, and heals minor superficial wounds (like when I pick between my brows) overnight — but those results will cost you almost a grand. Obviously, that's not an option for 99% of us, so try the still-splurgey-but-nearly-as-effective M Cream."

Super Cream, $875, available at 3LAB.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Kelsey Castañon, Beauty News Editor
"When it comes to beauty products, I'm admittedly noncommittal. I like to play the field with mascaras, shampoos, foundations, face creams, and more. That means I have to really, really love something to keep coming back to it — which only happens a handful of times every few months. But what can I say? When you know, you know."
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"I've gone through my fair share of gnarly cystic breakouts, meaning I've tried dozens and dozens of at-home acne treatments. But the one I always come back to is the one from Renée Rouleau. It really is magic."

Renée Rouleau
Anti Cyst Treatment, $45.50, available at Renée Rouleau.
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"I'm not usually a fancy body wash fan — drugstore works just fine for me, thanks — but what hooked me on this Sol de Janeiro sudser is its scent. Tropical, coconut-y — it's like I'm transported straight to the beach every time I step in the shower."

Sol de Janeiro
Brazilian 4 Play Moisturizing Shower Cream-Gel, $25, available at Sephora.
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"Believe it or not, finding an undereye cream that helps fade dark circles is no easy feat. It makes sense: You can’t technically get rid of shadows (there's a lot more to it, and actually has more to do with genetics than you might think), but this one does seem to make mine look brighter after a sleepless night. I'll take it."

It Cosmetics
Bye Bye Under Eye Cream, $48, available at Sephora.
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"If you were to ask me the one beauty product people should be using (but don't), it's heat-protecting spray. Blow dryers and hot tools are the bane of your hair’s existence, and using one beforehand will save you… promise. This is the second bottle I’ve gone through from Kenra — not only does it protect my hair, it makes it look glossier than ever."

Blow-Dry Spray, $22, available at Ulta Beauty.
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"Glossier released its super-hydrating face cream just when my skin needed it most: in the dead of winter. It's probably the fastest I've gone through a tub of moisturizer — it was that good."

Priming Moisturizer Rich, $35, available at Glossier.
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"I live for a good micellar water, and this one from Garnier is one of the best IMO. It’s super gentle on my sensitive skin, but wipes away my long-wearing concealer in a pinch."

Micellar Cleansing Water, $8.99, available at Ulta Beauty.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Lexy Lebsack, Senior Beauty Editor
“These are a few products that I used through the winter, but since I live in L.A. they’re not really seasonal. In fact, I am realizing it’s more of an L.A. trend roll call: the perfect highlighter and my secret to properly healing new ear piercings, plus masks and treatments to combat sun exposure and hydrate my bleached hair. Man, I am such a cliché.”
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“Not to be dramatic, but this highlighter is everything and easily one of the most valued things in my makeup bag. The creamy formula is shimmery and far from subtle — I have no interest in a subtle highlight thank you very much — but it’s also easily diffused for day and blends into other makeup like a dream. This must be my third or fourth tube.”

L.A. Lights Lip & Cheek Color, $29, available at Smashbox.
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“This may have a bad name, but man is it an amazing product. I got seven piercings over the past year, bringing my collection into the double digits. My piercer Brian Keith Thompson gave me this stuff to help care for my ears — and it’s a major game changer. The fine mist of sterile solution deep cleans shampoo and product residue, dried gunk (gross, I know, but I’m just being honest), and anything else that could hang out near new piercings in a gentle, effective way."

Wound Wash, $7.29, available at Walgreens.
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“Part of my job is trying new things, so I rarely buy much of anything. This retinol, however, I splurge on. I don’t know if it’s the lactic acid, the retinol, or both, but my skin glows when I am using this nightly.”

Shani Darden
Retinol Reform, $95, available at Shani Darden.
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“Maybe it’s in my head, but I swear the pink Beautyblender makes me break out, so I switched to this dye-free option and I will never turn back. I don’t have to tell you how great this egg-shaped sponge is, so I’ll just say this: It’s the secret to perfect foundation. This one really needed a replacement — it was well-loved, to say the least.”

Pure, $20, available at Sephora.
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“I am recently obsessed with this gentle face wash. I'm already on my second bottle and I have my boyfriend hooked now, too! It’s gentle and effective, smells awesome, and makes my skin clean and fresh, but not dry. Winner!”

Kate Somerville
ExfoliKate Cleanser Daily Foaming Wash, $38, available at Sephora.
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“I don’t know what’s in this stuff — it’s a mix of ingredients that claim to help repair your skin’s DNA — but I do know I am on my fourth jar and I cannot get enough. Slap it on for 20 minutes before bed, rinse off, and wake up to glowing skin."

RMD DNA Restoring Mask, $75, available at RMD.
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“Cheap, effective, and tiny enough to not crowd your makeup bag, this clear gel checks all the boxes — and keeps my unruly brows in place.”

Mary Kay
Brow Gel, $10, available at Mary Kay.
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“I’m a snob when it comes to concealer and only recommend ones that slay the game: no creasing, no weird texture, no fading allowed. As you can tell I, quite literally, dug out the last bits of this one with a butter knife. (No shame in my game.) It checks all the boxes.”

Concealer, $26, available at NARS.
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“Massage this pre-shampoo treatment into ends and allow to sit for an hour or two (I apply it before I clean the house), then shampoo and condition as usual. Hair is smooth, shiny, and feels way more healthy. Man, I really need another bottle of this…”

Christophe Robin
Moisturizing Hair Oil, $47, available at Sephora.
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“After 20 minutes, this mask leaves my skin smooth and tingly, and almost a touch pink, but by morning it looks fresh and rested. Think of this as a night-before-a-big-event mask!”

La Mer
The Intensive Revitalizing Mask, $165, available at Net-A-Porter.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Mi-Anne Chan, Beauty Writer
"This batch of empties, which just so happens to my third, totally reflects how I felt this winter: Parched and irritated. I have eczema and during the winter it gets pretty bad hence the onslaught of gentle creams and body washes. I also went through a lot of tried-and-true favorites in the past month and a few newbies, too."
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"Anyone who knows me knows that I am a drugstore mascara gal. This one from Catrice is one of my favorites because it instantly lifts and volumizes my lashes. Plus, the tapered plastic brush head makes it really easy to grab every single lash."

Catrice Glamour Doll Volume Mascara Waterproof, $6.99, available at Ulta Beauty.
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"Fellow eczema suffers, unite! This lighweight lotion features a mixture of sunflower, jojoba, and grape seed oils to condition the skin and colloidal oatmeal, calendula, and chamomile to soothe it. It won't completely eradicate your eczema, but it will instantly calm it."

Daily Lotion, $14.99, available at Target.

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"I went to Hawaii last year to test Tarte's Rainforest Of The Sea line in intense humidity. This liquid liner held up — even after hours of wear through treacherous activities like zip lining. Its itty-bitty tip makes it easy to etch on precise cat eyes, too."

Tarte Rainforest Of The Sea So Fine Micro Liner, $22, available at Sephora.
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"SK-II's Facial Treatment Essence is hands-down one of the most expensive skin-care items I use regularly. I keep going back to it though because it seriously brightens my skin."

SK-II Facial Treatment Essence Travel Size, $99, available at Sephora.
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"Pixi's Glow Tonic is a cheaper alternative and contains glycolic acid to gently exfoliate and aloe vera to soothe. When I don't use one of these two toners, my skin actually craves them."

Pixi Glow Tonic, $15, available at Target.
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"Most shampoo-and-conditioner hybrids leave my hair feeling parched. This sulfate-free option one, though, lets me skip conditioner altogether. The best part is definitely its heavenly, warm-vanilla scent."

John Masters Organics Zinc & Sage Shampoo with Conditioner, $20, available at Ulta Beauty.
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"This sweet almond oil- and shea butter-rich lip balm from First Aid Beauty doesn't just effectively condition lips, it also has a matte finish making it a great option to layer under lipsticks."

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Intensive Lip Balm, $20, available at Sephora.
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"I've written many lengthy love letters to this oil so I won't bore you with all the minutia. In short, this lightweight oil keeps my skin feeling hydrated and balanced. It's also packed full of rosehip oil which helps minimize the appearance of my acne scars."

Trilogy Rosehip Oil Antioxidant+, $36, available at Trilogy.

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"I'm not a huge body wash fan (bar soap for life!) but I'd switch for this one. It never leaves my skin feeling tight or dry and its minty scent is insanely refreshing."

The Seaweed Bath Co. Eucalyptus & Peppermint Body Wash, $12.99, available at Target.
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"I'm very, very picky when it comes to exfoliators. Many contain large granules that feel harsh and scratchy on my skin but the jojoba beads in this one are super gentle."

Pai Kakui & Jojoba Bead Skin Brightening Exfoliator, $44, available at Pai.
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"I pretty much exclusively wear waterproof mascara so I go through cleansing oils really quickly. I have zero patience for oils that don't cut through hard-to-remove makeup fast and Shu Eumura makes some of my favorites."

Shu Uemura Porefinist Anti-Shine Fresh Cleansing Oil, $67, available at Shu Uemura.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Cat Quinn, Beauty Director
"I've traveled a lot the last few months, going through hoards of travel-sized products and free hotel toiletries that I usually leave behind at the end of my trip. But I've lugged these four winners to Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, California, Copenhagen, Mexico, and Grand Cayman because I truly can't live without them. (And yes, that's a full-sized face wash that I had to check internationally because I am so addicted to it. Beauty editor problems.)
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"You didn't really think this tiny bottle lasted through seven weekend trips did you? This is probably my eighth empty of the stuff — which smooths my unruly, thick, waist-length waves regardless of the climate I'm in. I never travel without it."

Oribe Gold Lust Repair & Restore Conditioner Travel Size, $18, available at Oribe.
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"If I have limited space in my luggage, I can get by with ONLY packing this lip balm. It has serious moisturizing powers, making it great for a trip to the midwest in the dead of winter, for example. But the buildable, pretty pink stain makes it great as a statement lip for nights out in Tulum, too."

Givenchy Le Rouge Perfector Beautifying Lip Balm, $36, available at Sephora.
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"It's almost embarrassing how many of these tubes I've gone through. I truly have not found another mascara better than it — you can read my long, rambling, essay about it here."

Benefit Cosmetics Roller Lash Curling & Lifting Mascara, $24, available at Sephora.
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"As you can tell, this cult-favorite cleanser got a sleek makeover, but the stuff inside hasn't changed — and thank goodness for that. The foaming wash transforms your crappy New York City sink into a full-blown Copenhagen spa. It smells incredible, feels like silky soft loveliness, and washes away every last speck of makeup and oil without making your face feel like sandpaper."

Ole Henriksen The Clean Truth Foaming Cleanser, $30, available at Sephora.
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