But, after a lot of deliberation, some heated back-and-forths, and a few knock-down, drag-out fights, we’ve crowned our champions. Ahead, the 29 people, brands, and products that have changed the beauty landscape as we know it — and delivered some pretty kickass beautifiers in the process.
There are many reasons why Troy Surratt, makeup artist and creator of Surratt Beauty, deserves an award: his incredible skill, his devotion to his craft, his boundless creativity.
But the reason he deserves this award is his commitment to pushing the limits of what makeup can do in the service of making women look and feel their most beautiful. Surratt has married his encyclopedic knowledge of makeup with an intense interest in technology. The result is a line of cosmetics intent on breaking rules, defying conventions, and most importantly, bringing delight to makeup counters around the world.
Fashion Week around the world probably couldn't happen without Dick Page, makeup artist extraordinaire and artistic director for Shiseido The Makeup, who is a sought-after and charming presence backstage both in New York and at shows around the world.
His palettes for Shiseido are beautifully colored, and he creates them through a ridiculously painstaking process that starts with his own photography, which he uses to color-match paint and eventually turns into makeup.
Editorially, he is equally artistic, creating iconic looks for magazines and brands including Love, Vogue, Self Service, Isabel Marant, Céline, and Marc Jacobs. "Mr. Page is a runway and editorial legend, and his work and influence continue to inspire!" — Robin Black
- Bobbi Brown
- Jin Soon Choi
If you're not already familiar with Goss, here's an intro, by the numbers:
2 million: number of YouTube subscribers
5: number of minutes it took his brush collection to sell out
9 million: number of views for his most-watched tutorial, Contour and Highlight Like Kim Kardashian
Goss has never done editorial. "Editorial is beautiful. Very. It's also fiction. It's not real," he's said. "The models and actresses themselves don't look like that — so, to me, it's promoting an unrealistic image that we all want to look like but just can't." Goss considers himself more of a teacher, and clearly, his students are devoted.
"His videos have popped up in my feed for years, and when I need help contouring, awakening, or highlighting my skin, he never fails me. I've always loved how calm, straightforward, and informative his tutorials are. Plus, he shows that makeup and cosmetics are for all genders!" — Janet Mock
- Zoe Sugg
- Tanya Burr
- Dulce Candy Ruiz
Manufactured onsite at her 1,200-acre farm in Vermont, Harper's line has elevated the organic-beauty category out of musty health-food store shelves, beyond a scant mention during Earth Day, and into the medicine chests of pretty much every skin-care fanatic — because her products actually work.
"Tata Harper is an authentic voice in the beauty industry, and has quickly risen to the top in the realm of luxury naturals. The products are just lovely to experience! I recently gave a few things to someone on my team who had never tried the brand, and she texted me that night, freaking out about them." — Holly Siegel
- The Organic Pharmacy
- Osmia Organics
- Laurel Whole Plant Organics
- Jane Iredale
It wasn't too long ago when a "cushion" was something you sat on. Nowadays, thanks to the Korean beauty explosion, savvy beauty junkies know that cushions (as in compacts) are an express train to gorgeous, protected skin. When we asked our very own Korean correspondent, Joyce Kong, what product from Korea she thinks has had the most impact, she didn't hesitate to call out the cushions. "In terms of makeup that's made it stateside, I really can't think of anything more innovative than the cushion," she says.
Joyce went so far as to say that she prefers Sulwhasoo's new Perfecting Cushion to the revered Iope one. "The formulation is completely different — it's pretty sheer, but it's also illuminating without being weirdly shimmery. Every time I wear it (really, every time), I get comments on how amazing my skin looks." Black agrees, citing the high SPF, good-for-the-skin ingredients, and luminous finish as key benefits that make this makeup perfect for summer.
When John Frieda announced it was bringing back its iconic Beach Blonde collection, the Internet released a collective gasp of surprise and joy. The return of the brand's beloved Sea Salt Spray had women flocking to the drugstore in droves to pick up a bottle of the crunch-free texturizer — it's the next best thing to bottled ocean water when it comes to your hair.
Mock calls it the perfect beach-day cheat. "After a dirty hair day, I revitalized my curls by spraying the front and top of my head, then scrunching and blowdrying my hair on cool," she says. "It refreshed my texture with a beachy finish that added volume and a fresh scent." Adds Ron Robinson, "I love when a brand really listens to their customers and brings back an iconic product." Us too, Ron, us too.
With a mind-boggling 62 shades, Alima was the clear choice for this category. The mineral makeup brand blew our judges away with its shade array and varied options for darker skin tones — an attribute that is sadly lacking in too many foundation launches today.
"Beige 7 was a perfect match for me, with a velvet finish that looked like lightly dusted skin," raves Mock. "Plus, the deeper, darker tones were rich and varied in tones of cool and beige." Adds Robinson, "There's a shade for nearly every skin tone on the planet."
They don't call her the Lipstick Queen for nothing — Poppy King's passion for lip products led her to create one of the most visually stunning, damn near perfect matte lipsticks. The expertly curated color selections, dreamy, featherweight feel on the lips, and all-day fade-proof finish impressed our judges and had them grabbing it over and over again.
"Besides having one of the hands-down best reds my lips have ever encountered — Black Tie — I love how this one feels on my lips," says Megan McIntyre. "It doesn't make them parched or leave a gross ring of dead skin, and when it finally starts to fade, it looks like a sexy, lived-in stain — unlike other longwear lippies, which tend to fade from the inside out and give you a permaliner look." Robinson notes that it was a lipstick with "serious attitude," while Anne-Marie Guarnieri was also impressed with how evenly it wore.
With its curved wand and "wide-angle fan effect," Lancôme Grandiôse made our judges' lashes stand at attention. The lash-nourishing formula pulled double-duty by allowing for effortless buildability without making lashes feel stiff or hard.
"Va-va-va-voom lashes!" says Black. "The most definition without clumping — Lancôme made my lashes spread out and stand out like a beautiful fan," gushes Jodie Patterson. "Grandiôse: the name says it all," Robinson says.
Concealing fatigue and fine lines is no easy task, but this upstart indie performed with flying colors. Thanks to a hybrid formula that's infused with dark-circle-deleting ingredients like alfalfa, night sleeper, and antioxidants, not only does it seamlessly cover up those undereye circles, it also works overtime and is clinically proven to diminish their appearance with continued use.
"I'm 45, I have five kids, two businesses, one husband, and my eyes always tell that story of a very tired woman," says Patterson. "Onomie erased all that and brought me back a good 10 years. Illuminated, light coverage that doesn't look like heavy makeup, but miraculously corrects. And 10 shades — bravo!" Adds Guarnieri: "No creasing, no feathering, totally even coverage, long-wearing — how had I never heard of this before?!"
It makes perfect sense that a brand inspired by teenagers would take the top prize here. Nudestix's easy-to-use crayons make everything from a smoky eye to contouring as easy as swiping on and blending. Couple that with chic packaging, on-trend (but still flattering for all) shades, and functionality built in at every angle, and you've got a brand even the most cosmetics-illiterate can master.
Our judges agree: This was the closest we got to a unanimous winner. "What's easier than swiping a few pencils across your face?" says Mock. "Nudestix are super user-friendly because of their shade range and easy blendability," says Siegel. "And we love the pencil-case packaging with the mirror top." Adds Guarnieri: "It's FUN to use, which is a huge plus. No overwhelming color palette, either. Just the basics." Says Robinson: "Their mission is about making it easy and accessible for newbies to wear makeup." Well, mission accomplished.
In a marketplace crowded with pencils and clear gels, Benefit's fiber-building tinted brow volumizer definitely stands out. Think of it as brow tinting and extensions in a tube — one swipe and your lashes are bold, full, and not budging.
"The little fibers attach to brows to make them a little fuller but not overdone, and it's super-easy because it's one step," says Siegel. "It provides natural-looking coverage and stays put all day," adds Guarnieri.
Ask almost anyone what their biggest beauty challenge is, and the answer will likely be foundation matching. Many spend their lives searching for the right shade for their skin, to no avail. So they wind up settling for one that comes close enough, and then work with concealers, bronzers, and moisturizers in a kind of makeup alchemy. And if your skin tone happens to fall outside the range of "tan?" Good luck.
Enter: Cover FX Custom Cover Drops. You can add the liquid pigments, which come in 24 shades, to any other beauty product — serum, moisturizer, oil, primer, or even other foundations or tinted moisturizers — to create a custom color and coverage option that's perfect for you. The pigments are developed to be blended, so they are weightless and residue-free. "I'm a control freak, and Cover FX lets me be that woman," says Patterson. "Two drops during the day, three at night, one on the weekend... It's my world."
Curling products are tricky to master — you don't want something that's going to weigh down your hair too much, but neither do you want a cream that leaves curls crunchy and annoying to the touch.
According to our very own natural-hair correspondent, Taylor Bryant, SheaMoisture's Curl Enhancing Smoothie is something of a holy grail staple among natural-haired women for its hydrating ingredients, flawless ability to define curls, and (maybe this is just us) its delicious smell. A true triple threat. Or, as Patterson put it so succinctly, "Because, curling."
It's understandable that you may have a hard time stomaching the idea of paying $250 for a hair dryer. But let's think of it another way: You're buying the Ferrari of hair dryers. This baby has an extremely powerful motor (1,875 watts — for comparison, your average window AC unit uses around 1,200); a sleek, compact design (small enough travel with — see ya later, crappy hotel-room dryer!); eight settings to perfectly control heat, speed, ions, and a cool-shot button; and two types of nozzles (narrow and wide).
Add all these things together, and what you're really paying for is healthier hair. The more powerful the motor, the faster the drying time, which equals less heat damage to your strands. And for a guy who makes his living blowing out the hair of just about every supermodel you can name, it's safe to say that Josh has thought it all through. This is the one dryer to rule them all.
Coconut, avocado, olive, marula, argan...roucou? On the hot-list of beauty oils, that last one isn't exactly in the top spot. It doesn't even roll off the tongue nicely. (Pro tip: It's pronounced "roo-koo.") But get to know it, because roucou oil has powerful antioxidant properties, and when used in hair products, it can help keep your color from becoming dull and flat.
So that's all well and good. But lots of shampoos and conditioners contain fancy hair-helping ingredients. Why do we love this combo? Because of all the ones we tested, OI played the best with many hair types: color-treated, textured, fine, thick, heat-damaged. It rinses clean, and adds the right amount of softness, especially on stressed, fried-out ends. And the smell? Well, if you find yourself looking for reasons to wash and condition your hair more often, come sit by us. You are our people.
Handmade in California with a blend of 16 essential oils, this anti-frizz fluid won top marks for being equally great at styling AND treating. A few drops of this liquid gold helps make hair smooth and shiny on contact, and works over time to improve its health.
While Guarnieri couldn't get over the gorgeous scent, McIntyre was impressed with how well the cream worked for both air-drying and blowouts. "I have really fine hair and am always cautious about the styling products I use, lest they be too heavy and make my hair look limp and greasy. This was airy and light, but provided moisture and a light hold. My air-dry has never looked better."
Too thick, too perfume-y, too wimpy: Searching for the right dry shampoo can give you a serious Goldilocks complex. So when you find the one that's "just right," it's not something to keep to yourself. Sachajuan Volume Powder is everything you want in a dry shampoo (lasting power, matte texture, pleasant scent), and sounds like a spray-paint can when you shake it, which makes it fun to use, too.
"It always does its job. It also sops up every last trace of grease on even your oiliest hair day. And it definitely adds at least two more days to a blowout." — Anne-Marie Guarnieri
As anyone who's ever dabbled with bleach knows, going ultra-blonde can be a kamikaze move for hair. Breakage, roughness, frazzled texture — going lighter used to mean sacrificing the integrity of the follicle. Olaplex, a professional service, changed all that. The two-step system, developed by two chemistry PhDs, created a new ingredient that actually links the broken bonds that happen during and after chemical processing and makes the follicle stronger. In some cases, hair is actually in BETTER condition after it's dyed.
"This is one of those treatments that you didn't realize you needed until you needed it," says Guarnieri. "As a dark brunette who's now an unnatural, though believable-looking, blonde, my color and texture were definitely improved post-Olaplex." Recounts Black: "Last year, I had a decade's worth of black dye stripped from my hair in a single afternoon. Olaplex is why I didn't go bald."
When you've got a zit, you don't want to wait around a few days for it to heal — you want it GONE. While the beauty industry is still working on an instant vanisher, Mario Badescu's Silver Powder is the next best thing. Simply dip a moistened cotton swab or pad in the powder, dab it on congested areas, wait 10 minutes, and wash it away to reveal clear, calm skin.
While some of our judges were lucky enough not to be able to test for this category ("I didn't have any zits to zap. #Humblebrag." Dammit, Janet), those of us who were dealing with breakouts and blackheads were supremely impressed by this DIY powder. "I still can't get over how smooth and clear my nose and chin are," raves Patterson. "All those little pesky blackheads that have been hanging around for years are now gone! Silver Powder is the OxiClean for skin care."
A makeup artist developing a skin cream may seem like a total non sequitur, but when that makeup artist is Charlotte Tilbury, and the cream in question is one she used specifically to help create a smooth canvas on which to apply her stunning makeup creations, it all makes sense. Tilbury's been blending versions of this cream for the past 20 years, and the mix of hyaluronic acid, patented peptides, and floral extracts help plump, lift, and revive tired complexions — so much so that her A-list clientele and models backstage have hounded her for jars of their own.
"[This is] ideal under makeup," agrees fellow makeup powerhouse Black. "[It] leaves skin moisturized and glowing." Adds Mock: "The Magic Cream left a dewy, supple finish on my skin that I'm obsessed with!"
We consider face mists an integral part of everyone's beauty routine — spritz them on after cleansing to tone, apply your serum to freshly spritzed skin to help them absorb better, or spray your face midday to refresh your skin and makeup. This waterless (!) Korean import got top marks from our judges for giving the skin a beautifully silky feel that left behind no stickiness or residue.
"A waterless mist? It's more than compelling; it's genius," says Patterson. "I love how potent this olive mist is — nothing's diluted, so my skin gets all the good stuff." Adds McIntyre: "My skin just looks and feels better after a few spritzes of this — it makes the rest of my skin-care routine go on better, too. I've got a bottle at home, one on my desk, and one in my purse so I'm never without its silky, dewy skin powers."
While micellar waters have been a staple in French-girl beauty for a while, they're only just now starting to gain ground in the U.S. One round with this liquid makeup remover, and you'll wonder why you haven't been using it all along. It takes off every last trace of makeup with ease, and doesn't leave behind any tackiness on the skin. You can use it the European way and just switch to water-free cleansing — apply your micellar and then don't wash your face. Just apply the rest of your skin-care routine right on top.
"This micellar-water cleanser needed only one cotton swab (front and back) to get my face really, really clean," muses Patterson. "It's a faster, deeper clean than anything else."
Ever at a loss for conversation at a party? Talk about sunscreen! Ask just about anyone you know their feelings about the stuff, and you're bound to get a laundry list of likes and dislikes, stories about sunscreen fails, and excuses about why they don't wear it (bad move, guys!).
A universal, and understandable, complaint is that sunscreens can feel mask-like, thick, or cakey, which is why a lot of people skip it. Enter this winner from Neutrogena. It's light, it absorbs quickly, it's not greasy, and it feels (and smells) like nothing — in the best way. And you can apply makeup on top of it with zero pilling or streaking. "I couldn't vote up this one enough. It's so good on combination skin, and really holds up in humid or sweaty conditions," says Guarnieri. "I have turned so many sunscreen-haters on to this formula that Neutrogena should probably put me on its payroll."
This serum is packed with an ultra-potent derivative of retinol (vitamin A), which the brand calls Retinol 8, and which we call damn effective. Over our testing period (six weeks) with regular use, we noticed a smoother eye area, less visible fine lines, and more even skin texture.
"This is the sexiest eye cream, ever: the androgynous scent, the simple-chic packaging, the slippery texture, and especially the Retinol 8 it's packed with. I love everything about Verso. I found myself dreaming about it at night and jonesing for it in the morning." — Jodie Patterson
Okay, hear us out on this one: This two-part sheet mask involves hooking the bottom part around your ears as it physically pulls your face upward in its lifting quest. Sound crazy? It is, but it also works crazy-well. In addition to being a backstage, pre-show secret for runway models, it got serious points for not being a goopy mess like the other sheet masks we were used to — the firming ingredients are infused into the hydrogel base, so there are no serums or liquids to mess around with.
Robinson is similarly impressed with the technology: "The occlusion effect that this sheet mask delivers gives this a performance edge over traditional cream masks." McIntyre likes the instant effects: "One session with this mask, and my gravity-challenged face (thanks a lot, genetics) looked visibly lifted and plumped up. It was like I'd just had a good power nap that was followed up by an intense facial massage by whoever is responsible for Gabrielle Union's age-proof face."
With the oil craze in full swing, it's tempting for many brands to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. Do you really need 82 different essential oils to reap the glow-getting benefits? Not according to Drunk Elephant, which offers a beloved luxury oil that features just one ingredient: pure, unrefined marula-kernel oil. The super-absorbent oil hydrates without leaving skin feeling oily, and boasts a laundry list of benefits, from anti-aging to protecting against environmental aggressors.
Its clinically proven anti-aging benefits had Robinson dubbing it the "next generation of facial oils." "It's so sheer, yet so hydrating," notes Guarnieri. "Your skin just sucks it all in. My face definitely looked rosier, and fuller, post-use."
We've heard about one trillion times from dermatologists, aestheticians, and women with really, ridiculously good-looking skin about how retinols are the secret to obtaining the complexion we've always dreamed of. Only problem is that, for many of us, even the supposedly most gentle retinols on the market can be too harsh on our skin. Enter: Sunday Riley and her game-changing retinol oil. By mixing trans-retinoic acid ester with cold-pressed oils, Riley has found a way to make retinols truly gentle. Meaning, the dream of smooth, clear, poreless skin can be a reality for all.
"It's genius. I don't know why nobody thought of this sooner. Zero dryness, irritation, or flakiness," says Guarnieri. Adds Siegel: "This is a new favorite! I love retinol, and I love spa-smelling face oils. This product is literally of my dreams."
- Dr. BrandtNeedles No More Instant Wrinkle Relaxing Creamat Lord & Taylor
- James ReadSleep Mask Tan Bodyat Net-A-Porter
- 111 SkinAlmond Soothing Facial Oilat Barneys New York
- JergensBB Body Perfecting Skin Creamat Drugstore.com
- AvéneMicellar Lotion Cleanser and Make-Up Removerat Drugstore.com
Burning barbershops, frontier women, Ukrainian coriander, leather car seats, Kim Deal — these are just a few of the atypical references you’ll find in the fragrances created by D.S. & Durga. Based in Brooklyn, D.S. & Durga, founded by husband-and-wife team David and Kavi Moltz, makes scents that stretch far beyond the bounds of conventional perfumery. But no matter how far out they may go, the result is wearable, addictive, and expertly crafted.
"I came for the Pixies reference, I stayed for perfumer David Moltz's impressive workmanship: ripe fig, milky coconut, warm-vanilla tonka, and some earthy greenness. It's what I didn't know I was wanting or missing in my fragrance collection. Every time I wear it, people stop to ask me what it is — the sign of a new classic." — Anne-Marie Guarnieri