Introducing our first ever awards dedicated to the most exciting innovations in skin, hair, makeup products, and body treatments—plus the game changing beauty founders and experts to know now.
Upgraded basics from your cleanser to your cream.
Encapsulating a maximum dose of exfoliating glycolic acid with soothing aloe and hydrating glycerin, this potent serum has the highest concentration of brightening alpha hydroxy acids over the counter, but is gentle enough to use nightly.
This user-friendly at-home microneedling device comes with single-use plastic tips and a guard to make sure needles penetrate at a safe depth. When you remove the tip, the handheld also warms up to help the serum penetrate deeper. It’s safe for all skin tones.
Pat on this cushiony oil-serum for a “just got a facial” effect. Clinicals show that after four weeks of use, 96% of users had improved texture and brighter skin. We also love it mixed into foundation—a hot tip from makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes.
This anti-ager is divided into two chambers until dispersed onto your palm. One side has a lab-created hyaluronic acid in super long-chain form, meaning it penetrates even deeper; the other side is an oil-serum with actives that lift and firm.
Cleansing towelettes, though convenient, have caused much eco angst, so Simple Skincare designed an affordable wipe made of sustainable plant fibers and wood pulp that breaks down in household compost in 42 days.
Ayond’s mindfulness goes beyond it’s effective all-natural formulas. Biodegradable cellophane wraps sturdy outer boxes suitable for shipping back empties, which the brand will recycle for you.
Four female scientists from the U.S., France, Singapore, and Brazil co-created a dream skincare collection: a gel cream, a scrub, an illuminating serum, and an SPF moisturizer—all less than $20. The main ingredient is neoglucosamine, which is normally used in more expensive skin care and boosts the efficacy of other brighteners.
The clean, traceable ingredients of Night Magic include CBD in concert with 16 potent oils. An independent clinical trial found that hydration improved by 33% and visibly enhanced firmness by 16%.
Every Kinship product is made with recycled ocean-found plastic—a QR code at the bottom of each bottle will even show you where exactly the plastic was found. All of the products in the clean 5-piece line support the skin’s microbiome.
The sun protection in this cream-powder uses zinc oxide particles that are porous, making it less reflective and less likely to leave a white cast on skin.
It took Follain more than a dozen tries to create a PEG-free moisturizer that absorbs just as smoothly as the most popular lotions in the market. It also contains all-natural retinol-alternative bakuchiol, which leaves skin brighter and smoother.
Developed by Nobel laureate Sir Fraser Stoddart, a special component inside the formula called Organic Molecular Vessel (OVM) helps deliver ingredients like retinol and vitamin C. OVM is a a microscopic biodegradable structure that is 10,000 times smaller than a skin cell and breaks down with calculated precision for perfect dosing of the ingredients inside.
Powerhouse products that transform your complexion.
Looking down at our phones is leading to a new skin care conundrum: horizontal wrinkles across our chin and neck (the skin is thinner, so it’s more susceptible to damage). This balm is charged with La Mer’s signature Miracle Broth to treat tech neck.
Welcome to the era of of the zit positivity. Model and activist Charli Howard’s Squish Flower Power patches (literally) stand out: It’s not just a super potent dose of hydrocolloid to shrink spots overnight, each patch is shaped into a colorful flower adorned with rhinestones.
Dr. Barbara Sturm
Boutique & Spa
Following a successful SoHo pop-up, Dr. Sturm (whose skin care is beloved by the likes of Nina Dobrev and Kourtney Kardashian) opened a permanent brick-and-mortar location with two private facial rooms. And if you miss Dr. Sturm for one of her IRL master classes, try a DM: The doctor herself is often on the other end.
The body’s natural drop in estrogen can speed up skin aging. Rather than supplementing the hormone, Empelle’s new ingredient stimulates hormonal pathways without the side effects of replacement therapy.
This three-lobed silicone mask fits on top of the eyelid and over the brow bone to treat everywhere around the eye, not just underneath.
Rodan + Fields
This tiny suction device gently unclogs pores to give you that oh-so-satisfying feeling of picking at your skin without any of the damage.
Previously only available in prestige skincare, Burt’s Bees Renewal line brought bakuchiol (a natural alternative to retinol) to the drugstore aisles.
It takes five weeks of slow-distillation and fermentation to create the juice inside every bottle of Active Treatment Essence, which is packed with more than thirty botanicals.
Foundations and tools that will help you glow.
Flesh tapped the expertise of a neurobiologist and color theory professors to better understand undertones, then formulated a 40-hue lineup of medium-coverage foundations with seven undertones (three is typical).
This 23-year-old cult classic got upgraded with oils and vitamins. But don’t fret about the OG’s beloved creamy, sheer coverage—after rejecting 66 versions, Laura Mercier herself made sure this one applies just like the original.
Uoma created 51 shades, each fortified with ingredients specific to its skin-tone range. For example, shades in the second-deepest group have woolly thistle extract to reduce the risk of hyperpigmentation, while the fairest group focuses on dry skin with nourishing rose hybrid extract.
You can now get a spot-on match with an in-store shade detection device for Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place Makeup ($43). The tool uses color-calibrated lighting that imitates sunlight and you can see it virtually applied to your own face.
Riki Loves Riki
The top is a well-lit vanity mirror that’s compact and light enough to carry. Swivel it open for a magnetized storage space, where you can depot your favorite shadows, blushes, and lipsticks.
Alleyoop founder Leila Kashani turns to Slack when she’s looking for inspiration for a new product. Kashani polled a private group of almost 500 women for the four most useful brushes and combined them into a compact, stackable design.
After famously using red lipstick to color-correct undereye circles in a YouTube makeup tutorial and amassing a social following of nearly a quarter million, Deepica Mutyala started a multicultural movement. Live Tinted serves as both an online community celebrating diverse beauty and the brand of her multipurpose Huestick.
Smith & Cult
This loose setting powder captured in a clever spray (for the first time) delivers a light dusting of powder that can be easily layered, but keeps skin hydrated with coconut water.
Hybrid formulas with pretty color and treatment ingredients.
Alessandro Michele’s debut Gucci Beauty campaign featured the imperfect smiles of Dani Miller, Ellia Sophia Coggins, Achok Majak, and Mae Lapres, coated in the brand’s first collection—a set of 58 creamy lipsticks—and sparked a new conversation about beauty.
The new Wet Lip Oil Gloss is a high-shine treatment with peptides and comes in five colors, but you might buy it for the midcentury modern packaging. Lo and behold, Kosas founder Sheena Yaitanes’ has a background as a chemistry and business student, as well as a painting apprentice.
Remember the sliding skin type quizzes at Clinique counters? Now, using a combination of color theory and an algorithm for undertone, Clinique brings their customization to lipstick. Each skin tone is assigned three ideal satin-finish lipsticks in a “naked,” “casual,” and “glam” shade.
Saie Beauty banned more than 2,000 ingredients and its packaging is 100% sustainable and recyclable. Another feat achieved: Everything in the line is less than $25—including their cushiony Liquid Lip Balm.
Multi-taskers that make eye makeup a no-brainer.
So long, lash extensions: Maybelline New York developed an inky formula containing tiny fibers that extend each lash, as well as polymers typically used in hair spray and gel to help curled lashes stay that way.
Anastasia Beverly Hills
A collaboration between makeup legend Anastasia Soare and her daughter, Norvina, each palette has 25 fantastical shades—some we didn’t even realize we wanted until we saw them—and consistently sell out.
Five to 10% of skin cancer occurs on the eyelids, a oft-neglected zone for suncare. These creamy shadows combine sun protection and eyeshadow into one step in four pretty, shimmery shades.
Designed to emulate makeup artist Peter Philips’ backstage makeup trick of curling eyelashes with a warmed spoon, this lash curler’s wide-mouthed opening fits all eye shapes, and the super squishy pad creates flirty, fanned lashes without damaging.
The six glimmery eyeshadows in Chantecaille’s Africa’s Vanishing Species Collection highlight the continents most endangered—pangolins, lions, elephants, cheetahs, giraffes, and rhinoceroses—a portion of the proceeds will go to a corresponding conservation foundation.
It was during Gaga’s Cheek to Cheek Tour with Tony Bennett that makeup artist Sarah Tanno had the idea for perfectly flicked eyeliner stickers. Everything you need to DIY Gaga’s signature look—the Armor Wingtips and a super pigmented black liquid liner—come in this genius, easy-to-use kit.
Get the look of microblading without the commitment. This pigmented brow pencil is the first to combine a super-thin 1.4mm tip with a unique oval shape to create the look of fuller brows, naturally, and is super easy to use.
Developed for downward pointing lashes (which the brand says is common with their Latina customers), this mascara keeps lashes at attention for up to 24 hours.
Genius innovations for perfect hair fast.
Just like skin, hair loses moisture while we sleep, so think of this as your hair’s night cream. Kérastase’s overnight serum has vitamin B and iris root extract to moisturize and prevent the pillowcase friction that can leave hair looking dry. Massage one to two pumps of serum onto dry hair from roots to ends, et voilà: silky hair in the morning, no rinsing required. Even more magical is the fragrance, which evolves throughout the night from relaxing honey and violet to energizing sandalwood and white cedar by morning.
As one of the leading engineers of the Dyson Airwrap, the low-heat styler whose launch quickly acquired a 118,000-person waiting list, Veronica Alanis spent roughly two and a half years working on the device. She helped develop the signature Airwrap technology, which uses high-speed airflow to whip hair around the tool (forever linking the aerodynamic Coanda effect to hair care). And, she confides, there are plenty more innovations on the way.
Once tossed in the trash, it could take your plastic hairbrush 450 years to decompose. But WetBrush’s newest innovation, released just before Earth Day, expands green beauty into the hair tools category. This eco-friendly brush (that, of course, has the brand’s beloved flexible bristles that detangle and smooth without causing breakage) is made from an all-natural biodegradable plant starch that with break down within 5 years (it has to be processed in a compost facility first, so don’t worry about it turning soft while you’re using it).
There’s something supremely luxurious about a scalp scrub. And when it’s made without sulfates, dyes, and parabens, and infused with elastin and minerals to give you super shiny, bouncy hair? Well that just takes it to the next level. Use this scrub as a super-purifying weekly treatment or in place of your shampoo to remove product buildup and gently exfoliate the scalp for your healthiest hair and scalp ever.
These sheets are infused with 5 hydrating oils, plus murumuru butter and vitamin E for an instant fix when hair need extra shine and hydration. They’re also so small you’ll hardly notice them in your handbag.
Herbal Essences launched the first mass-market shampoo to be verified by the Environmental Working Group. The sulfate-free Bio:Renew shampoos meet EWG’s strict safety standards, meaning they don’t contain anything from the extensive and thoroughly researched list of chemicals that EWG deems hazardous.
Tracee Ellis Ross isn’t just the celebrity face of Pattern Beauty, she’s also the CEO, founder, and inspiration. Created specifically for natural, textured hair that falls on the 3b to 4c curl types, Pattern’s three conditioners align with your curl pattern and come in extra large sizes.
Patent leather puffy headbands, bobby pins with a message, and hyper-bedazzled snap clips were just a few of the super-Instagrammable accessories that hair stylist Justine Marjan released this year in collaboration with the accessory brand Kitsch. Each new drop was a cool girl status symbol—and finally added a little edge to some of Blair Waldorf’s favorite embellishments.
Breakthrough fragrances and eye catching packaging.
In the second iteration of Chanel Gabrielle Chanel Eau de Parfum, tuberose shines as the star note due to a secret extraction process that adds freshness. Long-lasting top notes, which usually evaporate first, is the mark of a modern fragrance, says Chanel’s in-house perfumer Olivier Polge.
Inspired by your smartphone and just as addictive to hold, Idôle Le Parfum has the slimmest fragrance bottle in the world at just 15mm. It’s also refillable and made from sustainably sourced raw materials that help support family farmers and improve agricultural practices in their regions.
The dark green vegan candles—which are inspired by forest bathing and smell like a woodsy blend of petitgrain bigarade and green cardamom—are completely compostable, from the hard-wax exterior shell to the interior wax, cotton wick, and cellophane wrapping.
Artist and Photographer
When Christelle Boulé began experimenting with fragrances on photo paper in art school, she discovered that every perfume had its own signature look—droplets of oils and smears of unexpected colors caused by chemical reactions with the developing fluid. Her work caught the attention of famed nose Francis Kurkdjian, who commissioned a series utilizing his eponymous perfumes. The photos will be shown at Kurkdjian’s Miami boutique this month, just in time for Art Basel.
Hi-tech inventions for head-to-toe beauty.
This jelly is like a facial for your body. Instead of sharp granules, there are tiny pumice and bamboo charcoal beads suspended in a medley of glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acid to gently treat skin.
The new Fitbit Versa can track and score your sleep, find the nearest gym, cycle, and even look up the caloric value of an avocado (it’s 322 calories).
Loop + Love Beauty and Planet
Imagine how much you could cut your carbon footprint if you never had to dispose of another bottle. That’s the idea behind Loop, a new retailer that works like the old-school milkman: When you finish a bottle, send it back and get a filled one in return. Starting off with beauty brands like Pantene, Ren, and Love Beauty and Planet (they also offer home and food products), Loop delivers reusable containers in strong stainless steel and extra thick glass. Everything arrives to you in a zero-waste, soft cooler–like tote without bubble wrap or cardboard boxes, and includes a free return label.
This super-science focused brand’s expansion into body means an epigenetic approach to fixing two major concerns: stretchmarks and cellulite. Users had a 75% reduction in cellulite and 64% reduction in the appearance of stretch marks after 12 weeks of use.
This 4-step treatment uses LED light to cure, but targets the damage done by gel manicures—instead, creating a shield to even out nails and make a smooth base for polish. Use alone for a just-buffed look or as the base for polish, which will also last longer with this underneath.
Jergens transformed their cult-favorite Natural Glow Instant Sun Tanning Mousse into a foolproof towelette inspired by prestige bronzing products and is the first of its kind at mass. Build sun-kissed color practically anywhere—from locker rooms to hotel rooms.
Marcy Capron Vermillion and Coco Meers founded Equilibra because they wanted to demystify the world of CBD. Start with the Brilliance Box and after a week of tinctures, gel caps, and balms you’ll have a phone call with your Dose Specialist to discuss how your feeling and edit the dose to make it perfect for you.
Regi (developed by Allergan, the makers of Botox) is a beauty concierge that fits in your pocket. Available in New York City, Los Angeles, and Dallas, the booking service arranges facials, blowouts, waxing, pedicures, and injectables, and is manned by actual people who can cater to requests via text, like “Two pedicures in the West Village for 3 p.m. tomorrow, please.”
Injectables and devices with next-gen capabilities.
Accutite Skin Tightening
This is the smallest, most minimally-invasive skin tightening treatment on the market. The super-precise device heats skin both internally and externally to tighten and reduce fat in a one-time procedure that only takes about 20 minutes to complete and will run you anywhere from $3K to $5K. With the smallest cannula that targets hard to reach places, AccuTite is able to tighten skin in a variety of body areas from brows and lower face to the inner thighs and even abdomen etching, all with only needle size access.
Skin Smoothing Treatment
“This is a brave new world of body contouring,” Dr. Dendy Engelmen, MD, says. “With Emtone, you can just enter an office, do nothing, exert zero energy, and look better.” This skin-smoothing treatment that fights cellulite has impressive results: four 12-minute treatments (which can happen as quickly as 48 hours apart) of heating and manipulating (aka a firm massage-like technique) the bare skin will straighten out the fibrous septae that creates dimples on the skin, thicken dermal collagen, and help with lymphatic drainage. There’s no downtime and people typically notice results immediately, though the peak is three months later.
This pulsed-dye laser treats everything from rosacea to broken capillaries, and since the light is absorbed by your blood vessels (opposed to your skin), making the downtime some of the most minimal for lasers. And with only a few appointments typically needed, it’s also one of the most affordable options for long term, non-ablative results.
Silk Medical Aesthetics Inc.
Silk Enhanced Fillers
The next wave of filler could lie in a silk-enhanced variation of hyaluronic acid. Silk Medical Aesthetics figured out how to extract and liquefy pure silk protein, called activated silk, that can be combined with HA and injected into skin for a more natural-looking, malleable effect. While the product is still undergoing clinical trials, results from extensive experimentation have shown that there’s little to no swelling at the injection site and estimated availability is 2022.
Gamechangers dreaming up industry-shaking ideas.
When Dove commissioned a study for its new initiative, the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Coalition—in partnership with the National Urban League, Color Of Change, and Western Center on Law & Poverty—the results were revealing: black women are consistently rated as less ready for job performance when they wear their hair in its natural state. Revelations from the study have already helped advance the mission of workplace equality, like the CROWN Act, a California and New York law ensuring protection in those states against discrimination in the workplace based on hairstyle.
Lindsay Wray, chief science officer at Eighteen B, developed the first-ever biodegradable vegan silk, which has regenerative properties and helps improve the skin’s elasticity. She champions sustainability by researching common skin-care ingredients to determine their environmental impact and how to replace the harmful ones, like liquid plastics, with greener alternatives.
Dr. Shereene Idriss
When Shereene Idriss, a New York City-based dermatologist, signed on to Instagram live for the first time, she envisioned a one-time video where she answered a few questions in her direct messages. The demand and popularity of that video transformed into her now-weekly series #pillowtalkderm series, where she demystifies in-office skin care for her followers all over the world (and more importantly, places where a board-certified dermatologist might not be easily accessible) about everything from sunscreen and injectables to the work she’s had done and how to advocate for yourself in a doctor’s office.
Nordstrom opened its New York City flagship this fall with a sprawling, two-story beauty department aptly named the Beauty Haven. The first floor features tech-y touches like digital skin analyses and a fragrance kiosk that administers a scent quiz; the second floor is a treatment zone with express facials from Heyday, blowouts from Drybar, manicures from Base Coat, and even injectables administered by the Kate Somerville clinic, making Nordstrom the only luxury retailer to offer injectables in-store.
Skin Care Expert
In late 2018, celebrity- and editor-beloved esthetician Renée Rouleau lost her partner of 22 years and Chief Operating Officer, Florian Oger, to cancer. When she shared her experience on social media, Rouleau’s brand transformed into something much deeper. “Being vulnerable opened the door to my life,” Rouleau says. “My story is about resiliency and making Florian proud.”
It happened practically overnight—Doniella Davy’s work appeared on HBO’s Euphoria—and the whole world became obsessed. Now, the glittering tears, bright splashes of color, and bedazzled brows (aka Euphoria-inspired makeup) have become part of our beauty lexicon.
Part of the Sephora Incubate, See Thru CEO and founder Lisa Guerrera built an interactive platform for beauty websites that instantly decodes product formulas. Digestible info pops up for each. It’s already debuted with new green brands like HoliFrog.
Rob Peetoom Salon
At Rob Peetoom Salon in Brooklyn, the Balinese Hair & Scalp Ritual (starting at $85) is similar to a facial, complete with steam, massage, and layers of hydrating products, all designed to foster hair growth. If you can’t get to Brooklyn, similar treatments are becoming available through the country next year, such as a scalp version of the popular facial service HydraFacial.
A version of this article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of ELLE.
Beauty & Health Director
Katie Becker is the Beauty & Health Director of ELLE Magazine.