One of the greatest things about being a part of Messycafe over the past year, has been finding a community of like-minded beauty lovers. The group, scattered across Canada and U.S. — from Vancouver to Toronto, to New York, to Los Angeles, and a smattering of places in between, is a deep bench of knowledge when it comes to the latest, greatest, and weirdest trends in the skincare world. They’re open to anything, even if they’ve probably already tried it all. So, when it came time to reflect on the best skincare products of 2021, we knew exactly who to turn to.
Here at Messycafe we regularly reach out to leading dermatologists and estheticians across the but for this particular piece, every member served as a fitting expert. We polled each for their favorite products in every category, then created a survey so we could narrow down the serums that really do leave skin bright, the eye creams that make a notable difference, the sunscreen that doesn’t clog pores, and so much more.
It’s a saturated skincare world out there, but you can feel confident about every item on this list. Keep scrolling on for our favorite skincare products of 2021 as voted by the amazing team of Messycafe.
The best cleanser:
Winner: iS CLINICAL Cleansing Complex
Hero Ingredient — White Willow Bark and Antioxidants Derived from Chamomile and Centella Asiatica.
If you’re someone with dry skin that’s also prone to acne and clogged pores, this cleanser has to really pack a punch. This gel-based one plays nicely with so many different skin types. It balances acne-prone skin without overdrying dry skin types. One of my requirements for a good cleanser is that it can remove eye makeup too. This one handles even the most stubborn eye makeup, leaving your skin feeling clean but not tight and dehydrated. Plus, the smell is neutral, minimal, and clean, which is a nice bonus.
Runner Up: Living Libations Best Skin Ever Face Oil
Hero Ingredient — Sea Buckthorn
Made with sea buckthorn, this glow-boosting oil works as a cleanser, face oil, and even body moisturizer. Unlike most oil cleansers which rely on cheaper oils like sunflower as the base, this low-PUFA formula combines sea buckthorn with organic tamanu, jojoba, and vetiver essential oils for a cleanse that will leave your skin feeling clean yet soft and luminous.
Runner Up: Cosmedex Clarify
Hero Ingredient — Salicylic Acid
This is a foaming cleanser, but before you get any ideas, no, it’s not drying like the other foaming cleansers. This is actually really hydrating, despite having salicylic acid, this one is alcohol and sulfate-free so it gently exfoliates without stripping your skin of its natural oils.Trust us, you’ll be obsessed with this cleanser ever since you start using it.
Runner Up: Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser
Hero Ingredient — Pro-Vitamin B5
This cleanser was our intro into the wide and wildly impressive world of Glossier. Dry skin is the most common problem and unlike any other cleansers, Glossier’s would never strip or dry it out your skin. Once you use it, you’ll never be without it.
The best oil cleanser:
Winner: One Love Organics Botanical B Enzyme Cleansing Oil
Hero Ingredient: Botanical B Enzyme
This oil cleanser is truly a one-size-fits-all product. An ideal cleanser for acne-prone, oily, dry, mature skin, and every complexion type in between.
Runner Up: Mara Beauty, Chia + Moringa Algae Enzyme Cleansing Oil
Hero Ingredient — Four Fruit Enzymes: Papaya, Pineapple, Grapefruit, and Pumpkin
This is no ordinary cleansing oil — not only does it remove impurities and makeup efficiently but it also exfoliates thanks to the four fruit enzymes that soften and smooth the skin gently while also restoring its natural moisture. You can leave this on as a mini mask for a few minutes to let the enzymes do their things — it’s so good.
Runner Up: Naturium Fermented Camellia Creamy Cleansing Oil
Hero Ingredient — Fermented Camellia Oil
This is almost like a cleansing balm thanks to its thicker balm-like consistency. Most cleansing balms come in pots and they can be fiddly or difficult to use especially when you’re in the shower. When the thicker balm melts into the skin and starts to break down the impurities and work its magic. This feels like a very luxurious and expensive balm but it’s only $20 and is available at Target.
Runner Up: Ayond Metamorph Cleansing Balm
Hero Ingredient — Babassu Oil, it effectively draws out impurities while hydrating and rebalancing the skin, and will not clog pores the way coconut oil can.
Its unique balm-to-milk salve formula is a dream, feeling incredibly rich and luxe. Also, the potent combination of Frankincense, high in soothing Boswelic Acid, and Copaiba work together to calm overactive skin. You can also use this daily as a mask. Leave it on for 15 minutes and reveal smooth, hydrated, plump skin.
The best toner:
Winner: COSMEDIX Purity Balance Exfoliating Prep Toner
Hero Ingredient — Salicylic Acid
This toner is amazing and the reason for clean pores and minimal blackheads — it exfoliates and preps the skin while also helping to absorb excess oil and impurities. It’s great as a cleanser and truly such a stellar product.
Runner Up: Josh Rosebrook Hydrating Accelerator
Hero Ingredient — Vitamin–Infused Aloe Water
Packed with moisturizers this is a toner and moisturizer all in one — the ultimate in hydration. If you’re someone who suffers from dry skin or is scent sensitive, this is perfect for you.
The best exfoliator:
Winner: GOOPGLOW Microderm Instant Glow Exfoliator
Hero Ingredient — Squalane
This exfoliator is called “Instant Glow” for a reason. Your skin will thank you and honestly will look and feel so much better immediately after you use it. Treat this product as an exfoliating mask and massage it on, leave it for a few minutes, then massage as you rinse. Plus, a little goes a long way.
Runner Up: Make Beauty Micro-Crystalline Exfoliating Face Mask
Hero Ingredient — Lactic & Glycolic Acids
This new product from the Make Beauty skincare lineup will change your mind after one use. This is a traditional face polishing treatment but the key difference to others on the market is the formulation. It uses a super fine, micro-crystalline cellulose so it’s incredibly soft to the skin. After one use, your skin will look smoother and more radiant like a little baby cherub. It also doubles as a chemical exfoliant with glycolic, lactic acid, and fermented bio-sourced bisabolol. It’s really good — trust us on this one!
The best face mist:
Winner: iS CLINICAL Copper Firming Mist
Hero Ingredient — Antioxidants & Copper Peptides
Who doesn’t love a good face mist? Antioxidants neutralize pollutants while copper PCA regulates your skin’s pH levels and stimulates collagen to give your complexion a smoother, more youthful appearance.
Runner Up: Mario Badescu Facial Spray With Aloe, Herbs, and Rosewater
Hero Ingredient — Gardenia Extract
Once you start to adopt a less-is-more approach to your skincare routine, you’ve embraced the no-makeup makeup look, and this mist will be your secret weapon. You would feel and look more awake, alert, and radiant with literally zero effort — it’s the best reset to ever come in a bottle.
Runner Up: Pinkness Feeling Bright Face Mist
Hero Ingredient — Camu Camu Fruit Extract
This face mist quenches your skin and makes it feel so refreshed. It leaves your skin feeling bright, toned, and moisturized. We love that it’s loaded with skin healing ingredients like Camu Camu Fruit Extract, which is packed with vitamin C, antioxidants, and fights inflammation + Rose and Chamomile Water to soothe and plump the skin and Aloe to lock in moisture. It’ll be your go-to for a quick refresh midday and in the morning to brighten everything up.
The best serum:
Winner: iS Clicical Active Serum
Hero Ingredient — A Game-Changing Formulation of Glycolic, Lactic, and Salicylic Acids
This unique formulation of glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids exfoliates the skin while deep-cleaning the pores. Other game-changing ingredients include arbutin and mushroom extract which further help to minimize the appearance of uneven skin tone while brightening.
Runner Up: SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF Gel
Hero Ingredient — 10% Pure Vitamin C & Paired With 2% Phloretin
For those with fairly oily skin, this product is a great suggestion for a healthy dose of antioxidants. It’s the secret to keeping your skin glowy and will even help heal some of the redness on your décollotage area.
Runner Up: Neocutis Hyalis+ Intensive Hydrating Serum
Hero Ingredient — Hyaluronic Acid
When your skin needs hydration, nothing locks it in like this serum. It goes on smooth and feels like the skincare equivalent of drinking a tall glass of water.
Runner Up: SkinMedica TNS Advanced + Serum
Hero Ingredient — Growth Factor Technology (TNS-MR)
If you were going to splurge on any one skincare product, it would be this one. It’s a hefty price tag but it lasts forever and really makes a difference in all aspects of my skin: tone, texture, fine lines — it’s a multitasker!
Runner Up: Glossier Super Glow
Hero Ingredient — Magnesium PCA
Once you’re a Glossier stan, you’re always one. The brand’s ability to make products that feel light and natural, while still having a visible impact is amazing! This serum is thin and light, while still offering a healthy dose of moisture — your skin will immediately look and feel glowy and rejuvenated, even after a less-than-perfect night’s sleep.
Runner Up: iS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance Plus
Hero Ingredient — Time-Released Vitamin C
We love this product’s thin, water-like consistency which makes it easy to layer with other products to avoid the dreaded pilling. It also helps to reduce redness and heal any skin blemishes or irritations thanks to olive leaf extract which works with vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) to provide maximum antioxidant protection and health-promoting benefits. Zinc sulfate reduces inflammation, kojic acid prevents blemishes and vitamins E and A condition, nourish, and neutralize free radicals — it’s incredible.
Runner Up: SkinCeuticals Hyaluronic Acid Intensifier
Hero Ingredient — Pure Hyaluronic Acid, Proxylane, Licorice Root and Purple Rice
Not all hyaluronic serums were created equal. This one is a standout thanks to its potent blend of pure hyaluronic acid, proxylane, licorice root, and purple rice which work to boost skin’s hyaluronic acid levels, improving skin texture and restoring elasticity. We love the texture of this serum, it absorbs quickly and doesn’t dry my skin out, ever! We guarantee you will love this product!
Runner Up: Cosmedix CELL ID
Hero Ingredient — Age-Defying Peptides
Seeking rejuvenated skin? Well, you’ve come to the right place. This serum really is an all-rounder and perfect for any skin type. This one is packed with age-defying peptides including Japanese Orchid Stem Cell and African Mahogany Tree Bark Extract. You’ll notice a difference in the overall appearance of your skin after using this.
The best moisturizer:
Winner: Weleda Skin Food Original Ultra-Rich Cream
Hero Ingredient — Pansy, Beeswax, & Sunflower Oil
This rich moisturizer will save your dry skin, won’t break the bank, and is formulated with clean ingredients. What more can you ask for in a beauty staple? It goes on heavy, but after slathering this on your face before bed, you’ll wake up to luminous, smooth skin the next morning.
Runner Up: Osea Blemish Balm
Hero Ingredient — Three Types of Nutrient-Rich Seaweed and Tea Tree, Juniper, and Thyme Essential Oils
There’s not much we don’t love about this moisturizer. Nontoxic and made from organic ingredients. This moisturizer balances hydration while minimizing shine and clearing congested pores. Lightweight and fast-absorbing, this moisturizer is a great daytime option and perfect for most skin types to keep skin hydrated, fresh and clear!
Runner Up: Make Beauty Hibernation Capsule Overnight Recovery Balm
Hero Ingredient — Oligopeptides & Antioxidants
Its texture is like nothing else, almost like a fluffy whipped cream but slightly denser. This recovery balm works overnight to hydrate, replenish, and basically act as a sealant to keep your skin’s microbiome intact while you sleep. Once again the formulation here is key: oligopeptides, upcycled apple saccharide, and fermented marine microorganisms make this a truly innovative balm. Hello, future skin.
The best eye cream:
Winner: Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment With Avocado
Hero Ingredient — Avocado Oil
If you’re someone who considers yourself an under-performing sleeper, it’s not uncommon that you’d wake up with puffy eyes. This cream not only resolves that woe, but it simultaneously hydrates and smoothes the thinner and more sensitive under-eye area. An obvious but necessary PSA: Avocado isn’t just good on toast.
Runner Up: SkinBetter InterFuse Treatment Cream EYE
Hero Ingredient — Peptides & Vitamin C
This eye cream is light enough to be worn both day and night and has totally rejuvenated my under eyes.
Runner Up: Neocutis Lumiere Illuminating Eye Cream
Hero Ingredient — Growth Factors
The fine lines around your eyes are actually the result of dehydration, try our top recommendation — Neocutis Lumiere Illuminating Eye Cream, it uses growth factors to target the delicate eye area and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, crow’s feet, puffiness, and under-eye darkness. It also wears completely smooth and invisibly under eye makeup: no flaking or pilling in sight!
Runner Up: Cosmedix Eye Doctor High Potency Eye Treatment
Hero Ingredient – Retinol, Spin Trap, Alpha-Lipoic Acid, and Coconut Extract
This liquid crystal eye serum is incredibly hydrating and restorative, especially for aging under-eye areas like mine. The difference with this eye cream is the formulation: retinol to firm the skin; spin trap and alpha-lipoic acid to fight harmful free radicals; and coconut extract to provide deep, lasting hydration. It also utilizes the brand’s liquid crystal technology which can also be found in their best-selling opti-crystal eye serum. This not only has hydration benefits but also doubles as a highlighter thanks to its light-reflecting particles.
The best face oil:
Winner: Furtuna Skin Due Alberni Biphase Moisturizing Oil
Hero Ingredient — Olive Oil harvested From Thousand-Year-Old Olive Trees on the Furtuna Estate in Sicily
There is so much about this oil that sets it apart from its competitors. The creators actually prunes the olive leaves and submerges them in hydroglycerin for a quick extraction of phenolic content via their Soundbath™ Extraction Method. Then, they use this olive leaf infusion instead of plain water because it amplifies the nutrients available for skin. It’s truly a game-changing face oil and well worth the price.
Runner Up: Joaquina Botanica Hydrating Glow Oil
Hero Ingredient — Bakuchiol and Vitamin C
This product will literally hands-down change the texture and complexion of your skin, especially during the winter months.
Runner Up: Herbivore Lapis Blue Tansy Face Oil
Hero Ingredient — Jojoba Oil
When it comes to skincare, we are laser-focused on keeping our skin as hydrated as possible. This is the face oil that gets me there. Everything about it helps my skin feel fresh and balanced, and isn’t that color gorgeous to look at? Pair it with your gua sha routine for the best bit of self-care money can buy.
Runner Up: Cosmedix Brilliancy Vitamin C Brightening Face Oil AM:PM
Hero Ingredient — Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, a Potent Vitamin C Derivative
The addition of vitamin C in this oil is a gamechanger. You get both a serum and hydrating moisture protectant in one. The Vitamin C and Humulus Lupulus Extract, an age-defying flowering plant, to help reduce the appearance of dark spots and the look of an uneven skin tone. It also is incredibly lightweight, low scent, and feels amazing on the skin, not too oily with a nice dry down.
The best sunscreen:
Winner: Supergoop! Daily Dose Vitamin C + SPF 40 Sunscreen Serum
Hero Ingredient — Vitamin C
Vitamin C and SPF go hand-in-hand. This sunscreen doubles down on protecting my skin both against UV and blue lights. While you’re definitely concerned about the former, this product is perfect for you because it can hold up against the significant hours that you put in and work hard for everyday. Every time you put it on, you’ll love how your skin will look — instantly fresher and brighter. Supergoop! took the words right out of our mouths when they say it offers a “lit-from-within finish.
Runner Up: Live Tinted Hueguard 3-in-1 Broad Spectrum Mineral SPF 30 Primer
Hero Ingredient — 18% Zinc Oxide
First things first, this sunscreen leaves no white cast and is formulated for all skin tones. This daily mineral SPF 30 is also a moisturizer and primer that protects skin from harmful UVA/UVB rays and blue light. It’s made with non-nano zinc and weightless formula that blends seamlessly into the skin, trust us when we say the good things about this sunscreen.
Runner Up: BeautyCounter Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
Hero Ingredient — Zinc Oxide and Vitamin C
This OG-tinted moisturizer with SPF 30 will blend perfectly into your skin, and it has a deliciously silky texture — you’ll love the dewy, natural finish.
Runner Up: COOLA Full Spectrum 360° Refreshing Water Mist SPF 18
Hero Ingredient — Full Spectrum 360° Complex to Defend Against Sun and Blue Light
This one does it all — it infuses aloe and coconut water with COOLA’s plant-derived Full Spectrum 360° Complex to defend against indoor and outdoor daily aggressors. Plus, you can mist it right over your makeup throughout the day for a refreshing burst of moisture.
Runner Up: ColorScience Sunforgettable Brush-On Shelf SPF 50
Hero Ingredient — Iron Oxides
Packed with antioxidants and powdered hyaluronic acid in addition to SPF protection, the product brushes on like a dream and never feels messy. Plus, it comes in a variety of different shades so everyone can enjoy this magic wand of a product.
Runner Up: iS Clinical Extreme Protect SPF 30
Hero Ingredient — Zinc Oxide and Aloe Vera
This sunscreen isn’t cheap, but here’s why it’s been our number one SPF for years now — it doesn’t smell like sunscreen, no white cast, creamy moisturizer-like texture, soothing, hydrating formula with vitamin E and olive leaf extract which nourishes while reducing redness, doesn’t clog your pores, leaves skin with a dewy, and the glow isn’t sticky — your skin will be looking and feeling at its very best.
Runner Up: SunBetter TONE SMART SPF 68 Sunscreen Compact
Hero Ingredient — Mineral, Non-Nano Sunscreen Actives
For those who love a little color in their sunscreen, opt for this compact that goes on with a flawless, smooth finish, blurring out imperfections. We love how lightweight it is and while it’s not a dewy finish, it does leave your skin feeling soft and fresh. Besides, sometimes when you want a matte complexion, most sunscreens do tend to be very dewy which isn’t always optimal. It’s also a great primer for underneath makeup and the color is very buildable.
Runner Up: Dr. Lara Devgan SPF 44 BB Cream
Looking for a one-stop solution that will moisturize, protect, and provide sheer coverage? Well, Dr. Lara Devgan’s BB Cream with SPF 44 does it all and more. This product doesn’t feel thick, never clogs your pores, and gives your skin a beautiful dewy glow without being sticky or tacky. It also has a beautiful texture and smooth feel, plus a little goes a long way — highly recommended!
The best retinol:
Winner: SkinBetter AlphaRet Overnight Cream
Hero Ingredient — Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) That Provides Visible Skin Rejuvenation With Little-to-No Irritation
The combination of retinoids with an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) is the key to this game-changing product. It’s hard to believe that this wouldn’t cause irritation, but it’s true.
Runner Up: Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Facial Serum
Hero Ingredient — Vitamin B2 Niacinamide
With this serum, not only will your skin look and feel smoother and brighter, but it’ll all happen overnight — the results just keep getting better and better, night after night.
Runner Up: Maya Chia The Straight A
Hero Ingredient — Chia Seed Oil
Retinol creams are a dime a dozen, but how often does your organic and wild-crafter retinol boast a base of chia seed, rosehip, raspberry seed to combat dryness? This is all-in-one.
The best face mask:
Winner: Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay Face & Body Mask
Hero Ingredient: Bentonite Clay
This mask isn’t glamorous or fancy, but it truly is a staple. The tub of 100% natural bentonite clay is derived from volcanic ash, making it rich in minerals. It’s cheap, effective, and cleanses without going overboard. Slather it on once a week or use the mask as a spot treatment as needed.
Runner Up: Tatcha Luminous Deep Hydration Lifting Mask
Hero Ingredient: Rice Germ Oil, a Natural Source of Vitamin C
Tatcha’s leaves your skin so glowy and gorgeous without the excess goopiness that a lot of masks cause.
Runner Up: Juice Beauty, Green Apple Exfoliating Mask
Hero Ingredient — Bakuchiol Provides a Retin A-like Effect on the Skin
This product works hard on the texture and fine lines on your skin. Bonus points it also fights dark spots — a softer approach to retinol while still creating results.
Runner Up: Biologique Recherche Masque Vivant Rebalancing Face Mask
This mask has a very unique color and smell, but it works. It contains live yeast extracts which are packed with amino acids and nourishing Vitamin B to keep your skin purified, revitalized, and bright.
Runner Up: Lesse Bioactive Face Masque
All of their products are beautiful from the branding to the ingredients. This mask is just as calming as it is detoxifying thanks to its nutrient-rich formula. It’s ideal for sensitive skin because it’s clean and fragrance-free. At the base of this product is sustainably cultivated charcoal to cleanse and detoxify, then aloe vera helps to purify and soothe blemishes. It’s so hydrating, never drying like some clay masks can be.
Runner Up: Image Skincare VITAL C Hydrating Enzyme Masque
Hero Ingredient — Vitamin C and Fruit Enzyme Exfoliants
This is a best-selling product for a reason. With two nourishing forms of vitamin C and fruit enzyme exfoliants, this mask gently dissolves dry, dull skin buildup to leave skin feeling fresh and revitalized.
The best beauty tool:
Winner: NuFACE Trinity Facial Toning Device
Hero Ingredient — Hyaluronic Acid and FDA-Approved Microcurrents
Here at Messycafe, we’re not afraid to use our faces as guinea pigs for any and all beauty tools, even ones with electrical currents. Of those that fall in the latter category, NuFace is the only one we’ve ever been able to commit to using on regular basis. It’s so easy, and you can actually feel your almost instantly skin firming up.
Runner Up: Skin Gym Rose Quartz Gua Sha
Hero Ingredient — A Stimulating Workout For Your Face
Watch your life change once you start incorporating gua sha as a part of your skincare arsenal. Not only will your skin perk up immediately after using this tool, but it just feels so good. Facial massage is the ultimate form of self-care, and this product will help you look forward to the relaxing and rejuvenating ritual every day.
Runner Up: Nebulyft N1 Multipolar RF Anti-Aging Device
Hero Ingredient — Radiofrequency
If you’re a fan of radiofrequency in the treatment room, then you’ll be excited to try this new at-home device that brings the ground-breaking RF technology home. It’s safe, painless, very simple to use, and the results are immediate! The secret to this device is consistency and with regular use, you will see visible long-lasting results. Yes, this baby is expensive, but when you consider one professional RF treatment can set you back around $600, then you will get your money back on this after just one use. The difference with this tool compared to others on the market is the Titanium-Gold electrodes (µRFthera®) that deliver RF energy with sub-millimeter precision, on the surface as well as deep into the dermis. These electrode arrays work collectively to generate penetrating electromagnetic fields that tighten the skin and stimulate natural collagen production. It also doesn’t get too hot which we all know has been a common concern with other RF devices on the market so it’s really foolproof and very easy to use — you can’t go wrong!
Runner Up: Hunter Aura Facial Sculpting Tool
Hero Ingredient — A New Take On Gua Sha
This is a new take on the gua sha but the handle makes it so much easier to use. It also has an embedded solar panel so the 24k gold-plated sculpting tool can harness light energy, and convert it into microcurrent. The gentle microcurrent mimics the natural bioelectric current of the body, jumpstarting skin cells’ mitochondria to produce a significant increase in ATP production. This in turn stimulates the skin’s natural metabolic process, which increases cellular energy and stimulates the facial muscles. It’ll hug your face so beautifully and you’ll definitely notice visible sculpting and lifting of the face after using it.
Runner Up: Omnilux Contour Face
Hero Ingredient — FDA-Cleared Red Light Therapy
The skin health benefits of an LED mask have been proven — reduces fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation, and redness, but all that aside, we have personally found them to be restorative, providing a few minutes of mindfulness. It’s portable so just charge it up and you have multiple uses before it needs charging again. Keep it next to your desk so you can put it on while you’re working. Your skin will always look a little more radiant after a 10-minute LED session.
The best at-home peel:
Winner: iS CLINICAL Active Peel System
Hero Ingredient — iS Clinical’s Proprietary Botanical Extremozyme Technology and Copper Tripeptide-1
You can literally feel the difference in this two-step treatment that exfoliates and resurfaces the skin while also hydrating and rejuvenating it.
If you have any suggestions/recommendations and/or you give any of the above products a try, share with us your opinions below in the comments, and as always lots of blessings and love from Messycafe.
Stay safe, healthy, and live life to the fullest.