Grazia contributing editor Emily Algar

Hello, and welcome to a story that’s been 12 months in the making. This is a feature I always look forward to writing – an edit of the very best beauty products I tried throughout the year. I thought this time around, I’d split it into two categories – skincare and makeup – including 10 products for each. Skincare is more complicated, so I figured we could start here.

2020 has been debilitating on so many levels… it still is really. Beauty is a trivial pursuit when you look at it in a wider context, but it still yields tremendous power when it comes to making us feel good. Sure, for me it’s work, but it’s also a way to look after myself; to bookend my typically chaotic days; and in a functional sense, keep my skin clear and healthy.

Obviously, I trial a lot of dud products, but for every five skincare fails there’s a holy grail serum/cleanser/moisturiser just waiting to be discovered. It would be a shame to keep it all to myself, thus me sharing my best finds right here.

*Keep in mind, I don’t try everything, so there’s certainly other 10/10 new launches out there changing complexions (and the world). I also have normal to combination skin prone to congestion, dehydration and pigmentation, so my recommendations will be slightly geared towards this. BUT, hand on heart this is the stuff I believe in. The stuff I’d repurchase time and time again.

Keep reading to discover (and stay tuned for makeup later in the week).

For brightening:


This brightening treatment contains a cocktail of good-for-you ingredients like vitamin c, niacinamide and plant stem cells, resulting in a formulation clinically proven to inhibit the production and transfer of melanin. The texture is divine and it’s free from cheap filler ingredients, but most importantly it works. Since I started using it a few months ago, my skin is brighter and acne marks have faded. In fact, if I had to pick a single favourite beauty brand to come out of 2020, Emma Lewisham would be it.

For everything-in-one:

U Beauty Resurfacing Compound, $215. SHOP NOW via net-a-porter

U Beauty piqued my interest right from the start. Created by Tina Craig, the brand features two products only: a hydrator and a resurfacer (pictured). The idea was to streamline beauty routines, champion efficacious formulations and take a considered approach to an otherwise very saturated industry where 10-step routines are the norm. Th Resurfacing Compound is almost like a chemical exfoliant, vitamin a and antioxidant hybrid product with a special (patent-pending) tech that takes the ingredients where they’re needed most. In theory it sounds highly active, but I found it quite gentle, especially in comparison to other products of a similar nature. I found within weeks, this had improved my skin’s texture and clarity twofold. It also replaced literally my entire nighttime product lineup. If you want great skin but a foolproof routine, this brand is holy grail status.

For incredible clarity:

Is Clinical Active Serum. SHOP NOW

For years, I’d heard wonderful things about this serum. It is the stuff of skincare legend. It’s the product celebrities use in secret while they front another beauty brand. Basically, its magic and the miraculous effect it has on the skin is certainly not lost on me. A potent blend of white willow bark extract, bilberry and sugar cane, it brightens and clarifies like nothing else. It’s super… fresh? Like a tic tac for your face, so I find it best to pat on to skin post cleanse, leave for a few minutes and follow up with a simple moisturiser. I don’t think I’d recommend it for sensitive or super dry skin, but if you’re breakout prone or looking to brighten, it’s gold class.

(And yes, it didn’t technically launch this year but it did arrive in Australia which is where I’m located and I think I’d loose sleep at night if I published this story without it). 

For unmatched (and gentle) sun protection:

Ultra Violette Lean Screen, $45. shop now

This guy only launched just over a month ago, but I already consider it the best zinc sunscreen I’ve ever used. For every day, I prefer chemical formulas, but whenever my skin feels irritated or broken out this is what I’ll reach for. I am also just wildly impressed by the texture of this. Physical, zinc-based sunscreens are notoriously tough to formulate (zinc is quite literally a chalky white powder), even more so at a high sun protection factor such as 50. But this defies the odds. It’s relatively light, hydrating, has zero white cast and sits beautifully under makeup. A miracle.

For brighter eyes:

Youth To The People Dream Eye Cream, $82. SHOP NOW via sephora

This eye cream is softening and hydrating and downright wonderful to use. It’s packed with antioxidants, hyaluronic acid and ceramides to nourish the delicate skin around the eyes without causing puffiness or dreaded millia (in my experience, anyway). I love it because it softens fine lines and subtly brightens. There’s more active options out there for deeper wrinkles, but for nourishment or anyone just starting out, this is perfect.

For the perfect cleanse:

Augustinus Bader The Cream Cleansing Gel, $78. SHOP NOW via net-a-porter

I didn’t want to love this cleanser because of the price but… it’s love. It’s one of the few non-foamy cleansers that leaves me feeling clean but not tight. It also removes makeup really, really well. It contains Bader’s signature Trigger Factor Complex, so my tip is to really massage it in for at least a minute to absorb some of the goodness. Again, this is more of a luxury buy (a cheaper cleanser will do the same job) but if you’re willing to throw down cash it’s a beautiful product. Also highly complimentary to Bader’s iconic “The Cream” – one of the best moisturisers I’ve ever used (but sadly, it launched last year).

For expensive-looking skin:

Guerlain SuperAqua Mask, $177. shop now

Of all the sheet masks I’ve tried, this is by far the most transformative. It’s incredibly rich in serum and hugs the facial contours perfectly, leaving the skin soft, bouncy and wonderfully plump. The hero is dubbed “Aquacomplex”, a hydrating blend of ingredients that flood the skin with serious moisture. There’s no hangover/late night/deadline week affected complexion it can’t fix. Put it in the fridge for extra de-puffing power. Not a need (obviously) but a ridiculously luxurious want.

For moisture:

Is Clinical Reparative Moisture Emulsion. SHOP NOW

This moisturiser is a cut above the rest (can you tell I love Is Clinical?). It is so soothing and genuinely moisturising that I’m onto my third bottle. Unlike some moisturisers that just sit on top and lock stuff in, this contains skin penetrating enzymes and hydrators to offer protection from environmental aggressors. It was also co-created with makeup artists to ensure the texture provides a perfect base for makeup – luminous but not greasy. A good option for any skin type, really.

For Next-Level Makeup Removal:

Drunk Elephant E-Rase Milki Micellar Water, $45. shop now

This inclusion is based on two things. One is the fact that it’s a gentle and effective way to remove makeup, dirt and debris. The second is that it’s an innovative take on micellar water (and one I’ve not really seen before). There’s nothing wrong with classic French iterations, but this contains added ceramides and essential fatty acids to really take things up a notch. It feels cool on application too, making for a beautiful first cleanse in summer when your skin is thick with SPF.

For dry lips/heels/cuticles/everything:

Lanolips Golden Dry Skin Salve, $20. SHOP NOW

In a year defined by a pandemic and lockdowns and Tiger King, I have a newfound appreciation for iconic Australian beauty brands launching simple but highly effective products. Lanolips is the best in the business, and while I love the original 101 Ointment, this new Golden Dry Skin Salve is like a richer, more decadent version. Perfect for chapped lips, dry heels and unruly brows, it’s a true miracle and I’d be lost without it. It’s loaded with Manuka Honey too, giving it certain antibacterial properties.