The Best Face and Body Skin-Care Products for 2020
The Skin Awards
We asked seven of the country’s leading cosmetic dermatologists to name the latest innovations that have truly blown them away. From cutting-edge treatments and technology to new formulations, here are the winners for the best skin-care products of 2020.
Our Panel of Board-Certified Dermatologists
- Jeanine Downie, M.D., owner of Image Dermatology in Montclair, New Jersey
- Dendy E. Engelman, M.D., dermatologic surgeon at Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in New York=
- Mona Gohara, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University
- Elizabeth K. Hale, M.D., clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center
- Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D., owner of Entière Dermatology in New York
- Ellen Marmur, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology and genetics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
- Neal Schultz, M.D., creator of BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz skin care
Sun Protection: Isdin Erytona Ageless Ultralight Tinted Emulsion SPF 50
Applying sunscreen has become a whole new experience. We’ve gone from pasty creams to elegant, lightweight serums, balms, and powders that glide across skin. It’s now possible for even mineral (also called physical) UV filters, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, to leave no white residue. One of our winners: Isdin Erytona Ageless Ultralight Tinted Emulsion SPF 50 (Buy It, $66, isdin.com), a mineral sunscreen that sinks into all skin tones and contains a blend of Peptide Q10, DNA repair-somes, and antioxidants to fight free radicals and help repair skin.
Sun Protection: Elta MD UV Elements Broad-Spectrum SPF 44 Tinted Sunscreen
Another winner: Elta MD UV Elements Broad-Spectrum SPF 44 Tinted Sunscreen (Buy It, $34, dermstore.com), which has transparent zinc oxide and stays water resistant for 40 minutes.
“While physical blockers are most effective, all active sunscreen ingredients are safe,” says dermatologist Neal Schultz, M.D. Recent research found that some sunscreen ingredients have been documented in the bloodstream, but “no one has demonstrated any clinical harm in humans from their very low levels,” Dr. Schultz says. “Here’s what I tell my patients: One American dies every 20 minutes from skin cancer. I’ll take my chances with the sunscreens.”
Sun Protection: Sundaily The Base Layer supplements
Dermatologists are also touting other forms of UV protection. “I’m a huge fan of rash guards. They offer excellent protection and don’t impact coral reefs,” says dermatologist Elizabeth K. Hale, M.D. She also takes Sundaily The Base Layer supplements ($39 for 30 gummies, goop.com) when she’s going to be outdoors a lot. “A Harvard researcher came up with these; they have DNA-repair enzymes, which neutralize and prevent sun-induced mutations.” They also help support your collagen layer, so skin stays smooth and firm.
LED Light Therapy: MM Sphere 2.0
“We’re just starting to see the impact that purified LED devices have on cosmetic and medical treatments,” says dermatologist Ellen Marmur, M.D. Red LED light communicates with the fibroblasts in our skin cells to tell them to increase collagen production, which makes skin firmer over time, Dr. Marmur says. It also decreases inflammation, which can help calm rosacea and acne, and increases circulation, which can bring nutrients to the skin and encourage hair growth. Blue light zaps the Propionibacterium acnes bacteria on the skin that can lead to pimples. And purple light is a combination of the two. “These LED wavelengths also cause changes in the skin’s proteins and metabolic activity, leading to better appearance of wrinkles, redness, brown spots, and acne,” Dr. Marmur says. “Just as intriguing, the LED wavelengths work via the photoreceptors in your eyes, which can help improve mood, sleep, and memory.” The MM Sphere 2.0 (Buy It, $795, mmskincare.com) offers six wavelengths and a new pulsating setting that simulates your heart rate to induce deeper relaxation.
Body Treatment: Alastin Skincare TransForm Body Treatment
These days, body-contouring devices actually target muscle. “Some of the latest machines emit currents that travel through the skin and fat to contract your muscles in ways that exercise can’t,” says dermatologist Dendy E. Engelman, M.D. The latest is CoolTone ($500 per treatment), a device that can treat your abdomen, butt, and thighs; expect to undergo four sessions within two weeks. New body-care formulas can help boost the results of your procedure. Alastin Skincare TransForm Body Treatment (Buy It, $195, alastin.com) can accelerate the body’s natural fat-removal process and support new healthy collagen production. (Or you can work on building muscle the old-fashioned way.)
Retinol: Skinbetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream
Retinol isn’t new. “We have 30 years of data demonstrating that it works for acne, sun damage, and aging skin,” Dr. Hale says. But retinol formulations have undergone an astounding transformation, turning what was intolerable for some into an ingredient suited for all skin types.
“The biggest downside to retinol is that it can be very irritating,” says dermatologist Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D. So brands have developed alloys packed with hydrators like hyaluronic acid and glycerin to counteract the drying effects. Dr. Hale’s favorite: Skinbetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream (Buy It, $125, skinbetter.com), which causes little to no irritation to the skin and contains alpha hydroxy acids to bolster results.
“It’s one of the best retinol products,” she says. There are exciting prescription-level options too. “The FDA recently approved Aklief, which contains a new retinoid molecule, called trifarotene, that’s more gentle on the skin with fewer side effects,” says Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin.
Prescription Retinol: Altreno Lotion
Targeted Formula: Dr. Jart+ Teatreement Moisturizer
Smart in-office techniques and new topical formulas are now able to deliver skin-improving ingredients precisely where you need them and in record speed. Microneedling, one such treatment, uses tiny medical-grade needles to stamp very small openings into the skin to stimulate a wound-healing response. “We then apply ingredients that are approved for or shown to be safe for use by injection,” Dr. Schultz says. “It’s a fabulous way to get increased penetration and therefore efficacy.”
The Infini RF Microneedling device (average price is $1,600 per treatment) also includes radio frequency waves to help stimulate collagen. Your at-home skin care can zone in where it’s needed most as well. Dr. Jart+ Teatreement Moisturizer (Buy It, $32, sephora.com) contains an encapsulated salicylic acid that breaks open only when it touches blemish-prone skin, which has a different pH from clear areas.
Hair Growth: Nutrafol for Women
When our panelists were asked which innovation showed the best results, scalp injections of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) for hair growth was at the top of many lists. “You get significant benefits with very little downside,” Dr. Schultz says. First, your blood is drawn and spun in a centrifuge to separate the PRP, which is then injected all over your scalp. “Using your blood’s growth factors to stimulate collagen and follicles lets your own body work its magic,” says dermatologist Mona Gohara, M.D.
Another new option is a laser called Lutronic KeraLase ($750 to $1,000 per treatment), which is paired with a synthetic growth factor serum. The device stamps across your scalp, stimulating the area and creating tiny channels in the follicles, where the serum is then applied. “It delivers active ingredients where they’re needed,” says dermatologist Jeanine Downie, M.D. “The serum can contain even more growth factors than a person’s own PRP, plus stem cells to help hair growth,” she says. Nutrafol for Women (Buy It, $79
$88 for 1 month, nutrafol.com), a supplement brand for hair loss, also garnered multiple mentions from our panel. “I’ve seen promising results, especially in conjunction with the above treatments,” Dr. Downie says.
Pigmentation Help: Cyspera Intensive Pigment Corrector
Cysteamine is a breakthrough new ingredient that fades dark spots. “It is an antioxidant that our body produces naturally and helps limit the production of melanin, which is the pigment in our skin,” Dr. Downie says. “It’s safe and effective to use all over the body, including the lips and underarms.”
You can find it in Cyspera Intensive Pigment Corrector (Buy It, $169, theskinspot.com), a cream that you apply like a rinse-off mask. Cysteamine is a potent active ingredient and may cause irritation if it sits on clean skin for too long, Dr. Downie says. So apply it at the end of the day, before you wash your face. Leave it on for 15 minutes (it may tingle, and it has a distinctive odor), then wash it off with cleanser and apply your serum or moisturizer. With nightly use, you can expect to see brown patches and spots fade in one to three months.
Neck and Jaw Skin Care: Perricone MD Cold Plasma Plus+ Sub-D/Neck
"We’ve gotten really good at using injectable fillers to sculpt the midface in a natural-looking way, which has lead us to say, ‘What about the lower face?’” says Dr. Engelman. The FDA is reviewing Juvéderm Volux, a firm filler that’s ideal for the jawline and already being used in the United Kingdom.
In the meantime, leading cosmetic physicians are able to inject existing fillers into the area; Dr. Engelman places Juvéderm Voluma at the back of the jaw to create a sharp angle. “I love to use Radiesse and Restylane Lyft to refine the jaw and chin,” Dr. Marmur says. You can also tighten skin with in-office radio frequency energy treatments using the InMode Evoke device (prices range from $500 to $2,500) and Perricone MD Cold Plasma Plus+ Sub-D/Neck (Buy Itm $135, perriconemd.com), which has peptides and caffeine to help firm and smooth this delicate area.
Single-dose Ampoules: L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Replumping Ampoules
Certain ingredients, like retinol and vitamin C, break down when exposed to air and light. Once a product is opened, it loses effectiveness rapidly, says Dr. Engelman. In fact, you can often see that this oxidation has happened because your formula looks brownish. Contamination from the air or from redipping your fingers into a jar has also been a skin-care hurdle. This is why certain brands are housing their most active ingredients in single-dose capsules (some of which are biodegradable or recyclable). “Each time you open one you will have a fully potent and effective formula,” Dr. Engelman says.
Capsules are also excellent as boosters when you feel your skin needs an intense dose of antioxidants or hydration after an active day outside or a big night out. L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Replumping Ampoules (Buy It, $25 for 7, ulta.com) contain 1.9 percent pure hyaluronic acid—their highest dose—to help rehydrate and replump skin.
Editor Pick: Neutrogena Bright Boost Gel Cream
“I wish I could dive into a pool of this weightless jelly-like moisturizer. It’s full of both deeply hydrating ingredients, like glycerin and squalane, and exfoliants like alpha hydroxy and polyhydroxy acids, which lighten dark spots and even out skin tone.” —Kate Sandoval Box, beauty director
Editor Pick: Head & Shoulders Supreme Exfoliating Scalp Scrub
“Scalp scrubs have become a staple in my skin routine. The exfoliating silica in this is superfine, so it’s easy to massage it in without getting caught up in my hair. And the argan oil leaves me feeling hydrated, never stripped.” —Erin Reimel, beauty and wellness editor
Editor Pick: Dove Glowing Mango Butter Instant Foaming Body Wash
“I love a foam in the shower. It’s prelathered, so I don’t have to worry about generating bubbles with a loofah. And besides cleansing my skin, it works perfectly as a shave cream. The fresh mango fragrance is truly transporting; one whiff and I’m on a tropical beach.” —KSB
Editor Pick: Secret Essential Oils Antiperspirant
Editor Pick: Garnier Skin Active Water Rose Micellar Cleansing Water
“I test a lot of skin care for my job, so my face can sometimes get over-sensitized. When that happens, I stick with this. It feels so gentle and soothing, yet it still removes all my makeup.” —KSB
Editor Pick: OGX Hydration + Sea Kelp & Hyaluronic Acid Scrub & Wash
“I need a deeply hydrating body wash to help keep the eczema on my arms under control. This cleanser-scrub hybrid has hyaluronic acid and sea kelp to boost hydration while sloughing away dead skin cells with fine black rice. My skin feels immediately softer after drying off. Just add moisturizer and you’re set.” —ER
Editor Pick: Bio-Oil
Jergens Natural Glow Instant Sun Sunless Tanning Towelettes
“It’s official: It could not be easier to add a hint of bronze color to your skin. I quickly swiped this wipe all over my legs, washed my hands, and carried on with my day only to look down a few hours later to discover a subtle, streak-free faux tint.”—KSB