skin-awards-2021

The Shape 2021 Skin Awards Will Give You the Glow-Up This Year Needs

From nourishing creams to brightening serums, these are the skin-care products derms want you to add to your routine.
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

Have we ever been more focused on our skin? Many of us stare at it throughout the day's video calls, constantly confronting the under-eye circles or fine lines we otherwise might have ignored. Plus, we have new issues to fixate on, like "maskne" and flare-ups of stress-induced sensitivity. It's certainly fertile ground for frustration.

But one positive from this state of complexion obsession is that we've gained a real appreciation for the importance of a potent routine. Lesson learned: Treatments and skin care that offer proven, long-lasting results warrant the time, devotion, and investment.

This year's Skin Awards winners — chosen with the help of leading dermatologists — came together in response to the most important question: What's worthwhile? Answers, ahead.

Next-Level Sunscreens

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Credit: DAVID PRINCE

The most impressive innovation is that there are now formulas that all women want to apply— because all women need to. "A great study, by Dr. Pearl Grimes, on the benefits of wearing daily sunscreen in skin of color found that it doesn't just protect against skin damage and cancer — it actually improves the texture, tone, and overall look," says Mona Gohara, M.D.

She loves Melé Dew the Most Sheer Moisturizer SPF 30 (Buy It, $23, target.com). "It was created by Black executives at Unilever and Black and brown dermatologists, including me," she says. The lotion, made with UV filters avobenzone and octinoxate, rubs into dark skin tones easily.

Best Sunscreen for All Skin Tones
Melé Dew the Most Sheer Moisturizer SPF 30
$23.00
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Target

For body, the new Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense Sunscreen Lotion SPF 60+ (Buy It, $16, amazon.com) quickly disappears into all skin tones, offering oil-free hydration, broad-spectrum protection, and antioxidants.

Best Body Sunscreen
Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense Sunscreen Lotion SPF 60+
$16.00
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Amazon

A zinc sunscreen is this year's other crowd-pleaser. "Zinc oxide is a natural mineral that provides one of the safest and most effective protections against UV rays," says Ellen Marmur, M.D. It's also an anti-inflammatory, so it's an ideal pick for sensitive or acne-prone skin. And it's reef-safe. "Biossance Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen [Buy It, $30, sephora.com] is one of my favorites. It's elegant, and it blends into my dark skin," says Michelle Henry, M.D.

Best Mineral Sunscreen
Biossance Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen
$30.00
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Sephora

Another top pick: Cetaphil Sheer Mineral Face Liquid Sunscreen SPF 50 (Buy It, $10, amazon.com), a formula that absorbs quickly so you can layer makeup on top. There are also tinted versions, which help hide the white cast that zinc can leave and may offer enough coverage that you can skip foundation. They also help block visible light, like from your phone and computer screens, making melasma, dark spots, and fine lines worse.

Some contain iron oxides to further boost their light-blocking effect. "Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield Glow SPF 50 [Buy It, $39, amazon.com] has both zinc and iron oxides as well as soothing niacinamide. My patients like the radiant finish it leaves," says Elizabeth K. Hale, M.D.

Best Drugstore Sunscreen
Cetaphil Sheer Mineral Face Liquid Sunscreen SPF 50
$10.00
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Amazon
Best Luxe Sunscreen
Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield Glow SPF 50
$39.00
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Amazon

"No matter what you choose, remember that as long as it's SPF 30 or above and labeled 'broad spectrum' or 'UVA/UVB protection,' it will work," says Neal Schultz, M.D. "Apply an even layer, then reapply every two hours and immediately after swimming or sweating."

Crucial Acts of Self-Care

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Credit: DAVID PRINCE

Our skin-care routines are essential rituals, and not just for the topical results — sometimes doing them is the only time we devote to ourselves. "Applying a facial mask is the ultimate self-care. I can't multitask while I'm wearing it. I have to sit still, so it's built-in time for meditation," says Dr. Gohara.

She uses Obagi Medical Professional-C Microdermabrasion Polish + Mask (Buy It, $83, dermstore.com): "It makes my skin and soul better." Scrub an even layer onto skin, then let the thick, slightly granular formula, which contains 30 percent vitamin C, sit for 10 minutes to help smooth and brighten.

Best Mask
Obagi Medical Professional-C Microdermabrasion Polish + Mask
$83.00
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Dermstore

For a spicy, warming detox: Mix a few drops of water into a scoop of Éminence Organic Skin Care Turmeric Energizing Treatment (Buy It, $78, dermstore.com) to create a mousse out of the turmeric, paprika, citrine, kaolin clay, and zeolite mineral powders, which help draw out impurities and brighten skin's appearance.

Best Skin Treatment
Éminence Organic Skin Care Turmeric Energizing Treatment
$78.00
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Dermstore

The five seconds it takes to apply a serum or moisturizer can be a mindful moment too: Burt's Bees Truly Glowing Gel Cream (Buy It, $15, amazon.com) is full of deeply hydrating humectants, like glycerin, jojoba, and squalane, that feel refreshing and decadent as you massage them in.

Best Moisturizer
Burt's Bees Truly Glowing Gel Cream
$15.00
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Amazon

Multitasking Garnier Green Labs Pinea-C Brightening Serum Cream SPF 30 (Buy It, $22, ulta.com) has the active ingredients of a glow-giving serum (vitamin C, pineapple extract, and a salicylic acid derivative) mixed with moisturizing properties (glycerin and vitamin E) and sunscreen — giving your skin what it needs in one fell swoop feels so satisfying.

Best Serum
Garnier Green Labs Pinea-C Brightening Serum Cream SPF 30
$22.00
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Ulta

A Strong Pigmentation Plan

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Credit: DAVID PRINCE

For visible, measurable changes in the evenness of your skin tone, dermatologists praise ingredients that have the most scientific backing. "We know that they can help," says Dendy Engelman, M.D. "And the way they're being formulated now makes them easier to use and tolerate."

The three that our panel mentioned most: glycolic acid, vitamin C, and tranexamic acid. No7 Laboratories Glycolic Resurfacing Peel (Buy It, $40, ulta.com) contains 15 percent pure glycolic acid — one of the highest levels available over the counter — and has been tested on all skin types. Apply it to dry skin, then rinse off after five minutes up to three times a week.

Best Glycolic Acid
No7 Laboratories Glycolic Resurfacing Peel
$40.00
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Ulta

Next step: vitamin C. "It's the darling of the skin-care world thanks to its brightening, collagen-boosting, and antioxidant properties. But it can irritate sensitive skin, possibly making hyperpigmentation worse in dark skin tones," says Dr. Henry. "A great exception is BeautyStat UniversalC Skin Refiner [Buy It, $80, shop.beautystat.com], which is well tolerated and contains20 percent pure L-ascorbic acid." And the vitamin C is encapsulated, so it stays potent, says Robinson, the chemist behind the patented formula.

Best Vitamin C
BeautyStat UniversalC Skin Refiner
$80.00
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BeautyStat

Lastly, there's tranexamic acid — "I'm a huge fan," says Dr. Henry of the gentle yet effective melanin-inhibiting ingredient that can begin to show results in two weeks. Find it in SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum (Buy It, $154, amazon.com), which has been tested on a wide range of skin types and tones. "This is ideal for chronic melasma, one of the most stubborn issues to treat," says Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D. (Related: Why You Should Be Using an Antioxidant Serum)

Best Tranexamic Acid
SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum
$154.00
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Amazon

Advanced Smoothers

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Credit: DAVID PRINCE

New injectables to soften wrinkles and contour the face and body are ushering in the advanced phase of natural results. RHA Collection's three new resilient hyaluronic acid fillers (Buy It, from $1,000 per syringe, rhacollection.com) are manufactured so that they'll move with your facial expressions and last for up to 15 months. "I use them in the cheeks and around the mouth, and they give such a smooth look," says Dr. Hale.

Renuva (Buy It, from $1,040, myrenuva.com)is an injectable that stimulates your own body to make more fat. "It provides beautiful support, especially in areas like the face, neck, and hands," says Dr. Marmur. The treatment is created from allograft adipose tissue derived from deceased-donor fat. When injected, it forms a framework that dissolves in about three months, while your plumper, firmer skin remains intact.

Support your investments with formulas that encourage your body's collagen production. Adding Youtheory Collagen Powder (Buy It, $12, amazon.com) to a beverage provides 6,000 milligrams of hydrolyzed collagen. For two weeks before and after a treatment, apply the unique combination of peptides in Alastin Skincare Regenerating Skin Nectar (Buy It, $195, alastin.com) to improve results and accelerate healing.

Best Collagen Powder
Youtheory Collagen Powder
$12.00
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Amazon
Best Healing Skin Treatment
Alastin Skincare Regenerating Skin Nectar
$195.00

Retinol for Maskne and More

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Credit: DAVID PRINCE

The vitamin A derivative is a top de-ager, promoting cell turnover to reveal smoother, brighter skin and spurring collagen production. But retinol is also the ingredient most dermatologists on our panel suggested for maskne, the acne caused by wearing masks.

"Wash your face with a gentle cleanser, apply a retinol, then a moisturizer — and that's it. The simpler your routine, the better during a flare," says Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin, who likes Differin Gel (Buy It, $13, amazon.com) and Skinbetter Science AlphaRet Clearing Serum (Buy It, $125, skinbetter.com), which contains a retinoid, a low percentage of salicylic acid, and niacinamide.

With any retinol, "the secret to tolerating it is gradually dialing up the frequency," says Dr. Gohara. (Related: The Exact Order to Apply Your Skin-Care Products)

Best Drugstore Retinoid
Differin Gel
$13.00
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Amazon
Best Gentle Retinoid
Skinbetter Science AlphaRet Clearing Serum
$125.00
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Skinbetter

A perfect formula to do this with is the high-performance Mary Kay Clinical Solutions Retinol 0.5 (Buy It, $78, marykay.com). Use once a week for one week, twice a week for two weeks, and so on. "If skin becomes irritated, then decrease the frequency to the week before," says Dr. Gohara.

Best Potent Retinol
Mary Kay Clinical Solutions Retinol 0.5
$78.00
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Mary Kay

The Healers

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Credit: DAVID PRINCE

Our skin's outer barrier, built to stop environmental aggressors from getting inside our bodies and to prevent moisture from escaping, has been put to the task this year.

A favorite to bolster the barrier on your face is First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Firming Collagen Cream (Buy It, $42, sephora.com). "This has ceramides, glycerin, and oatmeal for incredible barrier restoration," says Dr. Gohara. In an independent clinical study, there was 169 percent immediate improvement in skin hydration, says Ron Robinson, a cosmetic chemist.

Best Face Cream
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Firming Collagen Cream
$42.00
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Sephora

For hands: Columbia Skincare Ultimate Skin Repair Cream (Buy It, $38, walmart.com) "has helped prevent my very-often-washed hands from drying out," says Dr. Hale. And Curél Extreme Dry Hand Relief Cream (Buy It, $4, amazon.com) uses positively charged cationic technology to hold the moisturizer to negatively charged dry skin. "That plus the cream's other occlusive ingredients can help lock moisture inside," says Robinson.

Best Skin Repair Cream
Columbia Skincare Ultimate Skin Repair Cream
$38.00
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Walmart
Best Hand Cream
Curél Extreme Dry Hand Relief Cream
$4.00
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Amazon

If skin is cracked, reach for Aveeno Restorative Skin Therapy Itch Relief Balm (Buy It, $18, ulta.com). "Balms help not only soften but also create a moisture barrier that's ideal for wound healing," says Dr. Engelman.

Best Balm for Cracked Skin
Aveeno Restorative Skin Therapy Itch Relief Balm
$18.00
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Ulta

When you need hand sanitizer, opt for a hydrating one. "Dove Nourishing Hand Sanitizer [Buy It, $6, walmart.com] is the best because it deposits moisture into the skin as it cleans," says Dr. Gohara. It keeps hands hydrated for up to eight hours.

Best Nourishing Hand Sanitizer
Dove Nourishing Hand Sanitizer
$6.00
shop it
Walmart

The Newest Body Treatments

We live in an age when we can have agency over how our bodies feel, look, and fuel our confidence. Cutting-edge treatments let us decide if we want firmer skin or stronger muscles — and the timing is perfect, as more women are craving that control.

"I've seen a big uptick in patients coming in for body treatments because during this past year, their workouts were affected, their eating changed, and they had more time to focus on themselves," says Anne Chapas, M.D., a dermatologist inNew York.

Plus, the treatments — from fat-reducing energy devices to laser hair removal — have vastly improved, hurting less and offering more visible results. Here, your latest and greatest options.

The Newest CoolSculpting

"CoolSculpting Elite is the newest iteration of cryolipolysis technology, which freezes fat cells to kill them," says Sabrina Fabi, M.D., a dermatologist in San Diego. "Among its most innovative features are two curved applicators, which fit the shape of the body and make it easier to treat areas like the thighs, abdomen, flanks, back, and arms." They're also larger than past models, allowing for a gentler suctioning and offering fat reduction of up to 25 percent.

Expect one to three sessions spaced two months apart. You may feel slightly uncomfortable until the tissue numbs and then experience soreness, numbing, or itchiness for about a week (but typically not enough to keep you from a workout). Average cost is $2,450, though it depends a lot on the areas you're treating.

Skin-Smoothing Injectables

The latest and truly novel way to tackle skin dimpling is with an injectable called QWO. The solution is injected directly into each dimple, and it hurts as much as any quick booster shot. It contains enzymes, called collagenases, that break down the tight, fibrous bands that pull on the skin. "We've found that this releases the dimpling, but it also seems to help the collagen fall into a more uniform pattern and stimulate more of it to form, which makes the overlying skin look a bit smoother," says dermatologist Bruce Katz, M.D., who was part of the clinical trials for QWO. Expect three treatments 21 days apart. "There can be substantial bruising, especially after the first session, but we've found that it heals within weeks," says Dr. Katz. Average price: $2,500. (Related: This 20-Minute Treatment Made My Cellulite Disappear)

Core-Zapping Devices

Emsculpt Neo, the next generation of the popular abdominal muscle-building device, combines electro-magnetic energy to stimulate the muscle and radio frequency energy to destroy fat cells and tighten skin. "It's more comfortable and more effective than the original," says Jennifer Levine, M.D., a plastic surgeon in New York. The machine causes a series of muscle contractions, which feel like the "pain" of holding a crunch or a plank, and then shifts into a series of tapping motions to help the muscle release lactic acid and recover.

"Four treatments spaced a week apart is equivalent to at least three months of HIIT because these muscle contractions are deeper, and the machine is able to target more of the abdominal muscles than exercise can," says Dr. Levine. "Patients feel and look stronger and report that they perform better in a workout." The caveat is if you don't keep using the muscle, you lose it eventually; the destroyed fat cells, however, don't come back. Average price: $3,000.

Innovative Tightening Treatments

A series of two to three treatments with the InMode Morpheus8 Body device can help fade stretch marks or firm up a bit of laxity on all skin tones and body parts, says Anne Chapas, M.D., a dermatologist in New York. It combines microneedling and radio frequency energy, with the tiny needles helping the RF energy reach deeper into skin to encourage it to increase the production of new collagen and elastin. "What's especially exciting is how much deeper we can go now. After we numb the area with a topical ointment, we can microneedle seven millimeters into the skin, which is two times deeper than previously done," says Dr. Chapas. "It has quickly become one of my favorite tightening options." You'll experience redness and swelling for a few days afterward. Expect two to three treatments spaced a month apart. Average price: $2,000.

Upgraded Laser Hair Removal

Laser hair removal technology has come a long way. "Treatments are faster, less painful, and safe for more skin tones and complexions," says laser hair removal specialist Christian Karavolas, the owner of Romeo & Juliette Laser Hair Removal in New York. The Splendor X by Lumenis device is "the Ferrari of the category," says Dr. Chapas. "It's very fast; we treat full legs in 30 minutes."

And because it's a blended wave length device — meaning that it uses both Alexandrite and Nd:YAG energy — it works extremely well on all skin types. "Plus, it's virtually pain-free because you need less output from each wave length to achieve a superior result," says Karavolas. "It's a favorite of my male clients." A full course of laser hair removal entails six sessions spaced six weeks apart. "But you'll see a significant amount of hair reduction after two or three sessions," says Karavolas.