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Beauty

A ROLLING INVENTORY OF ACTUALLY BRILLIANT BEAUTY PRODUCTS

Separating the OK from the OH WOW.

13.07.2021

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There are a lot of beauty products in the world. More than you care to know about. You used to eye up the woman in the gym whose make-up bag had, yes, suffered a foundation explosion, but housed things you’d never seen before. Natty crayons that scribble colour on her eyelids, cheeks and lips. A bronzer the size of a CD (it’s Charlotte Tilbury and it’s amazing). Or when you got ready with friends you’d chat about what’s good and what’s new. What’s made one friend’s pores evaporate quicker than cash on pay day. And what it is exactly that has your other friend glowing like a naked flame. 

As life gets back to normal, we’ll be required to approximate fresh faces (if we are that way inclined, of course - it’s not an actual requirement, not like wearing a mask, anyway). But yes, faces with actual mascara and lipstick. And if make-up isn't your thing, you'd probably like to look awake – or just alive. Like you haven’t spent lockdown in a windowless attic, gathering dust, deprived of sunlight. This list, as its name suggests, will steer you towards actually brilliant beauty products. Stuff we’ve tried, tested, used up and adored, because it's hard to know what's worth it when you can't peer into strangers' make-up bags or poke around in those of your friends. And especially when the WhatsApp conversations that used to revolve around CC creams and SPF now trade exclusively in the future of the monarchy, restaurant reservations and the delicious possibility of going out out. 

La Perla Soothing Bath & Shower Oil, £83

Full transparency, I know that £83 is a lot (too much even) to spend on an oil, but this is seriously the most lovely oil around, and not just because of the bottle, which looks like the top of a professionally piped, posh Vienetta. On contact with water it transforms into a delicately scented, deliciously bubbly foam, which spreads for miles (just as well). With a cocktail of oils to help soften skin and hydrate, the effects can be felt for days after. So it's a major treat, yes, but a worthwhile one. 

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NARS Radiant Creamy Colour Corrector, £24

An update on an unequivocally cult classic: NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer, this colour correcting version contains a custom blend of red pigments, to help neutralise blue and purple tones. There are four different shades, and all of which contain Luminous Filler, a micro powder to find and flood wrinkles and smooth them out. Clever, huh?

Armani Lip Power in Desire, £32

A pink with purpose, staying power, and, come to think of it, supreme nourishment. Lipsticks promise a lot, but in my opinion something's always got to give. If the pigment is punchy then it dries lips out like nothing else. If it doesn't budge then you can bet it requires the precision of a surgeon to apply. I've encountered no such problems with this, a satin-y stick that's accompanied me to all social occaisions of late. Colour wise, if you fancy something a little less predictable, there are 19 other shades to choose from.

Chanel Les Beiges Bronzing Cream in Soleil Tan Deep Bronze, £43

Few products enjoyed as much adoration as Chanel's Soleil Tan De Chanel. Offering a buttery but believable glow, it was a foolproof sun faker. In 2020 the formula was updated however, and renamed Les Beiges Healthy Glow Bronzing Cream, shade name: Bronze Universel. Criticism soon flowed with darker-skinned make-up wearers claiming it was anything but universal. Praise be then that the brand has launched a richer shade: Deep Bronze. Affording the same holidayed glow, it works both as a base and a bronzer, lending skin an airbrushed, radiant finish. 

Glossier Ultralip, £13

You know the score by now. Glossier launches a product, everyone screams, and you're left wondering whether it's actually any good, or whether everyone is screaming because female millennial convention tells them they should. I like Glossier. I don't however, worship at its altar. That said this sheer, hyaluronic acid infused lipstick in Lucite, has me in the church at least. Of the nine shades, there are jaunty pinks, oranges and browns, taupes and nudes, which makes it as good a selection as any to double up as sheer, glossy blush.

Caudalie Vinofresh 24 Hr Deodorant, £13

Using a nice deodorant brings small but significant pleasure to my day. You know, a diversion from the drudge of modern life, at home and in partial lockdown, grounded from going on holiday. With eucalyptus and grape water this smells like a spa, staves off any stench and keeps underarms soft and hydrated. If you've ever been put off by natural formulas because of irritation, know that this doesn't contain bicarbonate of soda, the ingredient that's responsible.

Zelens Tea Shot Urban Defence Serum, £85

Zelens has had a very smart rebrand, and as normal life resumes and duly wages war on your face, this anti-pollution serum has arrived right on cue. I know it's not cheap, but the things that pollution does to your face aren't sightly either: enlarged pores, redness and all over dullness. With five types of tea (an ingredient that's lauded for its antioxidant properties) and kombucha, there's a lot of goodness in here.

Elemis Dynamic Resurfacing Peel & Reset, £70

I'm a big Elemis fan. Something about it just makes me feel assured. So obviously I ran to the bathroom to slather myself in this when it arrived last week. A double-ended bottle, you apply three pumps of number 1, rinsing off after around 15 minutes, before applying three pumps of number 2. Number 1 sheds skin using effective but sensitive acids, while number 2 restores the moisture. I am tempted to call it a facial in a bottle, but such a line would resign me to the cliche beauty editor bin, so I'll refrain.

Victoria Beckham Beauty Matte Bronzing Brick, £52

Recommending a bronzer that isn't Soleil Tan De Chanel? Someone check my temperature, quick. I'll admit that at first it was the packaging that seduced me, but then I wore the stuff and almost instantly admired my skin, which yes, is in nice(r) shape at the moment thanks the aforementioned Elemis product, but the colour. The warmth. The two tone natural and matte oomph. Yes, please and thank you VB! Oh, also it's plastic free with a refillable compact.

La Roche Posay B5 Aqua Gel SPF 30, £25.87

It’s getting hot(er) which means it’s time to replace your hefty, laughably luxurious winter moisturiser with a gel. Gels are light and sink into skin quicker than you can say hydration. Gels have less grease and provide a welcome feeling of cool. And so onto this, a moisturising gel from La Roche Posay, with a hyaluronic acid, UVA and UVB protection. For deflated, sorry skin, you simply can’t go wrong.

Westman Atelier Squeaky Clean Liquid Lip Balm, £35

Serious question, is there anything better than a good lip balm? One that makes the action of applying lip balm a joy to behold. Of course there isn’t. And especially when it’s got something to do with Gucci Westman, a make-up artist who’s basically a magician. With a mirror-like shine and reassuring tackiness, some, I think, would call it a gloss, but with jojoba, almond, and argan oils, it’s conditioning and restorative too.

L’Oreal Professional Blow-Dry Fluidifier, £11.69

Lots of hair products make promises they can’t keep. They say they’ll banish frizz for up to 24 hours (ha!) or supply blinding shine (still waiting!). This, however, is true to its word. It makes a blow dry, waves or curls last up to four days, protects from heat in the process and actually protects against frizz and humidity. I didn’t come to the latter conclusion in a frozen pub garden, don't worry - rather, in my bathroom with a steamy shower on full.

Kevyn Aucoin Indecent Mascara, £22

Hard to apply mascaras are a bore. You know, the ones that coat your lashes in too much formula and make them clump like spider's legs. Or those that require twenty feverish swipes to reveal any kind of difference. The ones with too big wands that are awkward to use. With a small, dainty brush, and a thin but transformative formula, this is as easy as they come. And the separation is outstanding.

Cera Ve Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum, £17

Cera Ve – ask any beauty editor – is one of those brands that everyone trusts. It’s the nice person at the party that no-one has a bad word to say about. In fact, before it landed in the UK editors who in New York for Fashion Week would go to Sephora especially to stock up. It’s cheap as chips and backed by science, and this, its latest launch, just arrived. A gel cream hybrid, it sinks in quick without a hint of tackiness, and is full of skin-scaffolding ceramides, and super hydrators, glycerin and hyaluronic acid. After two weeks of religious use, my skin looks fresher and feels healthier for sure.

Augustinus Bader The Rich Cream Upgrade, £205

THE cream, the one that everyone talks about, the one that even the shallow pocketed fork out for, has had an upgrade. Professor Bader, the enigmatic scientist who took the beauty world by storm, has fine tuned an already pitch perfect product. Formulated with TFC-8, a complex of over 40 ingredients, including vitamins, synthesized molecules, and amino acids, the clinical trails for this, The Rich Cream 2.0, will knock your socks off. The brand reports a 145 per cent reduction in the appearance of wrinkles and a 92 per cent improvement in skin firmness. Usually, I'd just waffle on about its smell and its ability to make my skin sing, but when you're dropping north of £200, I know I know, you need the stats. 

Hershesons The Everyday Essentials Brush, £26

An excellent hairbrush in the cobalt shade that Hershesons is now synonymous, this smooths, softens and staves off static. Knots don't stand a chance, neither does bacteria, and with some of the most scalp pleasing bristles around, ahh, just AH. 

ghd Max Styler, £179

These took me right back to my teenage years - remember the original chunky irons with gold plates? Understanding little about hair health, I used to clamp them straight onto damp hair. Can you believe I found the sizzle and steam satisfying? Yikes how things have changed. These plates are bigger and more techy than ever. They make styling thick, coarse and textured hair a doddle, and they have Charlotte Mensah, ghd’s global ambassador and the queen of Afro hair’s approval. If you need convincing still, know that the brand promises up to two times less frizz and 80 per cent more shine. 

Nars Air Matte Blush, £26

I don't mean to alarm you, but this is limited edition, so get your skates on. It's like Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse, that never beaten, inexplicably exciting foundation that was a soft and spongy and slid on like a dream. I apply it without a mirror, with my finger, as clumsily as I like. Two pats for a suggestion of colour and four to mimic a generous jog. It makes me look perky and pleasant. There are eight different shades, but Orgasm is of course the best.

Clarins Moisture-Rich Body Lotion, £33

As I write this – in March – it's snowing outside and my central heating is audibly clanking. Ordinarily the skin on my body would be gross. Dry and a funny grey-ish colour, but not since this, the reworked version of a classic arrived at my door last week. Exquisitely rich but not sticky or cloying, it is the smell of Clarins (if you know, you know). Best of all, it's nice to apply, which means you'll do it absent-mindedly – dare I say I often find body moisturising an imposition?

Guerlain L’Essentiel High Perfection 24-Hour Wear foundation, £44

You may not have the opportunity or the inclination to wear a foundation for 24 hours right now (or ever, to be honest) but its OTT staying power is peace of mind, regardless. A lightweight, matte formula that sinks in instead of sitting on top of skin, this covers everything you need it to, from blemishes to bags.

GUCCI Silk Priming Serum, £41

I often give samples to friends on the condition that they relay detailed reviews. On this occasion, it was a primer, which for better or for worse, is not something I ever have – or will – wear. Her reply: "Ok, first, it's almost too good to use? Formula wise, I wore it alone first to see just how much it blurred and perfected etc, and it didn't mess around. Then I put foundation on, and it clung to it for dear life, so yes, in a word: SOLD!"

Earl of East Onsen Bath Salts, £24

Baths are an exemplary form of self-care, especially when they transport you to an onsen in a mountainous village in Kyoto. Breathe deep in eucalyptus, peppermint and mandarin. 

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Exfoliating Body Treatment, £15

Finally, a body version of the exfoliating face wipes that beauty editors go nuts for. These make light work of spotty chests, bacne and unsightly chicken skin on the backs of arms.

Superdose™ C C- Suite Rapid Action Power Brightener, £12.48 for members, £80 for non

I got over the fact that this high potency vitamin C serum has a slightly funny smell when after two weeks of use, my skin was noticeably brighter, and my maskne scars were visibly reduced. 

Pat McGrath MTHRSHP MEGA Eyeshadow Palette in Celestial Divinity, £60

If you're a make-up maximalist, you can't do better that this mega palette. From Mother Pat McGrath, if features a veritable feast of grown-up glitter and matte textures in shouty, peacocking shades. 

Paula's Choice Niacinimide Treatment, £45

If like me, you struggle with pores on your nose that can be seen from space, make niacinimide, an ingredient that's known to reduce blemishes and congestion, a mainstay in your regime. After just two uses of this serum, I noticed a difference. 

Bella Freud Ceramic 1970 Diffuser, £155

This will transport you to a different decade – hurrah! Anything but the now. With patchouli, musk and moss, and in a garish and golden pot, it's both a visual and olfactive reminder of the 70s. 

Byredo Eyeshadow in Corporate Colours, £56

With connoisseur of cool Ben Gorham and make-up artist Isamaya Ffrench as parents, Byredo make-up was never not going to be standout. Pebble shaped, with a dimpled gold shell, this palette is weighty and art-like, housing five earthy and blendable eye shadows. 

Ren ClearCalm Clarifying Clay Cleanser, £24

Contrary to popular perception, clay doesn't have to be drying. This has got the consistency of a regular cleanser, but does a more thorough job, leaving skin feeling clean and looking fresh. 

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