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30 Best Skincare Products of 2021, According to Beauty Pros

The GH Beauty Lab has tested thousands of products and brands to find the very best.

best skincare products of 2021

As anyone who's ever perused the aisles of a beauty specialty store (or even a drugstore!) can tell you, finding the best skincare products is hard. That's why each year in the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab, our scientists rigorously test skincare products, from moisturizers to cleansers, exfoliators, anti-aging treatments, and more from drugstore to high-end beauty brands and everything in between: To find the ones that measurably show results in Lab tests, and that consumers also love using.

For our testing, GH Beauty Lab scientists send label-masked skincare products from hundreds of brands to a panel of thousands of women across the country and solicit real, unbiased feedback from consumers with a range of skin types. We also take scientific measurements in the Lab using instruments to evaluate the results, such as the Corneometer, which measures skin's moisture levels, and the Visia Complexion Analyzer, a digital imaging device that can track changes in skin, including the size and depth of wrinkles, pore count, and dark spots.

Here, the GH Beauty Lab's top-tested best skincare products and number one brands of all time to invest in for your routine, including drugstore buys recommended by dermatologists, and the products that will give you glowing skin whether you're in your 30s or your 90s. Below are our top picks, proven to to be the best performers in their categories, thoroughly evaluated or tested by the GH Beauty Lab's scientists for efficacy and safety:

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Best Face Cleanser
Soothing Cleanser
SkinCeuticals dermstore.com

Suds up and deep-clean your complexion with this SkinCeuticals foam infused with glycerin and cucumber extract, a winner of the GH Beauty Lab’s face cleanser test. It earned near perfect points for effectively cleansing: 96% of users reported that it deeply purified their skin. Yet it also wasn't over-drying: "Instead of feeling tight and dry, this facial wash left my skin feeling much more silky, nourished, and smooth, and rinsed off easily," a tester noted. 

  • Effectively and deeply cleans
  • High lather
Best Drugstore Face Cleanser
Gentle Skin Cleanser
Cetaphil amazon.com

With a powder-fresh scent and mild suds, Cetaphil topped the GH Beauty Lab’s face wash test for cleansing thoroughly yet leaving skin soft. Several testers remarked that it was gentle and great for sensitive skin. “It didn’t overdry, strip or irritate,” one raved. Testers ranked it highest of all cleansers, with 86% saying they’d continue using it. Plus, it scored well for rinsing off easily and making skin feel hydrated.

  • Thoroughly cleanses skin
  • Gentle, non-drying formula
  • Good value
Best Face Moisturizer
Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion+
Clinique sephora.com

A GH Beauty Award winner, the classic Clinique lives up to its reputation, effectively hydrating skin for hours in GH Beauty Lab assessment despite a lightweight feel. Calculations with the Lab’s Corneometer device, which measures skin hydration levels, showed that it increased moisture by an impressive 43% over six hours after application.

  • Powerful hydrating effects
  • Lighweight texture
Best Drugstore Face Moisturizer
Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream
Olay walmart.com

The GH Beauty Lab’s gold-standard moisturizer at a great value, Good Housekeeping Seal star Olay delivers near-record levels of hydration with a mix of hyaluronic acidniacinamide , and peptides. In Beauty Lab moisturizing tests using the Corneometer device, the formula boosted skin’s hydration by 68% three hours post-application, one of the highest moisturization scores in Lab history, and maintained the top spot after 24 hours. 

  • Highly hydrating
  • Quality ingredients
  • Affordably-priced
Best Hydrating Night Cream
Resveratrol Lift Night Infusion Cream
Caudalie dermstore.com

With grape seed oil and the antioxidant resveratrol (derived from grape vines), this silky Caudalie cream proved to be a powerful hydrator and smoother. "It didn't leave my face greasy," a tester said. "My skin felt soft when I woke up," another reported. It scored among the highest in the GH Beauty Lab's night cream test, increasing moisturization 43% over six hours. The Lab's Visia complexion analyzer's digital imaging also showed a 12% improvement in skin texture.

  • Powerful moisturizer
  • Naturally-derived ingredients
  • Smooths skin texture
Best Drugstore Night Cream
Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Moisturizer
Olay walmart.com

A night moisturizer and skin-smoothing retinol treatment in one, GH Seal star Olay was a winner of the GH Beauty Lab’s night cream test thanks to its noticeable brightening, softening, firming, and wrinkle-reducing effects. The cream raised skin’s firmness by 27% over four weeks of use, according to the Lab’s Cutometer device, which gauges skin laxity. 100% of testers agreed it made skin feel softer and also ranked it best at brightening.

  • Softens and hydrates skin
  • Firms and brightens
  • Good value
Best Brightening Night Cream
Overnight Restorative Cream
Algenist sephora.com

A cocktail of collagen boosters like antioxidant vitamins C and E and peptides, Algenist’s rich cream deeply moisturizes and diminishes spots—  while you sleep. “This really is removing my dark spots,” a tester said. "I’m in my 40s, and I could go to work without makeup— my skin just looks better,” another revealed. GH Beauty Lab tests found that it raised skin’s moisture content 33% in six hours and reduced UV spots 11% in four weeks.

  • Reduces dark spots
  • Increases skin moisturization
Best Face Serum
Metacell Renewal B3 Serum
SkinCeuticals dermstore.com

The winner of the GH Beauty Lab's anti-aging serums test, SkinCeuticals’ formula, with high levels of vitamin B3 to stimulate cell turnover, earned raves for visible wrinkle softening, brightening and firming. “I could see plumpness in my skin the next day — I was shocked,” a tester said. “Almost immediate results on my fine lines,” another remarked. The light liquid was the best of the serums tested by the GH Beauty Lab at reducing wrinkles, by 5% after four weeks of use.

  • Measurably reduces wrinkles
  • Brightens and firms skin

  • Pricey
Best Drugstore Face Serum
No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum
No7 ulta.com

GH Seal star No7 was the best bargain in the GH Beauty Lab's anti-aging serum test, delivering results on par with or better than pricier options. It earned the best marks for smoothing skin's texture, and received strong scores for improving firmness and diminishing pores. Described as “lightweight” by many, the serum made skin “look younger” and wrinkles “less visible,” though some reported slight irritation.

  • Smooths and firms skin
  • Minimizes pores

  • Could be irritating
Best Anti-Aging Serum
Smart Custom Repair Concentrate Serum
Clinique macys.com

Scoring points for softening, firming, brightening, evening skin tone, and minimizing pores and brown spots, this Clinique formula was the clear winner in the GH Beauty Lab's anti-aging serums test. In Lab assessment, the peptide serum was best at boosting firmness at 24%, and reduced the look of pores and brown spots by 7%. Plus, 100% of testers agreed it had a nice texture. 

  • Effectively firms skin
  • Minimizes dark spots and pores
  • Brightens and evens skin tone
Best Drugstore Day Cream
RevitaLift Bright Reveal Brightening Day Moisturizer SPF 30
L'Oreal Paris
RevitaLift walmart.com

The star (and best value!) of the GH Beauty Lab’s anti-aging day cream test, L’Oréal Paris topped Lab and tester assessments for reducing UV spots, evening skin tone, and moisturizing, absorbing fast with a silky finish. The vitamin C and glycolic acid cream received the highest score for minimizing UV spots, by 11% over four weeks, and boosted skin’s hydration by 28%. “It decreased the appearance of my wrinkles and made my skin brighter and more radiant,” one raved. “My skin stayed hydrated throughout the day,” another said.

  • Minimizes dark spots
  • Evens skin tone
  • Increases hydration
  • Great value
Best Drugstore Anti-Aging Face Cream
Retinol Correxion Max Daily Hydration Anti-Aging Crème
RoC amazon.com

A GH Beauty Lab favorite and Good Housekeeping Seal star, this luxe-feeling Roc cream is based on the research-verified ingredient retinol, which speeds up skin cell turnover to reduce dark spots and wrinkles starting in as little as seven days. In clinical tests, volunteers’ skin looked 32% smoother and more radiant after one week of daily use. The formula improved the look of wrinkles and dark spots by 46% over eight weeks and kept skin moisturized for a full 24 hours, data revealed.

  • Improves wrinkles and dark spots
  • Effectively moisturizes
  • Affordably-priced
Best Eye Cream
Absolue Revitalizing Anti-Aging Eye Cream
Lancôme nordstrom.com

Lancôme’s luxe, vitamin-packed cream won the “gold” in the GH Beauty Lab’s eye treatments test, proving worth the splurge for hydrating and firming. The formula scored highest for increasing skin moisture, by 41% over six hours, in testing with the Lab’s Corneometer machine. It was also near the top for boosting firmness — by 29% over four weeks of use per calculations with the Lab’s Cutometer machine. Several testers noted a visible difference: "I received many comments (more than I ever got  when using any other product) on how great I looked," one said.

  • Effectively moisturizes
  • Firms skin
  • Luxurious formula

  • Pricey
Best Drugstore Eye Cream
SkinActive Ultra-Lift Anti-Wrinkle Eye Cream
Garnier amazon.com
$11.30 (25% off)

The lowest-priced winner of the GH Beauty Lab’s anti-aging eye treatment test, Garnier’s cream effectively firmed and moisturized eye area skin. Made with shea butter and caffeine, it increased skin firmness by 32% and hydration by 31%. "It really seemed to diminish my dark circles so that I used much less concealer!" a tester raved. "It also was a great moisturizer and seemed to brighten."

  • Boosts firmness
  • Raises skin hydration
  • Bargain price
Best Eye Depuffer
Nutritious Super-Pomegranate Radiant Energy Eye Jelly
Estee Lauder
Estée Lauder dermstore.com

Estée Lauder’s innovative bouncy, jelly-like eye treatment is more than just fun to play with: It’s packed with caffeine and fruit extracts (blueberry, pomegranate, cranberry) to refresh sleepy, puffy eyes on contact. The formula produced an immediate cooling effect that “made exhausted eyes feel more awake,” tightened the undereye area, and softened the look of bags, testers said. 

  • Instantly refreshes eyes
  • Light, cooling formula
Best Face Sunscreen
No Excuses Invisible Facial Sunscreen Gel Broad Spectrum SPF 40
Julep amazon.com
$16.99 (39% off)

A winner of the GH Beauty Lab’s face sunscreen test, this unique Julep clear gel SPF outshone the competition at leaving no white cast or residue on skin. The water-based formula shared top marks in the test for producing zero white film on skin, even on dark complexions. It earned perfect scores for being easy to apply and not running into or stinging eyes or causing breakouts. "It didn't leave any residue or film and wasn't sticky or tacky," a tester reported.

  • Clear, no residue formula
  • Works on all skin tones
  • Good value
Best Drugstore Face Sunscreen
SPF 30 Anti-Oxidant Day Cream
YourGoodSkin ulta.com

The most affordable of the GH Beauty Lab’s face sunscreen test winners, YourGoodSkin’s SPF gives an extra layer of skin protection thanks to antioxidants green tea and vitamin C. The cream formula tied for top at making testers’ skin feel soft and its mild, pleasant aroma. The texture was "hydrating and moisturizing more like a quality moisturizer than a sunscreen," a tester said.

  • Softens skin
  • Great scent
  • Good value
Best Face Mask
Clear Proof Deep-Cleansing Charcoal Mask
Mary Kay
Mary Kay marykay.com

Get spa-like skin pampering at home with Mary Kay's face mask, a GH Seal star and Beauty Award winner. Made with two types of clay, it reduced skin’s oil 89% and shine 84% in 15 minutes, GH Beauty Lab data analysis found. Even though it has intense purifying effects, it doesn't dehydrate skin, instead leaving it "silky and soft," a Lab expert tester reported.

  • Purifies and balances skin
  • Leave skin soft
Best Face Scrub
Brightening Facial Scrub
Acure amazon.com

Number one in the GH Beauty Lab’s face scrub test, Acure’s formula clarifies skin with a blend of walnut shell powder and green clay. It earned a perfect score for deep complexion cleansing in a test of full-coverage makeup removal and ranked best among testers for purifying and brightening. “My skin was the softest it’s ever been after using this product," a tester noted. "My facial skin definitely looked refreshed, smoother, and brighter — I felt like a no makeup day was completley okay," another marveled.

  • Deeply purifies skin
  • Brightens
  • Good value
Best Dermatologist-Recommended Face Exfoliator
Exfoliating Polish
Zo Skin Health
Zo Skin Health zoskinhealth.com

From a brand developed by a dermatologist, this baking soda–based ZO Skin Health polish left skin silkiest in the GH Beauty Lab’s test of face scrubs. “My skin still felt smooth a day later,” a tester remarked, and several liked that a little product went a long way. It was most popular with users, ranking above the rest at making skin satiny, having the right exfoliation level, and being the least messy of all the scrubs evaluated.

  • Smooths skin
  • Not messy
Best Face Peel
Rapid Reveal Peel
Dermalogica dermstore.com

The winner of the GH Beauty Lab’s at-home facial peels test from a brand know for its professional spa-level products, this Dermalogica lactic acid formulation rated best with testers for evening skin tone and reducing lines, with 100% confirming that they’d use it again.

  • Evens skin tone
  • Minimizes lines
  • Tester favorite
Best Anti-Aging Face Mask
TimeWise Repair Lifting Bio-Cellulose Mask
Mary Kay
Mary Kay marykay.com

Treat your skin to an at-home “facial” with this Mary Kay sheet face mask, which is backed by the Good Housekeeping Seal87% of testers said their skin looked and felt firm after they used it twice weekly for two weeks. 

  • Firms skin
  • Pampering
Best Overnight Face Mask
Moisture Bound Sleeping Recovery Masque
Amorepacific nordstrom.com

Amorepacific’s overnight mask won the GH Beauty Lab’s test, upping skin's moisture level by a whopping 49%. The no-rinse mask is like a super-strength night cream: Swap it for your go-to product before bed whenever you need an extra hydration boost.

  • Highly moisturizing
  • No rinsing needed
Best Face Oil
Nourishing Rose Oil
Laura Mercier
Laura Mercier sephora.com

Laura Mercier's potent infusion of 10 botanical oils (coconut, sunflower, safflower, jojoba, rose, and more) received the highst score in the GH Beauty Lab's face oil test of 56 formulas. It raised skin hydration by 12% over six hours in the Lab's Corneometer measurements. "Skin felt immediately softer and looked dewy," a tester reported.  

  • Hydrates skin
  • Made with natural oils
Best Drugstore Face Oil
Cocoa Butter Formula Moisturizing Skin Therapy Oil for Face
Palmer's walmart.com

The best bargain of the face oils in the GH Beauty Lab’s test and a GH Seal star, this Palmer’s 10-botanical-oil blend (with argan, apricot, and almond oils) boosted skin’s softness. In testing using the Lab’s Corneometer device, it increased skin moisture by 8% without feeling heavy. Skin had a "healthy glow" and "... the lines are gone!" two testers reported.

  • Softens skin
  • Contains nautral oils
  • Affordably-priced
Best Neck Cream
Skin Active Triple Firming Neck Cream
NeoStrata dermstore.com

Reduce the rings around your neck with this shea butter and amino acid cream, which earned the highest marks for softening wrinkles in the GH Beauty Lab’s test of anti-aging neck treatments. The “rich” formula “improved my neck — I love it!” a tester said. “Both my neck and my décolletage looked smoother,” another reported. It was better than all others evaluated at minimizing the look of testers’ neck lines and wrinkles, based on standardized digital imaging.

  • Minimizes neck lines
  • Smooths skin
Best Makeup Remover
Oil-Free Liquid Eye Makeup Remover
Neutrogena amazon.com

A GH Seal star, Neutrogena’s affordably-priced formula was a top performer in the GH Beauty Lab’s test of 29 eye makeup removers for getting rid of stubborn waterproof mascara, eyeliner, and eye shadow. Lab tests found it removed waterproof makeup quickly, and testers liked the product's scent, said it didn’t irritate the skin around their eyes, and found it effective at removing eye makeup completely. Volunteers were pleased with its ability to moisturize, as well as remove "even the toughest mascara" with little effort.

  • Removes even waterproof makeup fast
  • Not irritating
  • Great value
Best Lip Treatment
Anti-Aging Lip Treatment
VENeffect dermstore.com

A winner of the Beauty Lab's anti-aging lip treatments test, this VenEffect cream made lips look fuller after four weeks of use: "It made my lips feel soft and smooth and appear fuller," a tester said."I will definitely continue to use it." Volunteers also rated it high for its non-sticky texture and fast absorption.

  • Plumps lips
  • Softens skin
  • Fast-absorbing and non-sticky

  • Pricey
Best Anti-Aging Skincare Treatment
DermalQuench Liquid Lift + Retinol Advanced Resurfacing Treatment
Kate Somerville
Kate Somerville nordstrom.com

The gold-standard anti-aging ingredient retinol, which stimulates cell turnover to boost collagen, is the powerhouse in this GH Beauty Breakthrough Award-winning Kate Somerville serum, dispensed as a special foam for faster absorption. "This faded the dark spots on my cheeks and plumped both my fine and my deep lines," a tester said. "I got compliments on how even-toned and bright my skin was," another raved. After four weeks of use, 76% of testers saw diminished lines and wrinkles, and a nearly 10% reduction in UV spots was measure in the Lab test, with little to no irritation.

  • Minimizes lines and wrinkles
  • Effectively reduces dark spots
  • Minimal to no irritation
Best Breakthrough Face Serum
EGF Serum

The winner of a GH Beauty Breakthrough Award, GH Beauty Lab Director Birnur Aral, Ph.D., was impressed by this groundbreaking epidermal growth factor serum; independent studies show it reduced both wrinkle size and depth.

  • Cutting-edge ingredients
  • Reduces wrinkles

  • Pricey
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