I've been a beauty editor for 20 years — here are 20 products I swear by

I always come back to these reliable favorites.
Getty Images; Macy's; Sephora; Amazon
By Colleen Sullivan

Our editors independently selected these items because we think you will enjoy them and might like them at these prices. If you purchase something through our links, we may earn a commission. Pricing and availability are accurate as of publish time. Learn more about Shop TODAY.

I’ve been a beauty editor for over 20 years and have seen thousands of products make their way across my desk — yet only a few have found a permanent spot on my vanity and in my bathroom.

Though I still try tons of new products, there are a few that I find myself returning to time and time again. After over 20 years of using new skin care and beauty releases, here are 20 of the staples I can’t live without.

1. Clarins Milk with Alpine Herbs for Normal or Dry Skin

Years ago, I had a facial at a Clarins spa in New York City and the esthetician couldn’t stop extolling the benefits of the cleanser she was using on my face — including how it would remedy my super dry skin and protect it against saboteurs like pollution. She also shared the long list of impressive antioxidants and moisturizing ingredients, including Alpine herbs, St. John’s wort, sweet almond oil, vitamin E, chamomile and even marshmallow to soothe puffy skin.

I’ve tried my share of cleansing gels, foams, and wipes, but I always come back to this water-soluble milk. It’s the one cleanser I’ve found that takes off all my makeup in a single, non-irritating swipe.

2. Rita Hazan Root Concealer

The COVID-19 lockdown wasn’t kind to anyone who professionally colors their hair, but it was especially challenging for blondes who couldn’t highlight their hair at home. I've gone four months without a visit to my colorist, so I’ve been reaching for my tried-and-true root concealer created by New York City-based celebrity colorist Rita Hazan.

I have one really stubborn gray streak that starts at my right temple and becomes even more apparent when I pull my hair back in a ponytail, which I’ve been doing a lot thanks to not being able to get a haircut. One or two hits with this spray powder does the trick. It literally targets your grays with a pinpoint nozzle so you can be precise in your coverage. The formula is ammonia- and peroxide-free so there’s no burning or itching. The packaging promises it will last as long as your next shampoo, but I find the coverage sometimes survives a shower. It’s a great solution when you need to buy time between salon appointments.

3. Mario Badescu Drying Lotion

You won’t find many products on this list my ENTIRE family fights over, yet this would be one of them. The fluid contains a superstar mix of acne-fighting ingredients, including salicylic acid, sulfur, camphor, zinc oxide, and calamine, which gives the glass bottle its pink sediment at the bottom.

The key, I tell my kids, is not to shake the bottle — you simply dip a cotton swab into the liquid until you hit the pink calamine and then dab the solution directly onto your breakouts. You know a product works when your two sons have no problem going to bed with pink dots all over their faces.

4. Oscar Blandi Volumizing Dry Shampoo Spray

I only wash my hair once a week — hear me out. I’ve had somewhat naturally dry hair for years and can normally revive my morning style with a quick hit using a blow dryer and round brush. However, I typically need a little extra help about four days after a shampoo.

There’s no shortage of dry shampoos on the market, but the one I turn to over and over again is this invisible spray created by New York stylist and salon owner Oscar Blandi. It’s formulated with gentle starches that absorb oil and boost volume, and it does so without leaving hair crunchy or with traces of white residue.

Plus, this product is easy to use: simply shake the can, hold it six inches away from your head and spray at the roots, then run a brush through your hair to distribute the product.

5. Supergoop Glow Stick Sunscreen SPF 50

After a Florida-based dermatologist introduced me to a young patient who literally lost her nose to skin cancer, I became an avid user of SPF and pretty much test every sunscreen product that comes my way. This broad-spectrum sunscreen stick was recommended to me by no less than five beauty editor friends at lunch one day, and I quickly found out why.

It works like a push-up pop, dispensing dry oils like tamanu, pracaxi, and buriti directly onto your skin. You simply dot it sparingly onto your T-zone and cheeks, then use your fingers to rub in the fluid-y texture all over your face. The result: a youthful, glass-like, facial glow. It’s got an impressive SPF of 50, but it’s not water-resistant so you’ll have to reapply after a swim or sweat.

6. Gillette Venus Bikini Precision Trimmer

I need to make it clear I’m not one of those girls who are comfortable testing a lot of “down there” hair removal devices. This is why the Gillette Venus Bikini Precision trimmer has become my go-to hair removal choice. Shaped like a pen, and working off a single AAA battery, the device fits comfortably in my hand to create a precise bikini line. Keep in mind, it’s not a razor, it’s a trimmer, so you need to use it regularly if your hair grows quickly. It comes with a snap-on comb that can be used to trim hair to a uniform length.

Tip: I find pulling skin taut with my free hand makes for a nick-free experience. The unit is water-resistant so you can trim in the shower (just don’t submerge it in the tub), and it comes with a white silky pouch for easy storage and travel. I couldn’t imagine bathing suit season without it.

7. Baby Foot Exfoliation Foot Peel

This foot exfoliator arrived on my desk over 20 years ago! What makes it different from all of the other foot exfoliation products on the market? Let’s start with how it works: You slip your feet into plastic booties filled with a gel-like liquid made up of skin-shedding glycolic and lactic acids, then seal them closed with the attached tape. It feels weirdly squishy, but you can pull a pair of socks over the booties to make it less uncomfortable and reduce your risk of slipping. You have to keep the booties on for at least an hour, and once that time is up, you simply rinse your feet with mild soap and water. After a few days, the skin on your feet will start peeling like a bad sunburn to reveal fresher skin below.

It varies for everyone, but for me, the process from application to final peeling is about seven days. In the end, you’ll be left with miraculously soft feet with no cracks or rough patches.

A few tricks I’ve learned over the years: Apply the booties after you’ve soaked your feet to allow for better penetration and wet your feet every night thereafter to speed up exfoliation. Don’t pick once your skin starts to peel, allow it to slough off naturally. Follow up with lotion every single night, and plan ahead — you won’t want to be displaying your feet in sandals during the peeling phase.

8. IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC+ Cream with SPF 50+

I went to London with a beauty editor friend a few years ago and after an overnight flight, I couldn’t believe how flawless and youthful her skin looked. She shared she had just started using a CC (color correcting) cream developed by plastic surgeons and that the compliments just kept coming. I don’t wear liquid foundation because I don’t like the way it feels on my skin and because I can never find a shade that looks natural. But CC creams are lighter than foundations and this one has an added bonus— a broad-spectrum physical sunscreen with an SPF of 50.

I gave it a try and now I’m the one receiving compliments and recommending this product. It does a really nice job of minimizing wrinkles and pores. It's also loaded with anti-aging ingredients, including hydrolyzed collagen, peptides, hyaluronic acid, vitamins (A, B, C, and E) and antioxidants.

What I like about this product is you don’t need much to cover your face — a little more than a pea-sized drop does the job (I find applying my moisturizer prior to the CC application makes for a smoother glide-on). There are currently only 12 shades available — here’s hoping they add more options to their line.

9. Japonesque Go Curl Eyelash Curler

Full disclosure: My favorite lash curler, one that has an open cage design to make it easier to insert lashes and an easel-style handle that flips down to apply just the right amount of pressure, was created by celebrity makeup artist Laura Mercier and has been discontinued. Thankfully, I soon discovered the beauty brand Japonesque makes a very similar product, which is great because I could never master the traditional metal lash curler.

This sleek lash curler doesn’t pull or tug at my lashes and fits in the palm of my hand. Unlike traditional metal lash curlers, this one’s made of plastic so you don’t need to press hard. Bonus: Japonesque’s version is less expensive, comes with an extra pad and can be purchased in a lovely shade of pink!

10. Coola Body Organic Sunscreen Spray SPF 30

Years ago, I had breakfast with Chris Birchby, the founder of the Coola line of sunscreens. His parents had both been diagnosed with melanoma, and he was determined to create a sunscreen to help fight skin cancer. In all my years interviewing dermatologists, they’ve always said if someone doesn’t like the feel or scent of their sunscreen, they won’t use it. This non-aerosol spray with an SPF of 30 is super lightweight (no oily, greasy feeling), 70% certified organic and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Plus, it contains antioxidants like raspberry seed oil and prickly pear extract to fight skin-aging free radicals. The formula also includes safflower oleosomes, which is an emollient oil that contains vitamin E to moisturize your skin.

Its smell — with scents like Pina Colada, Tropical Coconut, and Peach Blossom — make using and reapplying sunscreen almost pleasurable. It’s not cheap, but if you love and use your sunscreen, you’ll prevent skin issues down the road — and there’s no dollar value you can put on that.

11. Lancôme Bi-Facil Double-Action Eye Makeup Remover

Years ago, a beauty editor friend became the PR director at Lancôme. Over lunch, I asked her what her must-have product was from the brand. She sent me a bottle of an eye makeup remover that was introduced 30 years ago, and I was hooked. I went from going through three to four cotton pads to remove my eye makeup to just one.

What’s amazing about this product is there’s no stinging (attention anyone with sensitive skin) or greasy feeling upon application, it actually feels like water going on. Built on a two-phase technology — the lipid phase removes eye makeup while the water phase uses moisturizers to soothe the skin — it’s important to remember to shake the bottle before using to mix the two parts. Plus, it has a refreshing spa scent.

12. Yves Saint Laurent Volupté Shine Oil-in-Stick

My first job out of college was working as an assistant in the beauty department at Vogue. One day, a fancy bag arrived filled with Yves Saint Laurent lipsticks. I was taken by the expensive-looking gold packaging and the wide array of bright colors, but was even more intrigued with the smell — a deliciously fruity scent that reminded me of peach schnapps.

Years later, I would fall in love with a sister lip product, Volupe Shine Oil-in-Stick, and its balm-like texture. Its base is made of 65% oil, so it glides on like butter, leaving your lips feeling like you’ve coated them in petroleum jelly (yes, it’s that moist) and better yet, it still smells like peaches.

I'm told it's the hyaluronic acid that seals in all of that moisture. The biggest issue you’ll have with this product is choosing between the 34 gorgeous shades, and possibly the price. But you'll save on buying a gloss topcoat and it's worth it to own just one.

13. Drybar The Double Shot Blow-Dryer Brush

Truth be told, I stumbled onto Drybar’s The Double Shot Blow-Dryer while reviewing another product. I was testing the Dyson Airwrap styler ($500) when my editor asked if I could include a less expensive option in my story — and now I’m hooked.

I’m not very dexterous when it comes to holding a dryer and a round brush at the same time, so I was happy to discover this appliance has a brush permanently attached to the dryer. This tool uses ionic technology to seal the hair’s cuticle and reduce frizz, and the nylon and tufted bristles give you some really strong tension. The key is waiting until your hair is at least halfway dry — don’t attempt to use this on a sopping head or the results won’t be as great. Yes, it’s pricey, but if you like getting professional blowouts, you’ll find this dryer/styler can give similar results and you won’t need to invest in a flattening iron. The best part: it allows me to cut a good 15 minutes off my drying time.

14. Urban Decay Double Down Brow

I started using brow filler on a regular basis after Wende Zomnir, founder of Urban Decay, introduced me to a dual powder brow product called Brow Box at a press event. Sadly, the product has been discontinued, but happily, the company has launched the equally impressive Double Down Brow. It features a larger brush with stiffer bristles than its predecessor to deposit color and a spoolie for blending.

The putty-to-powder formula, which comes with two shade palettes (use the lighter color to fill in spots, the darker shade where you want more intensity), has a similar texture to Brow Box, yet it’s now waterproof and has more staying power. The key is to start slowly and build up pigment as you go. Bonus: It seems to last forever — I use this product every day yet it never seems to run out.

15. Lubriderm Daily Moisture Lotion

I probably qualify as one of those people who’ve become addicted to hand cream, and I’ve been using the same affordable drugstore brand lotion to moisturize the skin on my hands since the early '90s. Lubriderm isn’t necessarily sexy — it doesn’t contain fancy ingredients nor does it have a luxurious scent. Basic mineral oil, glycerin, and panthenol are its active ingredients and it’s actually fragrance-free, which is how I like my hand creams (I don’t want my hands to be smelling aromatic, especially when I'm handling food).

I also don’t want a product that’s thick and slow absorbing, which is why I choose this lotion over a cream, as I apply hand moisturizer multiple times a day thanks to all my hand washing.

16. CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum

Despite having access to some of the most aggressive anti-aging products on the market, simplicity in skin care has always been my thing. This is why, per my dermatologist’s recommendation, I was a bit hesitant to incorporate an exfoliating retinol into my skin care regimen. However, I was told as my skin aged, I needed something to break up the top dead layer of skin and increase cell turnover.

For less than $20, I’ve found applying a pea-size amount of this retinol — after cleansing and before moisturizing — has given my facial skin new life. Fine lines have lessened, breakouts have slowed, and overall my skin just looks brighter. The manufacturer doesn’t promote the percentage of retinol in this product (mostly because the product would have to be FDA-regulated), but the inclusion of ingredients like ceramides and niacinamide help seal in moisture and prevent sensitivity. Just be sure to wear sunscreen if you’re going outdoors.

17. Garnier Fructis Damage Repairing Treat Shampoo + Papaya Extract

I can’t put a number on how many shampoos I’ve tried over the years, but this relative newbie to the market has me hooked. A PR friend asked me to try it and honestly, I thought the results would be similar to the many other drugstore brands I’ve tried. On first application, I knew this one was different. The lather was surprisingly luxurious in feel and it left my dry and processed hair feeling smoother and voluminous when paired with the matching conditioner.

I did some research and found the formula contains a whopping 98% naturally derived ingredients (including vitamin-A rich papaya fruit extract and coconut oil), with the remaining 2% of ingredients acting as preservatives. The cheery packaging and the fruity scent brighten up my morning showers.

18. Diorskin Forever Extreme Control Powder Compact

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t like wearing liquid foundation, so I was happy to discover a powder compact foundation that gives my skin a natural-looking finish when I simply need some coverage. The texture is lightweight and it dries down to a matte finish without feeling or looking cakey on your skin.

I apply it in the morning on naked skin or over my CC cream, and it’s always in my cosmetic bag to assist when I need a shine touch-up or an unexpected blemish appears. I also love that it’s long-lasting — even with daily use, I normally don’t need to replace it for four months. Plus, the sponge never loses its resiliency, gets dried out or falls apart like so many other compact sponges I've tried.

19. Darphin Hydraskin Intensive Skin-Hydrating Serum

Yet another product I discovered during a facial, this botanical-based, lightweight serum is what I use as my daily moisturizer. The instructions actually advise using it before a moisturizer, but it almost always supplies me with all of the hydration I need. The blue serum targets dry skin with ingredients including hyaluronic acid and urea (to help retain water and keep skin hydrated), imperata cylindrica (a sugarcane-based botanical that helps increase moisture within the skin cells), and pomegranate (to protect against moisture loss).

It’s the application process that has me sold: It goes on like water, doesn’t leave a sticky residue, and has a spa-like scent. In fact, to bring the spa experience home, my esthetician shared it’s a good idea to use my fingertips and gently tap from my forehead down to my neck when applying the serum, which is how I add a little massage into my day.

20. Mason Pearson Junior Mixture Hair Brush

There are some beauty products I don’t mind splurging on, and this is one of them. Here’s why: I’ll probably buy one or two Mason Pearson brushes over the course of my lifetime. My first Mason Pearson brush was gifted to me over 20 years ago, and it still looks and functions like new. Created by London-based engineer Mason Pearson in 1885, this cushioned hairbrush is made mostly by hand. You can choose from 100% boar bristle (for fine or thinning hair), a boar bristle and nylon mix (for normal to thick hair), or a 100% nylon brush (for thick, hard to manage hair), as well as from a variety of sizes.

I use the bristle and nylon mix which does a great job of distributing natural oils from my roots to my ends, leaving my hair soft and shiny. The best feature of this brush is the lack of ouch factor or tugging when you’re brushing through wet hair. Yes, it’s expensive, but consider it a lifelong investment.

For more stories like this, check out:

To discover more deals, shopping tips and budget-friendly product recommendations, download the new TODAY app and subscribe to our Stuff We Love newsletter!