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17 must-have beauty products for spring 2021

From a lemony smoothing scrub to a "lipstick balm" that keeps me hydrated for hours.
Illustration of a Woman filming a video about a makeup and skincare tutorial and Ole Henriksen Lemonade Smoothing Scrub, Mario Badescu Caffeine Eye Cream, Elizabeth Grant Uplift Roller and Pili Ani Essential Oil Blend 5-Piece Kit
TODAY Illustration / Getty Images / Pili Ani / Elizabeth Grant / Sephora / Amazon

As a beauty editor for over 20 years, I’ve become a pro at figuring out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to hair, makeup and skin care products. And now, because I’m working from home full-time, I’ve been testing more products than ever.

From a caffeine-infused eye cream that’s become my new go-to face depuffer, to a gentle body wash that feels like soft clouds in your hands, to a brush-on fragrance (yep, you heard that right), here are my picks for this spring. Psst: There’s a lot to be excited about!

Must-try beauty products for spring

1. Ole Henriksen Lemonade Smoothing Scrub

It’s kinda hard not to fall in love with a face exfoliator that looks like the inside of a lemon jelly donut and smells like an after-dinner limoncello! This face brightener works by activating both a physical (sugar and lemon peel extract) and chemical (a 10% mix of glycolic and lactic acids) exfoliation process to loosen and lift dead skin cells. It's also infused with holy basil and chamomile to calm and soothe skin.

2. MyKirei by KAO Pampering Foam Body Wash

If there’s one product I love to road test most, it’s body wash — I don’t think I’ve used a bar soap in two decades! My current favorite, which I also use as my shaving cream, was inspired by the centuries-old Japanese tradition of bathing in vitamin C-rich yuzu fruit extract and rice water.

“Public baths in Japan are filled with whole yuzu fruits, as they’re known for their power to brighten and visibly plump skin with moisture,” says cosmetic chemist and brand director Marissa Vallillo.

3. Mario Badescu Caffeine Eye Cream

Full disclosure: I rarely use eye creams. Within an hour of applying this caffeine eye cream, though, the skin under my eyes were transformed.

“This cream/gel formula also contains LOOK Oléoactif, an ingredient that prevents red blood cell stagnation and acts as a vasoconstrictor, improving drainage under the eyes and dark circles,” adds Melissa Manetakis, Director of Education & Training at Mario Badescu Skin Care. So much science packed into such a tiny jar! For friends who constantly ask me for an under-eye product recommendation, this is it.

4. Jones Road The Mascara

If you asked me a year ago what I wanted in a mascara, I would have described a product that gave me thicker-looking lashes. But today, I simply want something that’s going to add enough oomph to my eyes for Zoom calls and doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to remove. So I was happy to discover a mascara from makeup artist Bobbi Brown’s new beauty line that does just that, with bonus points for being clean, vegan and conditioning.

5. Volo Hero Hair Towel

A scientist I once interviewed revealed hair is most prone to breakage when it’s wet because it’s in its most porous state. Roughing up hair with a heavy or harsh towel contributes to this damage, which is why I swear by this super soft and highly absorbent microfiber towel, which reduces the chances of breakage and speeds up drying time through moisture absorption.

6. Elizabeth Grant Uplift Roller

This facial roller isn’t something you pull out of your freezer and rub over your face a few times to calm your skin — this one literally sucks and lifts your skin! Made with two ABS resin balls, it’s designed with over 250 diamond shaped surfaces that work to de-puff skin and boost elasticity.

“With daily use, the suction action stimulates collagen synthesis and increases blood circulation, contributing to a firmer skin,” explains the company’s vice president, Margot Grant-Witz.

7. Riki Superfine Mirror

I’ve owned lots of makeup mirrors, but few as magnetic as this 7X handheld version. I simply slip my fingers into the two retractable finger holders, push the “on” button, then decide which level of light (there are three) I need to examine my pores, pluck my brows or curl my lashes.

“The LEDs are an average of both inside and outside light,” says Joshua Kran, Riki’s Research and Development Engineer at Riki Loves Riki. “You can adjust the brightness relative to your environment.” The mirror comes with a USB cable for easy recharging and a pouch, great for future travels.

8. MIX:BAR Coconut Palm Fragrance Pen

It’s rare that something comes across my desk I’ve never seen before. If you’ve ever tried a brush-on nail polish pen, you’ll get the concept behind this new fragrance. This tubular device dispenses a fragrance gel onto a brush, where you can apply it to one wrist before rubbing both together or hit up other pulse points on your body. With no messy spritzing, it’s easy to stroke this discreet fragrance on anytime, anywhere. It comes in seven scents, including Coconut Palm, Tangerine Squeeze and Vanilla Bourbon. And honestly, who couldn’t use a tropical scent in their life these days?

9. Charlotte Tilbury Hyaluronic Happikiss

Is it a lip balm or a lipstick? It’s hard to tell with this new “lipstick balm” from celebrity makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury. Even though I’m not wearing a lot of lip color these days (masks, arrgh), as someone who’s addicted to lip balm, I’m still hydrating my lips by the hour. So I was happy to discover this hydrating product that’s not drippy or wet and adds a little color to my lips. Made of hyaluronic acid (to plump skin), C-peptide (to reduce fine lines), and fruit seed oil butter and emollients (to moisturize), there are 10 shades to choose from — Crystal Happikiss being my favorite because it looks like my natural lip color, only better.

10. Native Coconut & Vanilla Moisturizing Shampoo

I’m trying to wash my hair less these days, allowing the natural oils from my scalp to condition my dry strands. When I do shampoo, I make sure I’m applying something healthy, using products that are sulfate-, paraben- and dye-free. This one goes a step further. All 10 ingredients (your typical shampoo can have quite a few more) are listed on the label in single lines with short explanations. For example, it lists sodium cocoyl isethionate and then explains that it’s a cleanser derived from plant oils.

Unlike other shampoos that are free of sulfates, this one truly lathers and contains fragrances made from a combination of essential oils, safe synthetic oils and natural extracts. There are also three different versions of the shampoo, volumizing, strengthening, and moisturizing. It’s hard to choose a favorite, as they all leave my hair feeling soft, clean, and no doubt healthier.

11. Laura Mercier Tightline Cake Eye Liner

There are many products in Laura Mercier’s spring line I’ve fallen in love with, this cake eyeliner being at the top of my list. Full disclosure: I’ve never been dexterous enough to master liquid eyeliner or even a pencil liner. I’ve been applying the liner without mascara — it looks that good on its own. There are six smudge-proof colors, my favorites being the black and navy blue.

12. SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF Vitamin C

This isn't your basic salicylic acid treatment that clears pores by removing oil and dead cells from the skin's surface — this one combines salicylic acid with silymarin, a plant-based antioxidant and anti-inflammatory derived from milk thistle to help prevent oil oxidation, which can lead to breakouts. Even more: It addresses the marks pimples can leave behind with a super high level (15%) of vitamin C, an antioxidant that brightens dark spots. The derms pointed out this serum is oil-free, which they note can be a big issue with adult acne products. It’s pricey, but factor in that it takes the place of your daily antioxidant and spot reducer.

13. CeraVe Moisturizing Cream

Skin care influencers and I have something in common: our love of CeraVe. During lockdown, I’ve been testing a ton of new body moisturizers, yet I keep coming back to this cream. Here’s why: You can easily dip your fingers into the wide 16-ounce jar right out of the shower, generously applying it to damp skin. The formula is fragrance- and oil-free, which means it dries quickly without any stickiness, and contains three all-important essential ceramides.

14. Dermalogica Neck Fit Contour Serum

There may not be two scarier words in the beauty dictionary than “tech neck”, those lovely horizontal lines and wrinkles that can appear on your neck and chest from aging, sun exposure and poor posture. This serum contains resurrection plant (to strengthen skin’s moisture barrier and improve elasticity), rye and rambutan seed extracts (to firm) and griffonia seed extract (an antioxidant that prevents free radical damage).

15. Womaness Let’s Neck

Here's another product to help combat "tech neck." This serum includes seven types of hyaluronate to moisturize, along with microalgae extracts to firm and strengthen the skin and amla fruit extract, an antioxidant that reduces age spots.

16. MAC Studio Fix Tech Cream-to-Powder Foundation

This new lightweight foundation, out just in time for spring, comes in a cream-to-powder formula that’s sweat- and humidity-resistant (helpful when you’re under a mask) and won’t cake on your skin (thanks to the inclusion of moisture-drawing hyaluronic acid). I don’t wear a lot of foundation, yet this one sits nicely on my skin without any heaviness. Available in 42 colors, this diverse range of shades makes it easier than ever to match your skin tone.

17. Pili Ani Essential Oil Blend 5-Piece Kit

I’ve been doing a lot of deep breathing exercises during the pandemic so it’s no surprise this essential oil kit has found a permanent home in the top drawer of my nightstand. The five blends, made from oils found in the rainforests of the Philippine Islands, can be purchased separately, but I find I use them all. The roll-on delivery system provides a mess-free way of applying the oils to my wrist and neck, but honestly sometimes I find myself just sitting and breathing in the scents.

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