The 41 Best Skin-Care Products of 2020

By Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / Honayst

Perhaps the most difficult and most gratifying category to test for our annual Best of Beauty Awards is skin care. Results aren't instantaneous. Sometimes it takes weeks and even months to figure out if a moisturizer is actually strengthening your skin barrier, or if that vitamin C serum really does diminish dark spots. But that's why we do this. Now more than ever, we want to get great results for ourselves, but especially for you.

It's a test of an editor's patience ("I have to try how many products?"), but we swipe, slather, and pat on dozens of skin-care products, hopefully without breaking out in hives, for you, dear reader. We scrubbed with some pretty spectacular (and some maybe-not-so-great) exfoliators, tapped on too many eye creams to count, and peeled with the best of them to bring you this comprehensive list of skin-care winners.

Maybe you'll fall for the featherlight moisturizer that's suitable for all skin types, the face oil with superstar calming ingredients, or the sunscreen that doubles as a highlighter. Hell, you'll love them all — we certainly do. That's why they've earned the title of this year's winners.

All products featured on Honayst are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Facial Cleanser (Foam): AHC Aqualuronic Cleanser

AHC Aqualuronic Cleanser fortifies skin with a combination of ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and minerals found deep in the Atlantic Ocean — which is how far we'd travel for this airy and elegant whip. The K-beauty cleanser is remarkably light. So light, in fact, that it's almost shocking how effective it is at removing makeup and grime.

Facial Cleanser (Oil): BareMinerals Smoothness Hydrating Cleansing Oil

Water transforms BareMinerals Smoothness Hydrating Cleansing Oil into a milky wash; sea salt transforms skin into silk. It may be lightweight, but waterproof makeup is no match for its cleansing power, which never translates to stripped, dry skin. Instead, you're left with the smoothness promised in the name.

Facial Cleanser (Gel): Neutrogena Hydro Boost Cleansing Gel

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Cleansing Gel feels as mild as water but has enough muscle to remove every last bit of makeup. This hydrating formula is proof that you don't need a rich cream cleanser to get that supple feeling from washing your face. It may be lightweight, but don't reserve it for warmer months — it's a year-round must-have.

Facial Cleanser (Bar): Carbon Theory Charcoal & Tea Tree Oil Breakout Control Facial Cleansing Bar

Why should your body have all the bar-cleanser fun? Packed to its corners with charcoal and shea butter, Carbon Theory Charcoal & Tea Tree Oil Breakout Control Facial Cleansing Bar pulls moisture into skin and draws out deep-seated grime. And there's just something so satisfying about cleansing with a solid formula.

Facial Cleanser (Cream): StriVectin Comforting Cream Cleanser

Bye, dryness. Replete with olive oil and primrose extract, StriVectin Comforting Cream Cleanser deposits a veil of moisture as it dissolves impurities. It's so gentle, you'll be reluctant to rinse it off. Once you do, however, you'll be so appreciative of the hydrated, fresh face staring back at you in the mirror.

Toner/Essence (Cleansing): Thayers Rose Petal Facial Toner

Filled with purified rose water and non-stingy astringents, Thayers Rose Petal Facial Toner is the sink-side staple we rely on more than our actual sink. It's a true classic — Thayers is practically synonymous with witch hazel — and gives a botanical boost that your skin and sense of smell will benefit from.

Toner/Essence (Hydrating): Tatcha The Essence

A light broth of rice, green tea, and mineral-rich algae, Tatcha The Essence is like a tea ceremony for our skin, practically giving it a post-steam gleam. It's hard to find an Honayst editor who isn't obsessed with it to some degree, thanks to the instant radiance it imparts. Can you say "one-step glass skin"?

Toner/Essence (Exfoliating): Kate Somerville Liquid ExfoliKate

You have to love a skin-care classic reimagined in a new format. Instead of the physical sloughing of the long-loved scrub of the same clever name, the alpha hydroxy acids and fruit enzymes in Kate Somerville Liquid ExfoliKate restore brightness overnight; peptides stimulate collagen so skin is smoother down the road. Texture troubles seem smaller by the moment (and so do pores).

Facial Mist: Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Miracle Hydrating Mist

Ultrafine and antioxidant-rich, Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Miracle Hydrating Mist plumps without disrupting makeup (that would be the "miracle" part). Skin looks and feels instantly refreshed and reinvigorated. It definitely deserves a spot in your bag for quick beauty boosts throughout the day.

Facial Mist: Neutrogena Soothing Clear Turmeric Mist

It may seem counterproductive to address irritation with a spice, but in this case, it makes perfect sense. If you've been waiting for a mist that won't freak out breakout-prone skin, Neutrogena Soothing Clear Turmeric Mist calms inflammation with skin care's favorite spice. Rains, pores.

Facial Oil: First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Oat & Hemp Seed Dry Oil

Oatmeal and cannabis in First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Oat & Hemp Seed Dry Oil are best buds. They restore moisture and hold it in place, turning skin supple — on the double. Apply it every day, when your skin is feeling especially distressed, or even treat your cuticles to its soothing, nongreasy goodness.

Facial Serum (Antioxidant): Skinbetter Science Alto Defense Serum

Antioxidants are the petulant darlings of skin care: They fortify cells, but rarely play nice together. The brains behind Skinbetter Science Alto Defense Serum found a way to stabilize 19 potent antioxidants and squeeze them all into one lightweight elixir. Skin feels seriously spoiled.

Facial Serum (Retinol): CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum

For those who flake at the mere mention of retinol, CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum wards off irritation with ceramides and skin-calming niacinamide. It's an affordable way to reap the myriad benefits of one of dermatology's most recommended ingredients. In other words, it's gentle on your skin and your wallet.

Facial Serum (Glycolic Acid): L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum

Granted, "sloughing off dead skin" does not sound like the sexiest trick in the book, but L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum produces such radiant results, it practically belongs on a Harlequin cover. At the very least, it belongs in your medicine cabinet, so you can reach for it on a nightly basis (or an every-other-nightly basis if you have sensitive skin or you're an AHA newbie).

Facial Serum (Hyaluronic Acid): Olay Deep Hydration Serum

Love instant results? (Hello? Who doesn't?) Well, you can see how the hyaluronic acid in Olay Deep Hydration Serum plumps on contact. After you apply a few drops post-cleansing, watch it bead instantly, promising a fuller effect. Whether your skin is desert-level parched or just a little thirsty, it will be easily and noticeably quenched.

Facial Moisturizer (Light): Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Calming Gel Cream

Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Calming Gel Cream is ultralight, but its powers are ultra-intense. With probiotics and herbal extracts, this gentle moisturizer disappears into skin, and takes all evidence of dryness and redness with it. Sensitive skin has been known to ask for it by name, and who are you to deny it?

Facial Moisturizer (Rich): Garnier SkinActive Water Rose 24H Moisture Cream

A gorgeous cream-gel hybrid, Garnier SkinActive Water Rose 24H Moisture Cream melts into skin, delivering nonstop dewiness. The long-lasting hydration is so satisfying, made even more so by the moisturizer’s truly delightful rose scent. And because it's just $15, you won't feel the need to skimp when your skin is feeling super thirsty.

Facial Moisturizer (Nighttime Treatment): Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream

An intensely nourishing combination of retinol (vitamin A) and omegas (vitamin F) in Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream leaves our skin smooth, plump, and polished as hell. Sun damage will be shaking in its boots every time your hand approaches with a dollop of this beloved vibrancy-boosting formula.

Facial Moisturizer (Daytime Treatment): Olay Regenerist Whip SPF 40

Most moisturizers with built-in sun protection have either a high SPF or a weightless feel — rarely both. Then again, most moisturizers aren't Olay Regenerist Whip SPF 40. This airy peptide-packed formula delivers on both fronts. After experiencing its undetectable feel but very detectable hydration, it will be hard to accept anything else as a protective day cream.

Eye Cream (Line-Smoothing): RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream

We first tested RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream 15 years ago and have been tapping it on ever since. And we don't have the crow's feet to prove it. This drugstore staple has truly earned its following, often serving as an introduction to retinol eye creams. But the fact that so many people don't move on to more expensive formulas speaks volumes about its effectiveness.

Eye Cream (Moisturizing): Peter Thomas Roth Vital-E Microbiome Age Defense Eye Cream

The souped-up antioxidant in Peter Thomas Roth Vital-E Microbiome Age Defense Eye Cream acts like a shield against pollution and other irritants — a melty, line-blurring shield. When the environment can be your skin's worst enemy (especially that extra-delicate eye-area skin), this little jar can be your best friend. In addition to the smoothing effect, you'll immediately notice a surge in comforting moisture.

Eye Cream (Depuffing): L'Oréal Paris Age Perfect Hydra-Nutrition Honey Eye Gel

L'Oréal Paris Age Perfect Hydra-Nutrition Honey Eye Gel's rollerball wand is a real worker bee. Use it to massage away bloat and help cooling moisture sink in. And don't let the honey fool you: This formula is anything but sticky, instead gliding on in a soothing, puff-deflating way. It's exactly what very dry skin needs when eyes need a wake-up call.

Eye Cream (Brightening): Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Eye Crème

Pale yellow pigments in Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Eye Crème camouflage shadows, while potent vitamin C helps fade dark circles over time. It may not contain banana in the ingredients, but its results are pretty sweet nonetheless. The immediate color-correcting power is rivaled only by this eye cream's smoothing benefits, which are imparted without a heavy feel.

Facial Scrub: Tula So Polished Exfoliating Sugar Scrub

Zealous scrubbing feels cathartic, but irritation often follows. The tender buffers in Tula So Polished Exfoliating Sugar Scrub dissolve as you massage, offering excellent exfoliation results without the aggravation. Meanwhile, probiotics — yes, like the ones in yogurt — help render a brighter and balanced finish.

Mask (Clarifying): Kiehl's Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask

Smooth on the putty-gray perfection of Kiehl's Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask and. . . what T-zone? We don't know what's more satisfying: smoothing it on, watching it harden, rubbing it off in successful chunks of clay, or seeing smoother, happier, cleaner skin when it's all said and done.

Mask (Clarifying): Bliss Green Tea Wonder Clarifying Overnight Gel Mask With Azelaic Acid

When you don't want to play in the mud, a thin layer of Bliss Green Tea Wonder Clarifying Overnight Gel Mask With Azelaic Acid, applied at bedtime, refines texture and tightens pores by morning. The gel formula — a gorgeous shade of green — comfortably coats skin, leaving it more balanced each time you use it (which should be two or three times a week).

Mask (Hydrating): Mary Kay TimeWise Repair Lifting Bio-Cellulose Mask

Any sheet mask can moisturize while it's on, but Mary Kay TimeWise Repair Lifting Bio-Cellulose Mask continues to plump long after you peel it off. In addition to the all-day hydration, your skin is also left looking smoother, feeling softer, and generally beaming from what seems to be an inextinguishable internal light. No wonder it's a little pricier than your typical wear-and-toss sheet mask.

Mask (Hydrating): Paula's Choice Super Hydrate Overnight Mask

Infused with hydrators and soothing cloudberry, Paula's Choice Super Hydrate Overnight Mask lets us wake up to the dewy glow of our dreams. In addition to imparting major moisture, it's dead set on soothing your skin. Make it the last step in your nighttime routine, and it will become the first thing you'll feel thankful for when you check out your reflection in the morning.

Mask (Soothing): No. 7 Laboratories Cica-Rescue Skin Paste

Sure, "paste" isn't the most enticing or glamorous word for a skin-care product, but consider this an exception. When flare-ups happen (thanks, hormones, stress, sriracha on everything), No. 7 Laboratories Cica-Rescue Skin Paste has tiger grass to quiet the redness. Anyone with sensitive skin can — and upon application, will — appreciate that.

Mask (Brightening): SkinCeuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight

Formulated at the perfect pH and couched in jojoba esters, the alpha hydroxy acid in SkinCeuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight turns over fresh skin cells without turning us red and flaky. It's a no-frills, high-functioning formula that deserves a membership in the skin-care-classics hall of fame, thanks to its undeniable ability to make a noticeable difference over time.

Mask (Eye Area): KNC Beauty Star Eye Mask

You can try wishing away undereye crepiness, or you can apply the KNC Beauty Star Eye Mask. Shaped like a shooting star — how cute is that? — each cushy strip releases a measured dose of retinol to thicken skin and make lines vanish. It's so easy to pass 20 minutes wearing these comfortable crescents, and you'll find yourself wanting to take selfies during and after wearing them.

Facial Sunscreen (Chemical): Supergoop Glowscreen SPF 40

Instead of a white cast so often associated with sunscreens, this brilliant formula serves more like an allover highlighter. The gleamy light-reflectors in Supergoop Glowscreen SPF 40 obscure imperfections, making skin appear luminous and poreless. The pearlescent effect makes it so much more enjoyable to do the sun-defense step in your skin-care routine.

Facial Sunscreen (Chemical): La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Clear Skin Dry Touch Sunscreen

Nothing is more impressive than the sky-high SPF in La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Clear Skin Dry Touch Sunscreen. Except its mattifying effect. And weightless feel. And makeup-setting grip. OK, so it's all-around awesome.

Facial Sunscreen (Physical): Dermalogica Invisible Physical Defense SPF 30

The redness that this sunscreen fights isn't just the sunburn kind. With green tea and soothing mushroom, Dermalogica Invisible Physical Defense SPF30 keeps UV rays at bay while also keeping sensitive skin happy. And yes, that's noticeably moisturized skin you feel.

Facial Sunscreen (Physical): EleVen by Venus Williams Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35

For the sheerest finish in the game, EleVen by Venus Williams Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35 is that rare mineral block that doesn't turn chalky on dark skin. It may be new, but it's packed with some serious sun-defense wisdom. It's no wonder an active Florida gal like Williams is behind such a velvety, high- performance formula.

Peel: Philosophy The Microdelivery Dream Peel

Packed with lactic and salicylic acids, Philosophy The Microdelivery Dream Peel gives us the most luminous glow we've ever had outside of the dermatologist's office. The hot-pink gel is applied with a clever — and matching — built- in spatula tip, drying clear so you don't have to worry about staining your pillowcase. For that matter, you don't have to worry about overly apparent pores anymore either.

Acne (Cleanser): CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser

What's worse than spots? Face wash that harkens back to high school. CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser kills bacteria with benzoyl peroxide and preserves our moisture barrier — and dignity — with ceramides and hyaluronic acid.

Acne (Allover Treatment): Differin Gel Acne Treatment

Containing a prescription-strength dose of adapalene (an acne-fighting retinoid), Differin Gel Acne Treatment penetrates deep into pores to intercept zits at the source. This drugstore star has changed the way we approach over- the-counter acne care. For that, we are thankful. Our breakouts, not so much.

Acne (Spot Treatment): M-61 PowerSpot Blemish Lotion

M-61 PowerSpot Blemish Lotion smells like camphor and has the consistency of melted chalk, and we mean that in the most flattering way. Basically, as soon as you get a look — and whiff — you know that throbbing honker on your chin, nose, or forehead doesn't stand a chance. It should be standard in every first-aid kit.

Acne (Spot Treatment): Mighty Patch The Original

Mighty Patch The Original's medicated hydrocolloid disc works mini wonders, shrinking whiteheads down to size. And that size? Barely detectable. Hero Cosmetics is really living up to its indomitable name with these sheets of spot- treating stickies.

Acne (Mask): Rodan + Fields Unblemish Clarifying Mask

"Unblemish" is not a word, but it should be. With a serious dose of sulfur, Rodan + Fields Unblemish Clarifying Mask decongests pores, reduces oil, and smites zits — present and future. Use it wherever you need it most (read: especially oily areas), and give yourself a good slathering two to three times each week.