I've Been Trying Beauty Products for 5 Years—These 21 Are Truly Life-Changing

I tried everything when I first started writing in the beauty world. And when I say everything, I mean that it got to the point where my skin was constantly angry and red, and my hair was always dehydrated. When I started to chat with experts to round out my stories, I quickly realized my routines were too robust. Why was I making everything so complicated? 

Fast-forward nearly five years later. My beauty routines are much more curated and straightforward. More is not better. In fact, in most cases, it can make matters much worse, especially when we're talking skin and hair. These days, I only use products that make a difference or, at the very least, don't send my skin into a two-week-long tailspin of tiny bumps and inflammation.

My top beauty rule: no swapping out products for the next best thing unless there is something extraordinary about a new launch. From haircare to makeup (there's even a nail polish in the mix), this list has my top 21 favorites that are beloved within my ride-or-die beauty and self-care rotation. Keep reading for more!


On a trip to Europe, I lost my treatment oil, and I was not okay. How was I going to find a hydrating lip treatment that would also complement my melanin-rich skin in a different country? Luckily, after nearly 20 minutes of searching for it, I tracked it down in my backpack, and all was right in my beauty world again. This is the lip treatment oil I cannot live without!

I don't wear much makeup these days. However, on the off chance I do, I use this sunscreen as a skin protector and a primer. The formula grips my makeup and keeps it in place all day. And when I don't wear makeup, it helps smooth imperfections on my skin.

An aesthetician highly recommended this algae mask made with mineral peptides and hyaluronic acid, so I added it to my routine. I was already a fan of the red algae mask, but since I've remixed my routine a little, I knew I needed a more hydrating second option.

Now that the temperatures are dropping, I cleanse my face with this vitamin E–rich oil morning and night. In the past, I struggled to find an oil cleanser that wouldn't cause breakouts. This one not only keeps my skin clear of congestion but also adds much-needed moisture. 

There are few products I use to the very last drop. This is one of them. Using this mask is such a treat because it exfoliates but somehow manages to leave my skin feeling hydrated and smoother after each use. I can attribute that to Ayurvedic ingredients like turmeric and lotus seed because they are all about repairing and fighting inflammation.

Retinol is a skincare basic I will never be without. What I love about this formula from Dr. Loretta is the honey-like consistency and the fact that I wake up with glowing skin no matter the season. This one is a great entry point for anyone new to retinol, as it promotes healthy cell turnover without drying out my skin. 

I am an off-and-on lactic acid fan. However, after a facial at Shani Darden's beautiful studio, my aesthetician recommended I add an AHA to my routine. Infused with 9% AHA and a soothing complex featuring hyaluronic acid, aloe, and green tea, my skin gets the best of both worlds without feeling like I'm overdoing it. These days, I alternate between retinol and AHA, and my hormonal acne and hyperpigmentation are slowly getting easier to manage.

Okay—for anyone with hormonal or acne-prone skin, I will take a bullhorn and tell you how much this masque has changed the game for my at-home skincare routine. The masque is all about balancing, regulating excess sebum, and reducing breakouts. I've seen a massive difference in my skin's oil production, so much so that I'm no longer an oil slick by the end of the day. (And that says a lot!)

I've entirely given up physical exfoliants. I've talked with enough derms to know that they're almost always a no-no. My skin is often plagued with hormonal breakouts and subsequent hyperpigmentation. Even if I can't control the breakouts themselves, applying this one-minute exfoliating mask a couple times a week is slowly brightening my skin without causing irritation or any compromising disruption to my skin barrier.

Clinically proven products are the cornerstone of my skincare routine. Once I tried this nighttime fragrance-free mask, I was hooked. I especially love to apply this on long-haul flights, as the formula has retinol, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid that boost cell turnover and hydration, so my skin isn’t a complete mess once I get to my destination. 


I am a huge fan of Victoria Beckham Beauty, and this liner made me audibly say wow. The formula is as smooth as butter. The color payoff is exceptional. It also stays put whether you smudge it, make an intricate line, or layer it on over the entire eyelid. Oh, and if you typically avoid using liners because they take a lot of effort to rinse away, this one rinses away effortlessly when you use an oil-based cleanser.

I am a one- or two-step makeup applier. Any additional steps are not ideal, so the idea of a concealer that conceals and color corrects is my jam. The liquid formula is long-wearing and doesn't cause breakouts on my sensitive skin. For concealing under-eye circles and hyperpigmentation, I use the shade 402, and it blends into my skin seamlessly.

Whenever I put together an eye look, I start here. For starters, the rich formulas give you excellent color payoff with one swipe. Not going to lie… I am amazed every time. With this four-piece palette, you can build a look perfect for day or night. Additionally, the powder doesn't irritate my eyes, which is a huge win for me as someone whose eyes are usually red by the end of the day when I use most eye shadows out there.

I've loved foundation sticks since I discovered Bobbi Brown in my late teens. However, since my introduction to this clean, skin-loving stick, it's been my go-to. The color options make it easy to find the two to three shades I need for my brown skin, and the squalene-infused formula evens out my skin tone without leaving my skin feeling cakey.


I've tried tons of products for curly hair. But this one is my if I were stranded on a desert island must-have because it hydrates, elongates curls, and keeps breakage at bay. My low-porosity hair loves when I sit under the dryer with this for about 30 minutes. I even wear it as an overnight mask, too. 

Whether rocking a protective style like box braids or a wash-'n'-go, I don't wash my hair without this milky leave-in. It has just the right amount of slip to help prep my hair for a wash-'n'-go, and it has just enough moisture to keep it hydrated in any braided style I wear. Plus, the spray bottle ensures each strand is coated.

As a 4-type hair girl, I used to be reluctant to use hair products formulated by brands that weren't FUBU. But this treatment is worth every penny. I use this every other week. My curls drink up the ​​murumuru and mango seed butter mask, especially when I add heat.

Bath & Body

You don't have to spend a ton of money for great results. For me, this drugstore buy proves it. The formula is so creamy, and it exfoliates the skin gently. Not to mention it smells lovely. 

Another day, another celeb line. But this 2021 launch from Harry Styles actually makes sense, and the pearly matte finish of this polish is *chef’s kiss.* Lately, I've given up acrylics and press-ons to give my nails time to regain strength. So I use this polish on all my manicures to lock in nail decals and traditional polish.

I used to be really bad about moisturizing my skin after showering. But after developing scaly dry patches on my body, I quickly realized I had to stop the madness and take care of my body the same way I do my face. Enter Mutha's cult-loved body butter. It's quite literally like lathering your skin with butter, but instead of sliding around in a figurative pan, it melts right into the skin. When temps drop, I add an extra layer to my feet and wear Cozy Earth socks (they don't make my feet hot while I sleep) to nurse my dry heels.

Candles are a large part of my beauty and self-care routine. On Sunday nights, I light one as I go through my skincare ritual. No matter what room I place this candle in, the fragrance moves through each space of my home, making relaxing self-care nights even more special. (It would also make for an exceptional gift.)