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Sometimes a swipe of new lipstick or a fresh mascara is all it takes to not only change your look, but your entire mood. And when it’s a groundbreaking formula, the best makeup products can be a total gamechanger. In 2021, there were plenty of great launches, triggered by a year of unexpected trends.
Take the ‘no makeup-makeup’ look, a trend that only continues to grow in popularity. “Beauty in the time of COVID has shifted away from heavy, Insta-glam to natural, barely-there coverage,” says Celebrity Makeup Artist and Maybelline New York U.S. Brand Ambassador Melissa Hernandez. “Other major trends this year included fresh glowing skin and graphic eyes. From subtle neon eyeliner to intricate floating lines, these eye-catching looks were spotted on everyone from Doja Cat to Anya Taylor Joy. The most exciting makeup trend of 2021, however, was face embellishments. The Met Gala was flooded with adorned faces and I’m loving the playful mood this trend is bringing to the beauty space.”
When it comes to the best makeup products and trends, everyone still loves a good throwback. “The early 90’s super model vibe is back—cut crease, earth toned, slightly overdrawn lips and all,” says Chanel makeup artist Tyron Machhausen. “Think 90’s neutral earthy shades with an overall more matte look. He adds that statement lips are sticking around, despite COVID-19-related challenges. “With all the mask wearing, people couldn’t wait to make a statement with bold, electric lip colors and textures whenever possible,” Machhausen says. “And 2021 was the year to have fun with different textures, bold colors, neon hues, palettes and even Swarovski crystals.”
Unsurprisingly, social media also had a huge influence on the biggest beauty trends of 2021, particularly TikTok. “TikTok makeup trends overtook 2021 from the reverse cat eye, nose blush and contoured lips,” says Charlie Riddle, makeup artist and Global Beauty Director of Stila. “It’s not that these are new makeup techniques, but I think what’s fun about these trends is they spark curiosity to try something outside the norm.” He adds that another major trend was “lifted skin”—using products like concealers and highlighters and contour to sculpt the face and give the appearance of a sculpted look without over contouring.
There were also new types of makeup products to hit the market. “Foundation balms made an impact this year,” Riddle says. “Liquid eyeshadows were also major; I think the ease of use made this popular and seeing different formulas from mattes to new glitter formulas. There were also pore blurring products, with a lot of products from primers to powders to blur and smooth the skin.”
Here are best makeup products of 2021 that truly perform.
Chanel Ultra Le Teint Ultrawear All-Day Comfort Flawless Finish Foundation
A major 2021 makeup trend is what Machhausen calls “natural skin perfection.” “Full coverage, but make it look natural,” he explains. “It’s the look I call ‘heavy natural’—perfect skin texture, softly contoured with a demi-matte finish. Chanel Ultra Le Teint is my go-to foundation. It’s full coverage but gives the most natural, velvety, soft-matte finish. It comes in 35 shades which helps me color match any complexion. For a super lightweight airbrushed look, I spread a small pump of the product on the back of my hand and use a large fluffy blush brush to apply it to the face.” That’s why it’s one of the best Chanel makeup products.
Stila Shimmer & Glow Liquid Eyeshadow in Kitten Kaleidoscope
“This is a new formula for Stila in a universal shade with a really gorgeous kaleidoscope pearl that makes eyes appear more open,” Riddle says. The hue is a shimmering rosy champagne that flatters all faces. Long-wearing, the formula is buildable so you can go with a gentle wash for day and layer it on after dark.
Maybelline New York Instant Perfector 4-In-1 Glow
“With more people paring down their beauty routines due to the pandemic, skin tints and skincare-infused makeup became increasingly popular,” Hernandez says. “One of my favorite launches in the skin tint category is Maybelline New York’s Instant Perfector 4-In-1 Glow. It’s a beautiful glow product that primes, conceals, highlights, and evens out complexion with self-adjusting shade technology that blends right into the skin. It’s lightweight, luminous, and looks like second skin!”
ONE/SIZE by Patrick Starrr Ultimate Blurring Setting Powder
“My new favorite setting powder, it makes the skin and under eyes look so smooth and has a really soft diffused airbrush finish,” Riddle says. The superfine powder comes in two universal shades that literally over all the bases. Meant for buildable baking and setting, its blurring effect lasts up to 14 hours.
La Perla Satin Lip Balm
Tinted lip balms are always a mainstay and La Perla made a deliciously luxe one, making it one of the best makeup products of 2021. Even better, the beautiful tube is refillable, making it pretty on the inside, too. Delivering the perfect hint of color, it’s spiked with argan kern oil for serious hydration and active fruit extracts that protect from aging and oxidative stress.
Glossier Solar Paint
“This bronzer comes in gorgeous shades and they melt right into the skin,” Riddle says. Available in four shades, the gel crème bronzer is spiked with Desert Milk, a micro-emulsion of plant oils and extracts including jojoba and aloe to pamper skin. Light-reflecting pearls give skin a gorgeous gleam.
KVD Beauty Good Apple Skin-Perfecting Hydration Foundation Balm
“Foundation balms made an impact this year, like the KVD Good Apple Foundation,” Riddle says. In case you’re wondering about its name, yes, it really does include apple extract, which nourishes skin. That makes the buildable, full-coverage foundation with a matte finish extra moisturizing—and one of the best makeup products for daily use.
Yves Saint Laurent Beauté The Slim Velvet Radical Matte Lipstick
Inspired by the velvet fabric used by the Saint Laurent couture fashion house, this lipstick truly is radical enough to live up to its name. The square bullet essentially works as a built-in lipliner for precise application. Though it’s full coverage and long wear, the formula is loaded with oils to keep it creamy, so it won’t bleed or crack. Available in 12 shades, all have a soft matte finish.
Tower28 Beauty BeachPlease Lip + Cheek Cream Blush in Happy Hour
“I prefer cream blush over powder because it adds a youthful glow and it’s so much easier to apply,” Hernandez says. “One my favorite formulas is Tower28 Beauty’s Beach Please Cheek Cream Blush in Happy Hour.” Infused with green tea extract to calm skin and aloe vera extract to hydrate, the cheery coral pink looks equally pretty on lips and cheeks, making it quite the twofer and one of the best cream makeup products.
Victoria Beckham Beauty Lip Liner
Looking to get Posh’s pout? These luxe lip liners infused with vitamin E to plump could be the answer. “There are amazing shades to contour and define the lips that blend in seamlessly with natural lip tones,” Riddle says.
Drunk Elephant O-Bloos Rosi Drops
So much more than your typical blush, this liquid formula is all about its skin-loving ingredients. In addition to delivering the flattering peachy-pink glow, it’s infused with omega fatty acids to support the skin barrier. There’s also virgin marula oil to provide antioxidants and nourish, black currant seed oil to hydrate, cocoa extract to soothe, white tea extract to protect from pollution, and vitamin E to maintain the skin’s natural lipid balance.
L’Oréal Paris Rouge Signature Matte Lip Stain
Since we’re still wearing masks, Riddle says lip stains are a must. If a lip stain and a lipstick had a baby, it would be this drugstore favorite. That combo makes it long-wearing yet comfortable, since unlike many lip stains, it isn’t prone to drying out your pucker. Packed with pigment, the color lasts, making this one of the best affordable makeup products.
Pat McGrath Labs Skin Fetish: Divine Powder Blush
No best makeup products list would be complete without celebrity makeup artist Pat McGrath. She finally introduced her first powder blush this year and it was worth the wait. Smooth and satiny, the pressed powder is buildable and beautiful.
Wander Beauty Baggage Claim Eye Masks
Sure, they could fall under skincare, but consider them a makeup must-have for Riddle’s hack alone: “I use these on almost every client not only to brighten and de-puff but they act as a great shadow shield while you are doing eye makeup,” he says. “Also, almost every single person I put these on wants to take a selfie in them.” Infused with hyaluronic acid to smooth lines and hydrate, there’s also peptides to help tone and texture.
Beautyblender Bounce Liquid Whip Cream Blush
What makes Beautyblender’s blush one of the best makeup products of 2021 is its innovative formula—it transforms from cream to powder and can also be used on lips. The nourishing cream blush contains hyaluronic acid for moisture and vitamin C to brighten and protect skin. Truly foolproof, it’s a cinch to blend and very buildable, making it best one of the makeup products for beginners.
Patrick Ta Major Brow Shaping Wax
In our era of constant mask-wearing, brows have become more important than ever. A truly innovative brow product earns a spot as one of the best makeup products of 2021. Available in clear and tinted, this wax is flexible but strong and tames and grooms brows into a perfectly full and feathered look. The formula is spiked with growth peptides to boost brow hairs, as well as glycerin and olive oil to condition and soften brows and skin.
NARS Radiant Creamy Liquid Color Corrector
In case you need more proof of the power of the color wheel, this color corrector will certainly convince you. The color correcting concealer cancels out everything from undereye circles to dark spots and hyperpigmentation. Available in four shades, it has a radiant finish. To boost your complexion, it’s chock full of antioxidants like white water lily and red spiderling flower extract to brighten while guarding from free radicals.
e.l.f. Big Mood Mega Volume & Lifting Mascara
The best drugstore makeup products also deserve a special spot for getting the job done without breaking the bank, just like this volumizing mascara. Impressively, you won’t have to worry about your lashes falling flat thanks to a jojoba wax that holds their curl. There’s also shea butter and vitamin E to condition and strengthen delicate lashes. Another bonus: The petal-shaped bristles lift and separate every last lash.
Charlotte Tilbury Nudegasm Palette
Charlotte Tilbury knocks out one hit after another, which is why she’s known for making some of the best makeup products of all time. She’s also known for her nudes, making this palette a gem. The versatile quad can be used to highlight, sculp and bronze anywhere you want a little glow.
Byredo Lipstick in Mad Red
Finding the perfect red lipstick might seem like an impossible quest—until you slide this onto your pucker. A red raspberry, Mad Red truly works on all skin tones. Tap it onto lips for a stain or apply it straight from the bullet for full coverage. Just as satisfying as the color is the click it makes when you close the bi-color metal magnetic casing.
Tatcha The Silk Powder Protective Setting Powder
Truly the perfect finishing touch, this setting powder leaves you with a flawless complexion. Suited for all skin types, the talc-free powder is like a filter for your face—it blurs pores and leaves a radiant finish. Delivering protection, it safeguards skin from blue light and pollution.
Chanel Stylo Ombre Et Contour Eyeshadow Liner Khôl
“I am a fan of multi-use products and this all-in-one long lasting eye pencil can be used as a liner, Khôl and shadow,” Machhausen says. “The colors that came out this year are stunning and one of my favorites is the shade in ‘Contour Khaki’ which is such an unexpected, fun twist on a classic smokey feel with its subtle green undertones. It also works great as base for eyeshadow and makes it even longer lasting.”
About Face Matte Fluid Eye Paint
Back to those liquid eyeshadows, Riddle called out Halsey’s for its sleek matte formula. Super pigmented and available in a range of unexpected shades, like orchid and lime green, it really does go on like paint. Designed to let your creativity go wild, they’re the best makeup product to play with and experiment.
Makeup By Mario Master Blade Brow Pencil
The secret to wow brows is in this pencil. Leave it up to the makeup artist to the stars to create a brow pencil that draws on hair-like details with its brilliant slanted blade. On the other side is a spoolie for blending.
Maybelline SuperStay Matte Ink Liquid Lipstick
“As face masks became a daily reality, this quickly became a staple in my beauty routine because it was the only lipstick that didn’t transfer or leave a mess behind while wearing a mask,” Hernandez says. “It’s comfortable, non-drying, and there are over 40 shades to choose from to fit any look or mood. Make sure to exfoliate and hydrate your lips to ensure a smooth and long-lasting application.”
Pears Transparent Glycerin Bar Soap
“One of my 2021 favorites list is brow soap,” Hernandez says. “It may seem totally unconventional to groom your brows with soap instead of brow gel, but it’s a genius alternative. It’s cost-effective and it holds your brow hairs in place, making them appear fuller. To achieve the look, spray a few spritz of setting spray or water directly onto the bar of soap and rub a clean spoolie back and forth until it’s fully coated. Comb the spoolie through your brows in an upward direction, laying the brow hairs flat into place. Fill in any sparse areas using your favorite brow product and voila! Pears Transparent Soap is my go-to.”
Benefit Cosmetics Brow Styler Eyebrow Pencil & Powder Duo
This twofer will transform your brows in seconds. The dual-sided product has a pencil at one end and powder at the other, so you can mix and match until your brows are exactly how you like them, whether that’s natural or super bold. Even better, the formula has incredible staying power and won’t budge until you want it to.
LORAC Lux Diamond Golden Hour Palette
The best glow comes at golden hour right when the sun is about to set, which is exactly the inspiration behind this palette. It includes six limited-edition shades of Mega Beam Highlighter, all deliciously warm with buildable color. The baked formulas don’t streak, and blend like a dream.
Maybelline the Falsies Lash Lift Mascara
Maybelline has proven time and again that you don’t need to break the bank to nab an amazing mascara. Its mascaras have been a staple of best makeup lists for decades. True to its name, Maybelline Falsies Mascara delivers the effect of false lashes from a tube and with a lot less effort. The fiber-infused formula has polymers inspired by hair gels, waxes and hairsprays to deliver impressive length, lift and hold, while the double curved brush is designed to grab every last lash.
Tower 28 Beauty Bronzino
The buildable, creamy formula makes Tower 28’s illuminating bronzer a standout. The balmy texture blends right into skin, making it a cinch to fake a post-vacation glow. Bonus: It’s really good for your complexion, thanks to mango butter for moisture and nourishment as well as antioxidant-packed green tea extract.
Hourglass Ambient Lighting Blush
The light-as-air powder is handmade and blended with the brand’s Ambient Lighting Powder to give it that multidimensional effect. Build up the color to whatever depth you desire and it’ll still boast a natural finish. The formula features soft-focus technology filters to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, imperfections and discoloration.
Giorgio Armani Beauty Ecstasy Mirror Lip Gloss
Leave it to Giorgio Armani Beauty to give lip gloss the modern makeover it needed. There’s no stickiness or washed-out color here. The incredibly shiny lip lacquer delivers everything you need: Brightly pigmented color, long wear, moisture and comfort. It’ll last a whopping 10 hours, but you won’t feel anything weighing on your pucker. The 10 shades run the gamut, from nudes to bold red. Bonus: The clever applicator has a pointed tip and a curved body.
Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer
It seemed like people couldn’t love this tinted moisturizer with a fan club any more for its perfectly sheer coverage with a glow — until Laura Mercier revamped the formula. Now it offers SPF 30 as well as deeply hydrating ingredients like macadamia oil, kukui seed oil, glycerin and tamarind seed extract. They also majorly extended the shade range to cover all the bases (pun intended).
Lano Baby Rose Gold 101 Ointment Balm & Tint
Go for a double with this rose-gold-tinted balm that is equally pretty on lips and cheeks. The baby-pink hue brings on a natural flush while hydrating skin. Consider it the poster child for the no-makeup makeup look.
Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Flawless Foundation
Essentially this foundation is your skin but better in a bottle. It combines skin care and makeup by improving your complexion over time. Super hydrating, the foundation has staying power to last all day and delivers full coverage with a matte finish. It’s transfer-resistant as well as sweat-, humidity- and waterproof.