Beauty Awards: This year's best skincare buys

Skincare has never looked so good. In the second instalment of 2021's Velvet Beauty Awards, we share our best skin buys of the year. Compiled by Alice Ryan and Lisa Millard

Velvet Beauty Awards 2021 - Skincare Winners (46321640)
Velvet Beauty Awards 2021 - Skincare Winners (46321640)

Serums: All Rounder

Winner: Glossier Super Bounce, £24,

Containing three weights of moisturising wonder molecule hyaluronic acid, Super Bounce hydrates the dermis both on the surface and deep down. Soothing, smoothing and plumping as it goes, it also delivers a good dose of nourishing pro-vitamin B5. The silky, milky formula feels lovely on the face, absorbs at pace and leaves no sticky residue, so moisturiser and make-up layer with ease. If you’ve got thirsty skin, there’s no better serum. AR

Highly Commended: The Body Shop Roots of Strength, £32, The Body Shop, Lion Yard, Cambridge and Butter Market, Bury St Edmunds

Drawing on Chinese medicine, this 99% natural serum contains a trio of powerful plant extracts - ginger, ginseng and ruscus root - known for their stimulating and purifying properties. It’s also enriched with soya oil, famed for its plumping skills. The result is a serum which has a tangible refining and firming effect; I use it with a chilled jade roller to target my midlife jawline and neck. AR

Highly Commended: Studio Botanic Face Serum, £55,

Only recently arrived on our shores, German brand Studio Botanic is known for its ‘skinimalist’ approach, setting out to streamline routines with its multipurpose (and fully plant-based) products. Star of the range is this all-in-one serum, designed to moisturise, vitalise and firm in a single step via vegan hyaluronic acid and glycerine and hemp and cucumber extracts. It’s the serum equivalent of a glass of iced water on a sweaty summer day; apply it and your skin sighs with relief. AR

Peels: Fresh Starter

Winner: The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution, £6.30,

Known to its fans simply as ‘the red peel’, this little bottle of brilliance is a Velvet Beauty Awards winner for a second year. High-tech, low-tariff skincare at its best, it combines alpha and beta hydroxy acids to exfoliate skin’s topmost surface, hoofing dead skin cells, evening texture and boosting brightness. It’s as active as products come, so initial patch-testing and building gradually to the full 10-minute treatment are essential - but, once you’re into the swing, results are unrivalled. AR

Highly Commended: IMAGE Skincare Ageless Total Resurfacing Masque, £46,

Targeting a whole host of skin concerns, from ageing and acne to sun damage and hyperpigmentation, this ‘mini peel’ deploys both chemical and physical exfoliators (in the form of alpha hydroxy acids and teeny-tiny micro-crystals) to smooth, brighten and even skin tone. Chock full of plant extracts, including arnica, papaya and bearberry, it moisturises too. Apply a thin layer for five to 30 minutes, massage with wet hands for one minute, rinse with warm water and finish with a cold splash. It’s instant refreshment for the face. AR

Highly Commended: Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel, £35, John Lewis & Partners, Grand Arcade, Cambridge and

This is one for the desert island beauty bag. Skin feeling a bit tight? Looking a bit grey? Smooth this sweet-smelling cream over your face and neck, leave for 10 minutes, rinse with tepid water and ta-dah! Comfort and glow restored. Suitable for all skin types, including sensitive and mature, the exfoliating’s done by non-abrasive natural fruit enzymes, which are accompanied by antioxidant-rich vitamin E and moisture-rich marine algae for extra TLC. It’s been part of my skincare routine for 500 years and I’d never be without a tube. AR

Masks: Drops of Youth

Winner: Seed to Skin The Black Magic Detoxifying Oxygen Therapy, £119,

Yes it’s pricey, but this mask is magic by name, magic by nature. Every time I use it - EVERY SINGLE TIME - I get complimented on my skin. The difference it makes is so dramatic, my husband can now spot its use at 20 paces: I walk into the room and he says ‘You look well! It’s that magic stuff, isn’t it?’ The Black Magic does it all - smoothes, deep cleans, minimises pores, promotes collagen production - courtesy of a roll-call of natural actives, including charcoal, volcanic clay, salicylic and mandelic acids and skin penetrating oxygen complex. Paint it on and, after 20 slightly tingly minutes, you look and feel like you’ve just had a five-star facial. Thoroughly deserving of a podium place for the second year running. AR

Highly Commended: Lena Wild Harmony Rescue Mask, £45, Pure Source, Bridge Street, Cambridge

Designed to soothe mind as well as skin, the Harmony Rescue Mask is the perfect self-care product. Containing aromatic yarrow and lavender to calm the mind while green clay, matcha tea and willow bark detoxify the skin, it comes as a powder, which you pour into your palm, activate with water, apply to face and neck and leave till not-quite-dry before rinsing off. Particularly impressive on oily areas, it balances skin beautifully and can also be used as a spot treatment and exfoliator. AR

Highly Commended: Tropic Deep Hydration Smoothing Cooling Mask, £20,

Tropic really truly is one of my favourite sustainable and cruelty-free brands and the products are excellent. This freshly whipped cream-like mask smells of fresh berries and is suited to all skin types depositing a good glug of hydration to leave skin feeling really grateful and looking happy. LM

Patches: Wrinkle Buster

Winner: Frownies Facial Patches, £23.94 for 144,

If a year of being forced to stare at your own face on Zoom/Teams/Hangouts has given you a wrinkle complex and you don’t fancy taking invasive action, buy yourself a box of Frownies: they’ve been around since 1889 and are apparently many a movie star’s secret weapon. Hold your skin taught while you apply the paper patches damp and, tightening as they dry, they form a ‘splint’, holding the problem area flat and smooth and, used repeatedly, gradually retraining facial muscles. It’s a bit of a faff, yes, but wear them overnight every night for a week and you *will* see a difference; even my 42-year-old, tramlined forehead looked smoother after seven days. AR

Highly Commended: Wrinkles Schminkles Forehead Smoothing Kit, £26 for two pads (20-30 uses),

Designed to be worn for a couple of hours for a quick fix or regularly overnight for longer term results, these medical grade silicone pads promote skin’s natural ability to boost hydration and blood flow, which in turn stimulates collagen production, by creating a conducive micro-climate. Plus, by holding skin still, they prevent continued creasing. Even after a single use, the difference is noticeable - wrinkles, schminkles, indeed. AR

Highly Commended: Katherine Daniels Instant Effect Eye Mask, £60 for four treatments,

Instant is the operative word here and who isn’t in need of a quick pick-me-up in the abundant age of Zoom calls? Take it easy for 20 minutes while these hyaluronic acid- and mineral-filled under eye patches do their magic leaving that tricky delicate area looking plumped, luminous and refreshed. LM

Eye Cream: Smooth Operator

Winner: Sunday Riley Auto Correct Brightening and De-puffing Eye Contour Cream, £60, Space NK, Trinity Street, Cambridge and

Ever have those mornings when your eyes are puffy tell-tale signs of too little sleep and too many worries? On those days this is a wonder. Gently pat the caffeine and horse chestnut-packed cream under eyes and soon you will no longer be wearing your troubles. Bright eyes and luminosity will be all yours and nobody will be any the wiser. LM

Highly Commended: Algenist Triple Algae Eye Renewal Balm, £48, Space NK, Trinity Street, Cambridge and

Powered by Algenist’s signature active - alguronic acid, derived from algae - this is arguably the brand’s best eye formula yet. Also deploying a high-tech multi-peptide complex, it’s designed to both rejuvenate and protect the eye area. The luxurious texture, which has an immediate blurring effect on fine lines and dark circles, belies its feather-light feel on skin. AR

Highly Commended: Clarins Total Eye Lift, £58, John Lewis & Partners, Grand Arcade, Cambridge and

It refreshes like a gel, nourishes like a cream and targets lining, sagging and dark circles, too: thanks to a clever combination of plant extracts, including firming albizia, stimulating harungana, smoothing cassie wax and cocooning shea butter, Clarins’ new Total Eye Lift does it all. Most impressive is the genuinely noticeable lifting effect it has on eyelids; I wouldn’t usually apply cream to my lids, as it can weigh them down and make a mess of mascara, but this formula is light, smoothing, firming and a friend to eye make-up. AR

SPF: Ultimate Protector

Winner: IMAGE Skincare PREVENTION+ Daily Moisturiser SPF 50, £53,

Formulated with zinc oxide, a mineral UV blocker, and hydrolyzed pea protein, believed to shield skin from the ageing effects of blue light, I use this product every single day: if my skin’s feeling particularly dry, I layer it after serum and moisturiser; if not, I just use this straight after my serum. Because it’s a mineral screen, ie it forms a physical barrier to protect your skin rather than doing so via chemical reaction, it goes on white like a classic sunblock. But it absorbs so swiftly and leaves skin so smooth, you can get right on with your make-up. An added bonus? Mineral screens are *much* better for the environment. AR

Highly Commended: Paula’s Choice Resist Anti Ageing Moisturiser with SPF50, £34,

Great base for foundation, this SPF-moisturiser is light, has a matte finish and make-up stays in place. What more could you ask for? LM

Highly Commended: Alumier Sheer Hydration Broad Spectrum SPF40 (untinted), £37.50,

This is justifiably an award-winning sunscreen and provides powerful broad-spectrum protection against harmful UVA and UVB rays while moisturising with vitamin E. Very lightweight, extremely hydrating and absorbs beautifully – you don’t even know you’re wearing it. LM

Hero Products: Must be Magic

Winner: Glossier Futuredew, £23,

Futuredew is that rare thing in the world of beauty: a bonafide miracle worker. Apply a couple of pumps as the final step in your usual skincare routine, then tap a little extra onto cheekbones, brow, nose and chin-tip for a finish that’s deliciously dewy yet totally natural-looking. Loaded with nourishing plant oils, it sits non-greasily somewhere between an oil and a serum and gets on beautifully with make-up. The perfect pick-me-up for a fed up face. AR

Highly Commended: Elemis SOS Emergency Cream, £57,

Just the job for those days when your skin needs a helping hand. Formulated for sensitive, dry and blemish-prone skin, the blend packs a punch of lavender and is quick to calm and soothe. Excellent as an overnight treatment to reduce redness and desensitize skin. Always have on hand. LM

Highly Commended: Erborian Skin Hero Seven Day Perfector, £18 (15ml),

Another clever formula from the Korean brand that has become celebrated for products that make skin look lovely. This latest multi-tasking launch nourishes and retexturises, smooths, blurs and illuminates to create a beautifully bare canvas. Great for no make-up days.LM

Night Cream: Beauty Sleeper

Winner: REN Evercalm Overnight Recovery Balm, £42, Space NK, Trinity Street, Cambridge and

I’m a big fan of a rich night cream and this balm is just the job. Olive, almond, borage and linseed oils combine to deliver a powerful punch of hydrating nutrients particularly effective for dry and sensitive skin that needs a night of nourishment. Lap it up. LM

Highly Commended: M&S Formula Absolute Ultimate Sleep Oil, £25, M&S, Sidney Street, Cambridge and Butter Market, Bury St Edmunds

When M&S released its Formula Absolute Ultimate Sleep Cream four years ago, it swiftly acquired cult status (and sold out three times). Just released, this is the oil version: avocado oil replenishes moisture, boosts elasticity and reduces fine lines, while grape seed oil defends against environmental aggressors and staves off signs of ageing. The formula is really impressive, managing to be both rich and non-greasy, so no sticky skin or clogged pores. AR

Highly Commended: Africology Intense Hydration Night Treatment, £70,

Super-charged with plant oils and peptides, this Intense Hydration Night Treatment is formulated to do pretty much everything: exfoliate, moisturise, stimulate collagen production, diminish pigmentation, plump fine lines. . . In the pot, it has a waxy texture akin to a balm; as soon as it feels the heat of your skin, it melts and magically sinks in. The formula leaves skin feeling thoroughly cosseted and, containing jojoba, coconut, geranium and patchouli, it also smells like a spa day. AR

Cleansers: Dream Clean

Winner: Organic Pharmacy Carrot Butter Cleanser, £43,

Some cleansers leave skin feeling squeaky clean but tight and in need of hydration. Not this beautiful butter that comes courtesy of organically farmed plants and melts on skin to both cleanse and moisturise. Simply massage on dry skin including eye area (hurrah) and remove with muslin cloth soaked in hand-hot water. Fabulous. LM

Highly Commended: The Body Shop Vitamin E Facial Wash, £8.50, The Body Shop, Lion Yard, Cambridge and Butter Market, Bury St Edmunds

This range has been around since the 1970s and is as popular today as it ever was – affordable too. Light and lathery, the Vitamin E and wheatgerm-packed cleansing cream removes the remains of the day while locking moisture in. Btw – apply to wet skin for best results. LM

Highly Commended: Elemis Pro-collagen Cleansing Balm, £44, John Lewis & Partners, Grand Arcade, Cambridge

This is another golden oldie which, for my money, remains unbeatable. Managing to remove both make-up and general grime without sapping skin’s moisture, it’s brilliant for anyone who, like me, suffers with dryness. A base of rose and mimosa waxes - which smells divine - is charged with nourishing elderberry and starflower oils, plus anti-ageing algae padina pavonica. Warm it between palms, massage it over face and neck, then remove with a warm, damp cloth for skin that’s soothed as well as sparkling. AR

Beauty Tools: Kitted Out

Winner: Farm Girl by Sarah Jane Icey Globes, £44.99,

Heavenly to have on hand to depuff skin and soothe redness or break outs. Simply pop in the fridge overnight to use in the morning with serum or facial oil. Gently roll in circular motion around shoulders and neck moving up to the face, along jaw and cheeks and around forehead for as long as it feels lovely. Probably forever. LM

Highly Commended: Green People Jade Gua Sha massage tool, £12.50,

Another nifty and glowingly-reviewed tool to combine with serum or facial oil and massage along the jawline, cheeks and eyes to aid relaxation. Use for a couple of minutes every day and you can even temporarily improve the firmness of skin – in the same way a facial does, but DIY. LM

Highly Commended: Legology Lymph-Lite Broom Brush for Body, £16,

Well designed to fit snugly in your hand, the circular brush is perfect to use all over the body to buff skin to a healthy bloom. Particularly effective for preparing legs pre application of Legology products designed to help target cellulite and improve the appearance of skin as we prepare to bare for summer. LM

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