Welcome to the annual BEST OF NATURAL BEAUTY! Every year I take a minute to look back and call out some of my absolute favorite discoveries from the past 12 months.
By: Lisa Fennessy
Afterall, 2021 wasn’t the best year but it wasn’t an entire dumpster fire either. There were some highlights like Bridgerton, Bennifer 2.0, Simone Biles choosing to protect her mental health, Roy Kent, who is honky dory and Maya Chia’s Power Fol Lash + Brow Serum, which turned my 90s brows into full blown, late August caterpillars. Let’s honor that!
I love this post because it allows you to skip through all the noise and go straight to the good stuff when it comes to natural beauty.
To keep this from turning into a best of all time post, I’m narrowing down these picks to new releases in 2021 OR products that I tried for the first time in 2021.
Aside from touting healthy ingredients, I also really wanted to hone in on EFFECTIVE products this year. Products you could essentially use for a very short period of time and see a difference. I don’t know about you but more than ever, instant gratification is like chicken noodle soup for my mental health. Can I get a witness?! I mean, let’s be honest, at the end of the day, after rolling with all the punches, I just want beauty products that will serve me. Make me feel good. We all deserve that.
So here it is, my top ethical beauty picks for 2021 outstanding in efficacy and also ingredients.
RELATED: See my top beauty picks for 2020, 2019, 2018 and 2017!
The New Knew’s Top Beauty Products of 2021
I’ve always been skeptical about lash and brow serums. Meaning, I’ve tried some in the past but either the results were up for debate or I couldn’t continue with the formula because it stung my eyes.
But, that didn’t mean I didn’t need one. As a teen of the 90s, my over-plucked brows have needed HELP for years. So you can imagine my delight when I heard the efficacious-forward brand Maya Chia was dropping a new brow + lash growth serum in 2021. #praisebe
I started testing with high hopes, but when this serum turned my em-dash brows into late August caterpillars in just 20 days, I almost died. Established hairs were longer than ever and I even saw signs of new growth too. You can check out my before and afters here. But the kicker came weeks later (after I had stopped using it) as growth just continued to pour in.
Love that this is a gel serum (not an oil) that you can easily apply both day and night. Not only is it easy to layer makeup over it, it also doubles as a primer and volumizer.
The magic? A combination of four peptides to enhance length, density and strength, the ever popular pro-vitamin B5 to strengthen and ginseng + baikal skullcap flower to stimulate hair growth.
I also LOVE the dual sided applicator with a brush for lashes and a wand for brows. If you’ve been looking for a lash and brow growth serum that works, this one’s for you!
For more, check out my full POWER FOL Lash + Brow Serum review here.
When I first tried ILIA’s Fullest Volumizing Mascara, I was a little distracted by the violin shaped chubby wand. It seemed to be a little too chunky and cumbersome to get the controlled application and separation I prefer. BUT, the more I used it, the more I fell in love with how thick, big and voluminous my lashes looked and now nothing can compare. I’m 100% hooked.
And! ILIA’s Fullest Volumizing Mascara is not just another pretty face. We also see lash supporting ingredients like pro-vitamin B5 and arginine to strengthen and improve the condition of lashes.
Super buildable and flake-free. I’ve been known to go up to four coats to sport that mega lash look.
It’s not often I’d consider including a tool like a lash curler in a BEST OF post, but HELLO!!! When I try a lash curler that changes my lash game for good, I’m pretty much under obligation. It only takes a couple seconds of pressure with this rose gold curler to take lashes from flat to insanely curled. Everyone I’ve recommended this tool to comes back like 😳😳😳. #truth
I’ve long established my favorite brow products, but there’s a new kid on the block and it goes by the name of Kosas Brow Pop. Love that this pencil comes in a shade that compliments my gray hair. Most lines do not carry a gray pencil and I’m left to choose between which brown has the least amount of red tones, or black and it’s not a good place to be in.
Kosas Brow Pop comes in 9 shades. The shade called Gray is a perfect match for me, being a cool-toned slate color with no underlying red tones. It’s a soft pencil that transfers easily on one side with a buffing/blending wand on the other. I have been a long time fan of the Ecobrow blending wand, but this one is softer, creating a more subtle blend and leaving more product behind.
It’s also formulated with castor and provitamin B5 (see a pattern here?! lol) to help support and treat brows as well.
At this point I’m like, say the name Westman Atelier and I’M SOLD. This year I tried their Eye Pods which are cream shadows and Bisou, a light pinky-cream, became my daily staple.
First of all, I love a lighter shadow because it’s easier to apply without precision or skill and can still look good. These are subtle, refined, long lasting, creamy, easy to apply and bring life to the entire eye area.
I found these are best applied and blended with my warm fingers, which helped with more product transfer and created a smoother application. I love the finished look, which seamlessly blends into the skin making me look like I was born this way.
These pods come as a collection that magnetically snap together, which is also a fun touch. Bisou is the only shade I use consistently.
Erin’s Faces Fruit Smoothie Lip Glosses | $25
Erin’s Faces dropped their Fruit Smoothie Lip Glosses in 2021 and I showed up late, finally trying them just this past November. Well, I’m pissed I waited so long because these lip serums are everything.
The theme here is strawberries. All five shades are named after strawberry varieties and the formula actually includes “organic strawberries,” rich in vitamin C and alpha lipoic acid.
My favorite shade is Sonata. It’s the perfect pinky brown and looks (and feels) incredible on my lips. These wear light-weight, smooth and sit naturally on the lips. And you can wear these two ways, layered for a more pigmented look or less for just a wash of color. Love that this is one of those lip products you can apply on the go (without a mirror) and feel confident that you are still rockin’ it.
These are also responsibly packaged in glass and have a touch of mint to them. Honestly? I may have found my perfect lip product.
Um, hello hydrated skin. I tried this cream on a whim and was distracted all day by how hydrated my face felt. I had actually tried a few new products at the same time, so then I spent the following week dismantling said rogue routine, isolating each product in an attempt to figure out which one was responsible for my tacky, plump, bouncy, mega-moisturized skin (that stayed that way all day)—and turns out, it was THIS!
A moisture-boosting, aloe-rich cream that’s formulated with three clinically proven forms of skin-brightening vitamin C and line-smoothing wild chokecherry.
Lightweight, pink and hand-harvested in Jackson Hole, this cream has a fresh citrus scent I love, and it makes my skin feel incredible. I’m 100% obsessed…and hydrated.
The world has been waiting with baited breath for a treatment like Maya Chia’s new The Super Lift C-More Treatment.
Packed with three types of shelf-stable vitamin C, tranexamic acid, ferulic acid esters, niacinamide, peptides and stem cells…The Super Lift C-More Treatment works to soothe the appearance of fine lines, brighten and get this…LIFT.
Yup. Believe it or not, this formula has a temporary tightening/smoothing effect that you can actually FEEL taking place after you apply it. It’s subtle—I mean, you are not going to instantly look like you just got a Thread Lift, but you will feel the tightening effects for sure. This is temporary, but what’s not temporary is the effects of prolonged use delivering more radiant, even-textured and toned skin.
This is a light, fast-absorbing, creamy serum that you apply before your moisturizer. You can wear it both day or night but I prefer to wear it during the day for its lifting action.
Beauty Heroes sent me Mukti’s new Calming Cleansing Balm (fragrance-free and specifically formulated for sensitive skin) and I was immediately taken aback by the consistency here. STRIKING.
This formula sits between a gel and a blam, and almost feels like a very thin clear honey or jelly. As a cleanser, it’s incredibly gentle and feels so good on the skin. It’s a boss at taking off makeup and effective as a second cleanse, too. It also milks up and becomes creamy with a touch of water and easily rinses clean off. I love using a warm cloth to make sure it’s all removed.
Formulated with baobab, chia seed, carrot seed and argan oils to nourish and plant oils soothe the skin and boost the feel of elasticity, this cleansing balm exceeds expectations in every single way. Can’t get enough!
I got to try Fifty7Kind TANU Cell Affinity Coactive Serum from one of the Boxwalla boxes this past spring and I pretty much blacked out from the entire experience. The color. The smell. The texture. EVERYTHING.
Once I regained consciousness, I looked at their website and was blown away by the sourcing and ingredient intel this company shares. They only have two products so far, but it is obvious how much pride these formulators take in their work.
TANU’s superpower is Crithmum Maritmum. It’s a botanical extract that offers retinoid-like action, enhances cell turnover, aids in the reduction of sebum secretion and diminishes the appearance of wrinkles and UV photo-damage—all without skin irritation or photosensitivity.
I’m currently coveting a full bottle of this because this could be THE product in my anti-aging skincare routine. Needless to say, I’ll be watching this brand like a hawk.
At the end of 2021, I got a press box from Credo and a tiny sample of this fragrance was included. I didn’t think much either way as I leaned in for a routine whiff but as top notes began to tickle my olfactory senses, I knew before I even got the full experience that THIS is a fragrance for me!
Complex, cozy, super warm, big, sexy, addictive, amber, vanilla, cedarwood, musk. It feels like a real perfume in all the right ways and as I hold this tiny vial between my fingers, I can’t supress this jonesing to experience the full line.
Do you ever wish you had a body cream that was like a face cream but for the body?! Girrrrrrl. Pull up a chair.
I tried Prima’s Afterglow Cream 500mg CBD + Hyaluronic Acid (face cream) and I pretty much retired from beauty blogging on the spot because I found THE face cream of my dreams (always go out on a high note right!?)
Anyways, you can imagine how flapped I became when I cracked open Prima’s Skin Therapy 275 CBD Ultra-Rich Body Butter (body cream) and discovered it’s basically like their face cream—but for the body.
I’m talking a rich, creamy, buttery (but not oily…the first ingredient here is water so even though this is labeled a “butter,” it’s actually technically a water-based cream) treatment that goes on with intention, soaks right in and is like: SKIN? I AM HERE FOR YOU!
Seriously, this is a hydrating lotion dream come true for someone with dry skin (and even normal skin, like me). We’re calling it: this is the best body lotion for dry skin (and you can check out our other top picks here).
So so so so so so so so good.
You know it’s A DAY when I claim a new sunscreen fave. This face SPF is (get this) an oil! So basically it’s all the goodness of a face oil PLUS protection against UV (via zinc). No skin-drying formulas, no product caking, no white cast, no greasiness…just goodness and protection.
The zinc used here is called GlowDefence™ and it’s a super sheer, non-nano zinc oxide providing broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection. You have to shake the formula to incorporate it before applying, but this custom zinc ingredient is a wonder and truly applies sheer.
The formula is also rich in antioxidants (raspberry), skin-strengthening nutrients (sea aster) and ingredients that support the skin (algae). It also boasts moringa which delivers 90+ nutrients, 46 antioxidants and vitamins A, B, C, D and E for that fresh complexion and mega glow.
I just love that this is a moisturizing face oil first and an SPF second (which eliminates that SPF step on a daily basis without sacrificing any nourishment for my skin). Great for everyday wear (a beach day may require something stronger).
Are any of these on your list for the best of 2021?
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The top clean beauty products of 2021 include the Brow Pop from Kosas, Erin’s Faces Fruit Smoothie Lipsticks, ILIA’s volumizing mascara, the TOK Beauty Lash Curler, Westmen Atelier Eye Pods Eyeshadows and Powerfol brow and lash serum from Maya Chia.
The top clean skincare products of 2021 include Alpyn Beauty Triple Vitamin C cream, Mukti Calming Cleansing balm, Maya Chia’s C-More lift, Fifty7Kind TANU Serum, Prima Skin Therapy, Mara Sea Kale Sunscreen.