Expert Advice

A Beauty Editor's 15 Best New — Wow! — Discoveries

by Jane Larkworthy
Best Photo by Jared Rice / Unsplash.

Having been a beauty editor for more than 30 years, I reckon that I've probably tried thousands of products. Along the way, there have been some crazy ones, a few minor fails, and the occasional head scratcher, but nothing beats the thrill of discovering something that triggers a raised eyebrow while you hear yourself uttering, "Wow..." A product that surprises, intrigues and over-delivers never gets old (wish I could say the same about myself…). And during this time of lockdown, this beauty zealot has found herself seeking out self-care products, or ones that impart a serious level of hygge. Below, my most recent “wow" discoveries.

Oracle Jayne Station El Arroyo Hand & Body Bar

Founder Andrew Sotomayor's childhood memories of his grandparents' Tucson ranch inspired his first foray into scent and body care. He created two versions of wearable fragrance as well as unique "dry" scrubs that activate with water, but his completely natural soaps are kind of works of art. Sotomayor, who also happens to be an Emmy-winning makeup artist, aptly describes this blend of chaparral, juniper, rosemary, and myrrh, as "the scent of the desert after it rains," and I've found that sudsing it over my dry, itchy shins provides instant hydrating relief. I've never been much of a bar soap user, but I have made room for this beauty, which would also make an excellent stocking stuffer. ($18)

Costa Brazil Sal de Banho Bath Salts

IMHO, Calvin Klein was never chicer than when designer Francisco Costa was at the helm. So it was no surprise that his beauty brand, Costa Brazil, is equally divine. Costa infuses every product with elements from his native country, and his latest blends epsom and mineral sea salts with the silky resinous Breu Branco, which has become a signature scent of the brand. These salts ain't cheap, but if you can live without their fancy chrome canister, you can buy the refill bag for nearly half the price. ($78)

Beautystat Universal C Skin Refiner

Cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson is the brains behind dozens of beauty products for Clinique, L'Oreal, and Avon, to name a few, so he wasn't sure the world needed any more skincare. But when he learned of a new technology that stabilizes the potency of notoriously unstable vitamin C, he had no choice but to relent and create Beautystat. The star of the line is this texture-smoothing, skin-brightening vitamin C-based whipped lotion does just what it claims to do, which is why it's become the new darling of the skin care world. ($80)

Heales AHA Face Cleanser

On days when I'm wearing makeup, I reach for this one. It's super gentle and has a lovely creamy texture, yet knowing that it also contains fruit acids makes me feel that it's working just a little bit harder at both cleansing and mildly exfoliating. ($32)

Augustinus Bader The Essence Exfoliating Toner

The name is a mouthful, but that's because it does all three. My favorite is the "essence" part. It's so luscious and silky, and I love how soft it makes my skin feel. Mostly, I'm seriously impressed with how remarkably proficient it is at diminishing age spots. ($85)

Biography Long June Everyday Drops

Choosing my favorite from this brand new collection of oil blends was tough. All four smell so calming, and my skin seemed to drink each one in in equally appreciative measure. With my skin's sensitivity in mind, I chose Long June, a soothing mixture of chamomile, apricot, and calendula, which the brand rather poetically calls "noise cancelling for your skin." ($85)

Unsun Cosmetics Mineral Tinted Face Sunscreen Lotion

Mineral sunscreens have come a long way since the zinc and titanium dioxide days of chalking up our skin. This line, which was designed by Katanya Breaux, Frank Ocean's mom (yes, that Frank Ocean), consists of a body sunscreen and this lotion, which comes in two shades, but the sheer  formulas cover a fairly wide range of tones. Light/Medium gives a subtle glow to my very pale skin, and Medium/Dark doesn't leave an ashy residue on darker tones. ($29)

Osmia Himalayan Body Buff

Himalayan pink salt practically floats in a gloriously unctuous jar of essential oils, led by Bulgarian lavender and Canadian fir. It also contains lemongrass oil, which my nose seems to whiff out, providing an optimistic effect on my psyche as much as a softening effect on my limbs. ($42)

Laubahn Scent Infused Face Masks

Love the smell of your own breath? Well, good for you. If, however, you're not crazy about yours, these masks will make you wish you'd known about them back when we first began covering our mouths and noses. Laubahn founder Stacey Bresnehan also makes beautiful perfumes, but when the virus hit, she pivoted to this genius idea. The masks come in cotton or flannel, and are scented in organic lavender, pine balsam, or verbena. Simply put, wearing one is like hugging your favorite sachet up against your face all day. ($20)

Fragrance Discovery Sets

Fine, these days you're wearing fragrance mostly for yourself, but why not take this opportunity to experiment a little and try some new ones out with a sampler? Here are three that I love.

Abbott NYC Exploration Box Set

Founders Jose Alvarez and Michael Pass became friends thanks to a shared love of travel. That wanderlust led to the notion of bottling their favorite destinations. And thus, Abbott NYC was born. Try Big Sky, Monecito, or my favorite, the woodsy Sequoia. ($28)

Sana Jardin Paris Discovery Set

Founder Amy Christiansen Si-Ahmed didn't only create eight gorgeous, transportive scents with Sana Jardin; she simultaneously founded the Beyond Sustainability, which helps provide local floral harvesters with business skills to become "micro-entrepreneurs" by creating items like orange blossom water and candles with the leftover materials from perfume production. After hearing such altruism, don't you kind of want to buy all eight in their full sizes? ($39)

Maison d'Etto Discovery Set

A love of horses and nature led Brianna Lipsovsky to create these exquisite scents, but one need not be an equestrienne nor outdoorsy to find one that intoxicates. Despite my fear of horses, I (safely) fell for the leathery, woodsy, slightly salty Rotano. ($90)

Apotheke Charcoal Candle

The best way I can describe the fragrance of this candle is new fireplace. Not exactly virgin fireplace because there's no weird chemical-y smell that needs to be burned off, but this smokey blend of woods, orange blossom and the very intriguing charred maple give it a modern lightness that fits perfectly with the tasteful black matte vessel it's housed in. ($38)

Healist Extra Strength Body Relief Lotion

The pain-relieving trifecta of menthol, camphor, and arnica in this fast-absorbing yet luxuriously rich lotion bring to mind Vick's Vapo-Rub, but if it had a hipster nephew — one that partook in soothing organically farmed CBD. Well, my older, achier, totally un-hip body reaches for this bottle every time I've pushed it too far. ($49.99)

Love Beauty & Planet Argon Oil & Lavender Smooth & Serene Conditioner

This brand can do no wrong. Their bottles are 100 percent recyclable, their formulas are vegan and cruelty-free, and they use only ethically sourced fragrances (apparently, their Love Home & Planet Rose Petal & Murumuru Laundry Detergent is to die...).This product was created for frizzy hair, but I use it because I'm always looking for ways to smooth mine even more, and this stuff makes my hair feel like silk. It's one of my favorite beauty bargains. ($6.99)