My 12 Favorite Beauty Purchases of 2021

Throughout my life, I’ve found that odd-numbered years bring me more change than even-numbered ones, and 2021 was no exception to that rule, for both better and worse. However, one aspect of my life remained the same: I bought a lot of new beauty items, especially makeup. In fact, I bought more new items in 2021 than in any year since I started keeping track of my purchases in 2015! Not significantly more, but enough that I feel the need to rein myself in for at least the first few months of 2022.

Looking over my purchasing habits for 2021, I notice a few trends. The cream-and-liquid-blush boom in the beauty industry carried over from 2020 as more and more brands released new formulas and shades. I partook enthusiastically, buying five blushes in cream and liquid formulas (one a repurchase of an old favorite) this year, two of which appear on the list below. In the second half of the year, after starting my new teaching job, I undertook a mission to find mask-resistant lipsticks and lip tints. Brand-wise, I branched out modestly, trying four new-to-me brands—2aN, Holy Snails, Kaja, and Tower 28—and, after a decade of loyalty to MAC lipsticks, buying my first non-lipstick MAC product! Otherwise, I stuck to tried-and-true brands such as Urban Decay, ColourPop, Glossier, and Cirque Colors.

And now, without further ado, my top dozen new-to-me products of 2021! (I usually pick fifteen, but I’m being choosier, or just lazier, this year. There are plenty of honorable mentions at the end of the post, though.) As always, they’re listed in chronological order of purchase to spare me the stress of ranking them by preference. And if you’re curious about my picks in past years, here are my lists for 2020, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014.

1. Tower 28 BeachPlease Luminous Tinted Balm in Magic Hour (review)

At the time I wrote my review of Magic Hour, I would not have expected it to end up on this list. I was disappointed in the color (peachier than I’d expected) and the texture (unusually thick and sticky). However, it wasn’t long before I was using Magic Hour a few times a week. It adds enough color to warm up and brighten my face, but it doesn’t read as peach in the same way that Sleek Life’s a Peach does; it just looks neutral, and I swear it makes my perpetual RBF seem a little friendlier. And the sticky formula allows it to last on my skin longer than, say, the Glossier Cloud Paints do. I don’t think I’ll buy any more Tower 28 blushes, both because the “clean” formula lacks preservatives (though Magic Hour is holding up well so far) and because the packaging is flimsy—the hinge broke a couple of months ago and the compact no longer closes securely. Still, I wore Magic Hour too often this year to deny it a place in this post.

2. Revlon Glass Shine Lipstick in Beaming Strawberry

Three of these lipsticks (grouped as one “item”) appeared on last year’s list, where I discussed the formula in some depth, so I’ll just say here that Glass Shine is what Glossier Ultralip tries and fails to be: “the (cashmere) sweatpants of lipsticks.” And Beaming Strawberry is the exact shade of pink that I wanted for years: a light, sheer cherry-blossom flush, not too warm or too cool. It pairs perfectly with all my neon and pastel eye makeup and blushes and was by far one of my most-worn lipsticks in 2021, especially in the spring and summer. Since I didn’t bring my tube of Beaming Strawberry to San Francisco and, in a rare lapse, failed to photograph it when it was new, you’ll have to content yourself with this selfie from April.

3. Holy Snails Shark Sauce

Last semester, a twenty-five-year-old coworker was absolutely SHOOK to find out that I was (at the time) thirty-three. “I thought you were my age!” she kept saying. I attribute her shock mainly to the cultural brainwashing that teaches us that women transform into Struldbruggs once they hit thirty. However, I’d be remiss not to mention a skincare product I discovered this year: Shark Sauce, a niacinamide serum by the skincare-nerd-approved brand Holy Snails, which I impulsively included in an oo35mm order in May. Not being a skincare nerd myself, I can’t speak learnedly about the benefits of niacinamide, but I can say that Shark Sauce is one of the very few skincare products that can give me results overnight. It smooths and brightens my skin, especially when applied after retinol. I use it a few times a week (i.e. when I remember), and I’m never going back—unless I find out that Shark Sauce is synthesized from chimpanzee dung or something. Well, maybe not even then.

4. Glossier Lidstar in Bun (review)

Glossier debuted several all-new products this year, but in my opinion, its best 2021 release was a new shade in a three-year-old formula: Lidstar liquid eyeshadow in Bun, a light neutral gold. Unlike some of its Lidstar siblings, Bun can be applied smoothly and easily with a finger, and its color is neutral but still noticeable. It has a subtle shine on its own but also works as a base for more sparkly shadows. It’s not as gimmicky as some newer Glossier products, but I can always count on it for a quick yet impactful eye look. Monochromes? More like MEH-nochromes.

5. Essie Not Red-y for Bed

Essie released some standout polishes this year: Cupid’s Beau, Gossip ‘n Spill, and Juicy Details almost made it onto this list (as did an older but new-to-me release, After School Boy Blazer). However, the highest-quality Essie shade I bought this year was undeniably Not Red-y for Bed, which I picked up on a whim in a Philadelphia CVS where I’d taken refuge during a thunderstorm. I hadn’t owned a true red polish in a few years, and wow, did I choose a good one. Not Red-y for Bed is beautifully balanced between warm and cool (I think it leans a little cool, but it’s not a pink-red), it’s bright and bold without being neon, it looks perfect in two coats, and it lasts several days without chipping. The bottle is looking a little rough at the moment because it opened and spilled in transit to San Francisco earlier this month. Thank goodness it was in a Ziploc bag with a few other nail polishes, not loose in my suitcase.

6. MAC Lustreglass Lipstick in Spice It Up!

Over the summer, MAC discontinued its Lustre formula, including Capricious, the first MAC lipstick I ever bought. As I noted in my review of Capricious almost eight years ago (!), I always found the Lustre formula a little drying. But the Lustreglass lipsticks are everything I wanted the Lustre lipsticks to be: sheer and somewhat shiny, but also moisturizing. (They have a more conventional sheer-lipstick formula than the Revlon Glass Shines, which are heavier, softer, and balmier.) Spice It Up! is a revamped shade from the old Lustre lineup: a rich brownish red that turns into a subtle flush when dabbed on lightly.

7. Urban Decay Vice Hydrating Lipstick in Hideaway (Instagram post)

If the online beauty community is to be believed, Urban Decay is on its last legs, about to go under, out of ideas, throwing a series of shitty products at the wall to see what sticks, etc. But despite these prognostications of doom, I’d argue that Urban Decay is doing just fine. True, it’s no longer the edgy Gen X brand it was in 1996, but like…get over it? Is that insensitive? I don’t know. But Urban Decay continues to produce a range of makeup staples that work for many, many people, including me. This year, I was especially impressed with UD’s revamp of the overwhelmingly huge Vice Lipstick lineup, which came out in 2016. (It does NOT feel like five and a half years since I first swatched the Vice lipsticks at Selfridges. The passage of time needs to chill.) I was apprehensive, because I didn’t think the Vice formulas needed any adjustment, but Hideaway bowled me over. It’s a very ’60s mauve-pink in the softest, smoothest matte formula.

I do have one quibble, though: the new Vice tubes were apparently designed by the same person who creates Mensa puzzles. There are three ways to close the tube incorrectly and only one way to get it right, as shown below:

However, there’s a way to turn this design flaw to your benefit. Bring one of these lipsticks on a crazy night out, and before you drunk-dial your ex four hours later, reapply your lipstick and see how long it takes you to close the tube successfully. If it takes longer than ten seconds, put down your phone.

8. Diptyque Orphéon Eau de Parfum

I happened to get a sample of Diptyque’s newest EDP on the same day that I started reading Laurent Binet’s The Seventh Function of Language, which turned out to be my favorite novel of 2021. The Seventh Function of Language is a zany historical novel centered on the accidental (or was it???) death of the philosopher and literary critic Roland Barthes in 1980. All the prominent French thinkers of the era, plus some Americans, make cameos; many affairs are conducted, many cigarettes smoked. The plot of Binet’s novel overlaps perfectly with the ethos of Orphéon. Named after the Parisian bar where the three founders of Diptyque used to hang out in the early 1960s, Orphéon is supposed to evoke a cozy, convivial atmosphere where “curls of tobacco smoke mingle with powdery trails of blusher, lingering on burnished wood.” I wore Orphéon often while reading the novel, and my experience of one enhanced my experience of the other—a perfect marriage of the literary and the olfactory.

9. Cirque Colors Famous Original

Famous Original flies under the radar in Cirque Colors’ lineup. It isn’t flashy; it doesn’t sparkle, shimmer, change color, or respond to a magnetic wand. It’s just a really good creme nail polish, perfectly balanced between red and brown (I’d call it russet), with a smooth formula that lasts close to a week on my nails (almost unheard of). After so many unpredictable years, I think we all crave products that get the job done with minimal fuss, and Famous Original does. I wore it on an idyllic visit to Western Massachusetts (where I went to college) in October, which probably biased me somewhat, but I’ve never pretended these lists are objective.

10. Revlon ColorStay Satin Ink in Silky Sienna (review)

I maintain that a truly maskproof lipstick formula doesn’t exist. The close, humid conditions inside a mask create a sauna-like environment that will break down even the most determined tint or stain after a few hours. However, the most mask-resistant formula I’ve found so far is Revlon’s ColorStay Satin Ink, which has received far less hype than it deserves. I can’t wait to get back to wearing bullet lipsticks, which tend to have more interesting colors and flattering formulas than liquid lipsticks do, but Silky Sienna is a good compromise for these sad masked days.

11. Glossier Cloud Paint in Eve

Believe it or not, Glossier released a deep plum Cloud Paint in November 2020 and I waited an entire year to try it. I thought Eve might be too dark for my skin tone, or too close in color to my favorite cloud paint, Storm. But now that I finally own it, I regret waiting so long. I like to apply Eve in an ’80s-inspired contour placement just below my cheekbones; blended out, it looks like a purplish flush on my skin. I was expecting it to be a statement blush, but it’s more flattering and natural-looking than I expected, which I guess is Glossier’s ethos. Here I am wearing Eve in a purple-toned look also featuring ColourPop’s Lilac You a Lot palette, Pat McGrath Madame Greige, and an ’80s sweater:

12. MAC Shadeshifter Duochrome Eyeshadow in Right Before Your Eyes (Instagram post)

Every holiday season, I buy one unapologetically sparkly beauty product. It’s not something I set out to do; it just always happens. This year, my sparkle of choice was an eyeshadow from MAC’s Hypnotizing Holiday collection. Right Before Your Eyes is surprisingly wearable, giving my eyes a delicate, fairylike scintillance. I’ve been wearing it on the lid with Python from ColourPop That’s Taupe in the crease and outer corner, as I am here, in my final FOTD of 2021:

Honorable Mentions: ColourPop Super Shock Shadow in Fruit Punch (Instagram post), ColourPop Lilac You a Lot palette (review), MAC Matte Lipstick in Forget-Me-Naughty (review), NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Red Square (review), Revlon The Gloss in Fatal Apple, Urban Decay Vice Hydrating Lipstick in Olvera (Instagram post), and the aforementioned Essie polishes. And—a very late addition—these adorable Dear Darling Gel Water Tints from Etude House, in Red Bean Red (left) and Shark Red, which I bought in San Francisco’s Japantown this month. Red Bean Red in particular would probably have made the main list if I’d had more than a few days to try it out, lol. I’ll review both tints soon!

Happy 2022, friends!

4 thoughts on “My 12 Favorite Beauty Purchases of 2021

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