Skincare gifts that are actually worth the splurge

Face it ... these are great.
a woman applies skincare products
You only have about eight pounds of skin. Treasure it. Deposit Photo

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Skin is our largest organ and the only thing separating our fragile insides from the cruel expanse of nature, but some folks are way more serious about pampering it than others. As many of us are now spending undue hours staring at our own faces on Zoom calls—and combatting new cosmetic challenges like maskne—the urge to play around with new skincare routines is stronger than ever. Here are a few of the most luxurious skincare gadgets and potions we’ve tried that actually do what they’re supposed to—so you can avoid buying jade rollers for the beauty influencers on your shopping list.

Good vibrations

Foreo Luna 3

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Exfoliation is crucial for properly cleansing skin and removing dead cells, but finding the right product for the job can be tricky. Chemical options are generally too harsh for daily use, and a growing awareness of the pollution problem posed by plastic microbeads has cancelled an entire sub-genre of products. But some of the most “natural” exfoliants, like ones made from ground-up walnut husks, are actually so abrasive that they damage skin. One high-end solution: a scrubber that uses vibration to slough away the remains of the day. Clarisonic’s rotating brush cleanser is a classic option that’s recently gotten some smart upgrades (like add-on heads that massage your face or blend your make-up), but the PopSci favorite is the FOREO Luna 3. The smooth silicone is super easy to keep clean, and while it definitely looks more like a vibrator than a new addition to your bedtime beauty routine, its sonic pulsations really do turn any facial cleanser into a luxurious, deep-cleaning exfoliator that’s still gentle on your skin.

Sensational serums

Vintner's Daughter Active Treatment Essence

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Vintner’s Daughter makes just two products, and they’re precious in terms of both price and supply. But the Essence and Serum are an absolute joy to use, and the price tags make sense when you look into the production story: Designed by a third-generation winemaker, the toner and oil both contain an impressive list of skin-soothing botanical ingredients that are sourced, tested, and infused in a weeks-long process akin to fine wine production. The conceit is that these two products will replace your entire skincare routine. That might not be the case for all—we found we still needed to include a couple spot treatments for preventing breakouts, for instance—but these products did make our skin look and feel better than they did without. If nothing else, following the earthy, vinegary Essence with a few dabs of the musky floral Serum will make you feel like some kind of woodland witch.

Lasers for your face

Dr Dennis Gross DRx SpectraLite FaceWare Pro

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We still need more data to know exactly how effective LED masks like the DRx SpectraLite™ FaceWare Pro are for combating acne and signs of aging, but the current body of evidence suggests there’s something there. The idea is that red LED helps trigger the production of collagen to promote the repair of skin damage, and blue LED lowers the production of oil in the hair follicles and contributes to killing off bacteria. The FaceWare Pro has a setting that hits you with both colors at once, turning you into a glowing purple robot for two minutes of psychedelic self-care each day.

Airbrushed skin with minimal makeup

OPTE Precision System

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The OPTE precision system is like something out of science fiction. This new device scans your skin for tonal irregularities, then dispenses a perfectly blended wisp of tinted serum to cover any blemishes. The result is a photoshop-perfect complexion with minimal makeup, which means most of your face can breathe easy. Plus, the spot-correcting serum contains ingredients like niacinamide designed to keep skin healthy and spotless in the long term.

A formidable face roller

MDNA Skin The Beauty Roller

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Okay, so the MDNA SKIN Beauty Roller comes with some caveats. It’s billed as using “lymphatic drainage” to tone your face and make your skin more youthful, but evidence of its efficacy is pretty minimal. There’s also a lot of hubbub made about the roller’s “high-density carbon balls” that harness “Ultra-Infrared Energy” to energize your muscles, but PopSci editors must emphasize that this means the roller gets a little warm, which might help perk up your face. The tech is all very proprietary, but it’s likely the same heat-transfer mechanism that makes those carbon ice cream scoops so good at scooping: the warmth of your hand travels up the handle to heat up the roller balls.

Now that we’ve cut through the tiny print, we can say that this beauty roller is great for easing tense muscles in your jaw and neck. And while rolling your face into submission may not have long-term benefits for the tautness of your skin, getting some blood flowing can certainly freshen your face a bit before you sign on for yet another video meeting. So while these devices aren’t miraculous facial tools, a roller like the one from MDNA can make a luxurious gift for people who like to pamper their skin (or spend all day clenching their jaws).

An easier peel

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel

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If you’re looking for the power of a chemical peel without any of the scary side effects (or risking a dermatologist visit), you need to try the Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Peel pads. They take any scary guesswork out of applying serious acid to your face: One pad subjects your skin to a powerful acidic tingle and the other neutralizes the burn. Regular use minimizes discoloration, bumps, acne, and wrinkles.

A chiller skincare routine

Frigidaire Retro Mini Compact Beverage Cooler

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Do you need your skin serums to be cold? Probably not. But chilling moisturizers, facial mists, and masks gives them an extra refreshing boost when it’s time to apply them. This adorable retro fridge has been getting loads of attention online as a skincare receptacle—to keep on your desk or bedside table—so true beauty devotees will no doubt be thrilled to see one sitting under the tree.

Customized lotions and potions

Atolla custom serum

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Atolla was a winner in PopSci’s inaugural class of Personal Care products for the 2019 Best of What’s New Awards. The company uses evidence-backed ingredients, machine learning, and an impressively simple at-home testing system to optimize an affordable custom serum to fight your skin’s most pressing problems. Monthly assessments allow the company to recalibrate your formula as needed, making it a great way to combat seasonal issues like winter dryness or summer breakouts.

Luxurious body scrub

Sunday Riley Charcoal Smoothie Jelly Body Scrub

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Don’t neglect the skin that’s not on your face. This sumptuous scrub from Sunday Riley is packed with clarifying ingredients like charcoal and salicylic acid. It’s designed to target rough, bumpy, or flakey skin without causing irritation, and it turns a simple shower into a spa-like exfoliation session.

Makeup that protects your skin

Supergoop Shimmershade

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You may have noticed SuperGoop! slowly taking over your favorite Sephora store over the last year or so. Long known for their beloved SPF setting spray—which is a fantastic way to keep your makeup fresh and your skin protected from the sun throughout the day—the company has recently released a whole slew of new products. Our favorites are their Shimmershade eyeshadow (also a Best of What’s New winner for 2019), which protects the delicate eye area from sun damage with glittery flare, Unseen Sunscreen, which glides on like a primer, and Super Power Sunscreen Mousse, which is just a delightfully smooth and easy-to-use all-purpose SPF. SuperGoop! has sun protection products you never even knew you needed but won’t be able to live without again.

Better beauty sleep

Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil

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Retinol products offer the kind of all-around skin improvement we used to only dream of, but they can be harsh on skin at first—so picking the right product is crucial. We have a guide of options to pick from here.

A breath of fresh air

Dyson Pure Humidify+Cool

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If you’re spending more of your time indoors these days, it’s more important than ever to make sure your home has good air quality—and not just because it keeps your skin looking pretty. The Dyson Pure Humidify+Cool is one of the most effective air purifiers on the market (it catches 99.97 percent of allergens), and has the added benefit of keeping your space at the optimal temperature and moisture level. It’s easy to clean, a breeze to automate, and quickly makes any room feel like a fancy spa. It’s particularly effective in the bedroom, where cool, clean air will help ensure you get plenty of high-quality beauty sleep.


Rachel Feltman Avatar

Rachel Feltman


Rachel Feltman is Editor-at-Large at Popular Science. She hosts and oversees the hit podcast The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week, and helps to fill the magazine’s digital pages with thrilling features. She lives in Jersey City with her surprisingly tall husband and surprisingly old cat.