Our new pandemic normal made soothing stress and monitoring our health the main goals of most personal care products in 2021. But this year saw a flood of launches geared at leaving home and showing off: vibrant cosmetics, anti-aging formulas and gizmos, and skincare products designed to protect from outdoor pollutants. From a multi-dimensional hair dye that draws upon the iridescence of butterfly wings to an end-of-life solution that nourishes the Earth instead of polluting it, these 10 wellness and beauty products stood out above the rest, offering true innovations in a world too often flooded with trendy buzzwords and empty promises.
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Grand Award Winner: AR Beauty Tutorials on TikTok by Grace Choi: Filters that aim to educate, not manipulate
Most TikTok filters let you play pretend and “try on” makeup—or, more insidiously, warp the shape of your face to fit an unattainable standard—but a new generation of augmented reality overlays aim to teach you something instead. Grace Choi, a Harvard MBA known for creating 2020 BOWN winner Mink’s makeup palette printer, changed the conversation this year with a digital brow stencil and contouring filter. While tutorials often assume the viewer shares the same face shape as the demonstrator, Choi notes that her filter can map out the slopes and dips of each user’s unique features and guide their makeup placement accordingly. The technique—which involves using contrasting light and dark pigment to subtly highlight some parts of your facial structure and minimize others—is notoriously tough to master using videos, as ideal pigment placement varies depending on bone structure. Choi’s filter instantly creates an easy-to-follow diagram, showing you exactly where to apply your makeup to make your cheekbones pop and your jaw look more defined.
YSL Beauté Rouge Sur Mesure by L’Oreal: Personalized lipstick, made on-demand
Whether you want your lipstick to match the sunset or your blouse, the Yves Saint Laurent Beauté Rouge Sur Mesure can produce any hue with the touch of a few buttons. The handheld system uses color cartridges in swappable palettes of red, nude, orange, and pink to create thousands of personalized shades. The accompanying app lets you scan any object for reference, or peruse a color wheel for inspiration. You can even try the color on virtually before the gadget mixes it up for you. A hydrating lipstick packed with pigment emerges at the top of the device into a chic, removable YSL palette—perfect for on-the-go touch-ups.
Gro Ageless by Vegamour: A duo that keeps you from going gray
Less than 30 percent of hair graying is dictated by your genes, according to a 2016 study in Nature. Instead, it’s predominantly driven by stress, excess UV exposure, diet, and smoking. Increased inflammation damages melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells in the hair, and saps them of their hue. Research suggests that maintaining healthy levels of B vitamins, copper, zinc, and selenium can safeguard melanocytes from damage. Vegamour’s Gro Ageless system includes oral supplements to combat those deficits from within, along with a serum that penetrates the hair follicle to stimulate melanocyte stem cells. The plant-based products add shine to strands, improve the texture of aging tresses, and can even help restore color as new hair grows in.
Smoke Alarm Drops by Pour Moi: A serum that shields your skin from wildfire smoke
It’s no secret that our planet is in trouble—and that means your skin is, too. Pour Moi Smoke Alarm Drops mark the first serum formulated specifically to protect skin when it’s exposed to smoke. Some skincare products that lock moisture in can also trap in pollutants. The resulting oxidative stress (an imbalance in a body’s ability to remove toxins or repair damage) can lead to sagging due to collagen loss, fine lines and wrinkles, and rough texture. Pour Moi’s drops address this by creating a shield within the skin’s surface layer, using hyaluronic acid, emollients, and soothing and repairing botanicals.
Dr. Harris Anti-Wrinkle Sleep Mask by CurrentBody: An eye mask that melts stress as you sleep
This mask aims to help you get your beauty sleep—literally and figuratively. The inside of the Dr. Harris Anti-Wrinkle Sleep Mask is lined with slightly raised silicone dots. Each presses imperceptibly against some of the 17,000-plus touch receptors in the skin of your face. Those receptors convert mechanical pressure into electrical signals for your autonomic nervous system, telling your brain to unfurrow your brow. Wearing the eye covering for just 15 minutes can help relax your muscles and make it easier to drift off to slumber. And since it smooths out your forehead, it also reduces the appearance of wrinkles between your eyebrows for up to five hours.
The Loop Cocoon by Loop Biotech: The world’s first living coffin
It’s time to close the loop on the circle of life. Modern burial practices pump heaps of toxic chemicals into the ground and cremation pollutes the air with greenhouse gasses. Over the last several years, several solutions for greener burials have emerged—California has even given human composting the green light—but for most people, such alternatives have remained out of reach or even illegal. This year, Dutch company Loop Biotech became the first to offer a “living coffin” for sale to the general public. The Cocoon is made of dried mycelium, which is the cobweb-like filament that forms mushrooms and other fungi. This substance creates a sturdy coffin that breaks down once exposed to moist soil. In less than two months, it degrades entirely and seeds the burial site with mushrooms. The fungi then helps the corpse biodegrade more quickly, breaking down heavy metals and pollutants in its tissues so it can nourish surrounding plants instead of poisoning them.
TheraFace PRO by Therabody: The utility player of facial gadgets
There are nearly endless beauty gadgets you can buy to scrub, massage, and even electrify your face into submission. Some of them even work: Microcurrents can temporarily soften wrinkles, lymphatic drainage can briefly depuff swollen sinuses, and LED lights can kill acne-causing bacteria and stimulate skin-plumping collagen. But implementing an arsenal of such tools takes deep pockets (and a big medicine cabinet). Enter the TheraFace Pro. In addition to offering the percussive massage the brand is known for—appropriately toned down for the delicate bones of the face—the device’s suite of magnetic attachments also provide hot and cold compresses, microcurrent treatments, deep facial cleaning, and multi-hued LED light therapy. Whether you need to soothe a sore jaw muscle or induce a dewy glow for a special event, the TheraFace makes it downright sensible to own an absurd array of skincare gizmos.
Colour Alchemy by The Unseen and Schwarzkopf Professional: The world’s first holographic hair dye
The Unseen and Schwarzkopf Professional
Most people who color their hair are looking for multi-faceted, prismatic hues—ones with slight variations that catch the light for a more interesting (and often more natural-looking) visual effect. That usually means lightening some pieces of hair, darkening others, and using multiple shades of toners and dyes. Colour Alchemy by The Unseen harnesses the power of physics to create a totally new kind of hair color: a temporary dye that turns hair strands into light-scattering prisms. The products rely on structural color—the same principle that gives beetle shells and butterfly wings iridescent hues using cellular shape instead of actual pigment. The result is hair that shifts across a spectrum of vibrant color when exposed to changes in temperature (like a blast of cool air) or light (like a camera flash). Unlike most temporary dyes, Colour Alchemy shows up on dark tresses without any bleaching. In fact, dark hair provides the best base for its sun-scattering holographic crystals.
Venom Go by Hyperice: A pocket-sized recovery tool that melts sore muscles in a flash
Recovery brand Hyperice has designed a super-portable gadget that melts muscle tension fast. The company’s Venom line, which combines vibration and targeted heat to create not-your-grandpa’s-heating-pad wearables, first launched a few years ago. But this update gave the fitness community something to buzz about. The electronic portion of the Venom Go is small enough to fit in a pocket, and you can use the simple button interface anywhere. Just slap one of the reusable adhesive patches onto the place you want to treat, snap the magnetic device into place, and turn it on for instant heat and soothing vibration.
Super Stay Vinyl Ink Longwear Liquid Lipcolor by Maybelline: A lipstick that truly lasts for hours
Many lipsticks claim to be transfer-proof, but tell-tale signs prove otherwise—ruby stains on a coffee cup, pink smudges inside a face mask, berry splotches after a smooch. Products that truly offer longevity usually manage the feat by drying with a plaster-like finish, leaving your lips feeling like drywall (and sometimes flaking as badly, too). Maybelline Vinyl Ink promises 16 hours of wear without any of those pitfalls. Seven years of research involving some 100 scientists are behind its dual-phase formula, which combines a long-wear pigment with an emollient silicone resin for moisture and shine. The two components purposefully stay separated until application, when the user shakes the tube to combine them—a process that borrows the trick protein shaker bottles use to blend powder and water on the go.