Best Serum: Sulwahsoo’s First Care Activating Serum

Hands down, the best serum on the market – we can stand behind that sentiment. The world now knows Korean beauty as synonymous with cutesy packaging, inexpensive products, jam-packed with efficacious ingredients. What most don’t know is how the country also develops the most innovative beauty products well, ever. Like Sulwahsoo’s First Care Activating Serum, which is formulated with traditional Korean medicinal herbs. Not only does it absorb quickly into the skin, it replenishes moisture loss and provides nutrients. That all means that you’ll get your best glow, well, ever.

BUY HERE: Sulwahsoo First Care Activating Serum, $84

Best Toner: AHC Face Toner

This toner is game-changing and complexion-altering. There, we said it. AHC’s toner isn’t only the best on the market, it’ll transform your skin from the inside out. Thanks to its lightweight formula filled with a triple blend of hyaluronic acids, ceramides, French Seawater, seaweed and more, it’ll drench into your every pore and give it life.

BUY HERE: AHC Face Toner, $26.99

Best Mask: Mediheal

How many times do you sit a little ~too~ long with a sheet mask, or the opposite, remove it too soon? With Mediheal’s offering, you won’t have to second guess as a magical “Mediheal” symbol will appear when it’s ready to peel off. The mask leaves your face looking as if you had a facial and you’ll go throughout the day (or into the night!) with plump, baby-soft skin.

BUY HERE: Mediheal 5-pack, $9.99

Best Exfoliator: AMOREPACIFIC Treatment Enzyme Peel Cleansing Powder, $60

This powerful formula starts off as powder and instantly turns into an exfoliating foam. With plant-derived enzymes, it removes dead skin cells, purifies the face, removes dirt, while moisturizing in the process. With green tea-derived probiotic and papaya enzymes, together, it leaves your face radiant and perfectly cleansed.

BUY HERE: AMOREPACIFIC Treatment Enzyme Peel Cleansing Powder, $60

Best Sleep Mask: Dr. Jart Water Fuse Sleep Mask

We’ve written about Dr. Jart’s innovative Water Fuse Sleep Mask. Not only does it do the hard work for you as you snooze, it’ll repair your moisture barrier for you. With Himalayan Pink Salt to strengthen the skin’s metabolism, Belgium Hot Spring Water to help sooth the pore, and Oligo-HA, promoting intense hydration, this sleep mask isn’t something to well, sleep on. Get this immediately.

BUY HERE: Dr. Jart Water Fuse Sleep Mask, $34

Best Oil Cleanser: Then I Met You’s Living Cleansing Balm, $38

Charlotte Cho did an amazing job with her brand Soko Glam, the first (and best!) e-commerce site offering Korean beauty products. Last year, she introduced her own brand, Then I Met You, a curated brand of beauty products with thoughtful ingredients. We named Then I Met You’s Living Cleansing Balm as the best oil cleanser last year and we’re naming it as a winner a second year in a row for good reason. Its velvety smooth sorbet-like texture melts into your pores, cleanses it completely, and leaves it better than ever. With powerful ingredients like sea buckthorn oil, persimmon extract, Vitamin E, and more, this will nurture your skin to health while cleansing it like nothing else on the market.

BUY HERE: Then I Met You Living Cleansing Balm, $38

Best SPF for Deeper Skintone: M-61 Hydroboost, $68

Like spotting a unicorn in the wild, discovering a daily, untinted SPF that truly works for dark complexions is a one-in-a-million experience. Meet your new leader: M-61, whose Hydraboost Moisturizer goes on invisible and rich, absorbing quickly with no ashy residue. Amazing!

BUY HERE: M-61 Hydroboost, $68

Best Tinted SPF: Elta MD, $31

No surprise that the best tinted SPF comes from our favorite sunscreen ever, Elta MD. This lightly tinted SPF 40 formula gives you a slightly airbrushed look. It’s lightweight, oil-free and gives you that all day glow.

EltaMD UV Daily Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 protects against damaging UVA and UVB rays to help combat the visible signs of aging. The lightly tinted formula evens tone, creating a smooth, flawless-looking complexion. It infuses your skin with lightweight moisture for a healthy look and comfortable wear.

Best Mist: Bathing Culture Neroli & Rose Mist, $24

When we first received a curious package from Bathing Culture, a new sustainable soap brand from San Francisco, we were a bit skeptical. After all, most brands that have the word “sustainable” with “beauty” are either ineffective, or underwhelming. Bathing Culture’s Neroli & Rose mist is neither. Its hydrating rose water mixed with neroli, an essential oil, drenches your skin intensely with moisture. So much so, that misting throughout the day won’t become a chore, rather, well, addictive. Be warned.

BUY HERE: Bathing Culture Neroli & Rose Mist, $24

Best Oil: Supernal Cosmic Glow Oil, $108

First of all, this oil from Supernal looks like the Wicked Witch of the West – in the best way, of course. The black dropper sits on top of a glass container full of emerald green oil. We have to admit, it’s absolutely, bewitchingly beautiful. But the oil isn’t just for your #shelfies or Instagram Stories. This is the real deal. The non-sticky, silky formula has Vitamin C, Omegas 3, 6, and 9 to give your skin that transfixing, other-worldly glow.

BUY HERE: Supernal Cosmic Glow Oil, $108

Best New Serums: Dr. Jart, Peptidin Serum $33

This new serum line from Dr. Jart has eight different peptide complexes, including peach flower extract, and helps treat dull, tired complexions. The result: recharged skin that brightens with use over time.

PREORDER HERE: Dr. Jart Peptidin Serum, $33

Best Moisturizer: Augustinus Bader The Cream, $170

Can a moisturizer have too much hype to fail? Sure. But that’s not the case for Augustinus Bader’s The Cream, a formula that’s revolutionized the beauty industry since it launched in the past few years. The intensively, super hydrating formula rejuvenates your complexion and gives it a much needed boost. With argan, avocado, omega 6 fatty acids, and more, this is complete magic in a bottle.

BUY HERE: Augustinus Bader The Cream, $170

Best Multi-Purpose Balm: Charlotte Tilbury’s Multi-Miracle Glow Balm, $60

Is there a perfect consistency when it comes to beauty products? Yes, we found it. For a second year in a row, we’re naming Charlotte Tilbury’s Multi-Miracle Glow Balm as the best balm ever. The velvety, jelly-like formula has nourishing Vitamins A, C, and E as well as amazing camellia and rose hip moils to soften your face. Use it as a moisturizer, a face mask, or a treatment for deeply dry, cracked skin. One of the best products you’ll come across your beauty journey – guaranteed.

BUY HERE: Charlotte Tilbury Multi-Miracle Glow Balm, $60

Best Gel Cleanser: L’Occitane Cleansing Gel-to-Foam, $24

This L’Occitane cleanser is the freshest cleanser on the market. Not only does it have a beautiful fragrance, its gel-to-foam formula provides your skin looking its dewiest finish, ever. Rich with zinc, this cucumber-infused product removes all impurities, makeup while being super gentle to your pores.

BUY HERE:  L’Occitane Cleansing Gel-to-Foam, $24

Best Oil to Liquid Cleanser: Mamonde, Petal Spa Oil to Foam Cleanser, $21

Mamonde’s Petal Spa Oil-to-Foam cleanser does all the work so you don’t have to. Think of it as a double cleanse in a single bottle. The innovative formula contains soapberry extracts, rose oils, and more for a thorough cleanse that’ll remove all makeup, sunscreen, or oil residue throughout the day. Call it a miracle in a bottle.

BUY HERE: Mamonde Petal Spa Oil to Foam Cleanser, $21

Very Good Light Lightning Awards

Best Vegan Cleanser: Indie Lee, $34

There are some skeptics out there who think because a product is vegan it’s not as effective. To that, we say this: Lies! This vegan cleanser from Indie Lee isn’t only powerful, it’s clean as well. With strawberry seed oil, tomato extracts, wheat protein, this formula leaves your skin squeaky clean with a silky, luminous finish.

BUY HERE: Indie Lee, $34

Best Under Eye Cream: AMOREPACIFIC Time Reserve Eye Reserve Cream, $260

Yes, this eye cream is bougie. Yes, it’ll be one you’ll need to save for. Yes, it’s worth it. The buttery formula quickly absorbs around your eyes and immediately hydrates, softens and almost irons out any and all wrinkles. With concentrated green tea, a powerful antioxidant, this will leave you eyes looking the best it ever has.

BUY HERE: AMOREPACIFIC Time Reserve Eye Reserve Cream, $260

Best Lip Mask: InnisFree Green Tea Hydrating Lip Sleeping Mask, $16

We’ve come across so many lip masks over the years. Some are way too sticky for its own good. Others leave your lips hydrated but not soft. This no-fuss lip mask from InnisFree isn’t only 99.99% natural, it packed with green tea antioxidants as well as green tea seed oil from Korea’s own Jeju island. The formula will leave your lips kissably smooth and perfect for the New Year’s countdown.

BUY HERE: InnisFree Green Tea Hydrating Lip Sleeping Mask, $16

Best Acne Spot Treatment: AcneFree Terminator 10 Spot Treatment, $5

How much would you pay to zap away cystic bumps? Thousands? Hundreds? How about just $5. This spot treatment from AcneFree does exactly what it says it will – terminates any inflamed, angry red bumps. It’s the best and possibly most affordable option when it comes to destroying those pesky cysts.

BUY HERE: AcneFree Terminator 10 Spot Treatment, $5

Best Hyaluronic Acid: Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Serum, $300

Okay, this isn’t for the faint of heart – or wallet. For $300 a serum better do its job and go above and beyond. This hyaluronic serum goes above and beyond. Not only do the small hyaluronic acid molecules seep into your skin, they do so, so effectively, you’ll have an all-day glow. More importantly, the formula also has purslane, a potent antioxidant that stimulates the rejuvenation of skin. AKA yes, your skin will thank you over, and over, and over again.

BUY HERE: Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Serum, $300

Lip Balm: Olio E Osso, $28

For the second year in a row, we’ve named the best balm to Oilo E Osso. And it’s for pretty obvious reasons. The balm is so buttery and velvety smooth, it soothes your lips and gives you instant hydration. The formula is as effective as it is simple with beeswax, shea nut oil, olive fruit oils as well as eucalyptus, it’s a perfect combination for your softest lips ever.

BUY HERE: Olio E Osso, $28

Skinnovation Award: Apostrophe

There are DTC brands that prescribe creams. But then there’s Apostrophe, a skincare focused brand that prescribes medications over the Internet. The process is simple and in no time, a dermatologist sends over RX to help your skin with problem areas like acne. Along with a cream, the two will give you ~real~ results along with around-the-clock responses from professionals.


Photos by: Chad Chisholm, Custom Creations Photography @chadjchis

2019 Lightning Award Winner Judges
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