Looking back on this past year, I can say 2018 has been one of my favorites: my acne flare ups became a distant memory (thus why the category has been removed this year); pregnancy and the birth of Chloe showed me the joys of motherhood – and the need for clean, efficacious and safe baby products; and while dry/dehydrated skin and perioral dermatitis persisted, I found a rhythm of gentle skincare products to help with both giving me my best skin to-date!
Typically, I reserve this best-of list for year end, but it always seems to hit at an inopportune time after the holiday sales. So this year I’m switching it up and sharing my list of the best products I tested in 2018 at the beginning of December divided into eight categories: Dry Skin, Dermatitis, Brightening, Hair, Body, Health, Makeup and Pregnancy/Baby!
Dry skin forever plagues me. But this year I discovered it doesn’t take 1002837x layered products to achieve hydration, just a few good ones.
- Osea Malibu Milk Cleanser is hands down my favorite milk cleanser for dry skin. Once I learned during my interview with celebrity aesthetician Angelina Umansky that foaming cleansers can strip skin of its natural oils causing dehydration, I was all-in on milk cleansers. This one by Osea is great for dehydrated AND inflamed skin since it soothes redness associated with dermatitis and rosacea. Unlike other milk cleansers, which contain animal derived milk/lactic (irritating for some), this one contains a small amount of witch hazel and white water lily (a natural source of citric acid) to encourage gentle cell turnover.
- The Konjac Company Angel Konjac Cloth is a cloth sponge made from konjac vegetable fibers I cannot live without! Over the years, I’ve found muslin cloths, wash cloths, and cleansing wipes too abrasive for my sensitive skin. This sponge-like cloth removes milk cleansers while gliding over the skin keeping the barrier intact – perfect for use on inflamed, breakout-prone skin. Each sponge lasts 4-6 weeks.
- Osea Malibu Hyaluronic Sea Serum has a special place in my heart. FINALLY a hyaluronic acid serum that does not pile! It contains three different sizes of hyaluronic acid molecules which allows for penetration of various layers of skin, and organic seaweed extract full of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals.
- VENN All-In-One Concentrate. When I switched to nontoxic skincare, I left behind K-beauty since so many Korean beauty products contain fragrances and parabens. So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered the newly launched nontoxic Korean skincare brand VENN. Their All-In-One Concentrate is a serum+moisturizer combo that hydrates, fights signs of aging and protects against free-radical damage. My skin looks brighter and the fine lines on my forehead smoother when I use this moisturizer consistently. But what I love most about it is its ability to provide weightless moisture; perfect for those with dry skin who hate heavy creams.
- 5YINA Divine All Seasons Biocellulose Mask . Nontoxic sheet masks are hard to come by, but this one by 5YINA made with a blend of Chinese herbs is my favorite! It is packed with antioxidants like jujube, ginseng root, and goji to support the skin, while a blend of peptides encourages collagen synthesis and improves hydration.
I ditched the actives this year and explored a pared back routine when it came to my perioral dermatitis. Healing rose and shea butter were at the forefront of managing my PD.
- Ranavat Botanics Rose Tonique. One of the biggest challenges for me is maintaining a healthy, strong skin barrier. Over cleansing or cleansers with surfactants (even some micellar waters have surfactants) tend to strip, dry and irritate my skin resulting in dermatitis breakouts. Eschewing cleansing in the morning has helped, a lot. I love using this pure organic rose hydrosol sprayed on a cotton pad to wipe my skin in the morning. Rose is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiseptic and hydrating so it’s able to gentle cleanse and tone my skin simultaneously.
- Mother Dirt AO Mist. Maintaining a balanced skin microbiome is essential to any acne or dermatitis skincare plan. In the past, I’ve been a big proponent of Marie Veronique’s Barrier Restore Serum, which contains probiotics, but it’s a tad pricey and the texture is a bit sticky. Which is why Mother Dirt’s AO Mist has become my new favorite barrier strengthening product! It contains live probiotics that help to rebalance skin and improve inflammatory breakouts. The mist is meant to be sprayed on the skin as a last step in your skincare routine, but sometimes I use it as a toner.
- MV Skincare Rose Plus Booster . The ingredients in this oil are so simple, but yet, it’s such a powerful product (thus, why it’s a multiple award winning.) When I’ve over exfoliated my skin or irritated it with a drying mask, this is one of the products I turn to. The camellia soothes inflammation as does the Bulgarian rose, and I love that it’s organic!
- Marie Veronique Color Free Daily Sunscreen SPF 20. This product has been sold out since day one or two of its initial launch. As I write this, I’m pretty sure it’s still sold out. This zinc sunscreen is super gentle and never irritates my skin especially when I have dermatitis outbreaks AND it’s colorless. Let me say that again – COLORLESS. No white cast, no heavy film, no tint of any kind. All you get is a subtle dewy finish and great physical protection. While I wish it was higher than 20 SPF, it’s hard to complain about this gorgeous, gentle sunscreen.
- LXMI Nilotica Melt is what I use most nights to seal in moisture, provide barrier protection and heal dermatitis outbreaks around my mouth and chin. It’s made with organic Nilotica nut butter, a relative of Shea butter that contains 30% more oleic acid; the fatty acid best for dry skin types. I was talking with a beauty blogger on IG from South Africa and she was telling me that there Shea is seen as a medicinal product. Sort of like how here in the states we go to the drugstore to buy hydrocortisone cream. There, Shea is used for burns, bites, dry skin, inflamed skin, etc. – it’s that powerful. Which makes sense why it does such a great job at soothing my dry, inflamed skin. The LXMI Nilotica Melt is my fave, but the Eugenia Shea Butter is a less expensive alternative I also really like.
- Gaelle Organic Ultra Sensitive Creme uses the healing, anti-inflammatory powers of bovine colostrum and is one of my favorite soothing moisturizers for dry, irritated skin. Bovine colostrum has been found in studies to speed wound healing, reduce inflammation and support healthy tissue repair of skin, muscle, cartilage and bone (read my full review here.) The texture of this cream is thick, and a little goes a long way. It’s best for someone who lives in harsh winter conditions, has seriously parched skin and loves a rich texture. (Use code BONDENAVANT for 15% off.)
- REN Clean Skincare Evercalm Mask. Dealing with inflammatory skin issues means flares at the worst times. Soothing them with cold compresses and a hydrating, calming mask like the REN Evercalm Mask is my secret weapon. This mask works right away and feels really good on. If you want to splurge, I recommend the Biologique Recherche Creme Masque Vernix as a great emergency 911 mask, but if you don’t want to spend $190, the REN mask is a really good affordable option.
These products are effective brighteners for sensitive, fragile skin. If strong acids traumatize your skin (like mine), these faves are wonderful alternatives that will give your skin a beautiful all around glow.
- Luna Nectar Heliophilia Glow & Fix Serum. This oil is fantastic for brightening pigment and giving an overall glow to the skin! It uses squalene as a base, which is really good for sensitive skin, and combines the antioxidant healing powers of big hitters like rosehip, camellia, jojoba and chia seed oils. The texture is heavier than the product describes, meaning 2-3 drops is all you need. The bottle is huge so will last you a long time.
- Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Moisturizer . Anytime I ever mention this moisturizer to someone who has already tried it I get the same response, “OMG – I love it too!” This moisturizer is such a crowd pleaser because it produces insane results – smoother, brighter, more hydrated skin. I was initially concerned the fruit acids would irritate my skin, but they’re super gentle and encourage cell turnover for brighter skin without causing any redness or irritation breakouts.
- Goldfaden Brightening Elixir. Everyone should incorporate a Vitamin C serum into their routine. It’s one of those non-negotiables if you want good skin because Vitamin C is essential for combating daily skin aggressors like pollution and UV rays. This one by Goldfaden is SO GOOD and gentle. It’s a blend of Vitamin C, E and B that delivers brighter skin really quickly. I noticed fading of sun spots within days of starting this serum.
- Biologique Recherche p50W. There’s been a P50 craze as of late and when I decided to try the renowned French brand, Biologique Recherche, I knew that’s where I was going to start. The P50W that I tested is made for sensitive skin, but it ended up being too intense for me to use every day. When I scaled back and used it a few times a week, I saw the best results (read my full review here.)
- REN Clean Skincare Ready Steady Glow is a great alternative to the Biologique Recherche P50! Even though it has citrus oils, which can sometimes irritate sensitive skin, they didn’t irritate my skin at all. The results this toner produced were comparable to the p50W (read my full review here.)
- My Skin Buddy. When my aesthetician girlfriend first introduced me to the My Skin Buddy, I thought it was a little gimicky, but then she showed me before and after images of her faded sun spots from using the device for a week and I was blown away! The LED device offers three lights: blue (acne), red (anti-aging), and green (pigment). The green light setting is what I use most! It’s helped to reduce red inflammation around my mouth and lighten pigment with daily use! (Watch my IG stories full review of the device.)
This year was less about hair-thinning, and more about strengthening my hair with the help of detoxing shampoos, hydrating products and accessories to prevent breakage.
- Ursa Major Go Easy Daily Shampoo. This shampoo seems so simple from the offset, but when you look at the ingredient deck you realize how thoughtful and complex it really is. Nourishing aloe juice (not water) makes up the base along with macadamia oil – whose fatty acid content makes it great for smoothing frizz, nourishing hair follicles, adding strength and shine. Licorice root extract is added to prevent hair loss, and juniper essential oil treats scalp itchiness, psoriasis, eczema and dandruff. While I love the ingredients and the refreshing herbal scent, it’s the lather, due to sodium lauroly methyl isethionate – a gentle, safe coconut surfactant, not to be confused with sodium laurel sulfate, that really hooks you in. I could go on and on (which I do in this review here), but long story short – this is my new favorite green shampoo!
- Rahua Hydration Conditioner. I like to go light and detoxing with my shampoo, and rich and hydrating with my conditioners. This one by Rahua leaves my hair silky and my strands smooth while feeling weightless! I recently started to curl my hair with a curling iron for special occasions and the heat damage can already be seen. This conditioner smooths out my damaged, dry ends.
- Playa Pure Dry Shampoo . I am obsessed with the lightweight, non-sticky feel of this dry shampoo and its gorgeous scent! It’s great for those who shampoo every other day or, like myself, shampoo in the evenings and then want a little texture and lift in the morning. If you’re someone who likes to go 3,4, maybe 5 days without shampooing – you may want something more heavy duty like R+Co Death Valley Dry Shampoo.
- Aquis Waffle Luxe Turban. This hair wrap is a MUST. Wrapping large towels around your hair can pull on strands and cause follicles to weaken or prematurely break. I love this gentle hair wrap that speeds drying and is so gentle. Not sure why I went so long without getting one of these.
- Sisley-Paris Precious Hair Care Oil. If you have thin, dry hair and need something to give it life and moisture, this hair oil is for you. My mom has the thinnest, sparsest hair and this oil works wonders for her. While visiting, she tested out this hair oil and then proceeded to forced me to give up my bottle to her, which I did since I’m a good daughter (sigh). It’s lightweight, quickly absorbs and contains a proprietary herbal blend that stimulates hair growth. It’s a tad on the expensive side, but one or two pumps is all you need and the bottle is huge!
Reducing anxiety and getting quality sleep (or any sleep at all) were the big priorities for me this year. These products helped me achieve both.
- Beekeepers Naturals Propolis Spray is made of 95% propolis, non-GMO vegetable glycerin and purified water. It’s a cure-all I keep on hand at all times because of its antiseptic, antibacterial, anti fungal properties. Usually, I’ll spray it directly into my mouth every morning for allergy-fighting, immunity boosting holistic care or add a few sprays to my water bottle (read about the benefits of propolis here).
- Juna NUDE Hemp CBD Drops. When I want to unwind and find clarity, usually at the end of the day before I get ready to meditate or if I’m heading out to a social event and want to calm my social anxiety, I’ll squirt a dropper full of Juna’s NUDE Hemp CBD oil under my tongue. I feel comforted knowing I’m ingesting a product made from sunshine grown, CO2 farmed, non isolate CBD that works as an adaptogen to create homeostasis in my body reducing inflammation. I feel relaxed, tuned-in and clear for a few hours after taking this wellness supplememt, and highly recommend these drops to anyone looking for a quality CBD tincture.
- Goop x CB2 Sedona Small Zafu Meditation Pillow. This gorgeous pillow set made from organic, vegetable fibers (the round zafu pillow is made with buckwheat hulls that stifle moisture and heat, and the larger sedona pillow has the feel of down filling, though it’s made with vegetable kapok fibers) looks great in my living room and is a constant reminder to meditate and breathe. I use it a few times a week and am so thankful it came into my life this year. I’ve been feeling more anxious these days and meditating has helped immensely.
- HUM Nutrition Beauty ZZZ. I love this melatonin supplement! I’ve tried a few others that make me feel groggy, but love that this one does not. There have been countless sleepless nights since our beautiful Chloe came into our lives, but taking HUM Nutrition’s zzZ melatonin supplement before I go to bed helps me fall asleep faster AND fall back asleep quickly after waking for night feedings. I love that it contains calcium, which the brain uses to manufacture its own melatonin, and B6, an essential component that helps the body make the hormone serotonin (which regulates mood) and norepinephrine (helps the body cope with stress).
The below natural makeup picks give me flawless skin without the heaviness, along with a gorgeous flush, glow and bright lips – everything I need to revive myself as a new mom.
- Lilah B Glow & Glisten Highlighter Primer Duo. The more I use this primer highlighter duo, the more I fall in love with it! As an all-over primer – it hides texture imperfections while giving just the right amount of brightness to hide sallow, dull skin. As a highlighter – the accent it gives cheekbones is so subtle and pretty no one will know you have makeup on. Other highlighters have too much mica or white tone to them giving a fake-y look on my yellow skin tone. This one has just a touch of warmth to it making it great for warm or cool skin tones. I find myself reaching for this product again and again.
- Kosas Tinted Face Oil is my favorite full face product I tested this year! There’s so much I could say, but to quickly sum it all up, it’s just a beautifully made product that’s great for your skin and covers imperfections expertly. The botanical oils sink into the skin leaving a semi matte, smooth finish. You’ll feel like you’re wearing NOTHING. And the medium coverage hides pigment spots, red acne marks, and uneven skin tone with a natural finish.
- Koh Gen Do Maifanshi Moisture Fit Concealer. Japanese women are known for their flawless skin, but I’m pretty sure their secret (in addition to great skincare) is the Japanese makeup brand, Koh Gen Doh. The blush, primers and highlighter I tested from Koh Gen Do all deserve honorable mention, but its their Maifanshi Moisture Fit Concealer that took my breath away! The first time I used it to spot cover a few red acne marks, the concealer blended with a simple stroke of my finger. It absorbed slightly, but spread thin and smooth becoming almost invisible. Once applied, I couldn’t tell where the concealer started and stopped. It just looked like skin.
- Lilah B Cheek & Lip Duo in B Sassy. There’s something special about this hot pink lip and cheek duo. With one dab you’ll look like you have naturally pink flushed lips. With two dabs you’ll look like you were just making out with your boyfriend. With three dabs you’ll be sporting a vibrant hot pink and ready for the club. I found myself reaching for this feminine pink lippie over and over again.
- Kosas Lipstick in Phoenix . I love Kosas lipsticks, but this new red color they recently launched is so flattering! I normally don’t go for reds – especially if they’re blue toned and scream “look at me” – but this red is earthy, rich, and sports a low-key confident vibe. The warm tones bring harmony to the face rather than center the focus on just the lips. I like it best blotted for an all day stain!
- Juice Beauty Phyto Pigments Brow Gel. I’ve searched high and low for the best brow gel for dark Asian brows and this one is by far the winner! The color matches my grey, brown brows perfectly and the brush doesn’t deposit too much product. (I hate when brow gels make my brows wet!) This gives just the right amount of color and hold.
These nontoxic picks carried me through pregnancy (without any stretch marks) and have helped soothe the baby skin issues we’ve run into like contact dermatitis, diaper rashes, eczema flares and more.
- Erbaviva Refreshing Foot Balm. As a first time mom, I wasn’t expecting my feet to hurt so bad or my ankles to swell so much during pregnancy! This warming foot balm from Ervaviva was the best thing I ever discovered while pregnant this year. The refreshing scent of citrus, woodsy cypress and spicy ginger invigorates the skin and senses, and imparts a tingly feeling! I loved massaging my feet and ankles with this balm during the third trimester.
- LoveBug Probiotics Labor Of Love . I’m a big proponent of probiotics, so of course during pregnancy making sure I supported my digestive function with probiotics specially formulated for pregnant moms was a big focus for me. I discovered LoveBug Probiotics made with a proprietary blend of 8 strains specifically blended for pregnancy and took it all throughout my pregnancy.
- Lina Hanson Baby Oil . I can’t say for sure, but I think this baby oil from Lina Hanson is why I don’t have any stretch marks after having Chloe. I used it religiously during pregnancy and now use it on Chloe after baths. It’s incredibly gentle, contains no essential oils or actives, and is made mainly of Kalahari Melon Seed Oil that is 70% linoleic acid; an essential fatty acid (omega-6) for cellular repair and hydration. Plus, I LOVE the gorgeous melon scent!
- Era Organics Baby Wash . Era Organics makes some of my favorite cleansers for sensitive skin. Their Cleanse + Restore Natural Face Wash helped me during my worst PD outbreaks and now their baby wash is my favorite for Chloe! In addition to being organic, its paraben-free, perfume-free, gluten-free, sulfate-free, mineral-oil free, and free of dyes. It’s also vegan and cruelty-free. But best of all, like all of Era Organics cleansers, it has a pH of 5.5 (ideal for maintaining the skin’s barrier)!
- Ever-Eden Diaper Rash Cream. This is my FAVORITE diaper rash cream. It works so well, almost overnight. The gentle formula uses 14% naturally derived zinc oxide to create a protective barrier between the skin and the diaper allowing the skin to be soothed by a blend of hydrating oils (sunflower, grape, castor, jojoba, Kakadu plum and coconut).
- Soap Nuts . My daughter, like her mother, has extremely sensitive skin. Most baby detergents we tried irritated her skin and caused contact dermatitis rashes, so I tested out these natural soap nuts I found online. These soap “nuts” are actually dried berries that have a natural sudsing ability from saponin; a natural cleanser that works as a surfactant. It’s very, very mild, does not have any scent, the foaming is very minimal and they’re wild harvested so they aren’t tainted by chemicals, fertilizers or pesticides. Once I switched to these nuts, which can be reused up to 10x, Chloe’s dermatitis went away right away. They’re also great for kids with eczema. *I keep mine in a small nylon bag with holes that I toss into the wash with her baby clothes.
- Majka Lactation Protein Powder. This protein lactation power has helped me get out of two low-supply nightmares. Oddly, both happened just days before I was going out of town and would be away from Chloe. We had to use up all of the stored milk and the most recent time we had to supplement a few feedings with formula while I was away. It was heart wrenching. But once I got home and back on a regular schedule drinking my Majka smoothies every morning, my milk came back full force (and then some) after 36 hours. The powder supplement is expensive, but in my experience – it works. I keep a tub on hand for supply dips. (Read my full review here.)
- The Konjac Company 100% Pure Konjac Sponge Round. I purchased baby wash cloths before Chloe was born, but found when I actually used them, that they were too thick, rough and heavy once soaked with water. I started using konjac sponges on Chloe and I’ve never gone back! They’re so gentle and make rinsing her hair a breeze – I just fill the sponge with water and squeeze it over her head. *I throw out the sponge and replace it with a new one every 4-6 weeks.
Written by Amy Chang; main image photographed by Wing Ta for BOND EN AVANT