Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Courtesy of Michelle Lee, Retailers
On the Beauty Group, a Facebook community co-founded by the Cut and the Strategist, people chat all day long about the products they love — the ones so good they’ll make you hit that little “auto-refill” box at checkout. Below, we asked one of our favorite beauty pros to share her own selections.
“Efficacy is obviously the most important,” says Michelle Lee of the factor that sets apart her favorite beauty products from the thousands on the market. But the former Allure editor-in-chief — Lee is now the head of global editorial and publishing at Netflix after six years at the magazine — also considers a few other factors: scent (“A hair mask could work great, but if it’s too heavily fragranced, it’ll never make my list”), packaging (“I immediately disliked a product recently because it was shipped in blatantly wasteful packaging”), and price (“There are some absolutely terrible, overly priced hyaluronic-acid serums out there, and people spend way too much money on prestige mascaras when the drugstore ones are phenomenal”).
You may be surprised to hear that what draws Lee’s attention these days are brands that are trying to improve already trusted ingredients. Take Matter of Fact, a new beauty line in which Lee is an investor. The brand, which launches today, offers just two products: a vitamin-C serum and a moisturizer. “It’s taking two things that everyone knows and loves and saying ‘How can we vastly improve these?’” says Lee. (Lee met the founder, Paul Baek, through mutual friends and got to test this product when it was still a lab sample.)
“I’ve been on a journey to find the best daily sunscreen that wears well and doesn’t pill under makeup. This lightly tinted one is perfect for everyday wear and leaves my skin feeling moisturized and slightly dewy. It’s my holy grail. It is also gratifying that it’s consistently a favorite of dermatologists.”
“It’s been so hard to find a good vitamin-C (a.k.a. ascorbic-acid) serum. The ones that are a smooth, serum texture oxidize and turn orange too fast; the ones that are waterless, and therefore stable, tend to feel gritty and ball up when layered with other products. The Ascorbic Acid 20 serum somehow manages to be a smooth, serum texture with absolutely no sandiness but is waterless and fully stabilized. And no, it doesn’t smell like hot dogs! My dark spots are starting to fade, and I swear it helped my rosacea.”
“I do winged eyeliner almost every day, so I’ve tested pretty much every liner pen out there. The brush tip and non-smudge formula of this one put it at the top of the heap.”
“My daily skin goal is to look dewy but not greasy. Most skin tints are too light coverage for my taste, but this one is a nice balance of blur and breathable. I’ll take down the shine a little with a sweep of translucent powder at the hot spots of my face afterward, but it’s my favorite new complexion product. I use the shade ‘Light.’”
“Matter of Fact’s C Serum will get all the attention — deservedly so — but the Minimalist Hydrating Cream is no joke. There’s no fragrance, and it absorbs quickly. Its simplicity may not hit you with the razzle-dazzle at first, but it’s actually what my skin needs, without some of the excess b.s.”
“If you take the time to do your nails, it’s a major bummer to get a ding or smudge. Miss Pop introduced me to these magical post-polish drops. All quick-dry drops are not created equally: Some can make your polish chip faster, but the Zoya ones accelerate the drying process, and my polish still stays looking good for the long haul.”
“For anyone with short, straight lashes like mine, a lash curler and waterproof mascara are key — waterproof simply holds a curl better than regular formulas, in my experience. I use this drugstore standby for a more everyday, natural look, not when I’m looking for full drama. My lashes don’t wilt by the end of the day, and I don’t get the dreaded raccoon run-off either.”
“I have very dry skin, so I like to slather two pumps of this fresh-smelling hyaluronic-acid cream-gel all over my face after a shower, right before applying any other serums and moisturizers. My skin drinks it in, and it doesn’t pill under makeup like some other HA gels can. I love the big size of the pump, and it’s sold at Target, so it’s really accessible.”
“This has been a relatively new discovery for me. I saw this brand on Instagram when Katie Jane Hughes was using it, and I wanted to try their Brow Sculpt first, which creates that popular feathered-brow look. But when I got the products, I also tried the pencil, which to me is the real winner. It’s a highly pigmented, super-skinny pencil that fills in sparse areas nicely but, more important, can mimic individual brow hairs with a delicate flick.”
“I’ve tried practically every deep-conditioning hair mask out there, and this is my newest favorite. Created by Chris Appleton (J.Lo and Kim Kardashian’s hair guy), it hydrates and repairs hair, leaving it intensely glossy and manageable. It’s on the pricier side, but a little goes a long way: A little dollop in the shower, and it gives hair amazing slip — tangles get worked out within a few seconds. My elder daughter gets pretty bad knots in the back of her hair sometimes, so this has been a lifesaver on several occasions.”