While the fashion industry struggled through a year of hard pivoting as we all eschewed day dresses and suit pants and retreated into loungewear cocoons, companies in the beauty space thrived. What else was there to do in lockdown but treat our skin, hair and bodies with lush oils and sheet masks?

It was a year of pampering, so naturally many of the products we loved are best suited to long, languid soaks in the tub or relaxing in front of your seventh Gossip Girl re-run. But as our cities reopened, our interest returned to glossy mascaras, the glowiest of highlighters and statement fragrances. Here are our favourite releases of the year.

Orb Oils

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With Orb Oils, the company they launched in late 2020, co-founders Stacey Pinchbeck and Emma Smith wanted to create an inclusive, gender-neutral fragrance brand. “Traditional fragrances are positioned as male or female, and are usually about being desired,” they say. Orb Oils, on the other hand are designed to match your personality type, and help you feel “amazing and powerful about self”. Our pick is River, a heady mix of amber and cedarwood.

Sans Ceuticals Activator 7 Oil

Hailing from New Zealand, Sans Ceuticals aims to produce clean and sustainable beauty products. Its Activator 7 Oil (which can be used on hair, face and body) is definitely a standout – featuring omegas 3, 6 and 9 as well as vitamin E and active vitamin A, it’s a great all-rounder for skin nourishment.

Ultra Violette Lean Screen SPF50+

Already one of the most popular sunscreen brands in Australia, Ultra Violette took things next level this year by releasing a physical sunscreen that manages to remain lightweight on skin. Plus it doesn’t throw a white cast, making it a great option for those with darker skin tones.

Alpha-H Vitamin Serums

Paring things back to the basics, this year Alpha-H released a series of simple serums, with each one focused on a single vitamin. If you’ve become overwhelmed by products with complex lists of vitamins and nutrients, these should help narrow it down. The Vitamin C is a great daytime antioxidant to assist in stimulating collagen production, while the Vitamin E is gentle on irritated skin types, helping to restore the skin barrier.

Yours Only Clean and Coat

Yours Only founder Ashli Templer grew up with skin conditions and intolerances, but things got particularly intense when she was diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease in 2013. She set out to create skincare products she could use without risk of irritation, and settled on the formulations in Yours Only. Both Clean (a no-nonsense cleanser that can be used on face and body) and Coat (a rich all-over moisturiser designed to hydrate dry and extra dry skin types) are formulated without a lot of the ingredients that have been linked to skin or body irritation, such as parabens and mineral oil. Both products are great on eczema prone skin (as this Broadsheet writer can attest) but Coat is our pick – a truly nourishing, heavy cream that feels great on itchy, irritated skin.

Who Is Elijah Perfume
Another new fragrance house dedicated to gender-neutral scents, Who Is Elijah creates products with that lived-in feel to them. His/Her is a standout – a woody, spicy-musky mix of bergamot, cardamom, sandalwood and amber.

Frank Body Fizzy Body Scrub

While we wouldn’t say this body scrub is any better or worse than Frank’s famous coffee version, its delicious candy scent and fun fizziness (thanks to sodium bicarbonate) were a welcome addition to our 2020 showers.

Cosmetics 27 Recovery 27 serum

Cannabis? In skin care? Well, cannabis sativa seed extract, yes. Cannabis extracts were all the rage in skin care this year – Eve Lom, Kiehl’s and local brands like Cannabella all spruiked products involving the plant in some form. This serum was a favourite, though – it’s gentle even on irritated skin thanks to that cannabis sativa seed extract, which helps soothe and support skin health.

Aceology Blue Ice Globe facial massager set

If you’ve got easily irritated skin, these facial massagers could be your new favourite when it comes to immediate relief. While the initial experience is definitely weird (rolling icy, thermometer-shaped globes over your face and eyes isn’t part of the average beauty routine), the results are worth it – we found a reduction in redness, swelling and irritation after just a few minutes.