These 17 Skincare Trends Will Be Huge in 2021—Here’s What Renée Thinks of Them

With over three decades working hands-on as an esthetician, it’s safe to say I have gained a lot of experience and knowledge to qualify as a true expert. In addition, my continued desire to learn about the ever-evolving industry helps me keep my finger on the pulse. I do this by attending trade shows (well, pre-pandemic!), keeping up with the skincare conversations online, reviewing scientific research, and being a formulator with access to amazing chemists. Based on what I’m seeing and reading, these are the top trends that are getting a lot of buzz—whether I believe in them or not.

Without further ado, 17 trends I think will be huge this coming year (and what I really think of them!).

1. Blue Light-Blocking Products

By now you’ve probably heard of “blue light”, a high-energy visible light emitted from phones, computer screens, and LED lights. It is thought to create damage within the skin, including pigmentation and collagen breakdown. This year especially, with Zoom replacing most in-person contact, we are now in front of screens more than ever. Since skincare is all about problem-solving, what we’ll see in 2021 is more brands capitalizing on the opportunity to target products to help prevent damage cause by blue light.

Worried about blue light damage from the past? Well, I have some great news for you! If you #ObeyRenee, then you may have read in many of my posts like this one that I have always encouraged people to wear liquid or powder foundation makeup. This really helps to provide additional protection from the sun. The good news is that new research shows wearing makeup helps protect you against blue light! This is thanks to the iron oxides used in most foundation makeups. So if you choose not to purchase specific products marketed for preventing blue light damage, then just make sure you’re wearing a good antioxidant serum daily followed by sunscreen and a liquid or powder foundation. Ingredients to look for are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. If your skin is prone to clogged pores, see my list of the best liquid foundations.

Read more about blue light and how it affects your skin.

2. Skin Acceptance 

One of the great things about social media is that you can choose to follow people who use it as a platform to get “real” about their appearance. This includes pictures that aren’t retouched as well as candid words and voices about life’s struggles when it comes to appearance. One such challenge is for those with acne, and I recently wrote a whole skin acceptance post about it where we even had a therapist weigh in.

Why I think this will be a big trend in 2021 (and hopefully become a mainstay) is because the pandemic really humbled all of us. Life is no longer focused on impressing others with an outward appearance (even though when you look good, you do feel good), but rather, many are focused inward. This includes getting real with our mental health in a new way than ever before. It’s well known that support groups have always worked; when you don’t feel alone in whatever struggle you have and you can share and bond with others about it, you will feel better. In the case of skin acceptance, people are letting go of the shame and accepting that it’s just a part of life.

While my job is always to help people keep their skin clear and looking its best with my line of skincare products, I just don’t have a magic wand to wave so you never have a negative skin issue again—no one does. So, adding in a dose of self-acceptance and getting support from others can go a long way. People who do a great job on Instagram as skin positivity advocates are Kali of @myskinstory, @lounorthcote, and @skinnoshame.

3. In Search of a Tighter Jawline 

Beauty’s most wanted last year was a defined jawline, replaced with the previous trend of high cheekbones. Both of these features (plus one more that I mention in this post,) add to a more youthful-looking appearance. Between fillers, threading, traditional facelifts, and skin-tightening treatments like Ultherapy and Coolsculpting, there is no shortage of options to seek that my help give you your dream jawline. Unfortunately, there is no magic topical cream that can ever replace the results of professional treatments, but caring for the neck area should still be a focus in your skincare routine. As told in this Vogue video, Lisa Rinna adores Intensive Firming Neck Creme and uses it every single day.

2021 will continue to bring out more innovation and advancements for tightening the neck but it will be with professional procedures.

4. At-Home Tools and Devices

There is no shortage of innovation when it comes to tools and devices to complement your skincare routine. This has been especially true in 2020 when professional skincare services were (and many still are) limited, so we’ll see more of these coming out. As mentioned in my devices post, I’m a fan of some, but not of others.

It’s hard for me to predict what the next tool might be but since contouring and jawline skin tightening are a big focus, I’m sure there will be ones that target this concern. I also think there will be more devices coming out for use exclusively on the body.

Some of my esthetician friends recently launched their own facial devices. Check out what my friends Shani Darden and Joanna Vargas have added to their lines!

5. Slugging

This trend was all over Reddit a few years back but as you can see in this graphic from @glowgraphs, it’s trending in a big way. So, what is slugging? It’s where you slather Vaseline (petroleum jelly) on your face in an effort to repair your skin’s barrier from damage due to over-exfoliating, retinoids, and other factors such as cold weather. With the winter here, this will be a big trend that many people might be tempted to try.

So, should you hop on this trend and give it a shot if you suspect your barrier needs some love? Well, it definitely works as a temporary measure for dry skin types and I know that a lot of dermatologists recommend it, but I personally wouldn’t suggest permanently substituting petrolatum as your regular moisturizer. Sure, it’s inexpensive and has a low risk of irritation but I don’t recommend it long term. Also, while it does provide protection for moisture loss, the product doesn’t contain any lipids of its own so it’s can really fix the underlying issue. This means that it isn’t a long-term solution to repairing barrier damage, but rather a band-aid to help you deal with the symptoms of a damaged barrier instead of addressing the underlying issue. There are more well-formulated products available that can help you repair it long-term. I recommend you try Phytolipid Comfort Creme, which uses moisturizing lipids oils and regenerators like sunflower seed oil, phospholipids, and rosemary leaf extract that help correct the skin to act in a healthier way.

Note: If you are prone to clogged pores, slugging may not be the trend for you to try. I go into great detail about slugging in this post.

6. Skin Barrier Repair

I heard more talk about barrier repair than ever last year, and I only expect to hear about it more in 2021 and to see new products introduced to help with this concern. Your skin has a moisture barrier made of natural lipids that keep moisture in the skin and irritants out. When this barrier is damaged, it creates tiny, invisible cracks in the skin that allow moisture to escape (causing dry, flaky skin) and irritants to enter more easily making even sensitive skin products or water cause a stinging, irritating sensation.

So the story goes that because prescription retinoids and acid exfoliators are so widely used now (and oftentimes, over-used) that the barrier is getting damaged, which brings in the need to correct it. However, barrier damage has been occurring for years but was not even on anyone’s radar. I was recently asked this question, “Renée, are you seeing more damaged skin barriers in your clients than before? Why do you think that is?”

I wouldn’t say I’m seeing more damaged barriers more so lately, but generally, in the past ten years, I have seen an increase in this common condition. Originally, I saw a big uptick with compromised barriers from using sonic cleansing brushes such as Clarisonic. Sonic cleansing brushes were all the buzz when they came out and the companies promoted them as a tool to help facilitate dirt and makeup removal. They recommended it to be used twice a day. Ouch! Since the action of a sonic cleansing brush is considered a physical exfoliator (bristles being massaged over the face), this is essentially like using a facial scrub (another type of physical exfoliator) twice a day, which most people would know is way too much for the skin to handle. Yet day in and day out, sonic cleansing brushes were being used and this most definitely created damage to the barrier with visible redness and irritation. Now, Clarisonic has gone out of business and a lot of people have stopped using theirs—which I believe is a good thing.

While acids (AHA’s and BHA’s) have been very popular for the last ten years or so, some people would overdo it and get an acid burn, which most certainly would cause damage to the barrier. An acid burn, more obvious in lighter skin tones (where the skin is naturally thinner and more sensitive than deeper skin tones), is where the entire face has a reddish tone to it and stops at the hairline, which is where they don’t apply the product. I can spot an acid burn immediately and will get my clients to slow down their use of acids.

Then, acids made their way into a liquid form like in a toner (the popularity of Biologique Recherche P50 and Pixi in the past few years). Since generally toners have always been recommended to be used twice a day, many people are using it this way and this can be way too much exfoliation for most skin types. (Read more about why I’m not a fan of liquid acid toners.)

As of lately, damaged barriers have increased because a lot of people are adding a prescription retinoid into their routine. The side effect of this product is a compromised moisture barrier resulting in dryness. 

Then, daily use of a vitamin C serums (such as the popular Skinceuticals C E Ferulic) are adding to the dryness because they use the pure acid form of vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid). While this product has many benefits, its low pH can be irritating for prescription retinoid users. If the barrier is compromised (and the skin is dry), I have seen many people get way too dry from pure ascorbic acid vitamin C serums. (If your barrier seems damaged and your skin is acting sensitive, look for these five things in your vitamin C serum.)

So in general, I have been seeing damaged barriers for the last 10 years or so, for one reason or another. It’s just a result of different types of products and devices. Read more about how to fix a damaged moisture barrier.

In 2021, it will be trending in a big way and brands will be launching products to address this. In fact, I’ll actually be part of this innovation as I’m currently working on two masks that will help correct the protective barrier. The challenge though is formulating for oily, acne-prone skin types. Traditionally barrier repair ingredients could be comedogenic, so trying to work around this is a challenge. But I’m working hard and I know I’ll be able to deliver an amazing product that will be agreeable with skin types #1-4.

7. The Use of Pimple Patches

While these have been out for a few years now, in 2021 we’ll see an uptick in people using them to treat a blemish. The reason for this is because people are at home now because of the pandemic and not out in public, so having a sticker on their face is no big deal. (Even though some of them are super cute designs and can add some fun to your face.)

But why they are also increasing in popularity is because they are providing a new and innovative way of treating blemishes aside from the traditional dry-it-out-like-crazy method that most people have done. Pimple patches act like a wound dressing. This not only helps keep your hands off of your face to prevent picking but also delivers ingredients that aid in the healing process.

As I discuss in this post about spot treating blemishes, there is a life cycle to a blemish so it’s important that the patch is used at the right time of the life cycle, which is typically when it first appears. (Although some people find they are best to use after the white infection has come out. You’ll just have to experiment.) I have never personally tried a pimple patch but I do hear good things.

Lastly, you can’t control a breakout from ever appearing but you can have total control about how you treat it once it pops up. The #1 goal should be to make a blemish go away as fast as possible with the

8. Skincare for Body and Scalp

To be successful in the beauty industry, you must have different offerings from what else is out there. You must be innovative. In 2021, you’ll see more innovation in the way of treating the body and scalp like you would care for your face. This means with serums, acid exfoliators, moisturizers, and scrubs. For the scalp, there have been sugar and salt scrubs launched by different brands but since acid exfoliators are so wildly popular, I can see them making their way into hair products. In fact, there is even a study on the benefits of glycolic acid in hair care.

Speaking of the body, I’m loving the Goshi towel for helping manage dry skin in the winter.

9. Maskne Continues On

The use of protective facial coverings is not slowing down which means “maskne” remains. If you’re not familiar with this term, it’s when you get acne breakouts thought to be from wearing a mask. In 2021, this will continue to be an area where there’s an opportunity for innovation. I think there will be more skin-clearing benefits added into mask materials as well as more treatments that are targeted to wear on the face while hidden under the mask.

If you have maskne, you can read my expert skin-clearing tips.

10. Retinol and Retinoids

What I have known for the past thirty years to be true, which is that topical application of vitamin A (retinoids) is essentially the “fountain of youth,” is finally mainstream knowledge. Everyone is hopping on this trend and in 2021, it shows no sign of stopping. There has been a little bit of innovation with prescription retinoids the past few years, the main one being that Differin is now available without a prescription. But, what you’ll see in 2021 will be with products containing retinol (a gentler, non-prescription version of vitamin A), making their way into more and more brands collections. The challenge with retinol though is that it’s hard to keep stable so hopefully, brands will focus on stability to ensure that the retinol actually works. (I’ve seen way too many poorly formulated retinol products that don’t improve the skin whatsoever.)  Read four things to look for when choosing a retinol product.

Fun fact: I met one of the dermatologists who was instrumental in getting a prescription cream that treated acne, FDA-approved for improving sun damage. You can hear all about this amazing story in this video. It’s worth a watch, trust me!

11. Fragrance-Free Skincare Lines

In 2020, there was a lot of negativity online about the use of synthetic fragrances in skincare products. The thought is that it irritates the skin and causes sensitivity as well as containing what are called “phthalates,” which are thought by some to have an effect on hormones. This conversation really exploded when Rihanna launched her much-anticipated skincare line and it contained fragrance. Once she heard all the fuss about it, she came out and said, “Fragrance in skincare for me is so important because it’s a crucial part of the experience. It’s a huge part of the texture, the lathering, whether you’re patting on toner, I want you to always feel triggered and have an emotional connection to that experience.”

While she or any brand founder is absolutely free to have a line with what they think is best to use, the conversation of fragrance in products is not slowing down in 2021. We’ll be hearing more and more about the truth of this topic from cosmetic chemists and fragrance experts, who normally stay behind the scenes. They are coming out in defense of the use of fragrance in products. (Watch this educational video about fragrance from The Eco Well.)

A brand has five options when they formulate products as it relates to fragrance:
  1. Use an essential oil
  2. Use a natural fragrance
  3. Use a synthetic fragrance
  4. Use no fragrance at all
  5. Use a chemical isolate

There are pros and cons to each but when used in skincare products in appropriate percentages, they will not cause harm to your health. As for the skin, it is thought that 2-4% of the population can have skin sensitivity to fragrance or essential oils in skincare products so the best choice is for those to use unscented products if their skin can’t tolerate it.

In 2021, I think we’ll see fragrance-free lines coming out to go after that 2-4% market and they will capture more of an audience by spreading unnecessary fear about the dangers of fragrance to our health.

12. Allergen-Free Natural Fragrances

Where there will be innovation in 2021 is in allergen-free natural fragrances since they should be well-tolerated for the small percentage of people who are reactive to fragrance. Most people really enjoy having some sort of scent in a product so this is exciting for those who have been using completely scent-less products.

13. Company Creeds

For the past few years, more and more brands are omitting certain ingredients in their products that have been deemed to be harmful—even though a lot of the research just isn’t substantial enough to come to those conclusions. However, what we’ll be seeing in 2021 is brands coming out with their own POV in the way of “creeds.”

This is where brands will be sharing their values—such as who they are, what they stand for, their company culture, how they hire, and how they give back. I think this transparency is really essential since consumers are more intentional of who they give their money to.

The brands that peel back the curtain and share their ideology will thrive in 2021.

14. Clean Beauty & Cruelty-Free Certifications

While we have seen a lot of this in the past few years, in 2021 brands will continue to promote their “what we use” and “what we avoid” ingredient list. This is how people position themselves as a safe and “clean” brand that can be trusted. Along with this, we’ll continue to see more brands getting certified with organizations such as Leaping Bunny and PETA to prove they don’t test on animals. I’ve been a big advocate of no animal testing for a long time and was super proud when I got a certification for my line from Leaping Bunny in 2008. At the time, so many skincare companies were still actively testing on animals in the US. Fast forward to today, it is no longer acceptable for brands to test on animals and so we’re seeing more and more brands applying for certification to prove it.

So while these trends will continue this year, here are some facts that can be helpful for you as a consumer to understand it all.

Fact #1: Skincare brands aren’t really using ingredients anymore that have been deemed bad for the skin.

“Clean beauty” is now becoming the norm so the term is getting outdated. And as for your health, it’s completely illegal to sell products that are unsafe. You, as a consumer, must do your research along with using common sense to determine what is scientifically proven vs. fear-mongering.

Read more about my beliefs about “clean beauty.”

Fact #2: In the US, you probably couldn’t find a testing lab to perform an animal test even if you wanted to.

The in-vitro tests (especially when you use several of them) can be even better. We also do the Human Repeated Insult Patch Test which is now the industry standard to determine the potential of a test material to induce sensitization in humans after repeated exposure.

Animal testing just isn’t done anymore in the US since in-vitro is thought to be approximately 90 percent reliable, unlike the Draize testing done on animals back in the day which was about 48 percent transferable to humans.

As for China, now that’s a different story. From what I understand, anyone selling their products in retailers in China does require animal testing to be done but it has to be performed in China and not in the US. This is why you can’t even find anyone here to do it—it’s simply not needed. China is actively trying to move away from it as they have a very well-developed in-vitro program going. But, here’s some interesting behind-the-scenes information. If you have your product made in China by their manufacturers or have it filled there, they will not require your line to be animal tested. This is a convenient way for them to encourage people to invest in Chinese manufacturing.

So while it continues to be a trend for brands to promote they are cruelty-free, it’s important to know that it’s virtually impossible to have your products tested on animals nowadays in the US. This is great news and way different than when I first got into the industry back in the late 80s. Those poor bunnies! Ugh!

15. Different Types of Exfoliating Acids

Because innovation is the name of the game and brands need to stand out in a crowded, competitive industry, you’ll see products that try to take a unique approach—especially when it comes to ingredients. Since exfoliating acids are so widely used in skincare products and are sought out by skincare enthusiasts, we’re now seeing different types of acids being used in order to pique the consumer’s interest. Everyone loves something new and the perception is that what is new must be better.

New acids that will be buzzy in 2021 are azelaic acid, tranexamic acid, gluconolactone, and lactobionic acid (PHAs). Whereas glycolic, salicylic, and lactic are the most common ones that have been used for years.

As someone who formulates skincare products, there isn’t a huge difference among any of the acids really. They all have the same benefit of exfoliating the skin by lowering the pH but there are some variances such as salicylic being oil-soluble whereas most others are water-soluble.

Acids can vary in the percentages used in skincare products and this is probably where it makes the biggest difference on your skin. Any acid will have a stronger effect on the skin when used in a higher percentage whereas if your skin is more rosacea-prone, you’ll want to use a lower amount of it. Bottom line, you’ll always want to choose an exfoliating acid that is formulated for your skin type to ensure the best results.

Read more about all the different types of acids and their benefits.

16. Celebrity Skincare Lines

Last year Jlo, Carmen Electra, Rihanna, Pharell, and Alicia Keys all announced or launched their own lines and in 2021, I am certain more celebrities will be doing the same. 

While there almost seems to be TOO many new skincare lines now available, I certainly don’t blame celebrities for getting in the game. After all, if they are someone who looks really good for their age and people are constantly asking them about the products they use, why not capitalize on that and make money for themselves?

However, here’s what I always think about. If someone wants to start a skincare line, from ideation to launch, they can probably get it knocked out in two years—or maybe even less. This means, if someone starts their line, they have only been using it for this short period of time. So if they are age 50, they haven’t been using the products very long which is NOT how they got to have great skin. The real question that I have for someone at age 50 is, “What had you been using from ages 20-48?” Because that’s where the real magic is. But of course, it’s not in their best interest to reveal that. So, it’s just something to be mindful of.

As for me at age 51, I have had my line for almost 25 years and of course, I have been using it for that long. So when people ask me for my secret, I can honestly say that it’s my own products. (Well, plus these 10 skincare tips I swear by.)

17. Skinfluencers

People are getting their skincare advice on TikTok, YouTube, and social media now more than ever and in 2021, this will only increase. Because of the pandemic, there is less opportunity to consult with a skincare provider to get expert advice so it’s understandable to get the knowledge from somewhere. (Of course, you can always book a virtual consultation.)

What I love now more than ever is how people are truly seeking skincare education and not just product recommendations, and there is no shortage of finding it. I think the thing to be mindful of is that some people have more expertise than others and it’s easy to put faith into someone just talking about their own personal experiences, which may or may not apply to you.

I also always think, where is the skinfluencer getting their knowledge from? Are they a professional with years of experience or simply a skincare enthusiast who is just repurposing other people’s knowledge? Certainly, there is nothing wrong with someone learning from others and sharing that knowledge, it’s just something to keep in mind.

I truly believe that hands-on skincare professionals like myself, who are 5” away from people’s skin while giving treatments, can get to know how the skin works in a way that non-professionals will ever be able to. This provides incredible insight to complement the continuing skincare education that we get in courses and online. Speaking for myself, as someone who has all the behind-the-scenes access to what goes on in the industry that non-professionals don’t have access to, this also provides me an incredible perspective.

As my fellow facialist, Andy Millward, said on IG, “A course on Reddit or TikTok is not equal to years of education and hands-on clinical experience.” 

Bottom line, the need for trust remains greater than ever. While it can be confusing and a lot of information is contradicting, find someone who you trust and stick with them to show you the way. I encourage you in 2021 and beyond to always #ObeyRenee 🙂

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