Thankfully, toners, like the rest of your skincare routine, have evolved over the years. Today, many toners are alcohol-free, and instead, are used to refresh and treat the skin before you apply the rest of your serums and creams — without making you extra dry.
One such example is exfoliating toners, which are infused with chemical exfoliants such as AHA and BHA acids, which help to loosen and break up the dead skin cells clogging your pores, while also minimizing dark spots, and improving overall skin texture and tone. These formulas often include soothing and hydrating ingredients to balance out the exfoliation.
“The use of a toner can have the added benefit of mechanical removal of skin debris,” says Dr. Melanie Palm, board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon in San Diego, Calif. “Simple application of a skincare product such as a serum does not lift off dull skin cells.”
Dr. Palm also notes that a toner can help balance pH level for the skin microenvironment.
When choosing an exfoliating toner, it’s important to consider your skin type and its needs. Dr. Palm says that those concerned with aging can benefit from using a formula with AHAs such as lactic or glycolic acids.
Acne-prone skin can see an improvement with BHAs such as salicylic acid, or a combination of both AHAs and BHAs. As for sensitive skin types, they may fair well with PHA acids, which are larger in molecular size and more gentle on the skin. The same goes for mandelic acid, an ingredient that is great for rosacea or redness.
While an exfoliating toner can be used daily, it’s best to introduce it slowly into your routine to prevent irritation. And if you have sensitive skin, Dr. Palm recommends using a liquid exfoliant once or twice a week at first to gauge how your skin handles it. She adds that if you are using anti-aging products such as retinoids or retinol, gradually start to use the toner over a period of days to weeks. But when in doubt, follow the usage instructions on the back of the bottle.
Finally, don’t expect clear, brighter skin over night.
While you may see some instant improvement, like a bit of a glow, it can take much longer to experience the full benefits of incorporating an exfoliating toner into your skincare routine.
“It takes 30 full days for the epidermal layer of the skin to turn over,” says Dr. Palm. “Therefore, I tell most patients to use a new topical product for two to three months (two to three cycles of epidermal turnover) to gauge response by the skin to active ingredients. However, many patients may notice changes prior to the three month mark.”
It’s been 20 years since celebrity makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic entered the scene, forever contouring the shape of the beauty world with highlights, shimmers, and perfectly winged liner that launched an army of copycats on social media.
Now, Dedivanovic, whom the New Yorker recently heralded as “The Makeup Artist at Ground Zero of Internet Beauty Culture,” has taken his years of expertise, massive internet fame, and a few personal checks to labs across the world to create his dream: a self-funded line of products titled Makeup by Mario.
Welcome to Artist Spotlight #19 series on my blog.
For Dedivanovic, this moment is huge. He begins to tear up on a Zoom call as he discusses the project he began working on three years ago. “I’m just so excited for October 1st”—the launch date, Dedivanovic’s birthday, and the date he began working on the Sephora floor many years ago—“because it almost still doesn’t feel real to me,” he says.
The artist comes fully loaded with all the bonafides to make a bestselling beauty line. He’s most famous for his work on one of the 21st century’s most famous canvases, Kim Kardashian-West, and helped launch her KKW Beauty line. He’s also had brand partnerships with Laura Mercier and hosts a mega-popular Masterclass. This is the last box to check on his way to beauty moguldom.
For Dedivanovic, the Sephora gondola, the display for all a brand’s beauty products inside the store, is the ultimate symbol of his success. “I used to manifest into those Sephora bottles when I was cleaning them, that I would one day have that, knowing very well that I had to work very hard and it probably wouldn’t be 20-plus years until I did that,” he explains. “I’ve been dreaming about this moment for a long time.”
His dreams are finally a reality. The new line includes 21 products and tools, including eyeshadow palettes, brushes, and highlighters created to flatter any and all skin tones. “When I work, I tend to like products that I can use on all skin tones,” he says.
Below, a few beauty tips from the seasoned vet, plus a peek at the products in his collection.
He knows you’re bad at winged eyeliner.
A standout product in the line is the Master Pigment Pro Pencils, inspired by his older sister Vicky, a relatable queen with an inability to work with eyeliner.
“I think it’s hard even for an artist to really do a beautiful wing,” Dedivanovic says. “I know that a lot of people want to do wings, but it’s challenging and can be intimidating. With this pencil and brush shape, you take the pencil and draw a line from there [the center of your eyelid] to the corner. You stop at the corner and flip the brush over and up and lift. [The brush] literally does the flip for you. I wanted to make this technique very, very easy.”
Dedivanovic added that he will provide new content that inspired tools like the eyeliner and tutorials around how to use it on his social media platforms.
He likes both contoured and natural makeup.
“I know I’m [known] as the contour king, but I think there was a little misconception,” he says. “I’m not the type of artist that typically will do the heavy stripes and all those types of things. I like makeup to look as if one were born with it in terms of the colors and finishes on the skin. I like it to enhance a woman’s face, not to have it feel unnatural or that they have a ton of makeup on. My goal at the end is that when you are up close, in person, you do makeup to make it look beautiful there. But for me, that’s not enough. I want it to look beautiful for the person as well. Bot in the sense, Oh, wow, your makeup is beautiful. More in the sense of, Wow, you look beautiful.
The brand is for novices and beauty experts alike.
While the line is infused with years of experience from Dedivanovic, he wanted to create something that was easy for the most green of makeup appliers to use.
Here’s his tip for the Master Metallics palette:
“This is a very creamy formula that’s a blend of powders and creams, so it’s very easy to use with just a swipe of a finger on your lid for a quick application. I wanted to separate my products by texture because as an artist, I was always trained from the very beginning that you always separated your mattes [from] your metallics. That’s the way you packed your bag as well.”
The packaging is the future of beauty.
Dedivanovic was inspired by the iPhone and how easily it can fit into your hand. He wanted the tools to feel accessible and comfortable while you apply your makeup. Think 2001: A Space Odyssey meets BTS’s “On” music video: The full, nearly all-white kit comes in what looks like a briefcase from a space-age population that cracked the code on product design. “It felt like the future of makeup in a sense,” he says. “I hadn’t seen something like this when it was presented. Also, it felt pure.”
The Master Prep and Set
Available in three different tones—light, medium, and deep—each set comes with six shades to be used as an eye primer. Dedivanovicoriginally tried to get this product in the palettes but couldn’t configure it correctly and inclusion would make the palettes gigantic. Thus, it evolved into its own separate product.
The Master Mattes were the first product Dedivanovic began working on in 2017. “The Master Matte palette is inspired by human skin tones,” he explains. “It’s inspired by the technique I have done for many years, in which I shape and contour the eyes using typically different, varying shades of foundation and/or concealer to shape and contour the eyes before I apply eyeshadow.”
To find the right human skin tones for the palette, he researched the different pigments that make up our skin tones. The shades also have a bit of translucency because he prefers subtle to extremely pigmented eyeshadow.
The all-metallic formula is a creamy blend of both powders and creams, making it very easy to use with a single swipe of your finger onto your lids. Dedivanovic, a self-proclaimed geek, researched the inside of our bodies for the pink, brown, and cream hues. “This is sort of representative of the shades that are within all our bodies on a cellular level,” he explains. “What’s really interesting is when you swatch all these colors together, it’s the epitome of my dream color palette when it comes to shimmery shades.”
If you’re looking for the easiest-to-use product in the collection, this palette is your go-to. But, if you’re looking for more of a high-intensity pigment, Dedivanovic created the Master Metals and Master Metals Manipulator to create your very own dream eye looks. “The idea is that the artist could scrape several shades and mix their own metal shades,” he says. “What happens when you use the Master Metal Manipulator is it turns it into a molten liquid metal. You can do liquid liners with it, you can do a quick all-over eyeshadow shade, or just the inner corner.
Bonus points: The Master Metal Manipulator also turns them into a completely waterproof product.
Mario’s Master Metal™ Manipulator™ is the ultimate mixing agent for metallic pigments. It instantly transforms loose or pressed metallic pigments into a liquid, creating a gorgeous metal foil. When mixed with pigment, it provides intense grip, lasting power, and locks the formula in place.
The Master Crystal Reflectors come in three shades: quartz, citrine, and bronzite. The reflectors are a few of his favorites because of their sheer finish that “sparkles while dancing on the eyelid.”
The product also reflects light beautifully and gives a bit of reflection and dimension to the eyelid, but can be worn all over the face. “It’s a global exclusive formula, so no one can ever have this formula,” he adds. “I’m very excited about that.”
“For years, I liked to use a highlighter on the cheek or on the eye that is a completely sheer emollient glow,” he says. “I envisioned this even for the girl who really doesn’t wear any makeup. I do clients that have a very natural look and I like natural looks as well. This product really fits both of those.”
For the collection, Dedivanovic created four pencils and four eyeshadow brushes. According to him, “Pencils are one of the most transformative aspects of makeup, especially when it comes to the eyes.” He incorporated his signature liner techniques into crafting them.
Mario’s dual-ended liner has all you need to create a precise line. The velvety gel-based formula delivers a full-coverage finish in a single swipe. It has incredible grip after it sets but still allows time to blend, layer, and define. For a soft, symmetrical line, use the brush to smudge and blend.
This liquid liner is extremely pigmented and features a super sharp, flexible felt tip for ultimate control. The bulletproof formula grips the lid and is completely smudge-proof for bold and lasting definition.
The brushes are inspired by the eyeshadow brushes he usually works with from Japan. They’re designed to work with the other formulas in the collection like the Master Mattes to make for an easy blend and application.
This brush has fluffy, soft, flexible hairs that are ideal for blending and softening on the eyes and face. It’s also perfect for applying and blending matte shadows. All Makeup By Mario brushes are cruelty-free, made with a custom blend of synthetic and vegan fibers, and 100% FSC-certified birchwood handles.
This brush has fluffy, soft hairs and a wide, tapered shape. It’s perfect for effortless eyeshadow application and an easy sweep of color across the lid. All Makeup By Mario brushes are cruelty-free, made with a custom blend of synthetic and vegan fibers, and 100% FSC-certified birchwood handles.
This brush features a denser, rounded head with flat hairs and works well with cream and powder formulas. All Makeup By Mario brushes are cruelty-free, made with a custom blend of synthetic and vegan fibers, and 100% FSC-certified birchwood handles.
This brush’s small, tapered head makes it the perfect detail brush. Use it to apply shadows wet or dry or to blend and smoke out eyeliner with control and ease. All Makeup By Mario brushes are cruelty-free and are made with a custom blend of synthetic and vegan fibers, and 100% FSC-certified birchwood handles.
Last but not least, he created gentle makeup remover wipes. “When I work, I’m very particular with wipes,” he says. “I use them to gently exfoliate the skin right before I go on with skincare.” He wanted to move away from traditional oily formulas so he created something without fragrance or the normal oily residue. “These are made with 100 percent natural, pure cucumber water, and they don’t leave any oiliness.”
“Because E.L.F.’s makeup and skin-care offerings are incredibly affordable and effective, wanting to fill up your cart with everything the beauty brand has to offer is a little too tempting. (We’ve all be there.) Add in the fact that you can pick up the products at your local Target, Old Navy, and drugstores, and you’ll start wondering if E.L.F. wants you to directly deposit your paycheck into its account.“
“We rounded up some tried-and-true product picks from Allure editors to make shopping E.L.F.’s vast beauty selection a little easier, more efficient, and kinder to your wallet. You’re welcome. Many of our recommendations even have a Best of Beauty Awards and Readers’ Choice Awards to their names, like best eye shadow brush and best lipstick, so you know they’re going to be amazing additions to your beauty routine. Keep scrolling to see which highlighter, eye shadow palette, and skin-care products we swear by.”
E.L.F. Luminous Poreless Putty Primer
Unlike the original version, which has a slightly mattifying effect, E.L.F.’s Luminous Poreless Putty Primer leaves the skin with a subtle dewy finish whether you choose to wear it alone or under makeup. So if you want to minimize the appearance of your pores and get a radiant glow, look no further than this primer.
If you’ve never experienced the wonders of a peeling gel, allow this Best of Beauty winner to be your introduction. Straight out of the pump, it looks like a clear gel. However, when you start rubbing it onto skin, it turns into little balls. Why? The Gentle Peeling Exfoliant picks up the dead skin cells and other grime on your face and rolls it up like eraser dust. It’s incredibly satisfying and leaves skin smooth and radiant.
The Best of Beauty-winning Cream Contour Palette contains four different matte creams — a trio of bronzes (taupe, fawn, and caramel) and one yellow-beige hue for brightening. Each are rich and intensely pigmented but once blended out, they seamlessly melt into skin for a natural-looking sculpted finish.
E.L.F.’s SuperBrighten Peel Pads may not cost you much — and yet, they actually rival some of their more expensive competitors on the market. Formulated with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), citrus (from lemon peel oil and lemon fruit extract), and witch hazel, these exfoliating treatment pads work by gently buffing away excess dead skin, which, in turn, gives the appearance of a more radiant complexion.
Washing your makeup tools doesn’t have to be a chore. Keep the Solid Sponge Cleanser near your sink, so you remember to dip dirty brushes and sponges directly into it when they need a washing. (There’s something soothing about swirling them around the charcoal-infused disc.)
Along with pristine brushes, your skin will love that you’re cleaning your brushes with the detoxifying ingredient, as it’s been said to help prevent future breakouts. And let’s be real, we’ll take all the help we can get.
Not even E.L.F. is immune to the holographic makeup hype. These color-shifting powders may look petal pink and lilac in the pan, but when brushed onto cheekbones, they transform into a hot pink and sky blue.
Made with watermelon fruit extract (yum), glycerin, and castor oil, E.L.F.’s Jelly Pop Water Gel Moisturizer soothes redness and re-hydrates parched skin in one fell swoop. It’s also super-fast-absorbing, making it an especially great option for the summer months when we’re sweating more and tend to favor lighter products.
Available in eight different shade options, E.L.F.’s Bite Size Eye Shadow Palettes (as in the same ones that went viral on TikTok earlier this year) make creating a put-together eye look easy as pie. The quad shown here is “cream & sugar” and contains a combination of neutral-toned, shimmery and matte shadows that work on almost every skin tone. Plus, the formula of these shadows is über-opaque, yet also so easy to blend.
Allure editors aren’t the only ones obsessed with E.L.F.’s Moisturizing Lipstick in Velvet Rope — our readers are, too. Velvet Rope, which is a cherry red with a golden sheen, won a Readers’ Choice Award this year for its creamy, hydrating formula that lasts all day long.
Read our guide to the best glow-givers of the year yet? If so, then you already know E.L.F.’s best-selling Baked Highlighter made the cut.
Despite technically being a powder, its ultra-buttery, featherlight formula melts into the skin like it’s nothing and never looks cakey worn on top of foundation and concealer. It also contains skin-loving ingredients like vitamin E, jojoba, and apricot seed oils, which is a nice added bonus.
Blending eye shadow ain’t easy. The Beautifully Precise Eyeshadow Brush No. 201, which recently won a Best of Beauty Award, will do all the work for you with as little effort as possible. You can pack color onto your lids with the short, dense bristles before sweeping the fluffy ends over the edges to soften them in seconds.
With all the latest palettes packed with terracotta and peach shades, the E.L.F. Mad For Matte Holy Smokes Palette has a much-welcomed mix of both warm- and cool-toned hues. On the right side, you have a peachy cream, blue-toned gray, and more neutral shades for laying down a clean base. Or, of course, you can wear just one by itself for a more minimalist look.
On the left side, you have a gorgeous teal, sapphire blue, and soft black for making your smoky eye fantasies a reality. (Hence the name Holy Smokes.) You can make sure they are all blended well with the shades situated in the middle of the palette.
By now you know the drill: Every few months a new wunderkind skin care ingredient is discovered in some remote locale, and pretty soon it’s everywhere—in your masks, serums, foot creams, insert-step-in-your-beauty-routine-here. But at the end of the day, there are only a handful of ingredients that have stood the test of time and truly become essential. “In skin care, they’re the holy grail,” says Cambridge, Massachusetts, dermatologist Ranella Hirsch.
You’ve probably heard of all these by now. (Retinol, hyaluronic acid, AHAs, peptides, and vitamin C all make the list.) But you may still be a little confused on what exactly each one does—and how you should be using them. Here, I break it all down.
Retinol: For Softening Wrinkles and Fighting Acne
If there’s one ingredient lauded more than any other for its wrinkle-fighting, complexion-perfecting abilities, it’s this derivative of vitamin A. “Here’s the deal with retinol,” explains Hirsch. “We were talking about it in 1975, and we’re still talking about it now because it works.” In study after study, retinol has been shown to build collagen, decrease fine lines, improve skin’s texture, and fight acne.
The prescription version (retinoic acid, or Retin-A) acts fastest, but it’s pricey—and it can be drying. Over-the-counter retinols take eight to 10 weeks to show results (compared with six weeks with an Rx), but are normally paired with anti-inflammatories to calm the redness, peeling, or dryness; they can also cost less than a prescription, depending on your insurance, generally starting around $100.
Whichever type you use, you’ll want to ease into your retinol use slowly. “I start patients on the mildest version, one night a week at the onset,” says New York City dermatologist Amy Wechsler. As your skin begins to tolerate a pea-size amount, you can eventually go up to two nights a week. But stay off harsh physical scrubs and peels while you’re using retinol; remember to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize; and use extra sunscreen for the first six months.
This tiny molecule helps lubricate joints and keep skin plump, and is one of the world’s finest humectants (elements that attract and retain water). What does that mean for skin? “Hyaluronic acid is awesome,” says Wechsler. In addition to being a terrific moisturizer, she says, it partners well with other active skin care ingredients (so you can layer it with retinol, for example, and use it daily). “The beauty of hyaluronic acid is that it doesn’t have any fine print,” says Hirsch. “It benefits any skin type, at any age. And the truth is that everyone looks great with hydrated skin.”
Doctors love vitamin C because it’s an incredible antioxidant and it stimulates collagen production—in other words, it increases glow and evens out spots. For best results, look for a high concentration, up to 20% in a serum or cream.
Vitamin C does have a downside, though: It breaks down when exposed to oxygen and light. Seek out truly airtight packaging, watch out for discolored formulas, and know that because vitamin C loses efficacy in the sun, it’s best as a nighttime product, says Montclair, New Jersey, dermatologist Jeanine Downie. But “use it on the nights you’re not applying retinol,” she adds. It’s also great in an eye cream to help soften fine lines and spots.
“Think of peptides as Legos—they’re protein building blocks,” says Hirsch of the skin strengtheners. Studies show certain peptides can boost collagen production and speed wound healing; or they can mimic the effect of Botox when applied topically. That means you’ll likely want to introduce peptides in your 30s, when you notice your skin doesn’t feel quite as firm or bouncy as it did in your 20s. They can also be used on your body to smooth and firm skin, and they may fade old scars and stretch marks. There’s emerging science that some peptides have been found to safely treat eczema.
Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide: For Eradicating Acne
Okay, these are technically two ingredients—but the pair is name-dropped so frequently in the same acne-fighting sentence that it seems a shame to split them up.
“Salicylic acid is a lipid-soluble acid, so it penetrates into oily pores to clean them out, and it’s anti-inflammatory too,” renowned dermatologist Fredric Brandt once told us. “Benzoyl is antibacterial, so together they work synergistically.”
Look for bacteria-zapping benzoyl peroxide in face washes or spot treatments. It’s widely available in drugstores, ranging from 2.5% to 10% concentrations. (To minimize irritation, start with the lowest.) Try salicylic acid in an allover toner or cream to prevent breakouts, or on pimples if you have sensitive skin—it’s gentler than benzoyl, explains Wechsler.
“My patients love, love, love AHAs,” says Downie, who explains that the powerful exfoliators are genius for clearing up sun damage, hyperpigmentation, acne, and fine lines. Multiple AHAs exist, but the most popular (and potent) is glycolic acid, which penetrates damaged skin to spur fresh, new skin cell production. Glycolic acid does its exfoliating work in everything from once-monthly in-office face peels to nightly washes, but it’s best not to use glycolic acid while you’re on retinols. And if your skin is sensitive, try glycolic’s less intense AHA cousin, lactic acid, which also chemically exfoliates but isn’t as drying.