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The beauty lessons we learned in 2021…

The products we discovered – and the mistakes we won’t repeat!

Lucy Adams and Sherine Youssef

 If there was a word that epitomised 2021 it would have to be ‘pivot’ and, just like our work, life, family, plans and expectations, our skin, hair, makeup and beauty routines had to adapt and go with the flow, too.

Here are some of the beauty lessons we learned and best products we discovered from a year we didn’t see coming….


During Lockdown it felt like LED masks took over Instagram. We both lost count of the number of times we were asked by friends and colleagues if LED masks work or are worth it. After seeing that Carey Mulligan and Gal Gadot are fans of the CurrentBody version I trialled it and I have to say yes, I think they are. The gist: the flexible silicone mask delivers a double dose of red light (stimulates collagen, soothes inflammation) and near infrared light (enhances circulation and oxygen), and has clinically backed data showing a reduction in wrinkles. Of course in-salon LED is stronger (it’s why you wear the goggles), but CurrentBody tells me using their at-home mask five times per week, for two weeks, is about the same as one professional LED treatment. I strapped it on for the recommended 10 minutes, three to five times per week, and found that though my skin was still lined, it was definitely bouncier and brighter. – Sherine

Maskne, the new acne we never saw coming

Speaking of masks… As if constantly staring at our faces on Zoom wasn’t off-putting enough, 2021 was also the year of maskne, the delightful by-product of wearing cloth face masks. Those face masks (hot, humid, bacteria factories) coupled with the sheer stress of a global pandemic really took its toll on our complexions in the form of unwanted lumps, bumps and angry acne.

After learning the hard way, I ‘pivoted’ and opted for no make-up, twice-daily fresh face masks, regular exfoliation (2-3 times a week) and clay mask spot treatments (applied directly to troublesome spots each night before bed). My go-to’s were Emma Lewisham Illuminating Exfoliant   (a unique 2 in 1 chemical and physical exfoliant) and innisfree Volcanic Calming Clay Pore Mask (which dries and draws out impurities without over drying) – Lucy

More masks (the beauty ones, not the cloth kinds)

When I (finally) went in for my post-lockdown chop, hairdresser Barney Martin shared that his salon couldn’t keep hair masks in stock and he could feel the difference when clients started coming back (read: their hair was hydrated and in pretty good condition).

There’s no doubt that we all had more time hanging around the house, but for me, it was about wearing a mask that was actually going to do something positive, unlike the cloth masks that gave me maskne. A trio that got a good workout and I’m still using now that we’re out of jail: Milk Makeup Melatonin Overnight Lip Mask, (the lavender, chamomile and melatonin did nothing for my sleep—but my lips looked great!), Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Hyaluronic Clay Pore-Tight Facial, (looks and smells like my niece’s strawberry yoghurt pouch, which I found strangely comforting),  Ouai Hair Treatment Masque, (I neglect my hair at the best of times, but the lockdown made us all do some crazy things). – Sherine

At-home haircuts or lash-lifts  are NEVER a good idea

Why is it that hair seems to grow faster in lockdown? And why would a grown man (my brother) attempt to cut his son’s hair with a pair of nail scissors? Some questions will never be answered. (And no, the nail-scissor haircut did not end well.)

During lockdown we learned that it’s easier to leave the haircuts to the professionals. And the same goes for lash lifts.

Curiosity (with a side of desperation and overzealousness) got the better of me and I attempted a DIY lash lift. You’d think that the toxic smelling glue and ‘keep away from children’ signs plastered over the packaging should have deterred me. But I stuck it out to about step three (out of 15 ) by which stage I was worried I may not have any lashes left and gave up! – Lucy

The bathtub is life

I was a regular bath-taker in the Before Times, but during the pandemic, I became a champion. There was something immensely soothing about shutting the bathroom door, lighting a candle, sinking into a piping hot bath* and letting the steam flush my face (I applied a hydrating serum and creamy mask, letting the heat infuse it into my skin).

A few of my favourite tonics: Bathefex Epsom Salt Tuberose + Jasmine if my muscles were feeling creaky, Jo Malone Peony & Blush Suede Bath Oil for a bougie night, and L’Occitane Lavender Foaming Bath if I was having A DAY and needed the bubbles.

I would then take the candle from the bathroom and into my bedroom, so that I could extend the sensory experience. That’s another thing I really got into during lockdown: candles and home fragrance. I couldn’t do much about the four walls of my house, but I could switch it up with scent, and hope it inspired my other senses. One that I really loved and continue to mist around the house with abandon is Deciem Abnomoly SHOP Room Fragrance, a warm and clean scent that feels like a cosy hug.

*(No one, not any beauty editor or skin specialist, will ever recommend taking a steaming bath. But me? If the temperature is not the sun, I’m not interested.) – Sherine

Rediscovering makeup

I’m making a generalisation here, but beauty editors are not, by nature, huge makeup wearers (in the same way that fashion editors usually stick to a uniform). I think it’s got something to do with seeing so much product all day, every day, that on our own faces, we tend to keep it simple. But you know that thing where, if someone says you can’t do something, even if you had no intention of ever doing it, all of a sudden, you want to do it so badly? That’s kind of what happened with me and makeup during the pandemic.

Suddenly, I was painting my face to go on a walk around my suburb, to Coles, to get coffee, to look outside the window. I don’t how to say this without sounding like an Instagram cliché, but it brought me joy during a really gloomy time. Applying shimmering eyeshadow, liquid blush, and semi-matte lipstick, took me back to the time when I first discovered makeup in high school, and reaffirmed to me just how truly transformative cosmetics can be, on both the inside and out. There I go again with the Instagram clichés.

Here are the products I love right now:

The matte for those who think matte is too hard to wear: Bite Beauty Power Move Hydrating Soft Matte Lipstick, does what it says on the box (hydrates and feels ridiculously soft). Hot Tomato is my hot favourite.

I tap 1-2 dots of Flower Beauty Blush Bomb Color Drops for Cheeks, over my cheeks, et voila, I look like someone who loves exercising and drinking litres of water.

If you know me, you know I love a shimmery eye, and the Laura Mercier RoseGlow Caviar Stick Eye Shadow collection is an easy-to-wear lineup of rosy neutrals.

Surely I’m not the only brown-eyed girl who loves blue mascara? Wearing colour on your eyelashes—and only on your eyelashes—is so unexpected and fun and, bonus, it makes the whites of your eyes appear whiter. Please try it. Australis Mega Lash Mascara in Electric Blue, is one of the few still around. – Sherine 

Foundation Free

It wouldn’t be 2021 without a little whiplash. On the flip side of my makeup renaissance, I’m hearing from a lot of friends that foundation is going the way of heels, ie, they’re just not interested anymore. To which I say: they couldn’t have picked a better time, as the new batch of bases are super light (lighter even than BB creams and tinted moisturisers, and sheerer than foundations) and summer-friendly (even in a La Niña summer).They also often include skincare ingredients, so you get some of those benefits, too. Two of my current faves: Ilia Super Serum Skin Tint, and L’Oréal Paris True Match Nude Plumping Tinted Serum. – Sherine


BY Lucy Adams and Sherine Youssef

Lucy and Sherine are PRIMER's beauty editors.

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