Then and Now: The Best Beauty Updates of the Last Decade
In the quest to look our best, some things never change. We all want bright skin, healthy hair, and pearly white teeth. But the options for achieving those goals have evolved. We asked experts for the developments they're most excited about, from faster-acting formulas to gentler-than-ever treatments. Introducing the latest and greatest.
Beauty looks a lot different than it used to—and that's a good thing. Advancements in skincare, hair protection, and even dental treatments mean we have more information than ever before about what truly is best for our bodies, inside and out. And the best part about this new and improved knowledge? We can make better, individualized decisions—choices that can help us meet one beauty goal after the next. Even so, it's fun to take a step back to see just how far we've come. To highlight modernity's greatest beauty breakthroughs, we outlined what used to be the standard of care (remember harsh foaming, astringent cleansers that would dehydrate more than they cleaned?).
Take facial hair removal practices, for example. Lasers and intense chemical peels used to rule the day; they stripped away healthy skin along with hair. Today, dermaplaning is the better alternative. "It's gentler than waxing and threading, because the skin is prepped with steaming and conditioning," explains New York City dermatologist Ellen Marmur. And of course, you've noticed all the at-home options with clinical-level claims—but bypass the DIY devices and leave this process to a pro. An aesthetician or dermatologist will carefully sweep a tiny blade over your face to remove fine hairs—and with them dead, dull skin cells. Another perk is increased product absorption; Marmur advises following a session with a soothing serum.
Ahead, discover similar then-and-now beauty stories, which showcase exactly how the beauty sphere has evolved over the last few decades. If anything, it just makes us more excited for the decade to come.
Better Cleansers: Soothing Ingredients
Back in the day, astringent suds would leave your complexion dry and tight. Now, nourishing washes that won't strip away skin's good oils rule the day. "Acids and harsh ingredients wound your skin barrier," says Marmur, and that weakens its ability to retain moisture and deflect environmental pollutants. She suggests hypoallergenic Doctor Rogers Restore Face Wash, which contains moisturizing aloe and glycerin.
Shop Now: Doctor Rogers Restore Face Wash, $42, dermstore.com.
Better Cleansers: Cleaning Oils
Better Cleansers: Cleansing Balms
Smoother Exfoliants: New Age Scrubs
Abrasive physical scrubs or aggressive chemical versions used to cause redness and sensitivity. In more recent years, exfoliants have gotten an upgrade. Scrubs that get their gentle but effective grit from soft, dissolvable ingredients—like the fine sugars in L'Oréal Paris' sugar- and grapeseed-packed oil scrub—are ones to scoop up now.
Shop Now: L'Oréal Paris "Smooth & Glow" Pure Sugar Scrub, $13, cvs.com.
Smoother Exfoliants: Gentle Acids
As for chemical formulations, look for polyhydroxy acids (PHAs). "Unlike AHAs and BHAs, these molecules are bigger and can't penetrate as deeply into skin, so they slough off the most superficial layer without irritation," says Shereene Idriss, a dermatologist based in New York City. PHAs pack other benefits, too: They're humectants, so they retain moisture and can help reduce fine lines and pigmentation, says New York City dermatologist Dhaval Bhanusali. He recommends Neostrata's PHA Facial Cleanser.
Shop Now: Neostrata PHA Facial Cleanser, $36, dermstore.com.
Wrinkle Reducers: Slow-Release Retinol
Retinols have reigned supreme for decades because they're proven to speed cell turnover. But they get flak for causing redness and irritation, and leaving skin more susceptible to sunburns. "Slow-release formulas have made retinols much less sensitizing," says Steven Wang, a dermatologist in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, which means it's easier to comply with nightly-use recommendations—and reap max benefits. Some—including Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Eye Cream—are mild enough for the eye area.
Shop Now: Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Eye Cream, $39, ulta.com.
Wrinkle Reducers: Maternity-Safe Retinol
Plant-based, pregnancy-safe alternatives have also arrived, says Idriss, who likes Indeed Labs' option.
Shop Now: Indeed Labs Bakuchiol Reface Pads, $20, urbanoutfitters.com.
Spot Stoppers: Tranexamic Acid
"It was hydroquinone or bust," says Bhanusali of the long-heralded lightening agent used to treat sun damage and uneven skin tones. Enter topical tranexamic acid, which all the pros we interviewed like for its ability to block melanin and prevent patches from forming. Unlike hydroquinone, it's also safe for expecting mothers; Idriss used it to combat hormonal pigmentation during her pregnancy. Looking to try a product packed with it at home? Bhanusali recommends SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense.
Shop Now: SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense, $98, dermstore.com.
Spot Stoppers: Remedies Big and Small
Other contenders include kojic acid (a mushroom derivative) and rice bran, long used in Asia for its brightening abilities; try it in Tatcha's signature rice polish, a classic, creamy exfoliant. To speed up the process, combine at-home goods with laser treatments such as Fraxel, which rev up collagen production; or microneedling, which does the same while also helping active ingredients penetrate your skin, says Wang.
Shop Now: Tatcha "The Rice Polish" Foaming Enzyme Powder, $65, sephora.com.
Top-Notch Tooth Brighteners: Whitening Toothpaste
You likely recall old teeth whitening protocols: Think professional bleaching or mild whitening strips and pastes, some of which removed stains with enamel-damaging grit (ironically, that exposed enamel is extra-susceptible to yellowing). The fastest payoff still comes from in-office treatments, but at-home bleaching products have improved. "You can find a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide, the active lightening ingredient," says New York City dentist Brian Kantor. The latest iteration of Colgate Optic White Renewal toothpaste, for example, polishes with an unprecedented three percent peroxide, but without the sensitivity of other formats, since you rinse it after two minutes of brushing.
Shop Now: Colgate Optic White Renewal Toothpaste, $6.99, walgreens.com.
Gentler Hair Care: Sans Sulfates
Back then, shampoos were formulated with sulfates for daily lathering, rinsing, and repeating; conditioners relied on silicones for shine. Nowadays, we're told to wash one to three times a week, if that. Water fades color and leaves hair vulnerable to damage by styling; overcleansing sends naturally occurring oils down the drain (frizz alert). If you love a good lather, Tresemmé's Pro Pure Foam Shampoo bubbles up without sulfates.
Shop Now: Tresemmé's Pro Pure Foam Shampoo, $6, target.com.
Gentler Hair Care: Dry Shampoo Wipes
For a refresh on off-days, grab Dove Go Active Dry Shampoo Wipes; they blot without leaving a speck of powder.
Shop Now: Dove Go Active Dry Shampoo Wipes, $4.99 for five, target.com.
Gentler Hair Care: Conditioners with Natural Silicones
Hair Replenishers: Heat Protectants
Over-the-counter hair-loss treatments like Rogaine ($33.99, cvs.com), or transplants, used to be the treatment plan of choice for female hair loss. Today, however, we know that this ailment is so multifaceted. Stress, hormonal changes, weight loss, and hereditary conditions are all potential culprits for falling strands, but you'll still want to see a dermatologist to get to the root of the matter. What you think is thinning could actually be breakage from cranking your hot tools up to 450 degrees or tearing through tangles as you brush. If that's the case, air-dry as often as possible, detangle carefully with a wide-tooth comb, and reach for a heat protectant like Kérastase Genesis Défense Thermique Blow Dry Primer before flipping on a dryer or iron.
For alopecia, a condition in which some follicles stop producing new strands, Rogaine remains the best over-the-counter choice. But platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is emerging as an alternative to transplants. A doctor processes a few vials of your blood through a machine to separate out plasma, and re-injects it into sparse areas on your scalp. The procedure takes 10 minutes, with no downtime. "Your natural proteins and platelets act like growth stimulants," says Marmur. The upshot: more, thicker hair.
Shop Now: Kérastase Genesis Défense Thermique Blow Dry Primer, $37, sephora.com.