Every Step of Allure’s Annual Best of Beauty Testing Process, Explained

Closeups of red cream lipsticks before Allure editors test them for the 2019 Best of Beauty Awards

There are a series of plausible myths surrounding Allure‘s annual Best of Beauty Awards, which is that: They are just something we do to fill pages, to stoke excitement, to sell little booklets of whisper-thin paper, to provide airport reading material, to sell advertisements, to convince Lady Gaga to appear on the cover of a magazine. After all, why does anything happen in America in 2019? To make money.

These are all understandable conclusions, but they are wrong, and you need only work at Allure for a day before you understand that the Best of Beauty Awards are something that is happening constantly in the background of everything that we do. We tell you why right on the cover of our magazine: We’re a beauty authority. Meaning that as a billion-dollar industry swells into hundreds of billions, maybe trillions of products, it is simply our job to tell you what is worth paying attention to. And then, once a year, we tell you which of those things are the best.

It is not something that happens in an afternoon. It is not something that happens in a month. The Best of Beauty process occurs all year long; it ticks along in the silence between our interviews and in the moments after we press publish. Even when we are done, it is happening. (Best of Beauty 2020 has, in many ways, already begun.)

You don’t need to believe us, because here is the proof: An annotated timeline of what goes into a fraction of our biggest issue of the year. We start in February, but rest assured, it starts way before that:

FEBRUARY 1

We reach out to the entire beauty industry and ask: What do you think is the best stuff you make?

They answer. And then, over the ensuing weeks, roughly 7,000 products, in 199 different categories, are distributed to 61 desks. (That’s about 115 mascaras, body washes, and sheet masks per person.) Distended bags with splits at their seams spill into the walkways between cubicles. The fun begins — if you want to call it that.

FEBRUARY 13

In the field, an editor discovers a future award-winning eyeliner from Japan, by way of New York Fashion Week.

Anastasia Romanov, Iceman, JFK: I love a good mystery. At first, the UZ Eye Opening Liner was just that. I was clandestinely introduced to it backstage at Marc Jacobs’s fall 2019 show featuring no-makeup makeup. An assistant makeup artist surveyed the room before pulling out an unmarked tube of caution-orange liquid liner. I shielded her as she swatched it onto her hand — the pigment was so dense it practically shouted out loud. She had no idea who made the liner; it was given to her at another show without any explanation. The J-beauty brand behind it didn’t even reveal itself (exclusively to Allure) until weeks later: a range of high-octane, higher-quality liners, made with artisanal brushes from the Kumano region of Japan. I don’t speak Japanese, but that sounded like a winner to me. And once we tested it, it was. — Devon Abelman, digital beauty reporter

MARCH 18

Someone who gets hives from the word moisturizer finds the best one there is.

I tried dozens of moisturizers during the Best of Beauty testing process. Three of them made me break out in a rash, but SkinBetter Science Trio Rebalancing Moisture Treatment was my saving grace. I’ve now gone through three bottles (three!) since February. It’s creamy, lightweight, and virtually scentless. Did I mention it’s my saving grace? The company told me it took two years and 50 iterations to perfect this cocktail of hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and glycerin. And it was worth it to get a formula as quenching as it is utterly nonirritating, that also gives skin a dewy sheen after application — not glowy per se, but a nice hydrated look. (Is that a thing?) — Sarah Kinonen, associate digital beauty director

pile of skincare products
Allure editor Marci Robin’s selection of products, mailed to her in a 35-pound box. (Courtesy of Marci Robin)

APRIL 1

The fragrance run-through: a dizzying journey across nearly every fragrance that has launched in the past year, plus past winners and a few more classics. In a historic win for unisex scents, the men’s category is abolished for 2019, its matte-black combatants integrated into the rest of the fray. Also, if you get light-headed, breathe into your shirt. It helps.

APRIL 25

Cosmetic chemist Ginger King and executive beauty director Jenny Bailly exchange their seventh round of emails about cyclopentasiloxane and cyclotetrasiloxane as they debate the parameters of Allure‘s clean standard in anticipation of our first-ever Clean Best of Beauty seal. (We ultimately decide to include silicones as a no-dice ingredient category; even though cosmetic-grade silicones are safe to use, the cyclic ones may accumulate in the water supply, which is bad for the environment.)

APRIL 26
The color-product run-through: a magazine of lipstick bullets, a mosaic of glittering eye shadow pans, an embarrassment of blushes running over in the beauty closet. The team pores over all of them, swiping and testing.

red lipsticks swatched on the back of a white woman's hands as she starts to swatch another lipstick while standing...
Allure editors swatch red lipsticks for the 2019 Best of Beauty Awards (Courtesy of Sarah Kinonen/Allure)

APRIL 30

By the way: During this process, a whole other group of people is testing for a separate category, Best of Beauty Breakthroughs. The only difference is that this group is comprised of people who spend all day every day doing hair and makeup, plus STEM grads and Ph.D.s who can hack through an ingredient list like it’s the dense Amazon. Sometimes the products they test go on to win big. Other times: “I had my assistant use this [redacted toning product] for a few weeks since she’s a double-process blonde — and it turned her hair purple,” says hair colorist Nikki Ferrara. “She left it in, and her hair was legit lavender when she showed up at the salon.”

MAY 6

The Met Gala, sponsored in part by Condé Nast (Allure’s publisher), takes place. For every 10 employees at work, at least one of them is wearing a gown or a tux. Best of Beauty marches on.

Listen, I tried to be stealthy and silent when I had to walk past important-looking meetings. But let’s just say this: Some people get to go to the Met Gala, and some people get to interrupt Met Gala fittings by spilling entire tote bags of bath bombs across the fashion-closet floor. — Karli Bendlin, best of beauty assistant

MAY 9

Our editor in chief completes her highlighter testing. One gleams brighter than the rest.

During the past year alone, I’ve tried no fewer than 200 highlighters — this is a conservative estimate. (I’ve been known to wear three at once.) But as I was smearing and sweeping for these awards, I found myself weighing each against the goldest standard: Does it beat my Stila? Time after time, the bouncy cream-powder Heaven’s Hue knocked contenders off the list…and we had our winner. — Michelle Lee

MAY 11

Copy manager Dawn Rebecky’s niece tests bath bombs, with hilarious results.

[Redacted] Bath Bomb:

  1. Love the bubblegum color, but it’s staining my hands and knees.
  2. I think I’m allergic to this.
  3. It was heavy and took a long time to melt, so I made a bowling tub with shampoo bottles as pins and bowled with it instead.

— Ava, age 8

MAY 24

Testing notes are due. All 61 testers finish logging their feedback on every product they received into the Mother of All Beauty-Related Spreadsheets.

JUNE 19

The first of two multi-hour, full-staff Best of Beauty meetings occurs, in which the team gathers to parse the collected notes. More importantly, the best pizza in New York City is ordered to bolster attendance.

I had thought the perfect slice was a fallacy. Good pizza exists on a linear scale that stretches from Chicago to New York City: On one end, a decadent pool of sauce and cheese, as soft and rich as the dawn; on the other, something as crisp as a promise, as solid as the ground on which we walk. Rosella’s pizza, in lower Manhattan, is a utopian marriage of both ideals, a triumph of flavor and texture. On the spectrum, it falls just north of Youngstown, Ohio. The ideal pizza texture. 100 stars! — Brennan Kilbane, senior writer

AUGUST 22

The issue closes. In lieu of an interview with our director of operations, Amanda Meigher, we offer this paraphrased comment: “The October issue close was [flawless] with [no errors at all]. [Everything] was delivered [on time] and [under budget]. It was a total cluster [of fun and exciting stories].”

SEPTEMBER 16

The class of 2019 is revealed. We revel in their glory and offer our sincerest thanks to the brilliant, and deeply patient, people, listed above, who helped us make it happen. (We also look forward to a little break. But not a long one — Best of Beauty 2020 begins in four short months.)

The Judges

The Cosmetic Chemists: Ginger King, Ron Robinson, and Ni’Kita Wilson
The Doctors: Macrene Alexiades, Whitney Bowe, Doris Day, Jeanine Downie, Francesca Fusco, Mona Gohara, Elizabeth Hale, Ranella Hirsch, Adam Kolker Marc Lowenberg, Kavita Mariwalla, Ellen Marmur, Rachel Nazarian, Lana Rozenberg, Neil Sadick, Amy Wechsler, Heather Woolery-Lloyd, Jessica Wu, and Joshua Zeichner
The Makeup Artists: Robin Black Huda Kattan Daniel Martin Benjamin Puckey
The Manicurists: Holly Falcone, Miss Pop, and Mary Sol Inzerillo
The Hairstylists: Teddi Cranford, DJ Quintero, and Lacy Redway
The Hair Colorists: Rachel Bodt and Nikki Ferrara
The Tech Expert: Sharon Profis, CNET executive editor
…and of course, Allure’s Editors

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Author: Ben