13 Desert-Island Beauty Recs (a.k.a. Products You Can’t Live Without)

What product would you use if you could only use one product forever?


My beauty routine once consisted of two steps: wash and moisturize. When I started this, around age 14, I felt very adult. Now, I consider myself low-maintenance because I only have seven steps. SEVEN!

I don’t even know what I’m doing. I’m just spritzing random things on my face and hoping they do something. The problem is, I’m a bit of a beauty hoarder. I have a secret drawer stuffed with little bottles and packets and jars of creams and oils, be they samples or testers or hand-me-downs or gifts. I fear parting with them, because what if they’re good? As my collection’s grown, I’ve become increasingly disillusioned. What am I supposed to do with all this stuff?

I’ve lost my way in this world of 34-step beauty routines.

That’s why I asked the team what ONE beauty item they would fly in, via emergency helicopter, if they were stranded on a desert island. It did not need to be survival-related, but I wanted to be clear that I was not asking their favorite step in their routine. I was asking what they’d use if they were forced to simplify their routine to one step total. What’s the one thing they couldn’t bear to part with? That they’d use if they couldn’t use anything else?

Scroll down to see what they told me (plus what I picked), and then tell us yours!

HaleyJunior Editor (hi, it’s me)

What would you call in?

Dermalogica Gentle Cream Exfoliant

Why is it your desert-island pick over another type of product?

This is the best $43 I’ve ever spent (and spent and spent). When my skin feels rough after a tough few weeks, this is always the thing that rejuvenates it. It’s the only thing that seems to work completely on its own — rather than being one part of a routine — which makes it the #1 desert-island pick, obviously.

What’s so good about it?

It’s an exfoliating mask, and it really feels like it’s taking off the top layer of buildup that seems to happen on my face if I don’t exfoliate for a while. No mask has ever worked as well for me. It makes my skin instantly soft/glowy where it was rough/dull just 15 minutes prior.

….and Haley‘s second pick

Listen, I know it’s cheating to pick two (like it’s the full opposite of the challenge and I’m the one who created the challenge) but I just couldn’t decide on one and I felt you needed to shoulder the weight of my indecision/help me decide.

What would you call in?

Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum.

If you recognize the name, that’s because Vintner’s Daughter is famous among skincare fanatics for being ridiculously expensive but totally life-changing. Into the Gloss called it “the face oil to end all face oils.” I even watched this THIRTY-ONE MINUTE REVIEW of it.

Why is it your desert-island pick over another type of product?

Without an oil of some kind, my combination skin tends to become more combination. The aforementioned roughness and unevenness happens faster.

What’s so good about it?

I’ll be honest that I’ve only used half of one bottle that I didn’t pay for (the price tag makes me cry), but I can already say it’s….incredible? It fully lives up to the hype (and I get bitter about hype). It makes my skin so even and soft and healthy-feeling. It’s not something I can reasonably keep using, but if I could, I’d use it forever (and ever).


What would you call in?

Drunk Elephant’s Umbra lotion

Why is it your desert-island pick over another type of product?

It’s creamy and takes care of me like a real moisturizer would even though it’s primary purpose is sun protection (SPF 30).

What’s so good about it?

It will protect my face from wrinkles and body from skin cancer. Seems like the closest thing to a life line given the context?

ArielDirector of Brand Partnerships

What would you call in?

Glossier Super Bounce Serum

Why is it your desert-island pick over another type of product?

If I had to pick just one, it needs to be this hydrating serum because my skin is just so damn thirsty!

What’s so good about it?

I have combination skin, so I have to be careful about products that skew too much towards one end of the spectrum. I can use the Glossier serum all over my face and it never gets too oily. I am a serum freak and probably have seven different kinds floating around at home right now, but this is by far my favorite.


What would you call in?

This is totally cheating, but I have one more pick specifically for my platinum hair gals: Christophe Robin Shade Variation Care Nutritive Mask

Why is it your desert-island pick over another type of product?

This is absolutely the best purple conditioner to nourish and soften platinum blonde hair.

What’s so good about it?

It not only brightens platinum color but also eliminates any brassy tones between colors. Someone once told me to massage this conditioner into your roots first and work your way down since your ends are the weakest part of your hair and absorb conditioner quicker.

ElizabethMarket Editor

What would you call in?

Lipstick Queen Frog Prince Lipstick

Why is it your desert-island pick over another type of product?

It moisturizes AND adds color. They call it henna lipstick because it is a green stick but takes the natural color of your lips and flushes them a deeper pink.

What’s so good about it?

For one, it actually keeps my lips from not getting dry — which is my absolutely pet peeve — plus it shows up like a very light lipstick. It’s my lips but enhanced. My boyfriend likes to use it, too.

HarlingJunior Staff Writer

What would you call in?

Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30

Why is it your desert-island pick over another type of product?

I originally had a different product picked out for this story, but I changed to this one last-minute because I got a sample at an event and tried it immediately and it’s THAT GOOD. I love that it combines both SPF and skin tint — basically all I need for my face to feel both protected and presentable and thus, the perfect desert-island companion.

What’s so good about it?

It doesn’t smell like sunscreen and it blends into freshly washed skin like a g-dang dream. My skin veers toward the oily side of the spectrum and often has sensitive/burning reactions to SPF, but this product gives me a nice glow without making me look like an oil slick and never irritates me.

EricaManaging Editor

What would you call in?

RMS Beauty Oil

Why is it your desert-island pick over another type of product?

I hate putting multiple layers of stuff on my face, whether it be makeup, skincare or a combo of both. I dislike both the feeling and anything that takes longer than five minutes to apply. This face oil is simple (aka one quick step), extremely effective (cuts out the need for a bunch of other layers and steps) and feels V luxurious (which is a fun bonus if you’re stranded anywhere, IMO).

What’s so good about it?

This oil does everything — moisturizes, tones, brightens, creates that dewy finish (aka That Wet Look). I even ditched eye cream because I’m convinced it’s staving off under-eye wrinkles (tbd). It’s made entirely of natural oils and herbal extracts, which means reading the ingredient list doesn’t leave me paranoid. Lastly, when applying this, you have no choice but to treat yourself to a face massage.

Pro tip: In the summer, massage this into your shoulders and décolletage and you’ll look all glowy in your off-the-shoulder tops and such.

YvonneGrowth Manager

What would you call in?

Lucas Papaw Ointment

Why is it your desert-island pick over another type of product?

It works for EVERYTHING! It’s like a mix between coconut oil and vaseline. If I rubbed it all over, my whole body would feel like a baby’s bottom. Put it on your eyelashes if you don’t have mascara handy. Put it in your hair. Put it EVERYWHERE. I often use it as hand lotion during the winter months.

What’s so good about it?

It smells really good! And it’s a TRUE multi-purpose product. I have been using this as a cure all for nearly 10 years now and it is a gift from the heavens.



PattyHead of Revenue

What would you call in?

Donna Karan Cashmere Mist Deodorant

Why is it your desert-island pick over another type of product?

It just works, you know?

What’s so good about it?

The scent isn’t overpowering and it does the trick. I must’ve tried at least 20 different deodorants — men’s and women’s, natural and clinical, gel and solid — over the last decade and a half. This is my hands-down fave. Couldn’t live without it.

LeslieEditorial Director

What would you call in?

Davines Love Conditioner

Why is it your desert-island pick over another type of product?

I have a lot of unruly hair. It’s wavy and dry and can get big and fluffy, especially when freshly washed.

What’s so good about it?

This is my gold standard when it comes to conditioner. It’s defrizzing and nourishing. I love that it comes in a big tub; scooping it out is so satisfying.

JasminSenior Integrated Marketing Strategist

What would you call in?

Honestly? Cetaphil

Why is it your desert-island pick over another type of product?

Because it all starts with clean skin. If you don’t have that, why bother?

What’s so good about it?

I started using it recently after seeing it on a Teen Vogue IG story and it’s really changed the game for me. My skin feels so clean, but not dry, and it’s helping to clear out some chin breakouts I’ve been getting. If I have to live on a desert island, at least my skin won’t have to suffer.

Maria, Visual Assistant

What would you call in?

stila Magnificent Metals Glitter & Glow Liquid Eye Shadow

Why is it your desert-island pick over another type of product?

I have become a high-maintenance beauty person. I use 11 products on an average morning, and have recently integrated glitter eyeshadow into my daily routine. I saw someone apply this on Instagram and I fell in love. Makeup is best when it makes you feel special, and this eyeshadow is so magical. If I was on a desert island and no one was there to see me? I’d cover my whole face in this stuff. (Seriously. I want to be this.)

What’s so good about it?

This product is so pigmented, easy to apply and doesn’t flake. I have both Sunset Cove and Gold Goddess. Some people on the internet take issue with the price point, but I feel like the formulation and application is elevated from other glitter products.

Photos by Edith Young.

Get more Beauty ?
  • Dudu osun, my beloved black soap (link) …

  • Alexis Nelson

    Soooo where is the sponsored shopping link where I can order a sample (or full size) of all the products listed above for trial?! 😊💳📦📫

  • Bea

    Cetaphil is the best! I started using it after getting an eye infection and being told I needed to wash my eyelashes thoroughly every day (sounds weird but actually makes sense if you wear makeup). Anyway, Cetaphil is not only great for my skin, it is also very mild on the eyes.

    That Dermalogica peel irritated my skin a lot 🙁 I’d suggest Caudalie Glycolic Peel as an alternative.

  • Hilary

    Now even more excited to try the DE Umbra Lotion – just ordered it a few days ago!

    I think I’d *have* to pick two products for the desert island, because my combo skin would freak out otherwise: Indie Lee COQ-10 Toner (I love it because it cleans my skin, obviously, but the best thing about it is the delightfully fresh smell), and some straight Jojoba Oil.

  • Mary

    One set of drunk elephant (cheating but obsessed w them)

  • Meg S

    I subscribe to the Korean skin care method, but my steps are shortened by a lot. I generally average between 4 and 6.

    My current desert island pick is Su:M 37 Rose Cleansing Stick. I’ve gone through at least two of these since I discovered it on a trip to Korea two years ago. Also, sheet masks. There’s one for everything. If I only had to use one item for the rest of my life, it would be sunscreen. Sunscreen > everything.

  • Penelope

    Sunscreen! It’s a desert island, and since I and whomever I’m marooned with will be getting sunburned, I can trade my sunscreen for goods and services. It will be our currency!

  • Kathryn Hannum

    I have recently been finding lots of articles stating that Cetaphil is actually bad for you. So whats the deal? Is the trusted cleanser I have been using on my whole body for over ten years too drying/overly acidic/slowly poisoning me??

  • Kay Nguyen

    I have never used beauty oil but RMS is really interesting! It sounds like an all in one miracle product and now I want to try it out <3


  • Natty


  • Audrey

    Cosrx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence. Your skin will glow with such radiance that the light reflecting off your cheeks can be used as a distress signal to ships and aircraft.

    • autillicautnullibi

      All the Cosrx snail stuff is incredible. I basically slather myself in the pink tube every night and day. Hail the snail.

  • glitter

    glitter face goals brought to you by queen of the internet (throwback, I know)

  • Olivia

    MR ladies- do you have an article on how to use these products/what order to use them in/how to get started as a person that uses skin care? I’ve only worn mascara for years, recently diagnosed with major rosacea and trying to break into an actual adult beauty routine.. I have literally no clue how to do any of this stuff. And it’s terrifying. Can you help?

    • Rosemary

      I’m the latest of late on this but reddit.com/r/skincareaddiction has a great routine for beginners and if you ask about a specific issue like rosacea they’ll give you the most amazing skincare tips!

  • doctor Zoidberg

    G-d you ladies *heads over to buy face oils*
    Very curious re vintners daughter and RMS oils. Line the 🐸 prince!! Got everyone hooked on it.

  • Ayan Booyens

    Ooo cetaphil. A dermatologist prescribed this marvelous gentle facewash to me like 5 years ago. Never looked back