I know this is a controversial thing to say (it's not): Rihanna has many admirable qualities, impeccable taste, an abundance of talent and a demonstrated ability to fully shake up entire well-established industries, including beauty. From the game-changing launch of Fenty Beauty back in 2017, she and the brand single-handedly set a new standard for what an inclusive, diverse cosmetics company can and should look like. By mere existence, it challenged everyone else to step it up, expand their shade ranges, consider consumers as individuals and rethink the long-standing, fusty, old-school modus operandi of the business.
Couple all of that with the fact that Rihanna has been working on — and talking about — her carefully devised skin-care formulations for years, and it's fair to say the expectations for Fenty Skin were high. And Rihanna herself knew it, routinely talking about the difficulties associated with formulating skin care, the importance she placed on making products that work for all skin types (no easy feat) and recognition of just how smart and demanding beauty consumers are nowadays.
So when Fenty Skin officially launched at the end of July, the frenzied maelstrom of attention it got (the website crashed, the full set sold out almost immediately, Twitter generally freaked the hell out) wasn't totally unexpected. What was perhaps unexpected was that not all the reviews were as glowing as Rihanna's complexion: Influencers and press (who had gotten an early jump on testing the products) and Skin-Care Twitter (who hadn't necessarily tried the products, but were quick to dissect the ingredient lists once they were revealed) questioned the fact that the formulas contain artificial fragrance and potential irritants like witch hazel which may inflame sensitive or sensitized skin types.
Now, I'm just one person, with one set of skin concerns, one perspective on product preferences and one skin type, but as Fashionista's beauty director, I've also tried about as many skin-care products as a human can, and I've spent years interviewing dermatologists, estheticians and experts. Ahead, my honest reviews of the three initial Fenty Skin launches. Do with them what you will.
The general pros:
- It's gender neutral. Rihanna has been vocal about the fact that this line is for every person, regardless of gender, a crucial message to spread that directly contradicts years of marketing bullshit that misled consumers, perpetuated toxic masculinity, conned women into spending more on pink-washed products and was based on pseudo-science. Hopefully Rihanna leading the charge in a push for gender neutrality in the beauty space will inspire other brands to follow suit.
- The sustainable touches. The streamlined edit of three products is a departure from the maximalist skin-care brands we've seen so much of in the past few years. The toner/serum hybrid purposely has a thick texture that can be applied directly from fingertips, meaning it cuts down on waste from cotton pads other similar products would require. And one of the products — the moisturizer — even comes in a refillable bottle. The products do not come in outer boxes with shrink wrap, a huge source of waste in the industry. It's also vegan and cruelty-free. Great!
- The packaging. It's pretty and practical; the lavender color scheme is beautiful, none of the components have removable lids (ideal for people who lose shit all the time, like me) and there are no unhygienic, open-air jars that you have to dip your fingers into and risk contamination or rapid expiration.
- It promotes the use of sunscreen. There is one (1) moisturizer, and it has broad-spectrum SPF 30 sun protection. Not only does this drive home the fact that everyone (everyone!) should be wearing sunscreen every day, but it also works toward dismantling the still-pervasive myth that melanated skin doesn't also need to be protected from the sun. What's more, this one doesn't turn chalky on dark complexions. (But more on that ahead.)
- The textures are delightful. Every single formula has a heavenly, smooth texture that makes the process of using Fenty Skin an almost ritualistic, pleasant process of self-care.
The general cons:
- The fragrance. Yes, it's artificially fragranced, and yes, that can be irritating to sensitive types or sensitizing to those who are prone to rosacea and eczema. While the scents themselves (there are multiple different ones) aren't super heavy or obtrusive, they're also not my favorite. Like mosquito bites, people who chew with their mouths open and emails sent to me in Comic Sans, I guess they're not technically hurting me in any real way, but I'd really rather they not be a part of my daily routine. More specific details on all of that in the individual reviews below.
- The witch hazel. While I appreciate that there's no alcohol in the toner, witch hazel is a bit too astringent and sensitizing for my personal skin type. That was confirmed by me when I tested the Fat Water. Not the biggest fan. Sorry, Rih.
- There are fewer actives than I'd like. Listen, I just turned 30. I need some potent, highly active products that are going to get shit done for my face. I love the inclusion of broad-spectrum sunscreen and subtle brighteners (like antioxidants) in the line, as well as the fact that there's only a chemical exfoliant, not a physical one. But if we're talking about a comprehensive, results-driven skin-care routine, the absence of a retinoid is pretty glaring for me. This might work well for Gen-Z kids who are just starting to experiment with chemical exfoliators, serums and sunscreens, but Olds like me need a bit more.
- The packaging. It feels a whole lot cheaper in person than I expected based on photos. If that's something that might bother you, beware.
- It kind of forces the use of sunscreen — even at night. I stand by everything I said in the "pros" column: Sunscreen is so, so important and I'm so glad that Rihanna is changing the conversation about sun protection with this line. I just personally do not want to use a sunscreen overnight.
- It didn't immediately make me look like Rihanna. Rude.
Of the three products, I was surprised to find that this cleanser was my favorite and the one I'll most likely be incorporating into my routine regularly. I don't normally get too picky about my face washes — they're only on skin for a moment, and then you rinse them down the drain, so really all I need from them is to get my face clean without stripping it or irritating it.
I was a bit skeptical about the notion of a cream-to-foam formula that lathers as you massage it into skin, knowing that most sudsy or cream cleansers are far too drying for my skin, strip it of its natural moisture, fuck with the natural balance of oils in my skin and make my eyes red and irritated. But this one has an ultra-soft, almost plush texture — almost like a fluffy, less-sticky melted marshmallow — and even the lather it creates feels ultra-gentle, like it's coddling skin while it cleanses. It's spiked with vitamin C and other antioxidants and it actually did remove my makeup without the need for double-cleansing or makeup wipes (again, thanks for helping me cut down on waste, Rih!). It dissolved my mascara in a matter of seconds and didn't irritate my sensitive eyes at all, shockingly.
After I rinsed it off, my face did feel the tiiiiiiiiiiniest bit tight, more so than I'd like, but not egregiously dry like I'd feared. And the fragrance here — a pretty faint, ever-so-slightly vanilla-y floral — didn't really bother me. I noticed it, I neither loved nor hated it, but then it disappeared the second I rinsed the cleanser away and didn't really give it another thought.
Texturally speaking, I loved this formula. It's nothing like I expected: More solid and jelly-like than an essence, more viscous and oil-like than a traditional toner, and not nearly as drippy as I assumed it would be (it doesn't really slip through my fingers at all), it can definitely be applied easily without a cotton pad. It's ultra-spreadable, so distributing a thin layer over your whole face takes about two seconds, though I clocked about 20-30 seconds before it really soaked into my skin and dissipated. It left no greasy residue, no slick oil sheen, and it also didn't leave my face feeling stripped (at first, anyway — read on).
The squeezable plastic bottle and twist-up cap makes it easy to dispense, and the idea of combining exfoliating, brightening, hydrating and protective benefits into one step certainly appeals. I also can't argue with the inclusion of niacinamide, a vitamin B3 derivative that's been proven to improve skin tone and texture. This has the faintest scent of all, a barely there floral that I could certainly have done without but didn't ruin my life, either.
The real bummer for me with this product is that the second ingredient (after water) is witch hazel, an astringent that may have positive properties for clearing certain types of acne, but negative properties for those prone to redness, dryness, sensitivity or conditions like eczema or rosacea. As a sometimes-sufferer of the latter, I found that after a few uses of this product, my face looked more red and inflamed than it had before (though not fully flared-up into a complete rosacea attack). Sadly this will not be making its way into my everyday routine.
My favorite thing about this lightweight, creamy gel-like moisturizer is the inclusion of broad-spectrum SPF 30. As I noted above, the fact that Rihanna is preaching about the importance of sun protection — for every skin tone — is truly wonderful. What's more, the sunscreen ingredients at play here are avobenzone, homosalate and octisalate, which are chemical SPFs that are supposedly safer for reefs than oxybenzone and octinoxate, common chemical sunscreens. I was a little disappointed that it didn't employ physical sunscreens (which notably provide blue-light protection) because I would have loved to see Rihanna create a physical block that could work on dark skin tones without looking chalky or Casper-y.
But those points of contention aside, Fenty Skin's sunscreen is super impressive in that it feels amazingly light on skin, spreads easily, leaves a slightly dewy, but not shiny finish and has a pale peach tint that is truly universal in its ability to ever-so-subtly liven up any skin tone. In case it's not clear, I love the texture of this one, too. It really felt like it melted into my face and provides a smooth, even canvas for makeup.
Again, niacinamide is a key ingredient, as are hyaluronic acid, aloe and antioxidants. Those are all well and good, but I would have also liked a nighttime version with some sort of vitamin A derivative active (retinoids are important to me, people!). And while I'm on the subject of wanting a nighttime version, I'll say it again: I simply do not want to wear sunscreen overnight — there are more important ingredients I could be letting get to work while I sleep.
The fragrance in this moisturizer — a headier floral with a lingering smack of sunscreen-meets-Play-Doh as it settled into my skin — was my least favorite of the bunch, and also the strongest. Be it this added fragrance or the sunscreen ingredients (or maybe the fact that I applied it right after the witch-hazel-heavy Fat Water), but for some reason, this moisturizer made my face sting a tiny little bit and also turned me a little pink and inflamed looking (but still dewy). My colleague Liza alerted me to this Twitter thread in which esthetician Tiara Willis (who goes by the handle @MakeupForWOC) said she'd be using this product on her body, rather than her face, going forward, and I think that's a spot-on idea. As she notes, "the skin on your body is usually more resilient and less sensitive than your face," plus having the scent farther away from my nose would probably prove beneficial. I have yet to actually slather my limbs in Hydra Vizor, but I'll give it a go soon.
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