Allure's 2013 Beauty Awards were published this month with a list so long it's tempting to think that surely the value must be diluted. But I struck down my inner naysayer and ignored my cynical self, which speculated about how many of those winners were advertisers. Instead, I honed in on the skincare category to see if the 2013 Allure Beauty Awards winners are deserving or merely self-serving.

Here’s the truth about Allure’s 2013 Beauty Awards winners in the skincare category:

Facial moisturizer for dry skin

2013 Allure Winner: Fresh Lotus Youth Preserve ($42)

Unless you are a big believer in glycerin (the second ingredient), Fresh’s Lotus Youth Preserve will have very little, ahem, allure. Among the unappealing synthetics is polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), a plastic substitute for glass that, ground finely, is used as a filler in cosmetics. The good stuff appears further down the list with sodium hyaluronate and a handful of plant extracts, which thankfully does, in fact, include lotus.

Better bet:  Sevani Advanced Complexion Corrector  ($39 for 2oz in the shop)

Lotus is an ingredient worth seeking out since it contains antioxidant properties, thanks to bioflavenoids like quercetin and rutin. Sevani is an all-natural brand that uses blue lotus in most of its skincare products. Their Advanced Complexion Corrector is a marvelous hydrator with a deceptively simple formula that also corrects redness.

Facial moisturizer for oily skin

2013 Allure Winner:  Dr Brandt Pores No More Anti-Aging Mattifying Lotion ($60)

Dr Brandt’s products are usually worth a second glance, but Pores No More Anti-Aging Mattifying Lotion disappoints even though I want to like it. There’s way more silicone than I would like to see in a product that is supposed to clear or close pores. That job is given to an interesting plant: epilobium fleisheri. Although this alpine is said to close pores and help oily, sensitive skin, I wasn’t able to find any further information on it. The only other standout ingredient is apple stem cell.

Better bet: Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Repair Moisturizer ($65)

Juice Beauty’s stem cell complex is taken from apple and grape buds, lemon bark, and apple, grape and lemon juices. Stem cells are not a token gesture in this moisturizer but are front and center, making this an effective moisturizer with an outstanding price-to-quality ratio. If open pores and oily skin are your acute issues, then try Snowberry Bright Defence Day Cream No. 1 ($59). It is lightweight, pores disappear and skin looks dewy, not oily.  

Instant brightener

2013 Allure Winner: Clarins Beauty Flash Balm ($45)

Clarins is a brand that has managed to position itself as upscale but affordable, plant-based but effective. Sadly, the reality doesn’t quite match up. Clarins Beauty Flash Balm’s dominant ingredient is rice starch, a bulking agent that has the benefit (from the manufacturer’s point of view) of leaving the skin feeling instantly – and superficially – soft. The only things worth calling out are witch hazel and algae extract and the rest of the formula includes things best avoided, such as the strongly irritant sodium hydroxide.

Better bet: Amarte Aqua Veil Hydrator ($65)

The Aqua Veil Hydrator is a balm to optimize your skin’s ability to absorb and retain moisture. There are silicones here, but this light and soothing, cucumber-scented, product isn't weighed down by them. The cucumber, along with elderberry, calms irritation and reduces redness. Amica extract heals cell damage caused by dehydration and environment, mallow extract delivers gentle hydration, and sodium hyaluronate improves moisture retention.

Anti-ager antioxidant

2013 Allure Winner: Skinceuticals Phloretin ($155)

This simple formula is based on three active ingredients: vitamin C  (in the form of ascorbic acid), phloretin and ferulic acid. When I tested Skinceuticals Phloretin a few years ago, I found it to be dull and drying, and ineffective even on tiny wrinkles. The dull and drying part is likely due to the high proportion of denatured alcohol and the form of vitamin C – ascorbic acid is unstable and not as potent as newer forms of vitamin C and, therefore, tends to be formulated in high concentrations that sensitive skin (such as mine) finds overly drying. The two other actives are worth looking out for though. Phloretin is a flavonoid (antioxidant) that is found exclusively in apples and protects from sun damage, while ferulic acid is a powerful antioxidant that seeks and destroys free radicals and improves the performance of vitamin C.

Better bet: Medik8 CE-Tetra ($115 in the shop)

CE-Tetra is a similarly pared back, vitamin C-rich formula, but one that's more effective and sensitive skin-friendly. What makes Medik8’s vitamin C serum a standout is that it has a 7% concentration of tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. This form of vitamin C rates as potent, gentle and non-drying and plays nicely with vitamin E, which is also included.

Anti-ager discoloration

2013 Allure Winner: Elure Advanced Skin Lightening Lotion ($125) is a two time Allure winner and is an unpleasant concoction of liquid paraffin and PEGs. In the midst of which is a very unusual ingredient – given this is a cosmetic, not paper manufacturing. Phanerochaete chrysosporium is a kind of fungi that can break down the woody part of dead plants and in the paper industry it is used to remove brown lignin and bleach the cellulose left behind. Is this how Elure Advanced Skin Lightening Lotion goes about its skin lightening – I suppose it must be since there are no other actives here.

Better bet: E'shee Serum Intensive Brightening ($119 in the shop)

For another unusual, but more plausible, skin lightening active look at . M-tranexamic acid – which is a derivative of the amino acid lysine - decreases melanocyte tyrosinase activity (thereby dealing with age spots and hyperpigmentation) by preventing inflammatory cells, which are typically more abundant around an age spot. With regular and prolonged use E’shee Serum Intensive Brightening works even at gradually fading large dark spots.

Eye cream moisturizing

2013 Allure Winner: Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Eye ($38)

The Midnight Recovery Eye treatment isn’t at all bad, which makes it light years ahead of most Kiehl’s products. There are plenty of emollient oils and some useful plant extracts, like butcher’s broom, which contains chemicals that attach to and strengthen blood vessels, plus antioxidants rosemary and turmeric. On the downside, there’s a lot of alcohol in Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Eye that might be irritating and drying, and a couple of harsh preservatives to boot. But amongst the Kiehl’s oeuvre, I have seen worse.

Better bet:Sevani Ageless Eyes Revitalizing Eye Serum ($54 in the store) For a similar roll call of natural oils and botanical extracts – but without any of the nasties – try Sevani's Ageless Eyes Revitalizing Eye Serum. It has the same emollient oils, plus antioxidant oils pomegranate, argan and sea buckthorn, too. It worked wonders even for our tester who was pregnant and has sensitive skin.

Eye cream anti-wrinkle

2013 Allure Winner: RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Eye Cream ($23.95)

The retinol in this eye cream from RoC comes after 34 other ingredients, all of which will do absolutely nothing for the skin, with exception of glycerin (near the top), and vitamin C and hyaluronic acid (near the end). Of some interest is dihydroxy methylchromone, a synthetic skin lightener that is supposed to mimic a compound in rhubarb. Other than that there are half a dozen silicones and a fistful of parabens. 

Better betAmarte Eyeconic Eye Cream 

For a real deal retinol eye cream, I like Amarte Eyeconic Eye Cream. Retinol is at a whopping 3.8% concentration here. A standout ingredient in Eyeconic is nano-encapsulated epidermal growth factor. In addition, there is argan oil and botanical extracts that include ginkgo biloba nut, which has high levels of quercetin, a common and powerful antioxidant. Amarte Eyeconic Eye Cream leaves the eye area skin looking smoother and more hydrated.

Peel

2013 Allure Winner: Philosophy Resurface – The Microdelivery Dual-Phase Peel ($69)

Philosophy’s 2-step exfoliating and brightening system is not very subtle. The Lactic/Salicylic Activating Gel exfoliates with lactic and salicylic acids. The rest of the formula is made up of stabilizers, thickeners and preservatives. The Vitamin C/Peptide Resurfacing Crystals is somewhat better with vitamin C (a good version called MAP), vitamin E, retinyl palmitate and a peptide. Unfortunately, the first ingredient is PEG 6. PEGs are controversial because they can contain toxic impurities. The second ingredient is baking soda, which makes you wonder what you’re paying for.

Better betOsmotics Micro Peel Skin Resurfacing System ($86)

Osmotics Micro Peel Skin Resurfacing System is actually one of my favorite anti-aging beauty products. It says on the box that it visibly reduces fine lines and wrinkles – and it does. There are three steps, starting with the Exfoliating Charcoal Mask, which has white oak bark, thyme and mint. Collagen Boosting Micro Peel has exfoliating AHAs and some intriguing plant extracts such as spondias mombin pulp extract (a favorite of Murad products). The last step is the Protective Barrier Cream. Overall, the quality-to-cost ratio is much better than Philosophy’s.

Mask for oily skin

2013 Allure Winner: Murad Clarifying Mask ($37)

This Murad product is really just a clay mask with some exfoliating salicylic acid, plus vitamin C and licorice. Among the dubious ingredients are talc, which might be carcinogenic and some want to see banned from cosmetics, plus every paraben known to man and several other harsh preservatives.

Better bet: Living Nature Cleansing Clay Peel ($35 in the shop)

By contrast, this clay-based mask absorb toxins, controls oil and stimulates circulation. It has a ton of nice and beneficial ingredients including manuka oil and honey, tea tree and evening primrose oils, vitamin E, pine bark extract and wheat germ. Our tester thought “Cleansing Clay Peel was a great clay mask that helped remove impurities and clear the pores, and left the skin smooth and glowing."