If you had told me three years ago that my entire makeup bag would be filled with clean products, I would have given you some major side eye. I know what you’re thinking: Do natural beauty products actually work as well as their not-as-eco-friendly counterparts?
Like many of you, I was skeptical that the formulas wouldn’t perform, the colors would be dull, and the experience would feel less luxe than I was used to. But, after months of testing (it’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it!), I was proven way, way wrong. I’m now on year two of a totally clean makeup bag and cannot recommend the transition more—I’ve never gotten so many compliments on my skin before.
Curious about trying clean, natural makeup? You’re not alone. “When I transitioned to a clean makeup kit over 10 years ago, it was relatively unheard of,” says Christy Coleman, chief artistic officer at Beautycounter. “However, in recent years, I’ve seen more and more makeup artists as well as clients taking an interest in clean beauty. I also see more indie brands and retailers popping up, and many traditional retailers are even creating special clean beauty sections in stores, proving that clean beauty is resonating with consumers and is here to stay.”
One of the main reasons the world of natural makeup is confusing: “There is no government or third party-certified definition stating what qualifies as clean beauty,” says Tara Foley, founder and CEO of Follain, one of my favorite clean beauty shopping destinations. Learning that there was no FDA regulation on these terms was a real a-ha moment for me personally. “Unfortunately, some brands try to capitalize on the clean beauty movement by labeling their products with words like clean, non-toxic, and natural or by putting a leaf on the package, but when you take a closer look at the label, you’ll find some nasty ingredients,” adds Foley.
Speaking of nasty surprises in your products, here are a few scary ingredients you should be avoiding: “Since makeup sits on the skin for the day, it is important to select products that are free of chemicals that are questionable or contain irritants,” says dermatologist Ellen Marmur, M.D., founder of Marmur Medical and Marmur Metamorphosis Skincare. “Chemicals such as parabens, phthalates, PEGs, and synthetic fragrances are all linked to harmful health effects such as hormone disruption, cancer, and skin irritation.”
I love hitting up clean beauty stores like Follain, Credo, and The Detox Market, which have all done the vetting for me, making it easy to shop safe. I know that these stores have excluded all brands and products that contain controversial and harmful ingredients. Another great resource: the Environmental Working Group. “The EWG started the EWG Verified program as a way to help consumers recognize products that do not contain harmful ingredients, fully disclose ingredients, and are made with sustainable manufacturing practices,” says Carla Burns, EWG research analyst. “The best way to tell if a product contains chemicals of concern is by checking the label or by using resources like EWG’s Skin Deep database or Healthy Living app.”
And now for the fun part: shopping! Ahead, we break down each category of makeup and give you a list of the brands that really stand out in the clean makeup world. Everything in their lines is safe, so you can feel confident shopping and wearing these brands. Prepare to feel beautiful—naturally. —Marta Topran
Current clean formulas are infused with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and jojoba oil instead of the skin-suffocating silicones of the past. Makeup artist Sam Addington says the slippery feel of new options might be unfamiliar at first. But it’s a chance to try something fresh, like Kosas Tinted Oil, a water-thin foundation she calls “a total game changer” because of the way it subtly covers imperfections.
“Kosas has really been a standout for its skincare-first approach to clean makeup. It has innovative formulas and impressive shade ranges both for skin tones and colors to play with. The first time I tried this now cult-favorite oil, I was shocked and how water-thin the liquid was while still having impressive coverage. It made my skin look like skin, but totally undid any redness on my face. Plus, it’s so lightweight I don’t feel it at all, even during sticky humid summer weather.”—Kristina Rodulfo
Plain Jane Beauty
“The clean beauty movement is still largely lacking in diversity, and Plain Jane Beauty is a black-owned brand that fights that by keeping all skin tones in mind. The sustainable brand defines “clean” as being plant-based and free of mineral pigments, animal testing, and synthetic dyes. Bonus: the ingreedients also include botanical wonder workers like rosehip seed, green tea extract, and Vitamins C, E, and A.”—KR
“Westman Atelier is the brainchild of legendary makeup artist Gucci Westman, whose work has graced the faces of A-listers like Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. She has an extensive list of ingredients not included in the products (parabens, suflates, PEGs), but doesn’t sacrifice anything in the luxurious formulas. This blush, for example, gives the most rosy natural-looking flush but can be built up to be more poppy. I get compliments every time I wear it.”—KR
Victoria Beckham Beauty
“From pop music to fashion, and now beauty, everything Victoria Beckham touches turns to gold. I really admire how transparent the brand has been about its clean makeup standards—including a big effort to be sustainable by not using plastic. The products also look and feel high-end. Case in point: This tiny tortoise shell palette (just half the length of an iPhone X) is compact but has a beautiful blend of shades to wear everyday.”—KR
“One of the O.G.s of the clean beauty scene, Burt’s Bees has recently expanded into the makeup world. Just like their beloved skincare and lip balms, the cosmetics are formulated without parabens, phthalates, and petrolatum. I love their pencil liner, which is super gentle on eyes while still giving the definition you expect from a traditional liner.”—MT
Rituel de Fille
“Jessica Alba’s Honest Beauty line has quickly become one of my go-to brands because I really trust their extensive standards—the “no” list of ingredients they don’t use is 3,000 items long (meanwhile E.U. product regulation bans 1,300 and the U.S. bans 11). I also love that Honest is affordable and available at a wide retailer like Target so clean makeup can be accessible. The liquid lipstick is, by far, one of the best I’ve tried. It’s long-lasting and doesn’t dry down sticky or suck moisture from your pout. I have every color.”—KR
“Calling all organic makeup purists—100% Pure has stringent parameters. Everything is organic, cold-pressed, and with zero synthetics or unrefined ingredients. Fruits, vegetables, tea, and other plant pigments color the products—including this lipstick. It’s just as nourishing as a lip balm, with a punch of color.”—KR
“Axiology specializes in vegan lipsticks, and each one is only made with 10 ingredients. Expect hydrating goodness from a scrumptious blend of avocado butter, coconut oil, and grapeseed oil. Unlike some lipsticks that leave your pout feeling parched, you’ll wipe off this stick with your lips even more pillowy.”—KR