Monday, June 17, 2024

What Are the Sephora Clean Beauty Guidelines? Plus: the 87 Qualifying Brands to Shop


The Sephora Clean Beauty guidelines are ushering in a new era of skincare. But what does it mean exactly? Here’s everything you need to know, plus the brands to shop in the Clean and Planet Positive categories.

There is perhaps no greater irony of the last half-century than the promise of the beauty and personal care industries. Long shielded by proprietary formulas that kept consumers from knowing what exactly is in the products they’re buying, manufacturers have historically loaded up the product claims of health and beauty but contain instead ingredients known to be toxic to human health and the environment.

Lawsuits levied against brands like the formaldehyde-laden Brazilian Blowout and Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder are two prime examples of industry promises gone wrong. There are scores of ingredients that are now outlawed in countries including the E.U. bloc, for their links to health and environmental issues. But many are still pervasive in the U.S. market.

herbivore cloud jelly
Courtesy Herbivore

But some companies are stepping up to make change. One key player: Sephora and its Clean at Sephora category that helps consumers know exactly what’s in a product, or, more accurately, what isn’t.

Sephora is the beauty retail category leader, with sales surpassing $5 billion in the U.S. in 2020; globally, its sales are more than $10 billion. But despite its large footprint, it’s not the first beauty-focused retailer to lean into clean beauty ingredients. The Detox Market and Credo Beauty have been holding court in the space for over a decade—weeding out the cleanwashing from the clean ingredient labels. Amazon has also upped its categorizations to highlight clean beauty products. Sephora’s closest competitor though is the U.S.-based Ulta. The Conscious Beauty at Ulta Beauty category houses clean, cruelty-free, vegan, and sustainably packaged products.

And then there’s Whole Foods Market, which got the ball rolling in the category when it banned more than 100 ingredients from its personal care and body care product offerings more than a decade ago.

Now at more than 180 ingredients, Whole Foods says that it engages with many of its beauty and personal care suppliers and participates in the journey with them. “We help make alliances with our foundations, advise on our ingredient standards to improve formulations, onboard smaller regional and local suppliers to help them grow their brands and help showcase innovative ingredients and formulations.”

What is Clean at Sephora?

Launched in 2018, Clean at Sephora is a visible mark on products sold via the beauty store’s website that allows consumers to easily see that the product they’re viewing meets Sephora’s clean beauty criteria.

The Clean at Sephora category only features products that are free from more than 50 ingredients that have been linked to human health issues. These include parabens, phthalates, mineral oil, formaldehyde, sulfates, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), ethanolamines DEA/TEA/MEA/ETA, toluene, carbon black, mercury and mercury compounds, aluminum salts, lead, and lead acetate, among others.

By doing the vetting for these questionable ingredients, Sephora hopes to help ease consumer concerns and smooth the shopping experience.

“This initiative was first and foremost inspired by our clients and the very apparent opportunity for Sephora to come in as an educational resource to those looking for help navigating the vast and growing world of clean beauty,” Artemis Patrick, Chief Merchandising Officer at Sephora, said when the category launched in 2018.

“Together with our brands, industry experts, external council—as well as feedback from our clients—we’ve sought to help demystify the category and bring clarity to those clients who desire more transparency in beauty, particularly in the ingredients they might like to avoid,” Patrick said. “It’s not about a line in the sand, for us it is about being transparent and providing brand options that deliver results. While this isn’t necessarily a new idea, it is most certainly relevant for our clients and is a starting point in an exciting and fast-moving innovative category.”

Qualifying for the Clean at Sephora label

According to Cindy Deily, a VP of skin care merchandising at Sephora, brands that want to qualify for the Clean at Sephora seal have to conduct a thorough audit of each and every one of their formulas to ensure none of the ingredients on the companies’ “formulated without” list are being used. “Additionally, they have to agree that none of their future formulas will contain any of these ingredients and have to demonstrate transparency in the form of a public-facing standard and point of view around formulation,” she told MBG in 2019. 

Deily says the landscape can be challenging for a variety of reasons that include regulation, terms, or claims that are widely used by mass and prestige. “Clean at Sephora allows us to define what clean means to us—in turn, creating a point of view that our clients can navigate, learn from, and shop with a sense of comfort that the work has been done for them,” she said.

Clean at Sephora Tata Harper
Tata Harper | Courtesy

“We continually educate ourselves through our relationships with industry leaders. Technology and innovation are increasing so rapidly, which is making clean beauty reformulations occur faster and creating more accessible new clean formula innovations. We’re learning every day, and we expect our program and criteria to continue to evolve to meet or exceed the wants and needs of our clients, as well as keeping pace with what science and innovation make possible.”

Platforms like Novi are helping. Founded by Kimberly Shenk, a former clean beauty brand entrepreneur herself, Novi is connecting brands, suppliers, and retailers to make access to clean ingredients and packaging easier than ever.

“The growing need for brands to find and source reliable materials that have been independently vetted by Novi for more than 100 sustainability standards has also led to significant growth in our supplier partners, big and small,” Shenk says.

Clean at Sephora banned ingredients

Ingredient or Category:Specific Requirement or Ingredient Names (does not include exhaustive ingredient lists):
Sulfates – SLS + SLES 
Formaldehyde-releasing agents 
Mineral Oil 
Retinyl Palmitate 
Coal Tar 
Undisclosed synthetic fragrances** Products can be formulated with disclosed synthetic fragrances that meet the following two criteria: (1) the synthetic fragrances do not include any of the ingredients listed in numbers 1 through 12 above and (2) the synthetic fragrances are at a concentration below 1% of the total formula.
AcrylatesEthyl acrylate, ethyl methacrylate, methyl methacrylate, butyl methacrylate, hydroxypropyl methacrylate, tetrahydrofurfuryl methacrylate, trimethylolpropane trimethacrylate
Aluminum Salts 
Animal Oils/Musks/Fats 
Benzophenone + Related Compounds 
Carbon Black 
Lead/Lead Acetate 
Methyl Cellosolve + Methoxyethanol 
Methylchloroisothiazolinone & Methylisothiazolinone 
Mercury + Mercury Compounds (Thimerisol) 
Insoluble Plastic Microbeads**** This prohibited ingredient applies to products that are meant to be rinsed off
Talc****** Talc that is free of any asbestos can be used in the formulation provided that Brand conducts testing to ensure that talc is free of any asbestos.
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) 
Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) that is 0.1% or more of total formula 
Ethanolamines DEA/TEA/MEA/ETA 
Nanoparticles******** As defined by the European Commission (
Petrolatum and ParrafinUSP grade only
Phenoxyethanol Must be 1% or less of total formulation
Polyacrylamide & Acrylamide 
StyreneBromostyrene, Deastyrene/acrylates/dvbcopolymer, sodium styrene/divinylbenzene, copolymer, styrene oxide, styrene
1,4 DioxaneMust comply with the thresholds below in final formulas:
10 or less for products that are meant to be rinsed off, wiped off or removed;3ppm or less for products that are meant to remain on the skin

Clean at Sephora lawsuit

In November 2022, Lindsay Finster filed a proposed class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. Finster alleged that “Clean at Sephora” program included products that contained ingredients “inconsistent with how consumers understand” the term “clean.”

The suits allege that customers were misled about the ingredients allowed in the program and that some posed human health risks.

But Sephora disputes the claim, saying all qualifying Clean at Sephora products must be formulated without certain controversial ingredients including parabens, sulfates SLS and SLES, phthalates, and formaldehyde, among others. The plaintiff alleges that the “Clean at Sephora” program “misleads consumers into believing that the products being sold are ‘natural,’ and ‘not synthetic’”’ and to paying a price premium based on this understanding.”

On February 2, 2023, Sephora moved to dismiss. On March 2, 2023, Sephora filed a reply in support of its motion to dismiss class action claims that called the Clean at Sephora program false and misleading.

Current Clean at Sephora qualifying brands

The most current Clean Beauty Brands at Sephora include the following:

  1. Adwoa
  2. Alpha-H
  3. Ami Colé
  4. amika
  5. bareMinerals
  6. BeautyBio
  7. belif
  8. boscia
  9. Bread Beauty Supply
  10. CAY SKIN
  11. CLEAN Reserve
  12. Community Sixty-Six
  13. COOLA
  14. Dae
  15. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare
  16. Drunk Elephant
  17. Edible Beauty
  18. Fable and Mane
  19. FaceGym
  20. Fenty Skin
  21. First Aid Beauty
  22. Flora + Bast
  23. Floral Street
  24. Freck
  25. fresh
  26. Gisou
  27. goop
  29. Heretic
  30. Ilia
  31. Indie Lee
  32. INNBeauty Project
  33. Isle of Paradise
  34. Josie Maran
  35. JVN
  36. Kiehl’s Since 1851
  37. Kopari
  38. KORA Organics
  39. KORRES
  40. Kosas
  44. Lilah B.
  45. Lord Jones
  46. LYS Beauty
  47. Maison Louis Marie
  48. MERIT Beauty
  49. Mango People
  51. Moon Juice
  52. Naturally Serious
  53. Nécessaire
  54. The Nue Co.
  55. Olaplex
  57. Original & Mineral
  58. Origins
  59. Playa
  60. PHLUR
  61. Primera
  62. Qhemet Biologics
  63. Rahua
  64. Reverie
  65. rms beauty
  66. Rose Inc.
  67. Rosebud Perfume Co.
  68. Rossano Ferretti Parma
  69. Saie
  70. Saint Jane Beauty
  71. Saturday Skin
  73. SKYLAR
  74. Sobel Skincare RX
  75. stackedskincare
  76. Summer Fridays
  77. Supergoop!
  78. Tatcha
  79. The INKEY List
  80. Together Beauty
  81. Tower 28 Beauty
  82. Vitruvi
  83. Volition Beauty
  84. Wander Beauty
  85. Westman Atelier
  86. Wishful
  87. YUNI

Clean + Planet Positive at Sephora

But Clean at Sephora continues looking one step ahead of the category. Last year, the French-owned beauty retailer added sustainability metrics to the Clean at Sephora category, called Clean + Planet Positive. Its aim is to help consumers who want the best of all worlds: products without harmful ingredients for them or the planet.

In order to obtain the Clean + Planet Positive at Sephora seal, brands must satisfy four criteria: climate commitment, sustainable sourcing, responsible packaging, and environmental giving.

For climate commitment, this includes operations that are carbon neutral, run on renewable energy, or have emissions reductions in place.

clean and planet positive at sephora

Sustainable sourcing means no microplastic—one of the leading contributors to ocean pollution. It also means sustainably sourced mica and sustainable or Fair Trade-sourced palm oil.

Single-use packaging is out for the responsible packaging criteria, and packaging should be as recyclable as possible. To earn the seal, brands need to use at least 30 percent post-consumer recycled content in half of their packaging.

To satisfy the environmental giving, brands must allocate one percent of profits to environmental causes.

How to shop Clean + Planet Positive at Sephora

Shopping the Clean + Planet Positive at Sephora is easy. You can either shop the list of qualifying clean beauty brands, or shop as you would normally, and look for the green logo as you peruse items.

Clean + Planet Positive at Sephora covers four categories: skincare, makeup, haircare, and fragrance.

Current Clean + Planet Positive Brands

The most current Clean + Planet Positive Beauty Brands at Sephora include the following:

  2. alpyn beauty
  3. Biossance
  4. Briogeo
  5. By Rosie Jane
  6. caliray
  7. Caudalie
  8. Ceremonia
  9. DamDam
  10. Ellis Brooklyn
  11. Farmacy
  12. Flora + Bast
  13. Glow Recipe
  14. Hanni
  15. Herbivore
  16. JVN
  17. Kate Mcleod
  18. KORA Organics
  19. Lion Pose
  20. Maison Louis Marie
  21. MARA
  22. Nécessaire
  23. The Nue Co
  24. The Outset
  25. Prima
  26. REN Clean Skincare
  27. Reverie
  28. Rose Inc.
  29. Saie
  30. Selfless by Hyram
  32. SHAZ & KIKS
  33. Skinfix
  34. Susteau
  35. Tata Harper
  36. Viori
  37. Youth To The People
  38. The 7 Virtues

Related on Ethos:


From Drugstore to Department Counter, 7 Clean Makeup Brands

Looking for a cruelty-free makeup or vegan brand to add to your kit? The category is booming but Ethos has narrowed down the best.

15 Beauty Labels Proving Sustainability and Luxury Can Co-Exist

Sustainability is the new luxury and these beauty brands are leading the way — from clean ingredients to innovative packaging and more.

Vitamin C Brightening Serums That Improve Skin Fast

Brighten dull skin and rid fine lines with the best vegan vitamin C serums that clean beauty has to offer, from Youth to the People to Biossance.

Blue Beauty: the Seaweed Products Nourishing Your Hair, Skin, and the Oceans

Seaweed for your hair and skin? Experts say absolutely — for you and the planet. Welcome to the era of blue beauty.

Luxury Perfume Brands and the Push to Craft Sustainable, Natural Scents

In order to meet the demands of eco-conscious consumers, luxury perfume brands are working to make sustainable fragrances a reality.