From purifying cleansers to creamy, tinted highlighters, these are the best clean beauty brands to shop. But what exactly is clean beauty?
The beauty industry has a dirty little secret. From toxic ingredients to packaging waste, some cosmetics brands are anything but pretty. But as conscious consumerism grows in popularity—with consumers becoming more aware of how their purchasing habits impact the planet—companies have begun churning out beauty products featuring trendy words like “natural,” “organic,” and “green.” Clean beauty is another term that’s been cropping up on the labels of lipsticks, foundations, and the like. But what exactly does the term mean?
What’s clean beauty?
While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact spark of the clean beauty revolution, it began to dominate the market in the early aughts.
The term largely refers to cosmetics and personal care products that are formulated without the use of toxic or potentially harmful ingredients like parabens and phthalates or synthetic fragrances.
But, similar to other buzzwords like “natural” and “green,” “clean” beauty has no legal definition.
“With the exception of color additives, cosmetics and their ingredients are not subject to premarket approval requirements or [Food and Drug Administration] safety review,” Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said during a 2019 hearing. “Therefore, we don’t know whether cosmetic ingredients have gone through adequate, if any, safety testing.”
Many chemicals found in beauty products, such as parabens and fragrance ingredients, have been linked to health issues like birth defects and even cancer. According to the Environmental Working Group, more than 10,000 chemicals are used to formulate cosmetics products. The FDA has only banned or restricted 11 of these chemicals.
In 2020, California became the first state in the nation to enforce clean beauty regulations with the passage of a ban on toxic chemicals in cosmetics. The law, which will go into effect in 2025, prohibits 24 toxic chemicals “which are linked to negative long-term health impacts especially for women and children.”
The best clean beauty brands to shop
While the term is still largely undefined, clean beauty brands are transparent when it comes to their ingredients lists. And stores like Sephora are creating their own standards to help consumers navigate. They’re also often organic, cruelty-free, and sustainable. Looking for some of the best clean beauty brands to shop? We’ve got you covered.
For radiant, glowing skin, shop MUN. Vegan and cruelty-free, this minimalist range of organic skincare products are made from sustainably-sourced, native plants.
Rid your face of makeup without stripping your skin with the Akwi Purifying Cleanser. The creamy, oil-based cleanser features a pH-balanced formula of skin-nourishing ingredients, including castor oil, argan oil, and camellia seed oil. For some full-body TLC, get the Ayknari Brightening Youth Serum, which softens, smooths, and tones skin.
2. Dime Beauty
For all of your clean and clear skin essentials, Dime Beauty has you covered. The luxury skincare brand opts for glass packaging to minimize its impact on the planet. The company also rates its ingredients according to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep ingredient hazard score.
Clean, vegan, and cruelty-free, this minimalist beauty brand is Ethos-approved. Adhering to the European Union’s cosmetics regulation standards, it omits more than 1,300 chemicals in its products that are “known or suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutation, reproductive harm or birth defects.”
For the perfect brow, get the volumizing eyebrow pomade, which features nourishing vitamin B5. The complexion stick is also a must. It serves as both a foundation and concealer and is available in a wide range of shades.
4. Westman Atelier
A fan favorite by celebrities like Cameron Diaz, this luxury beauty brand is the quintessential clean makeup brand.
For skincare in powder form, get the Vital Pressed Skincare, which features natural ingredients like vitamin C and quinoa seed extract. For a cheeky pop of color, top it with the Super Loaded Tinted Highlight. The three-in-one creamy highlighter can be applied to the cheeks, lips, and lids and features ethically-sourced mica, sunflower seed wax, organic jojoba oil, and caper extract.
5. Rose Inc.
“Clean beauty powered by science,” this beauty brand is the product of a partnership between model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and biotech company Amyris.
For a skin savior, get the Radiant Reveal Brightening Serum. The hydrating serum features squalene, a plant-derived hydrocarbon liquid, and sea fennel extract. Snag the Satin Lip Color Rich Refillable Lipstick—a moisturizing, creamy lipstick that plumps and hydrates for a kissable pout.
For more clean beauty faves, click here for Ethos’ guide to the best non-toxic fragrances and perfumes.