As many of us become more conscious of what we’re putting in our bodies, we’re also turning to clean makeup brands as we’re becoming more aware of what we’re putting on our bodies. While the performance of these cosmetics used to pale in comparison to products from our favorite makeup counters, there are many 100-percent plant-based makeup brands creating products that are richly pigmented, apply beautifully, and wear as well as their more synthetic competitors. You may already be using some of them without even realizing they’re clean.
But before we get into our favorites, let’s get a couple of things straight: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has nebulous criteria on just what constitutes a natural product (“natural” isn’t regulated for cosmetics, so it can be used purely as a marketing term). That means that a product being classified as “natural” in brand marketing doesn’t automatically mean a product is better or safer for you.
Cosmetic chemist Ginger King tells Allure that though there isn’t regulation on the term “natural” in the beauty industry, a more accurate term might be “natural-based,” as long as the bulk of the ingredients are naturally-derived. “The true naturals have seals like COSMOS Natural or Ecocert — European organizations that allow up to five percent synthetics,” King explains.
The FDA does not have a definition for the term “organic,” either, as it is not defined by either the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act or the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, which it uses as guidelines. “‘Organic’ usually means USDA-certified food grade. There are limited numbers of products you can make to be classified as organic green,” King says.
“‘Clean beauty’ is a much better term for the consumer as the products are non-toxic and still effective,” says King. “‘Non-toxic’ means free from undesirable ingredients listed by the Environmental Working Group.” She adds that this is better than claiming ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ as they are products that perform without compromising safety.
This brings us to another point: An ingredient might be naturally-derived or organic, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no chance you’ll have an adverse or allergic reaction to it, so it’s important to be aware of what you’re using and how your body responds. “People want natural because they assume natural ingredients are safe, which is not necessarily the case,” King explains. “They also may not be as effective as synthetic materials.”
Thanks to growing consumer concern and education, we’re definitely seeing an uptick in the use of the phrase “clean beauty.” Currently, retailers like Sephora, Ultra Beauty, and Target have established seals of approval for products and brands they have deemed “clean” by implementing their own formulation guidelines. Since Credo Beauty is known for having particularly rigorous standards, many brands choose to follow its standards when formulating their products. The Credo Clean Standard includes a so-called Dirty List that includes over 2,700 ingredients that the retailer prohibits due to safety or sustainability.
Sephora isn’t the only one establishing its own criteria for deeming products “clean.” In 2019, we created the Allure Clean Standard as our own guideline for navigating the clean beauty space. Any product or brand that’s classes “clean” by our editors is free of 15 ingredient: parabens, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate, cyclic silicones, polyethylene or polypropylene (microbeads), aluminum salts, formaldehyde, hydroquinone, PEGs, Triclosan talc mineral oil petrolatum formaldehyde and toluene.
Ingredients aside, one of the benefits of using these products is that many, if not all, ingredients are ethically sourced and cruelty-free. As consumers, it’s never been more important to prioritize what we want in our makeup, and our money talks. These days there’s a clean option to switch out every product in your makeup routine, so it’s never been easier to avoid controversial ingredients.
But we also wanted to help you sort out your options. The following clean makeup brands have received high marks from Allure editors and makeup artists — who have seen and used it all — so you can start cleaning up your cosmetics bag.