Newbie's Guide to The Clean Beauty Brands

Make your skin glow (the eco-friendly way).

ishonest / Design by Amelia Manley

It wasn’t too long ago that clean beauty brands were something you only found in health food stores and farmer’s markets. Nowadays, you can discover clean products everywhere, from your local drugstore to the fanciest boutiques.

But, as the popularity and availability of clean beauty have grown, it’s also become hard to decipher what does and doesn’t fit this safer standard. That’s because there’s no industry-recognized definition or regulation on what "clean" actually means, so pretty much anyone can use the term, and there’s no one to hold them accountable for if their products are actually any safer than everything else on the shelves.

To help get you started down the right path, we put together this beginner’s guide to the best clean beauty brands for first-timers to explore. This is by no means a definitive list, but rather a cross-section of brands we love that follow an eco-friendly ethos and align with ishonest’s own Clean Beauty Pledge.

Best for Skin Basics: Codex


Why We Chose It: Codex’s clean commitment extends past its COSMOS-certified formulations. The brand uses sustainable sourcing methods like wild harvesting for its ingredients, has a food-grade preservation system, and packages its products in plant-based polyethylene tubes to help minimize plastic waste.

What We Like

  • Easy to shop
  • Clinically tested

What We Don’t Like

  • Limited selection
  • No skin-type specific products
  • No SPF

If you like to keep your skincare routine simple, this Irish-born clean beauty brand covers the essentials to give your skin high-quality hydration and nourishment without any unnecessarily complicated add-ons.

Standouts include the multitasking Bia Skin Superfood, which provides all- day moisture and skin barrier protection for the face and body, and the Bia Facial Oil, a dry oil made with rosemary and bog myrtle that offers lightweight hydration and helps refine pores, control oil production, and boost skin elasticity.

Best Budget: Versed


Why We Chose It: Versed has managed to keep its formulas free of those synthetics and their price point down to a respectable $8 to $22 for its line- up. Plus, it can be found on the shelves at your local Target.

What We Like

  • Easy to find
  • Actually affordable

What We Don’t Like

  • Products are geared towards younger skin
  • Needs more moisturizer options

Clean beauty brands don’t come cheap and for good reason—they don’t use the inexpensive, environmentally-questionable synthetic fillers that many drugstore and department store brands still carry in their formulas. But Versed pulls it off.

It’s rare that a drugstore line is not only truly clean but also high-quality and looks cool in the process. Versed checks all those boxes with ease. The messaging is transparent: It has a variety of unique and sophisticated textures (including the Sunday Morning Antioxidant Oil-Serum, a hyper-hydrating hybrid oil and serum that’s non-greasy and won’t clog pores), and it adheres to the EU’s standards of clean beauty, which are much more stringent than what the U.S. requires. Did we mention they look really good on your bathroom counter?

Best for Makeup Basics: Saie


Why We Chose It: If you don’t like to over-complicate your beauty routine, Saie has you covered.

What We Like

What We Don’t Like

  • Limited shade options for complexion products
  • Only has the basics
  • No real color products like eyeshadow, lipstick, or liner

Saie prides itself on its transparency and communication with its community, focusing on what people want out of their makeup products (and what they don’t want in them). The result is a curated line of clean cosmetics in sustainable packaging that focuses on the basics and doesn’t overload or overwhelm with tons of unnecessary trend products—just the essentials.

It offers the essentials of a good beauty routine—tinted moisturizer with SPF, highlighter, lip balm and gloss, brow gel, mascara, and primer—in clean, swipe- and-go formulas that give you just the right amount of coverage. Plus it doesn't take 20 minutes and a bunch of YouTube tutorials to master.

Best Variety: Beautycounter


Why We Chose It: With more than 100 products to choose from, including a men’s line and targeted assortments for different skin types, Beautycounter has one of the most expansive product ranges of any clean brands around.

What We Like

What We Don’t Like

  • Expensive for what it is
  • Need more variations on makeup,

First debuting in 2013, Beautycounter has reinvented itself a few times over the years, but its commitment to providing clean beauty for every facet of your routine has endured and gotten even stronger as years have passed. The result is an ever-growing portfolio of safe products for hair, skin, and body that cater to a wide variety of beauty needs.

Beautycounter also stands out because it's a company that pushes for stronger industry regulations through activism and helping to promote legislation that will change how the U.S. labels and regulates ingredients in the cosmetics and personal care industry.

Best for Customization: LOLI


Why We Chose It: LOLI’s clean philosophy is centered on food-grade ingredients that are certified non-toxic via Made Safe.

What We Like

What We Don’t Like

Part-science project, part-skincare regimen, LOLI is a truly unique line that allows you to custom create your own skincare products. The brand offers ready- made Bases and Boosters that can be used on their own, or you can combine them yourself to make blended recipes tailored to your skin’s needs.

The products are all waterless, meaning they don’t need preservatives and use upcycled ingredients so they contribute to a zero-waste mission. The packaging, which is pretty enough to be reused, is compostable and/or made from earth- friendly materials.

Best Luxury Brand: Tata Harper

Tata Harper

Why We Chose It: While the brand focuses on ingredients and sourcing, it also pays close attention to results—that means high-concentrations of active ingredients and ensuring that everything that goes in a bottle or jar has a purpose on the skin.

What We Like

What We Don’t Like

Tata Harper proves that organic beauty isn't just for the farmer’s market crowd. The sophisticated formulas deliver noticeable results with high-quality active ingredients, some of which are sourced from Harper’s own farm in Vermont. The textures are indulgent and use natural fragrances that are on par with the designer goods it competes with.

Best for Head-to-Toe Clean: Anita Grant

Anita Grant

Why We Chose It: There are so few lines that do clean beauty well, and even fewer that do it well for your skin and hair.

What We Like

  • BIPOC-owned
  • Gorgeous scents
  • Huge variety

What We Don’t Like

  • U.K.-based
  • Shipping is expensive
  • Products sell out fast

After being hospitalized for a reaction to a common chemical ingredient found in beauty products, Anita Grant decided to take matters into her own hands, literally, and create a line of plant and herb-focused apothecary blends for skin, hair, and body. Each formulation is so incredibly pure that it smells like the plants were plucked out of the garden and put in the bottle moments before it lands in your hands.

Anita Grant has managed to do it all and to do it for everyone—she’s one of the few with an entire array of products for naturally textured and curly hair, too. Everything in this line has been produced thoughtfully and it shows.

Best for Makeup Newbies: Kosas


Why We Chose It: The main appeal of this clean brand is that it looks as good on the skin as it feels and, thanks to its sheer, flattering coverage, it’s dummy- proof to apply.

What We Like

  • Skin-healthy formulas
  • A good selection for a wide variety of skin tones

What We Don’t Like

  • Limited product assortment
  • Coverage is sheer

Kosas shot to fame with the introduction of its Tinted Face Oil Foundation, which debuted at a time when people were sick of spackling on full-coverage matte foundation and wanted something that felt good on and for their skin. Since then the brand has added in equally healthy concealers, lip colors, mascaras, and cheek products that build on that comfortably clean makeup ethos.

All of the brand’s products feel lightweight, move with your skin, and don't look over the top, making it a great pick for people who are either new to makeup or just don’t like wearing a lot of it. We also love that its complexion products come in a decent assortment of skin tones—16 for the Tinted Face Oil Foundation and 28 of the Revealer Concealer undereye concealer.

Best for Sensitive Skin: True Botanicals

True Botanicals

Why We Chose It: Based on the idea of what you put on your skin can potentially be absorbed into your body, the line is plant-based and rigorously researched to ensure each ingredient and formula is safe for even the most sensitive and reactive of skin types.

What We Like

  • Safe for sensitive skin
  • Full range of products for hair, face, and body

What We Don’t Like

  • Product selection is limited
  • Textures can feel heavy on oily skin

After being diagnosed with thyroid cancer, founder Hillary Peterson realized that she could no longer use the traditional beauty products that contained ingredients potentially harmful to human and environmental health. She developed True Botanicals as a passion project for others who share her conviction and for those who find their skin irritated by conventional cosmetic ingredients.

Best Shade Selection: ILIA


Why We Chose It: One of the biggest issues with clean makeup brands is that they lack the shade diversity that many mainstream brands have attained, usually only offering a handful of shades and doing a disservice to those with darker skin tones. ILIA was mindful of this complaint and did its due diligence to create a truly diverse skin tone palette for its face range, offering 18 shades for both of its foundation products and dark shades that actually work for those on the deeper end of the shade spectrum.

What We Like

  • Makeup products that also have skin benefits
  • A foundation shade range that actually includes multiple dark skin tones

What We Don’t Like

For a brand that started out selling tinted lip balms, ILIA has come a long way. The company now offers everything from a buzzy serum skin tint foundation with SPF (which also snagged a 2020 ishonest Eco Beauty Award) to juicy conditioning lipsticks and a totally clean felt-tip liquid liner. Color us impressed.

Best Multitasking Skincare: Klur


Why We Chose It: We’re always skeptical of products that claim to do it all, but in the case of Klur, the brand can back up the boast. The results-driven formulas use ingredients that were chosen with long-term sustainability in mind, eschewing the “rare” and “precious” for those equally skin-transformative ones that were readily accessible and, hence, better for the environment.

What We Like

  • BIPOC-owned
  • Minimal products for maximum results

What We Don’t Like

  • Small selection
  • Expensive

Created by a makeup artist/aesthetician, this thoughtfully curated collection of products is in the less-is-more school of skincare thought. It features four serums, a cleanser, an exfoliating grain, a mask, and a body oil infused with high-grade plant ingredients that deliver potent benefits centered on skin wellness and don’t play into that complicated 10-step routine hype. As founder Lesley Thornton puts it, she “prioritizes minimalistic regimens that deliver multiple benefits with long-term results."

Best for Makeup Minimalists: W3ll People

W3ll People

Why We Chose It: W3ll People has just the right amount of clean makeup to satisfy everyday makeup wearers— complexion products, a few basic essentials, and just enough color products to keep things interesting—all with super-clean, mostly vegan formulas packed with plant-based ingredients that will make skin happy.

What We Like

  • Great color payoff
  • A perfect balance of color and essential products to choose from

What We Don’t Like

  • Textures can be thick for those with oily skin
  • Limited shade options for complexion products

This Texas-born line was created by three friends—a makeup artist, cosmetic dermatologist, and an environmentally conscious entrepreneur looking to make a difference in the world, one beauty product at a time. The result was W3ll People, a line of natural cosmetics that replaces conventional (and potentially harmful) ingredients with botanical alternatives, creating products that not only are better for your skin, but that give you the same (if not better) coverage and color.

Best Makeup for All Ages: RMS Beauty

RMS Beauty

Why We Chose It: Many clean brands target a younger customer and formulate its products only for Gen Z and Millennial skin.

What We Like

  • Formulas are moisturizing
  • One of the few that work well on mature skin

What We Don’t Like

Another pioneer in the clean beauty space, makeup artist Rose-Marie Swift started her line of cosmetics after a health scare that prompted her to re- evaluate the beauty products she was using on herself and in her career.

She started RMS Beauty as one of the first-of-its-kind luxury clean makeup lines packed with raw, food-grade, organic, natural, and wildcrafted ingredients. The brand's Living Luminizer is a legend in the beauty world and has earned rave reviews from beauty editors, celebs, and makeup artists around the world.

RMS Beauty understands that men and women of all ages care about clean cosmetics and its formulations account for those dealing with wrinkles, dryness, and hyperpigmentation. The formulas include ingredients and textures that won’t settle into fine lines and have ingredients that also provide benefits appropriate for dry, aging skin.

The Bottom Line

If you’re curious about clean beauty and want to explore some more natural options, these brands are a great place to start. They all fit our stringent guidelines of what clean beauty is, so you know that you are paying for actual clean ingredients and not marketing hype. While the price points might be a bit higher than you are used to, you will notice a difference in how these items look, feel, and smell—especially if you’ve never used clean beauty products before.

When in doubt about trying out a clean beauty brand, choose a staple product like a moisturizer or foundation from one of these lines to test it before committing to switching your entire routine out. Once you see the difference in how your skin reacts to natural ingredients, you might find yourself trading in the rest of your routine to go all clean.

What Are the Best Clean Beauty Brands?

Clean beauty, while it doesn’t have a technical or official definition according to any U.S. regulatory agency, is conventionally understood to mean products that are made without ingredients that are potentially harmful to your health and to the environment. What those ingredients actually are will vary depending on who you talk to.

How Much Do Clean Beauty Brands Cost?

Because they require raw materials that are largely more expensive to source and produce, clean beauty brands tend to be on the pricier side, ranging from about $8 to more than $400, depending on the brand and ingredients used.

How We Chose the Best Clean Beauty Brands

Our picks cover a diverse array of categories including skin, hair, and body care. This list represents a cross-section of some of the most well-respected and buzzy clean brands that we chose based on an assortment of products, aesthetics, price points, and availability. We looked at what each brand had to offer in the space, how it brings the clean beauty mission to life in a unique and interesting way, the quality of the products, and how well they perform and live up to their promises.

ishonest. "The 53 Best Clean Beauty Products of 2020." Accessed Sept. 6, 2021.

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