I've heard the phrase "clean beauty" start to bubble up a lot more in the past year or so, but despite its trendy appeal, the movement is actually making sweeping changes to the beauty industry—for the better. I admit that I used to be in the skeptical camp myself, assuming that anything with an all-natural or nontoxic label was simply less effective than its counterparts. But now, after doing some research of my own, I've become much more motivated to clean up my beauty routine and, eventually, curate a medicine cabinet free of a rather long list of harmful skincare ingredients.
For the sake of not being wasteful, I don't plan on tossing any of the products I already own but instead will be mindfully shopping from the below short list of clean brands I've written up for the next time I find myself out of something. That way I can be sure I'm refilling it with a clean option and slowly but surely converting my skincare (and next, makeup and bodycare) routine to be completely clean and free of nasty toxins.
With that, keep scrolling for the best clean skincare brands, according to my personal favorites, and those that I keep hearing rave reviews about from friends and co-workers and therefore want to try now.
1. Youth to the People
What makes it clean: Each formula is vegan, cruelty-free, biodegradable, and made in the brand's home state of California with local ingredients. The products also abide by the EU’s list of 1300-plus ingredients that are restricted for cosmetic use.
Why I like it: There's so much to love about Youth to the People, from its commitment to clean ingredients, focus on sustainable practices its products, and fun, community-focused marketing. I was first introduced to its heavenly Adaptogen Deep Moisture Cream that soothes and hydrates my dry, rough skin and have since added many more of its products to my cabinet. Most recently, I fell in love with the Resurfacing Energy Facial, which leaves me with a clearer, brighter-looking complexion for several days after I use it.
What makes it clean: Versed's motto is "We keep the good, cut the bad, and focus on what works," which means saying no to a massive list of artificial fragrances or colors, harmful parabens, sulfates, silicones, and many, many more toxins. It's also committed to sustainability with 100% recyclable packaging. The cherry on top is that each of its products magically rings up around $20.
Why I like it: I may be biased, seeing as Versed is Who What Wear's sister skincare brand, but there are so many products from the line that have become mainstays for me and, yes, many that I've spent my own money to restock. In case you haven't heard, its latest launch is a lovely mineral sunscreen that protects your skin from harmful sunlight and blue light both indoors and outdoors.
What makes it clean: French skincare brand Caudalie harnesses the transformative anti-aging and antioxidant power of grapes in its luxury skincare. Although "clean beauty" has recently started to gain hold in the skincare community, Caudalie has been committed to creating clean and luxurious formulas since the brand's launch in 1995.
Why I like it: It's gentle yet overwhelmingly effective, and I have yet to come across a Caudalie product I don't automatically become devoted to. There's no surprise why many of its best-selling products like the Vinoperfect Radiance Serum and Beauty Elixir are widely considered to be cult "must-have" items in the beauty world.
4. Tata Harper
What makes it clean: The leading all-natural brand voluntarily takes steps to ensure that its products are third-party certified and has earned a number of certifications, including PETA's Beauty Without Bunnies program, ECOCERT's environmentally friendly certification, and the American Vegetarian Association.
Why I like it: No conversation around clean or natural skincare is complete without a nod to forerunner Tata Harper, whose line was one of the first to bring clean skincare products into the luxury space. It's earned many an enthusiastic recommendation from beauty editors, makeup artists, and dermatologists alike, which leads me to believe it's the real deal.
5. Indie Lee
What makes it clean: Founder Indie Lee created the line after surviving a brain tumor that was potentially due to using toxin-filled products and has since made it her mission to empower others with the knowledge to live their healthiest lives.
Why I like it: Usually terms like all-natural make me assume that the products have to sacrifice cool packaging and cute branding, but Indie Lee is a great example that the two don't have to be mutually exclusive. The line is just as stylish as it is effective, which, let's face it, is sometimes a solid reason to add something to your medicine cabinet. The products target common skin concerns, as well, such as acne, dryness, and aging.
What makes it clean: The products from Herbivore are all created from scratch using safe and nontoxic ingredients. By omitting the use of any fillers, each formula benefits from having a high concentration of active ingredients.
Why I like it: Herbivore has some seriously mesmerizing products, such as its Lapis Facial Oil, which is almost too beautiful to believe. The brand's minimalist aesthetic makes it the kind I would admittedly want to buy into just for the look of the products, and thankfully, I feel like I can do so with the comfort of knowing that the allure of its "trendy" products will actually do my skin a lot of good.
7. The Inkey List
What makes it clean: The ingredient list is all in the name when it comes to The Inkey List, so you know there's nothing else unsavory hiding inside its bottles, tubes, and tinctures. But just so you can feel extra secure (especially since its highly affordable prices are a bit hard to believe), Sephora has marked the brand with its very own clean certified check mark.
Why I like it: I only just heard about this clean and ridiculously well-priced skincare line at Sephora that everyone is comparing to The Ordinary. Each product is $15 or less and touts an appealingly minimal aesthetic that would pull at the heartstrings of any beauty aficionado, and thanks to our very own Who What Wear reviews, I'm confident it will become every bit as popular as The Ordinary.
8. Drunk Elephant
What makes it clean: Drunk Elephant combines the effectiveness of clinical skincare with the safety of clean ingredients. You won't find what they call the Suspicious 6 (essential oils, drying alcohols, silicones, chemical sunscreens, fragrances/dyes, SLS) in any of the products. According to the brand, "We believe that these six ubiquitous ingredients are at the root of almost every skin issue, and when they’re removed entirely from your routine—that is, when you take a Drunk Break—skin can reset and return to its healthiest, most balanced state."
Why I like it: I've heard nothing but good things about Drunk Elephant's products, so I think it's finally time I see what all the hype is really about. After all, it is one of the first clean skincare brands to earn mainstream praise for safe yet effective formulas, which is why Baby Facial and C-Firma Serum, two of the brand's top-selling products, are at the top of my shopping list.
What makes it clean: Biossance has pioneered clean skincare with its own 100% plant-based formulated squalene, which is featured in the facial oils and moisturizers across the brand. Furthering its commitment to clean ingredients, the brand has created a Skincare Ingredients Library that provides in-depth info and Environmental Working Group ratings on a number of common skincare ingredients to educate its customers.
Why I like it: Personally, I'm a fan of the Squalene and Vitamin C Rose Oil as the squalene is ultra hydrating while being calming on my sensitive skin.
What makes it clean: Supergoop!'s sunscreens have been oxybenzone-free, paraben-free, and developed in-house with non-toxic ingredients since day one and they recently reformulated to be free of octinoxate and completely reef-safe. According to the site, "We’ve been clean since before it was cool—and, without ever sacrificing efficacy. (Did you know that an estimated 73% of sunscreens don’t actually live up to their sun protection claims? Or that roughly 65% of sunscreens contain oxybenzone?)"
Why I like it: I tend to shy away from most sunscreens, even—gasp—avoiding them altogether because I loath the smell and the notorious white cast they leave. But Supergoop!'s line has singlehandedly made me into a consistent wearer of SPF, and its selection of everything from primers to setting sprays has made it so easy to incorporate one form of sunscreen or another into my routine.
What makes it clean: Esthetician Athena Hewett founded Monastery to be a line of luxury botanical skincare harvested with organic ingredients from all over the world, from damask rose to lavender.
Why I like it: Once I began incorporating a few products from Monastery into my routine (I started out by switching to the Rose Cleansing Oil), I found my skin more hydrated, more balanced, and calmer than it had ever been, and I realized that all-natural and clean ingredients aren't just nice to have but are, in fact, effective.
12. First Aid Beauty
What makes it clean: The brand counts over 1300 harmful ingredients on its banned list, and its motto is less is more. I've heard from many that the ultra-gentle products are safe for sensitive skin, which is always a good indicator for me.
Why I like it: I'm no beauty expert, so I appreciate it when skincare is made nice and simple. First Aid Beauty seems like the kind of no-frills brand that I want to have on hand to go "back to basics" when my skin is freaking out because it takes a pared-back approach that seems very intuitive to me.