I'm not going to mince words. Never have I ever (or at least not until a few weeks ago) been able to stomach a clean and/or natural foundation formula. I have painstakingly high standards when it comes to the finish, application, tone, and durability of my foundation, and nothing I ever tried felt up to snuff (or even close, for that matter). In fact, I would likely need another set of hands to count the number of times I excitedly applied a promising new and natural foundation alternative only to be instantaneously scandalized by the sticky or slippery texture, suspiciously off-base undertones, or lack of day- or night-enduring stamina. Simply put, if a foundation makes me look oily, discolored, or downright discombobulated, I will put it down and never touch it again. (The one exception has been Ilia's cult-loved Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40, which I'm absolutely obsessed with.)
Believe me, I have wanted to love a clean foundation for a long, long time. I've amassed quite a few other natural makeup formulas I routinely use and recommend, but foundation is where I consistently get stuck. Even though consistency and finish have always been problematic (so many natural formulas are very oily or tacky), the lack of shades has been, and still is, completely unacceptable within the clean-beauty space. So when some of my favorite peeps over at clean-beauty retailer Credo popped into my inbox to tell me they were launching its first-ever private-label makeup brand, Exa, I was instantly intrigued. I love Credo, so this one had to be a winner, right?
Equipped with 43 shades that cater to a multitude of undertones, Exa is officially the most shade-inclusive makeup line in the clean-beauty category. But the magic doesn't end there. At $38, Exa's High Fidelity Foundation is significantly more affordable than most popular clean (and not so clean) foundations on the market, and the ingredients are impeccably dreamy and safe for all skin types. The vegan formula boasts a bouncy, satiny, featherlight consistency that's comparable to some of the most sought-after, makeup artist–approved options on the beauty market. But complexion-loving ingredients like peach extract, aloe vera, microalgae actives, maqui berry, and hyaluronic acid trick your skin into thinking you've just applied the most delicious of facial serums—not a foundation.
The foundation is buildable, imparts a luminous result, and can be paired with its strategically designed partner in crime, Exa's Jump Start Smoothing Primer ($34), to take the results even further. Of course, all of this is just fine and dandy to say and promote, but my fellow beauty editor Courtney Higgs and I were skeptical. We were eager and hopeful but were still skeptical—especially because, during a prelaunch Zoom date, celebrity makeup artist Katey Denno revealed the foundation was comparable to her non-clean favorites like Chanel and Armani. So is the new Exa High Fidelity Foundation really as table-shaking as it sounds? Courtney and I are sharing our honest ratings and reviews below. Plus, we're each rounding out our Exa reviews with a quaint list of clean-makeup products (from other brands) that never do us wrong. Keep scrolling!
Erin Jahns, Beauty Editor
Shade: Hannah 490 (fair with subtle olive undertones)
Rating: 4/5 stars
Review: Little did this foundation know when it arrived on my doorstep that it would have to jump through every precarious hoop a foundation can be put through: 100-degree heat and a trying 16 hours of wear. (Yep, I did the most damning thing a beauty editor can do and slept in the stuff.) However, in an epic plot twist that I've never experienced with a clean foundation formula, it passed every test with flying colors. (For the record, nearly every other natural foundation I've tried has melted off my face three hours after application and at even the mere mention of sweat or exercise.) So yes, I'm extremely impressed with this foundation.
What I love most about this foundation is how beautifully and smoothly it applies and blends into the skin. It does that "your skin but better" thing, which is entirely the point of foundation, right? I'm pretty sure I actually murmured aloud "holy shit, this is beautiful" as I used my Beautyblender to buff and press it into my skin. That type of jaw-dropping, immediate reaction rarely happens for me. It smells lovely, which is important (for me) when it comes to makeup because it's sitting right beneath your nose. While the finish is slightly more luminous and dewy than I would normally go for, I found that setting it with a touch of powder easily toned down any areas I felt looked too shiny. And again, let's remember I was battling high humidity and heat, so I'm not sure it would always end up looking quite so glowy.
I ended up wearing this foundation overnight (I know, I know), and I was completely surprised when I woke up in the morning to find that it still looked *almost* as good as when I first applied it. Really. It only looked slightly worse for wear than my non-clean foundations that tout super-long, 24-hour wear. I did set it with a non-clean setting spray, which probably helped matters. I've done that before with natural foundations, and they've still looked smudgy and all-around messy a few hours afterward.
This foundation doesn't apply, look, or wear off like any other clean foundation I've tried. It's far superior, and it even comes in a beautiful glass bottle that makes it feel really expensive. I'm impressed all around. The only reason I can't give it a full five stars is that the finish is a little too dewy for my taste. But all in all, Exa's High Fidelity Foundation has set a new standard in the industry for both quality and inclusivity. It's time for all of the other brands in the clean-beauty space to level up!
5 More Clean Makeup Products I Love
I'm a ruthless mascara tester, and this is by far my favorite clean mascara. And not only that: It's one of my favorite mascaras, point blank. It's one of the few formulas that effortlessly curls, volumizes, and lengthens my long (but very straight) lashes without weighing them down or creating a gloppy and gloopy look I'm definitely trying to avoid. I recommend this mascara all the time, and I maintain a perfect zero-complaints-received track record.
Concealer is one of the most important products in my routine. I use (a lot) below my eyes, and I use it to reverse contour my face. So it's important that it blends well and looks natural but will also stay. This skincare-level formula from Kosas does all that and then some. The coverage is amazing, it barely creases (especially if you set it with a touch of powder), and it has amazing ingredients that will actually benefit your skin.
I love everything Maya Chia makes (which is mostly skincare), but this shimmering serum-highlighter hybrid is really on an entirely different level. It basically makes it look like you're standing under perfect lighting no matter where you go, and I don't know if I've ever tried a highlighter that blends and melts into my complexion so seamlessly and *actually* looks like my skin. So many highlighters set out to accomplish what this one does but ultimately fail thanks to overly sparkly formulas or consistencies that are too sticky, tacky, or slippery.
I've loved Rituel de Fille's Enchanted Lip Sheers for years. Datura, Whitethorn, and Swarm are constants in my beauty rotation. They can be a little drying, but if you apply them on top of a really hydrating balm, you should be good to go. Even though my entire makeup routine is definitely not clean, I try to make sure whatever I put on my lips is. So I'm almost always wearing one of these or something from Kosas.
I'm probably as tough on bronzers as I am on mascaras and foundations, but I finally found love and satisfaction when this buttery, super-luxurious bronzer from legendary makeup artist Gucci Westman came into my life. It's easy to blend, the color isn't too pink or too orange, and it's boosted with lots of great ingredients to keep your natural glow alive.
Courtney Higgs, Associate Beauty Editor
Shade: Paetynn 170 (medium deep with golden undertones)
Rating: 5/5 stars
Review: As someone with brown skin, I’m still getting used to the concept of a clean foundation. Up until about a year ago, there wasn’t a single clean foundation on the market I could point to that had the shade range to match my skin. So when Erin sent me an excited message in Slack a few weeks back about Credo’s new in-house makeup brand that was not only clean but was also coming out of the gate with 43 shades, my interest was immediately piqued.
Before I go any further, I need to mention that I am mildly traumatized from having to mix foundation shades for so long, and I can acknowledge that I may get overly excited when I get my hands on a single bottle that matches me perfectly. It’s not such a rarity anymore, but a perfect shade match and clean ingredients? That’s not a product I’m used to seeing! I love this foundation. It imparts that quenched, glowy finish that’s taken over Instagram. It’s super dewy... like so dewy it can err on the side of oily if you’re not careful.
After experimenting a bit with the application, I’ve learned that layering it on top of a heavy moisturizer will end in disaster (even when accompanied by the Exa Jump Start Smoothing Primer). The key, for me, has been pairing it with a lightweight moisturizer and setting any super-loose areas like my forehead, which is oilier than ever right now, with a thin layer of powder. Overall, I’m very satisfied with this foundation and can’t wait to see how it holds up during a full day of outdoor activities (whenever outside opens back up again).
5 More Clean Makeup Products I Love
I honestly can’t wear foundation without concealer. To me, it’s like eating French fries without ketchup: fine but not as satisfying as I’d like. This clean concealer is great because it’s lightweight and doesn’t overwhelm my skin. But it does tend to move around and settle into creases, so setting it is a must.
Rituel de Fille is such a fun brand. I love many of its products, but at the top of the list is this cream blush. I like that the color blends down to a really soft and diffused glow that doesn’t even really look like makeup. I also like that the color doesn’t just sit on top of the skin and break up over the course of the day. You can also use it on the lips, which I love, but I recommend topping it with a little clear gloss unless you’re committing to a velvety, almost-matte stained look.
There aren’t many highlighters you can wear on bare skin without looking like a misguided glitter bomb went off on you. This highlighting liquid creates a healthy vibration of super-subtle shine wherever you place it. I like to tap it into my cheeks and onto my Cupid’s bow to add extra life to my face.
This product is solely responsible for my love of colorful eye shadows. I used to stick to neutrals, but this rusty-red shade has helped me create some of my favorite eye looks of all time. It can be worn super sheer to look like a rosy tint or layered to look like a full-impact coppery red. Even on days when I want to be low-key, I still find myself reaching for this pot! Top five forever.
I’ve been wearing mascara since I was in middle school, but even back then when I was reaching for drugstore picks or ones with wild ingredients like glitter, I never had issues with the varnish irritating my eyes. Recently, I’ve been noticing certain mascaras make my eyes sting after a few hours of wear, so I've been leaning into the clean options on my vanity more. This one from Westman Atelier is just perfect. It volumizes and defines my lashes really well. The packaging is also pure luxury.