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- There is no one definition for clean skin care. Some brands omit sulfates, parabens, and mineral oil — others go as far as to ban nearly 1,400 questionable irritants in their products.
- What constitutes “clean” is all over the place, but one thing that all brands can agree on is that ingredients should be safe for our bodies whether they are sourced naturally or produced in a lab.
- Here are 11 clean skin-care brands that rival anything else we’ve tried. In fact, to us, they’re just skin-care brands.
Ask anyone how they define “clean skin care” and you’ll get answers ranging from “products made without parabens, sulfates, or mineral oils,” or “things you DIY-ed in your kitchen at 2 a.m.” There’s no right or wrong answer, but loosely defined, clean skin-care products are made without questionable ingredients or harmful irritants. Think of it as a “better safe than sorry” approach.
“There is no one clear path of rules for clean beauty, much like there is no one clear path to ‘wellness.’ They are ambiguous terms and it depends on the goals and preferences of each individual,” says Pamela Marcos, director of product development at Farmacy.
Because there isn’t an official definition, brands, retailers, and watchdog organizations have created their own filters, whether it be following the European Union’s list of almost 1,400 banned ingredients or creating certifications to better educate consumers on what’s safe or not. The level of clean among these filters still varies greatly, but just recognizing that certain ingredients don’t need to be in skin-care products is a step in the right direction.
The bottom line is that you don’t need filler, questionable components, or toxic ingredients to obtain hydrated skin, shiny hair, and a glowing complexion. In fact, these 11 brands prove just that.
Take a look at how some clean skin-care brands are setting a foundation in the world of beauty and wellness.
Summer Fridays skin-care products, $44-$52, available at Sephora
Influencers Marianna Hewitt and Lauren Gores Ireland only launched Summer Fridays last September, but they’ve already dropped three facial masks with each one more popular than the previous. The latest R + R mask ($52) exfoliates with rose-flower powder and hydrates with a blend of argan, safflower, sesame, avocado, and grape-seed oils for soft, glowy skin you won’t be able to stop touching.
The brand has a “Clean at Sephora” stamp of approval, meaning products are formulated without sulfates, parabens, and mineral oils, and have less than 1% of synthetic fragrances, but the brand takes it further by making sure formulas are also vegan and free of animal cruelty.
“From the start, we wanted Summer Fridays to only use healthy ingredients,” the founders tell Business Insider. “In fact, Summer Fridays’ co-founder Lauren was pregnant at the time of our first formulations so everything we tested had to be good for our bodies and her growing son. Our team is hard at work developing clean, effective products you can feel good about putting on your skin — because healthy is the best kind of glow.”
What the brand vows to never use: Sulfates, parabens, mineral oil, and more according to the “Clean at Sephora” seal.
Ren Clean Skincare skin-care products, $25-$80, available at Sephora
One of the OG pioneers, Ren has been in the business of clean skin care since 2000. The brand uses “bio-actives” in its formulas, which isn’t a scary term so much as it’s used to describe ingredients that help your skin help itself, like probiotics that strengthen your skin’s dermis layer and lactic acid that exfoliates dead, dull skin. Basically, nothing in the products are there just because.
“For us, clean beauty is so much more than just using skin-friendly ingredients and actives — or simply not using known irritants,” says David Delport, Ren’s global ambassador and head of education. “It must also proactively support the natural function of the skin and never force a short-term result at the cost of the skin’s equilibrium, sensitivity, or barrier health. Our bio-active ingredients are essentially well-recognized by your skin. They speak the same language, but from product to skin, it must be a collaborative conversation — never a command.”
Every product deserves a shout-out, but two items we hoard are the exfoliating AHA tonic ($35) and the energizing kelp and magnesium body wash ($27). Both wake up your skin and give it a nice glow, and the body wash is housed in a 100% recycled bottle, 20% of which is made with reclaimed ocean plastic and is absolutely genius. The brand is aiming to be completely waste-free by 2021 and has started rolling out bottles made with fully recyclable packaging, reclaimed plastic from oceans, and even glass so consumers can send back and refill. It’s also partnered with the non-profit group Surfrider to help clean up beaches and oceans around the world.
What the brand vows to never use: Sulfates, parabens, mineral oil, and more according to the “Clean at Sephora” seal.
Beautycounter skin-care products, $18-$80, available at Beautycounter
Perhaps one of the brands with the strictest set of self-imposed rules, Beautycounter defines clean with five principles — ban intentionally, screen rigorously, learn constantly, source responsibly, and share transparently. You can do a deep dive into each here, but the most important component is banning harmful ingredients in its formulas.
In fact, Beautycounter has avoided more than 1,500 questionable and harmful ingredients that are defined in its “Never List.” For context, the European Union’s list of banned ingredients includes almost 1,400 ingredients, while the US’s list has only 30. Let that sink in for a bit.
Beautycounter also advocates for safer personal-care ingredients with texting campaigns to ask Congress to pass more laws protecting personal care, and annual visits to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers every March.
Products run the gamut from skin care and color cosmetics to body and sun care, and there’s even a new men’s line called Counterman. The Countersun Mineral sunscreen ($36) is a standout for its mineral formula and non-aerosol spray as are its facial oils ($69), which are potent plant-based blends that are as luxurious as they are clean.
What the brand vows to never use: More than 1,500 chemicals beyond the usual suspects. Check out the full “Never List” here.
Necessaire skin- and body-care products, $25-$55, available at Necessaire
While many clean skin-care brands focus on facial products, Necessaire aims to create clean products for your whole body and do it in a self-care kind of way. If skin is our body’s largest organ, why do we just use whatever body wash we got on sale last week?
“We are on a mission to reimagine personal care as self care,” says co-founder Randi Christiansen. “We believe in better personal care, made in a better way. Our approach is to be clean, effective, transparent, and sustainable.”
The body wash ($25) and lotion ($25) are already cult items despite the brand only being around since November 2018. The body wash comes in two delicious scents — sandalwood and eucalyptus — as well as a fragrance-free version. They’re more like body oils that rinse clean as there are no sulfates that lather up into suds, so the experience might trip you out, but in a good way.
The body lotion is a personal favorite. It absorbs in seconds, doesn’t feel greasy at all, and my hands still feel moisturized even after washing them. Made with marula, cacay, and meadowfoam oils, niacinamide, and an alphabet soup’s worth of vitamins, the formula reads like a luxurious facial serum.
What the brand vows to never use: Sulfates, parabens, phthalates, silicones, petroleum, drying alcohol, chemical screens, synthetic fragrance, synthetic dyes, mineral oil, and PEGs.
One Ocean Beauty, $38-$125, available at One Ocean Beauty
You can probably guess the brand’s mission based on the name: clean beauty powered by marine ingredients. There are seven products: a cleansing water ($38), moisturizer ($82), eye cream ($74), serum ($98), collagen supplements ($48), and two new body-care products — a sculpting body cream ($114) and a cellulite cream ($125). All the packaging is recyclable, and if you get the skin-care or body-care kits, the bottles aren’t individually packaged inside the boxes so there’s less waste overall.
One Ocean Beauty has also partnered with conservation and advocacy non-profit group Oceana, donating $250,000 total to help protect our oceans. “We chose to partner with Oceana as they are the largest global organization protecting the oceans, science-led, cause-oriented, and make change happen,” says Marcella Cacci, founder and CEO of One Ocean Beauty. “We decided to work on a new corporate philanthropy model, not based on a percentage of sales or profits, but on a fixed donation. We hope this will encourage a new trend in corporate philanthropy.”
What the brand vows to never use: GMOs, parabens, sulfates, phthalates, PEGs, mineral oils, nanoparticles, and more as noted on Credo’s Dirty List. The brand is vegan and also certified cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny.
Farmacy Beauty skin-care products, $6-$90, available at Sephora
Following the EU’s lead, Farmacy also bans almost 1,400 ingredients in its formulas. Instead, it chooses to work with organic farms in Pennsylvania and the Catskills to source key ingredients like honey and a proprietary plant called Echinacea GreenEnvy, an amped up herb said to have 300% more natural antioxidants than the original Echinacea plant. But don’t think that all ingredients are straight from the farm; Farmacy uses synthetic ingredients too — as long as they’re safe.
“There is often a misconception that non-toxic and safe is synonymous with ‘natural.’ But there are plenty of ingredients in nature that, if ingested or applied on the face, may be harmful,” says Marcos. “Likewise, there are so many talented chemists and formulators who have developed amazing products using synthetic ingredients that are completely safe and often more efficacious and stable than their natural counterparts.”
The makeup removing balm ($22) is a best seller that melts away makeup and draws out oil, prepping skin for the Honey Drop moisturizer ($45), a lightweight gel texture that absorbs fast and hydrates for hours. The Echinacea GreenEnvy provides antioxidants while hyaluronic acid holds 1,000 times its weight in water to keep skin looking plump and hydrated, and propolis from beehives protects skin by filling in any gaps in your dermis.
What the brand vows to never use: Synthetic preservatives and fragrance, sulfates, phthalates, chemical sunscreens, and crude oil by-products like mineral oil and petroleum.
Drunk Elephant skin-care products, $16-$90, available at Sephora and Amazon
After you’ve taken your Drunk Elephant #shelfies, you’ll realize that it’s more than just an Instagram-friendly brand. The “clean clinical” brand fuses science with clean ingredients into efficacious products that have won everyone over. Its Sukari Baby Facial ($80) will give you glowy skin for days and its new retinol cream ($74) has a low dose of retinol while still giving great results.
Drunk Elephant also chooses to use synthetic ingredients as long as they’re safe for the body. According to the brand’s website, “While Drunk Elephant aims for its products to be as natural as possible, it is far more important that the ingredients in them be effective and safe.”
What the brand vows to never use: Essential oils, alcohols, silicones, chemical sunscreens, fragrances/dyes and SLS, known as the brand’s “Suspicious 6.”
Palermo Body skin- and body-care products, $12-$84, available at Etsy
Inspired by founder Jessica Morelli’s grandmother, Palermo Body uses only natural products in small, handmade batches out of Brooklyn, New York. “The peace of mind I’m given by using products with natural, familiar ingredients is priceless,” says Morelli. “I want to feel and look great without having to worry about ingredients I know nothing about and their possible benefits or detriments.” Familiar ingredients include things like coffee grounds in body scrubs, rosehip-seed oil in lux facial serums, and rosewater in hydrating toners, and everything is sourced thoughtfully so they each have a purpose in the formula.
What the brand vows to never use: Phthalates, parabens, mineral oil, formaldehyde, synthetic fragrances, colorants, preservatives, and more as noted on Credo and Follain.
Soapwalla skin- and body-care products from Amazon for $10-$64,or at Follain for $16-$36
Soapwalla makes more than body soap. Its product line also includes exfoliators, facial serums, mists, lip balms, and even full customized skin-care routines. Everything is made by hand in Brooklyn with sustainable, organically grown, and food-grade ingredients (which means some are good enough to eat).
Five of the brand’s products including the best-selling repair balm ($64) have been certified by the non-profit Made Safe, which aims to educate consumers about products that don’t use toxic chemicals, brands about harmful ingredients, and retailers about selecting which clean products to stock.
What the brand vows to never use: Sodium lauryl sulfate, parabens, pthalates, petrochemical byproducts, and synthetic ingredients.
Stacked Skincare skin-care products and tools, $23.50-$150, available at Sephora
Developed by licensed aesthetician Kerry Benjamin to deal with her eczema, StackedSkincare is based on the idea that you should “stack” your skin-care products and tools to push active ingredients deeper into your skin for better results. These actives can be natural or lab-created as long as they have been shown to be safe and efficacious.
“Almost all of us want the same thing — effective skin care made with ingredients that are safe for our bodies and the planet,” says Benjamin. “That’s why we think it’s important to show you exactly where we stand when it comes to ingredients. We use proven skin-enhancing actives and avoid all known toxins, questionable chemicals, and ingredients that are irritating to sensitive skin.”
Benjamin’s not satisfied with just helping customers develop good skin-care routines though; the brand also works with the National Eczema Association to help find a cure for eczema.
What the brand vows to never use: Parabens, sulfates, formaldehydes, phthalates, synthetic fragrance, chemical sunscreens, and more. See the full list here.
The Makeup Eraser, $20, available at Sephora
Instead of using a single-use, makeup-removing wipe (many of which aren’t biodegradable or recyclable), try a reuseable makeup-removing cloth.
The aptly named Makeup Eraser makes a really cute one that comes in a yellow pineapple print; the $20 bundle on Sephora includes a printed eyemask and pouch. The cloth has magical makeup-removing properties that literally erase waxy and waterproof makeup with just warm water — and nothing else. You could always use an oil cleanser first and then follow up with the cloth, but Sephora reviewers say the cloth does all the work without additional cleansing necessary.
What the brand vows to never use: Just about everything.
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Insider Picks 2019