After putting together a roundup of natural beauty recommendations from Man Repeller readers, I was intrigued by the abundant enthusiasm so many people seemed to have for this segment of the beauty industry. Having never tried any natural beauty products myself, I was also, quite frankly, a little jealous. I wanted to be part of the club! Besides, since skin is our largest organ and readily absorbs ingredients it comes into contact with, I figured that increasing my awareness around what exactly I was rubbing into it every morning and evening couldn’t hurt.
For my first toe-dipping into the natural beauty jacuzzi, I decided to start with a product I use every single day: foundation (I typically use Glossier Perfecting Skin Tint or Charlotte Tilbury Light Wonder, depending on how I’m feeling). If I were going to replace my foundation with a natural — or “clean” — one, though, I wanted to be really thoughtful about it. Part of that would involve researching what natural/clean means when it comes to cosmetics; another part meant testing a bunch of options in order to find one I really loved.
First things first: What is “clean beauty”?
Based on information I’ve read online, the short answer is that clean beauty (as opposed to “organic,” which is regulated by a precise outline of certification guidelines) typically refers to a stricter classification within natural beauty (i.e., beauty products that use ingredients found in nature), one in which products are also free of parabens, phthalates, sulfates and petrochemicals.
I decided I wanted to find a foundation that fell under this umbrella, which brings me to the next phase of my initiative: testing, testing, 1, 2, 3! I put a callout on my Instagram Story asking for clean foundation recommendations. Out of the many of responses, I wrote down the names of those with three or more glowing mentions. Then I narrowed my list down to five based on the following four criteria:
I scrutinized ingredient lists and cross-checked with the Think Dirty app database to make sure the foundations I was testing were free of parabens, phthalates, sulfates and petrochemicals (the main substances that the clean beauty community is passionate about avoiding).
I prefer light-to-medium-coverage foundations, so if certain brands carried foundations with multiple coverage options, I stayed away from the heavier ones, which occasionally meant opting for a BB or CC cream.
3. Shade range
I targeted foundations with an inclusive range of shades.
Though I received these foundations for free to review for this story, I still wanted to be mindful of the fact that clean beauty products often clock in at a higher price point due to the cost of sourcing certain ingredients. I called in two products under $30 to make sure I was vetting some reasonably affordable options.
With that, I launched my quest to find which worked best for me. Read the results below, and please share your favorite natural beauty products in the comments. I’m a newbie and eager to try them all.
1. 100% Pure BB Cream
A bunch of people on Instagram recommended I check out 100% Pure’s selection of fruit-pigmented makeup. The brand’s website has a fun tool that lets you choose what kind of formula you’re looking for (powder, liquid or cream), what kind of coverage (light, medium or full) and what kind of finish (matte, satin or dewy). After filling out my preferences, the BB Cream stood out as the best option.
When I squirted a pea-sized amount into my palm and lifted it up to my face, I immediately detected a distinctive scent — like gingerbread mixed with fresh flowers. Does that even make sense? I don’t know! But I liked it.
I panicked for a hot second when I started applying it because it came out super thick and looked like it wasn’t sinking in properly at first, but as I massaged it more, it melted into the perfect consistency. The resulting finish was just the right combination of dewy and matte, and it canceled out a lot of my redness — a significant thing since my face is constantly in a state of semi-flush.
2. Juice Beauty Stem Cellular CC Cream
Gwyneth Paltrow is the creative director of Juice Beauty, so I had Gwyneth-level expectations for this CC cream. Like the 100% Pure BB Cream, it definitely had a noticeable smell — is that a natural beauty thing? This scent was kind of planty though, which I didn’t love initially but it completely faded after a few minutes.
It went on nice and creamy, which I did love. The finish was quite dewy, which was ideal for post-application selfies. Look how plump and glowy I am! The coverage was a bit on the sheer side, so some of my pinkness was still visible underneath, but I liked that my skin still looked like skin. That’s really important to me when I’m putting on makeup. Overall, I think this product would be especially satisfying to use in the winter when my skin is dry and I need help looking “lit from within.”
3. Ilia True Skin Serum Foundation
Important news: This foundation was scent-free! I had a bit of trouble finding my exact shade match, though. I tried samples of the five lightest shades and none of them matched perfectly, so I actually ended up mixing two of them (Bowen and Formentera). That combination turned out to be just the trick.
The coverage was definitely more medium than light. It didn’t melt into my skin so much as it covered it. The finish was very, very matte with a pleasing airbrushed quality, as if someone had used a “blur” tool on my face. I probably wouldn’t wear this as my daily foundation, but it would be great for nights out in the summer when I want a fuller-looking face of makeup plus shine control.
4. ZuZu Luxe Oil-Free Liquid Foundation
Even though this formula is billed as oil-free, it still had a nice creamy consistency and blended easily into my skin. I wouldn’t call the finish dewy, but it definitely had a soft, light-reflecting quality that I found to be quite flattering. Apparently, it contains aloe leaf juice, which is a natural source of moisture, but you know what’s even better than aloe leaf juice? The fact that ZuZu Luxe products are sold on Amazon AND at Target, and they’re relatively affordable (this one is $29.99).
5. W3LL People Narcissist Foundation Stick
Have you ever applied foundation with a stick before? It was strange and thrilling at the same time, and it conjured distinct memories of my kindergarten art teacher reminding me to put the cap on my glue stick after I was done pasting a snowflake on a piece of construction paper.
After I arts-and-crafted my face with a few ASMR-inducing swipes of the stick in question, I blended it in with my fingers and beheld the final results, which I found to be nice and satin-y. Upon closer examination of my pores, I noticed the formula had dried me out a bit, so I’d probably only use this foundation on warm, humid days when my skin is teeming with more oils and such. That being said, the fact that it comes in stick form is perfect for on-the-go beauty situations. I can see myself throwing it into my coat pocket in a pinch, humidity or no humidity.
There wasn’t much distinction between how long each of the foundations lasted throughout the day (they all seemed to hold up pretty well), so I made my final judgements based on how my skin looked and felt. The 100% Pure BB Cream was my definitive favorite of the bunch thanks to its redness-canceling powers and moisturizing-but-not-overly-dewy consistency. I liked the Juice Beauty CC Cream second-best because who doesn’t want to look like their pores have been brushed by an angel wing? Its glow-inducing properties would shine (pun intended) especially nicely in the wintertime. The ZuZu Luxe foundation was great too, especially for the price.
I would recommend the Ilia foundation to anyone looking for medium coverage with a matte consistency and the W3LL People if you’re into a more satin-y finish and enjoy the idea of administering makeup via stick (it’s really fun).
Most importantly though, after taking a close-up selfie every day for five days in a row, I’m delighted to share the revelation that one of my eyelids droops lower than the other. That, my friends, is natural beauty at its finest.
Collages by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.