Clean beauty is a contentious topic, particularly in a world where greenwashing is all too common and many skincare and makeup brands are quick to label themselves as ‘clean’ without having to follow any regulations on what exactly this claim means.

For the most part, clean beauty is in unchartered, undefined territory, and it is important to look carefully into products and brands in order to understand what exactly makes them ‘clean’.

In the US, the FDA has banned a mere 11 ingredients compared to the 1,300 prohibited in the EU and Canada, leaving consumers to fend for themselves in regards to which ingredients to avoid. Parabens, fragrances, talc, hydroquinone and aluminium compounds are just a few obvious offenders remain on a list of harmful ingredients that are not banned in America. That being said, not all synthetic ingredients are cause for concern, the same way that ‘clean’ or ‘natural’ ingredients may not necessarily be better for you (or the environment, for that matter). Essential oils, for example, are incredibly concentrated and can be harsh on the skin when not diluted properly, as well as potentially being unethically sourced or processed with other damaging fillers or chemicals. It’s no wonder brands such as Drunk Elephant, which vows to formulate skincare products without such suspicious ingredient families, avoids the plant-derived oils.

Meanwhile, synthetic ingredients can be safe to use when manufactured correctly, and in some cases are more effective than natural alternatives. When synthetics are used, they should be a meaningful addition to a product, as opposed to simply acting as a filler or preservative. An example would be L-ascorbic acid, a synthetic derivative of Vitamin C that is seen as more effective, although less ‘pure’, than 100 percent Vitamin C.

If anything, the clean beauty movement has shown itself to be a potent reminder to be aware of what we are putting on our bodies and faces. Be sure to do your own research and look into the products you are using, and ensure that they are formulated with quality ingredients that are safe and preferably ethically sourced. The most important thing is to make sure what you are using is compatible and safe for your skin type and needs, regardless of what is deemed ‘natural’ or ‘synthetic.’

With an ever-growing repertoire of clean skincare out on the market, we turn to the makeup side of the story and introduce six brands and products that you’ll want to add to your beauty table.

(The products featured on Lifestyleasia.com have been independently selected by our editors and contributors. However, we may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through our retail links.)

1
Ilia Beauty

Ilia Beauty was founded in 2008 by Vancouver-born Sasha Plavsic, and has since garnered cult status — attracting the likes of celebrities such as Emma Watson and Gwyneth Paltrow. The brand is transparent about their ethically produced products, with organic ingredients and packaging made sustainable whenever possible. Their highlighter brings light to the skin with a dewy, non-glittery glow. Meanwhile, their tinted lip conditioner is a great hybrid between an impactful lip colour and nourishing lip balm.

Highlighter, HK$365 from Net-a-porter; Tinted Lip Conditioner, HK$270 from Net-a-porter

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2
Lilah b.

The ethos of California brand Lilah b. is centred around a simplified, minimalist lifestyle that focuses on quality and not quantity. Their Divine Duo Lip & Cheek embodies this sentiment: a high performance, multi-purpose product housed in the brand’s signature sleek ‘pebble’ compacts. The long-wearing, creamy formulation is also available in a plethora of versatile, flattering shades.

HK$365 from Net-a-porter

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3
RMS Beauty

RMS Beauty was founded by internationally recognised makeup artist Rose Marie-Swift over a decade ago, with the mission to normalise clean beauty for the masses. Its base products, such as the ‘Un’ Cover-up concealer and ‘Un’ Powder face powder have remarkably light and undetectable finishes with buildable medium coverage. Additionally, their luminiser in Living has reached holy grail status for many, and is famously known for imparting that coveted ‘glass skin’ finish. You can also shop shades Champagne Rosé and Peach exclusively on Sephora.

HK$340 from Sephora

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4
Tower 28

Tower 28 is a relatively new contender in the clean beauty scene, but that has not stopped them from making their mark. All products are non-toxic and formulated for sensitive skin, and are formulated without fillers, fragrances and other problematic ingredients. They are also the only beauty brand to follow the National Eczema Association’s ingredient guidelines while avoiding known irritants and allergens for those with sensitive skin (for example, essential oils and synthetic fragrances). Their ShineOn Lip Jelly has the reflective shine of a gloss and comfort of a balm for shiny, never sticky, lips.

US$14 (approx. HK$108.6) from Revolve

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5
Kjaer Weis

Kjaer Weis was created by makeup artist Kirsten Kjaer Weis to formulate high performing products that merge luxury and sustainability without compromise. Their signature silver, mirrored compact are refillable, with a sleek and weighted feel and the creamy formulation of their base products blend effortlessly with only a few taps of a finger. The cream blush in Blossoming imparts a fresh rosy flush, while the cream highlighter in Ravishing adds a lit-from-within glow.

Cream blush HK$440; Highlighter HK$440 from Net-a-porter

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6
Kosas

Kosas has become a cult-status powerhouse in the clean beauty scene, owing to their blendable, fuss-free formulas in a range of inclusive shades to suit all skin tones. Their Lip Fuel is a refreshing take on a tinted lip balm, a hyaluronic acid infused rendition with a moisturising gel texture and surprising colour payoff. Meanwhile, their most recently launched Revealer Concealer combines an eye cream, spot treatment and concealer into one for a full-coverage concealer-skincare hybrid.

Lip Fuel HK$115 from Net-a-Porter; Revealer Super Creamy + Brightening Concealer US$28 (approx. HK$217) from Revolve

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Carina Fischer
Carina is a writer, photographer and content creator, curious about pushing the boundaries between art, photography and fashion, all the while considering the importance of environmental sustainability, ethics and inclusion. When she's not madly researching her latest piece, she is strolling through an art gallery or scouring the streets for the best new eats. See more of her work at www.carina-fischer.com.