Your Guide to Clean Makeup—Plus Our Beauty Editor’s Go-To Sephora Picks

Time for a clean slate.

By Langa Chinyoka
shanika hillocks, skincare, BIPOC, wellness

In life, you’ve gotta pick your poison. Some people collect frequent flyer miles and others buy their wine by the case. I personally have racked up an unspeakable number of points at my favorite clean beauty retailer. It’s true what they say: the feeling of being a regular somewhere you love never goes away.

I relish the sweet sound of the bell ringing when I walk in, the floor plan I’ve tread hundreds of times, the sales associates who know my name and ask how I liked the latest clarifying face mask, hyperpigmentation serum, or retinol night cream I bought the last time I was in. But despite my familiarity with the brands and the products, if you asked me to define clean beauty or non toxic makeup, I’d have been at a loss. For the longest time, I didn’t really know what made a product clean or non-toxic, but I figured they must be good for me… right?

Now that I’ve done my research, I can confirm that my instincts were correct. Turns out, there’s so much toxic stuff hiding in our makeup bags. From expired products, nasty preservatives, and icky ingredients, most of us should dig into our makeup pouches and take another look at what we’re using. I was shocked by how many products I’d carelessly amassed—and, when I looked at the ingredients list, how full of junk they all were.

But with fall on its way and the promise of a new season on the horizon, it’s time to declutter your makeup and replace your old products with non toxic makeup. Trust me: you won’t look back.

Featured image by Michelle Nash.

Megan Roup non toxic makeup
Image by Michelle Nash

And don’t be confused by the clean look trend—clean beauty is less about the final result (although it’s guaranteed to get you glowing) and more about what’s inside the tube and how it’s sourced. But what exactly is non toxic makeup? Does clean beauty really matter?

It turns out, there’s no standardized definition for most of the clean beauty buzzwords you see on your packaging. Generally, clean beauty and makeup refer to products made without toxic, synthetic, or unsafe ingredients. Usually, these products are made of mineral or plant-based ingredients, but each brand has its own definition.

Even if you don’t know exactly why you’re doing it, shopping non toxic can have many benefits, including:

  • More conscious, ethical makeup consumption.
  • Less frequent breakouts from reactive, irritating ingredients.
  • Less chance of long-term damage from harsh ingredients.
  • Better for the environment.

And, of course, getting to discover new makeup brands. Read on to dig into what exactly non toxic makeup is and the best products you can easily shop, right at Sephora.

Janessa Leoné applying makeup in the mirror_non toxic makeup
Image by Teal Thomsen

What is non toxic beauty?

From preservatives and alcohols, to synthetic fragrances and dyes, there are surprising amounts of potentially toxic—or even carcinogenic!—ingredients in most makeups. The FDA doesn’t have to approve beauty products before they find their way to you. They also don’t have a standardized definition for clean or non toxic beauty.

Nevertheless, non toxic makeup is pretty self-explanatory. So you can rest easy knowing that your products are free from toxic, unsafe ingredients. After all, what you’re putting on your face can affect your overall health in the long run. So good ingredients in your makeup go a long way in living an overall healthier lifestyle.

How do you know if makeup is non-toxic?

When you’re wandering down the aisles at Sephora, clean beauty is luckily easy to find. Just look for the green checkmark and you’ll be able to identify the products that are certified clean.

Otherwise, look for words like “clean” or “natural” to signify that a product is probably non toxic. Flip over the bottle and check the ingredients to ensure whatever you choose is free from any toxic additives.

Sanetra Nere Logno applying skincare_non toxic makeup
Image by Michelle Nash

How to Choose Non Toxic Makeup

Here are some helpful labels that will point you to non toxic makeup:

  • Certified Clean
  • Organic
  • Cruelty-Free
  • Vegan
  • Fair Trade

What ingredients in makeup are toxic?

Trying to dodge harmful ingredients in makeup is harder than you think. Did you know a lot of lipsticks contain lead? That’s right! And we put it on our lips, get it on our teeth, wipe it off with our tongues. I shudder to think of it.

But there’s more than that hiding in the powders and the pigments of our favorite products. Next time you’re browsing your drugstore or Sephora, watch out for these ingredients. And, for your own sake, be sure to skip them:

  • Phthalates
  • Sulfates
  • Parabens
  • Formaldehyde
  • Lead
  • Talc
  • Synthetic fragrances
Jen Pinkston skincare routine_non toxic makeup

Shop My Sephora Non Toxic Makeup Wishlist

Every product is curated with care by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a small commission at no cost to you.

ROSE INC Skin Enhance Luminous Skin Tint Serum Foundation

u003cpu003eThis creamy foundation provides the perfect amount of coverage while keeping your skin looking natural. For a light but satisfying base layer, luxuriate in this first step of your makeup routine. Slather it all over your face without remorse. It’s clean, after all.u003c/pu003e

Kosas Revealer Super Creamy + Brightening Concealer and Daytime Eye Cream

u003cpu003eThe key to good concealer is keeping it creamy. This sumptuous texture is featherlight and never cakes. Plus, it doubles as a brightening cream, so you eventually won’t have dark circles to cover up! Oh, the magic of non toxic makeup.u003c/pu003e

MILK MAKEUP KUSH High Volumizing Mascara

u003cpu003eThis mascara harnesses the power of plants using hemp-derived cannabis seed oil for a volumizing mascara that spreads evenly while helping your eyelashes grow.u003c/pu003e

MERIT Bronze Balm Sheer Sculpting Bronzer

u003cpu003eThis luxe bronzer adds a creamy glow to any makeup look. It blends effortlessly for a natural, sunkissed tone. Perfect for contouring or keeping your summer glow throughout the fall.u003c/pu003e

rms beauty Living Luminizer Highlighter

u003cpu003eThis high-performing highlighter illuminates by giving you a classy shimmer that doesn’t melt into a messy shine by midday. And when it catches the light just right? Angelic.u003c/pu003e

Saie Lip Blur Soft-Matte Hydrating Lipstick with Hyaluronic Acid

u003cpu003eThink matte lipstick can’t be hydrating? Think again. Infused with squalane, vitamin E, and coconut oil, it glides on smooth and stays put with an alluring matte finish that doesn’t dry out or crack your lips. And thankfully, there’s no lead to be found here.u003c/pu003e

ILIA Balmy Tint Hydrating Lip Balm

u003cpu003eFor a subtler pigment, this balmy tint is a great daytime lip color. The hydrating balm is also suitable for your cheeks to give you that coveted, natural flush.u003c/pu003e

Tower 28 Beauty ShineOn Lip Jelly Non-Sticky Gloss

u003cpu003eLip gloss is back! But don’t shy away from that glossy glam because of the tacky, sticky glosses of yore. This smooth, jelly gloss formula gives you a signature berry color with a shimmering pop and none of the mess.u003c/pu003e

bareMinerals Gen Nude Powder Blush

u003cpu003eMy philosophy is to use leftover lipstick to rouge your lips and cheeks, then supplement that rosy glow with a powder blush to keep it all in place. This no-frills, buildable pigment is a must-have for a natural makeup look.u003c/pu003e

Kulfi Underlined Kajal Clean Waterproof Long-Wear Eyeliner

u003cpu003eIsn’t it wild to think that you might have been applying toxic ingredients by your eyes? With this long-lasting eyeliner, you don’t have to sacrifice precision and quality for non toxic makeup.u003c/pu003e

Westman Atelier Eye Pods Eyeshadows

u003cpu003eWhen I’m not just smearing my highlighter and bronzer across my eyelids, I like to make eyeshadow a special treat. These gorgeous metallic pods are as innovative as they are luxurious.u003c/pu003e

HAUS LABS BY LADY GAGA The Edge Precision Eyebrow Pencil

u003cpu003eThis cult-favorite brow pencil is Gaga-approved, so you know I’m here for it. It gives you natural fullness with transfer-proof precision and all-day staying power.u003c/pu003e

Freck Beauty The Original Freckle

u003cpu003eEnhance your natural freckles or add some to your makeup look with this non-toxic, innovative freckle pencil. When they look this good, why not?u003c/pu003e