Most makeup brands are not clean or sustainable, and that applies to cheap drugstore brands as well as expensive, luxury-branded department store brands—the price doesn’t necessarily indicate quality.
In the U.S., there is no mandate on health studies or pre-market testing when it comes to personal care products and cosmetics. That means manufacturers are not bound by law to use only safe, non-toxic, and environmentally-friendly ingredients. Our skin is our largest organ—much of what we apply to our skin can be absorbed into the bloodstream, which means the ingredients in what we put on our skin matter.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reported that because of this lack of regulation and enforcement, one in every 13 women and one in every 23 men are unknowingly exposed to known or probable human carcinogenic ingredients every day through personal care products and cosmetics.
Coal tar, which is a human carcinogen, is used as a colorant and to control itching and scaling. Butylated hydroxytoluene, a known irritant, is used to slow the discoloration of products. The FDA even authorizes the use of mercury compounds in products like mascara when the concentrations are within a certain range. Mercury is easily absorbed by the skin and can cause a whole host of health issues: allergic reactions, skin irritation, neurological damage, and environmental damage.
Many of the products we use on the daily—products that our sisters, friends, and neighbors use as well—are likely causing harm to our bodies and to the environment. The best thing you can do is find brands that you can trust to only use proven, safe ingredients.
Safe, clean makeup doesn’t have to break the bank either. We researched to find the most affordable, non-toxic makeup brands, checked on the EWG Skin Deep database to confirm the safety of their ingredients, and reviewed their testing processes, sustainability practices, and certifications.
Next time your makeup bag is in need of a refresher, take a look at these brands we’ve found to be safe, non-toxic, environmentally-friendly, and inexpensive:
Alima Pure is a cosmetics brand that offers refillable compacts built to hold magnetic pans that can easily be swapped out when you run out. Alima Pure products are also free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, dimethicone, petroleum, talc, bismuth oxychloride and nanoparticles. Plus, for the last 10 years, the brand has been offsetting 100% of their carbon emissions through a partnership with Carbonfund.org, as well as by recycling at local facilities, manufacturing with energy-efficient processes, and purchasing wind-powered electricity.
Price range: $14.00 – $46.00 USD
RMS Beauty products are made using raw, food grade, organic ingredients in their natural state, keeping fully intact the materials’ beneficial properties. RMS Beauty products are certified organic and GMO-free and are never tested on animals. Packaging for the products is either minimal, recyclable, or reusable.
Price range: $20.00 – $78.00
Lily Lolo is a mineral makeup brand from London that focuses on clean, naturally-derived ingredients. According to the brand website, every product is “free from harsh chemicals, dyes and fillers,” as well as being vegan and gluten-free. Lily Lolo cosmetics are also free from parabens, fragrances, talc, dyes and nanoparticles, and the mineral foundation does not contain bismuth oxychloride, a common ingredient in mineral foundations that can cause skin irritation.
Price range: $7.50 – $27.00
W3ll People offers natural, plant-based, organic cosmetics that are made in small batches. The products are cruelty-free and vegan, and according to the company website, the brand uses formulations that include botanical complexes, which prevent the products from creasing or fading. W3ll People cosmetics are free from fillers, propylene glycol, petrochemicals and petroleum by-products.
Price range: $12.00 – $29.00
Juice Beauty’s cruelty-free, vegan, and certified-organic products are made with antioxidant-rich ingredients and sustainable energy. Juice Beauty also formulates their cosmetics and personal care products without using parabens, petroleum, propylene or butylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfates, pesticides, phthalates, artificial dyes or synthetic fragrances. Their products are never tested on animals.
Price range: $10.00 – $45.00
100 Percent Pure creates non-toxic, organic, vegan skincare products and cosmetics using biodegradable formulas. 100 Percent Pure’s products are cruelty-free and naturally pigmented. The brand also gives a portion of its sales to feed shelter dogs and to support the work of Trees for the Future. Sustainability is a chief concern of the brand—the team operates its 8-acre headquarters using 100% solar power.
Price range: $20.00 – $95.00
Gabriel Cosmetics focuses on offering organic, vegan, and gluten-free products. There are no synthetics, chemicals, parabens, or animal by-products in any of the company’s products, and all the cosmetics are lead-free as well. The brand also offers a range of nail polishes that are 10-free, meaning the polishes are free from formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, camphor, formaldehyde resin, xylene, parabens, fragrances, phthalates, and animal ingredients.
Price range: $14.00 – $29.00
Beautycounter works to minimize the environmental impacts of their products, packaging, and footprint through sustainable ingredient sourcing and recyclable packaging. As of August 2019, Beautycounter has planted the equivalent of 4,270 acres of trees to offset carbon usage. Although there are concerns with the company’s multilevel marketing model, products are available for purchase directly from the Beautycounter website. Beautycounter formulates its products according to what they call The Never List, which is made up of more than 1,500 questionable or harmful commonly-used chemicals.
Price range: $22.00 – $89.00
Pacifica is a 100% vegan and cruelty-free brand that uses all natural ingredients in its lipsticks, mascaras, eyeshadows and liners, foundations and highlighters. Pacifica also has a recycling program, allowing customers to send empty and rinsed out product packaging to be given new life through their range of Preserve products.
Price range: $5.00 – $21.00
Makeup Geek was started by beauty YouTuber Marlena Stell. All Makeup Geek products are vegan and gluten-free. For each product, a full list of ingredients is available on the website. Select lip products are paraben-free, and none of Makeup Geek’s products are ever tested on animals.
Price range: $5.00 – $22.00
A smaller brand and a bit of a cult favorite, Fat and the Moon offers lip products, blush, eyeliner, eyeshadows, and highlighters, all of which are handmade with natural, clean ingredients. Founder Rachel Budde experiments with trusted ingredients and recipes from various healing traditions to create simple products that are good for the body and the earth.
Price range: $8.00 – $42.00
Using cruelty-free, ethical practices, Elate Cosmetics offers a full line of clean, vegan beauty products that are sustainably packaged and gluten-free. Elate’s ingredients are 90% organic and 100% fair-trade and palm oil-free. Elate’s sustainable values also extend to their product packaging as the brand uses bamboo to make all compacts, tools and palettes.
Price range: $16.00 – $62.00