The Best Clean Beauty Foundations for Non-Toxic Coverage
Updated: Oct 8, 2020
My top picks for a clean, fresh base for the face.
Whether liquid or powder, dewy or matte, foundation is the base for your face of makeup. The goal is for your complexion to look smooth in texture and even in tone, but naturally so. Buildable coverage helps you find the perfect degree of coverage using the least product possible. While heavy, caked-on coverage might look great on camera, it's neither practical nor comfortable for everyday use.
These days, fuller coverage does not necessarily translate into thicker textures or pastier cosmetics. Serum-foundations, BB creams, and beauty balms offer new textures of coverage that help to streamline our regimens. While the market influx complicates our product choices, these new formulations are addressing previously unmet needs without exposing us to health harming toxins, carcinogens, and irritants. Plus, functional cosmetics that impart skin benefits, too, are becoming the new norm in the industry. In such a saturated market, how else can you distinguish your line among the many competitors?
My foundation history is pretty uneventful. I used Laura Mercier's pressed powder foundation religiously from high school through my 20s. I rarely changed my regimen to avoid skin reactions, and only use liquid foundations sparingly because my skin is prone to clogged pores. I always wanted to explore cleaner and non-toxic products to align with my increasingly holistic lifestyle, and avoiding Talc—a common ingredient in powder cosmetics—became a necessity ever since the news broke that the ingredient is frequently contaminated with the carcinogen, asbestos.
For many of us, a holy grail foundation is a staple in our makeup regimens. In my years as a beauty editor, I've been fortunate to sample the clean beauty market's top contenders that have rendered my former-favorites obsolete. Below you will find my top picks among clean foundations. While there are many more to choose from, these are my favorites so far.
What stands out about this Canadian-made organic, clean foundation is that it goes on light as air and hardly feels like you're wearing makeup at all. Still, the buildable formula imparts medium coverage with a satin finish that applies beautifully with a sponge over your primer. It is the best liquid foundation for oily skin that I have tried to date, although you will build up a bit of shine with longer wear. So, set with a mattifying setting powder (I used BeautyCounter’s) and keep oil blotting sheets on hand. The ingredients include soothing aloe leaf extract and a bevy of oils, floral extracts, and more, most of which are certified organic and pesticide-free.
The only downside is the limited shade range of just fourteen shades. This is due to the fact that it takes a tremendous amount of resources (i.e., funds) to be able to launch forty shades, and this simply isn’t possible for small, indie brands. I am so glad this foundation is available in a shade that works well with my skin tone, because it is wonderful. I wore the shade 'Lisa' with the Kosas concealer in shade 3.5.
This loose powder foundation provides incredible coverage that won't exacerbate greasiness for oily skin types. Available in an inclusive 45 shades, the powder is also thankfully Talc-free. Best applied with one of the brand's Powder Brushes (but their kabuki brush is also fantastic), you can find your perfect shade remotely by shopping one of their Find Your Match tester kits. After discovering your shade, you'll receive a 20% coupon for the full size version of your perfect tint. It's by far my favorite clean, powder foundation, outperforming even Lily Lolo's award-winning alternative.
Added perk? The brand also donates 1% of their profits to the non-profit 1% for the Planet, which I covered on FabFitFun.
Credo launched their first in-house cosmetics brand with this buildable, medium-to-full coverage liquid foundation in 40 different shades—making them the first clean beauty brand to launch an inclusive range of liquid foundation. Credo boasts some of the most stringent standards of cleanliness in the industry, allowing us to apply the hyaluronic acid, aloe, and nourishing oil-infused tint without a single worry on our minds. Press it onto the skin using a sponge—celebrity makeup artist Katey Denno recommends Jenny Patinkin Pure Makeup Sponge Duo—after first applying a pea-sized amount of exa Jump Start Smoothing Primer, leaving behind a dewey finish. Note that if you have an oily skin type, you'll want to keep blotting sheets and setting powder on-hand. Read more about the newsworthy launch in my piece on Harper's Bazaar.
After falling in love with the clean brand's True Skin Serum Concealer, I gave this vitamin C-infused foundation a try. It has become one of my favorites. My skin is oily, so the matte finish—aided by the incorporation of Mastic—is ideal for me, but I can see it working on various skin types. The product is vegan, cruelty-free, and comes in recyclable packaging. You can absolutely try this one if exa imparts just a little too much shine, but you'd still like liquid coverage.
Ilia gets a second mention for their SPF-infused, tinted oil foundation, which was the first tinted oil foundation to incorporate UV-protection in the clean beauty space. Made using balancing squalane oil and infused with hyperpigmentation- and skin barrier-supportive Niacinamide, I wrote all about the popular launch for The Zoe Report. Be forewarned, however, that an excess of oil can break down the efficacy of your SPF and cause the proliferation of bacteria on oily skin types.
Kosas made the O.G. tinted oil foundation, which was downright revolutionary regarding good-for-your-skin cosmetics. The blend features avocado, meadowfoam seed, red raspberry, jojoba, camellia seed, and rosehip oils, which are imbued with tint and impressive coverage. You will obviously have a dewy finish with this product, but so long as you have blotting sheets handy, even oily skin types can wear it matte. That said, it is ideal for dry skin.
Note: Do not forget to shake it before applying it with a brush. The brand's concealer is also a must-try; comparable in coverage to Ilia's concealer (both are impeccable), but with a more oil-rich formula that is great for dry skin.
The luxury clean brand Kjaer Weis stands out for theie high-quality formulas, an emphasis on sustainability (they sell reusable, refillable packaging), and ingredient safety. Their cream foundation above includes Talc, but their ingredient goes through a stringent level of testing and scrutiny to ensure that it is not contaminated with asbestos. The brand also just launched a liquid foundation in 24 shades, Invisible Touch Liquid Foundation. I have yet to try it, but you can read more about it here.
Vapour deserves a mention because it is one of the best clean options for extremely fair skin tones. The formula contains camellia, castor, and sunflower seed oils, with added extracts that include myrrh, bergamot, and holy basil/tulsi leaf extract.
Current regulatory laws will not keep us safe from exposure to toxins in our cosmetics — at least until 2025, when California’s Toxic Free Cosmetics Act goes into effect, banning 24 health-harming ingredients from unlabeled inclusion in our cosmetics and personal care brands.
Until then, the exciting news for clean beauty fans is that we no longer have to forego quality cosmetics in order to use only non-toxic options. Because it can be overwhelming to learn all there is to know about controversial beauty ingredients, I urge you to consider shopping at retailers pre-vet the brands they carry (i.e., Credo, The Detox Market, Follain) to ensure that products contain none of their banned beauty ingredients, or else from brands whose banned ingredients are transparently displayed as part of their brand mission. You can also shop from the clean beauty sections of stores like Sephora or Neiman Marcus, but keep in mind that for each of these retailers (and clean beauty brands), there is no guarantee of uniformity as to what ingredients they exclude. Thankfully we do have committed clean beauty advocates conducting ingredient oversight for us, but there is no replacement for education and being an empowered, informed consumer.
P.S. If you shop these foundations at Follain, you can get 15% off with the code: amb_np6r5g
I may receive a small commission if you shop from the affiliate links above. Emphasis on small.