Let’s start by stating the obvious: Even though this is our *inaugural* Clean Beauty Awards, clean is by no means a new thing in the beauty industry. In fact, clean is pretty much the beauty industry’s official baseline nowadays. But despite being ubiquitous, there’s no universal definition or clear set of guidelines tied to “clean beauty.” Even the term “clean”—or its synonyms “green,” “eco-friendly,” and “all-natural”—isn’t regulated in brand marketing or on product packaging. This is entirely confusing, we know, and exactly why putting together the Clean Beauty Awards felt so necessary this year.
Keep scrolling and you’ll find 50 standout products in the skincare, makeup, and hair spaces—each of which has been tested, swatched, and sampled by the Cosmo beauty team and then thoroughly vetted by an outside panel of beauty experts (get to know ’em below!) before being crowned a winner. Down at the bottom, you’ll also find Cosmo’s current clean criteria, the specifics around our product selection process (it quite literally took months), and invaluable sustainable beauty tips from our experts too. Enjoy/thank us later/happy shopping, you know the drill.
Meet the Experts
Krupa Koestline is a clean cosmetic chemist and the founder of KKT Consultants. Koestline consults with brands on clean guidelines, new and eco-friendly manufacturing processes, and more advanced earth-friendly ingredient sourcing. Koestline is also a member of Credo’s Clean Beauty Council, where she advises the retailer and its brands on ingredient safety, environmental concerns, and sustainability impacts.
Koestline’s current definition of “clean”:
“Clean beauty products should be effective and created with ingredients proven to be safe for the skin and sourced in an ethical way. Clean beauty should also be free of green- and science-washing as well as fearmongering. Everything should be rooted in and backed by science.”
How she examines sustainable beauty:
“Ingredient sourcing, extraction methods, supply chain management, packaging, and waste—these are all things my team and I consider when talking about sustainability.”
Shani Hillian is a licensed aesthetician and beauty writer with a passion for herbal medicine and holistic living. Hillian regularly contributes to platforms that align with her passion for total well-being. She strives to build awareness around holistic living, mindful eating, and sustainable skincare with the goal of encouraging people to adopt daily rituals for the betterment of their mind, body, and spirit.
How Hillian defines clean and sustainable beauty:
“Clean beauty means a product is nontoxic and contains natural ingredients from the earth that will not compromise your health. And sustainable beauty shouldn’t compromise the generations of people that come after us, from both a social and environmental standpoint.”
On her ingredient no-go list:
“Sulfates, formaldehyde, silicones, dioxane, parabens, and phthalates. They can have negative effects on our health and our earth.”
Kiran Mian, DO
Kiran Mian, DO, is a board-certified dermatologist with more than 15 years of experience in the beauty space. As an osteopathic physician, Dr. Mian is conscious of the fact that what we put on our skin affects our body as a whole. She focuses on science-backed skincare concepts that provide a holistically healthy experience for her patients and followers.
Dr. Mian’s take on clean beauty:
“Clean beauty is the conscientiousness with which products are formulated. In my practice, I focus on minimizing products with questionable ingredients while helping my patients maintain a balanced lifestyle.”
The biggest misconception she hears about clean beauty:
“Just because something is clean doesn’t mean it’s automatically safe for your skin. Everyone has different sensitivities, and I see many patients with allergic contact dermatitis from plant oils or other natural ingredients found in beauty products.”
Jazmin Alvarez is the founder of Pretty Well Beauty, a one-stop shop for clean beauty and wellness essentials. Alvarez credits her mom’s natural hair remedies, her own personal beauty struggles, and her 10+ years of beauty industry experience as reasons for creating a business that shares the best clean and sustainable beauty brands with consumers.
Alvarez’s clean and sustainable beauty POV:
“It’s all about having high ingredient standards, so formulas made with 100 percent nontoxic ingredients and without anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. As for sustainable beauty, I’m always thinking about the full life cycle of a product and where it goes after you’ve finished using it.”
On the efficacy of clean beauty:
“I encourage people to think about clean beauty like you would nature. You wouldn’t plant a tree today and expect it to be bearing fruit the next day—same with clean beauty products. In general, clean beauty can be a slower process because that is just how nature works.”
The Best Clean Skincare
Alpyn Beauty Juneberry & Collagen Hydrating Cold Cream Cleanser
“Most people struggle to keep their skin barriers intact, which means no one needs to be constantly washing their face with something that’s loaded with harsh acids or heavy surfactants—they need this,” says Koestline. The cold-cream-style formula gently cleanses while softening and smoothing skin with antioxidants and plant-based collagen.
Eadem Dew Dream Cleansing Balm
“Most cleansing balms on the market don’t apply as well as this one, especially on dry skin, but Eadem’s has an emollient texture that spreads beautiful and is easy to use,” says Koestline, adding that “it effectively removes makeup and rinses clean too—overall a great product.”
Supergoop! Daily Dose Bioretinol + Mineral SPF 40
It’s no secret that mineral sunscreens have a bad reputation for being thick and chalky—but all of our skincare testers said this formula was the exact opposite. “It doesn’t even feel like a mineral SPF—the rich serum-y texture blends in like a dream and contains bakuchiol to leave your skin all dewy and fresh-looking,” says Koestline. “It blends into dark skin well with no heaviness and no white cast while allowing your skin to breathe,” adds Hillian.
Angela Caglia Skincare Soufflé Moisturizer
It’s rare that a face moisturizer is truly suitable for all skin types, but this winner is truly the ultimate crowd-pleaser. “It has a unique lightweight texture and a unique combination of actives, including goat’s milk and willow bark, to leave skin feeling plump and smooth,” says Koestline.
Cocokind Probiotic Acne Serum
This isn’t one of those acne treatments that leaves your skin all inflamed and flaky. The salicylic acid helps unclog pores and minimize blackheads and whiteheads, while beta glucan and postbiotics (aka good bacteria for your skin) help temper any irritation. “I really like that this serum is gentle yet effective and did not make my skin feel dry after application,” says Koestline.
Caudalie Vinoclean Moisturizing Toner With Rose Water
“A simple yet effective toner,” says Koestline. It contains rose water (a personal favorite ingredient of Koestline’s) to remove any leftover residue from cleansing and mattify skin without stripping away its natural oils. “I like how gentle this formula is too,” adds Dr. Mian.
Tata Harper Superkind Fragrance-Free Radiance Mask
“This face mask gives an amazing glow without causing irritation or aggravating sensitive skin,” says Hillian. It’s all thanks to a blend of gentle AHAs and barrier-friendly plant extracts that helps nix dulling dead skin cells and boost your skin’s hydration levels. “I love how smooth and plump this made my skin feel—it’s perfect for getting a dewy glow,” says Koestline.
Odacité Vitamin C & E + Hyaluronic Acid Brightening Serum
Vitamin C is notoriously temperamental, but Odacité’s serum features an encapsulated version at max stability, so you can be sure the ingredient is at its optimal hyperpigmentation-fading capacity, says Dr. Mian. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a dose of vitamin E and hyaluronic acid to amplify your glow too.
Marie Veronique Soothing B3 Serum
Think of this serum as a soothing hug for your stressed-out skin. “The vitamin B3, or niacinamide, content creates a soothing and hydrating effect that’s ideal for dry, sensitive skin types,” says Dr. Mian. Alvarez is a fan too: “My skin loves this serum—every time I use it, I feel like I’m literally feeding my face.”
Stella by Stella McCartney Alter-Care Serum
ICYMI, Stella McCartney makes skincare now, and this serum from the line is a must-try if you want to quench thirsty skin and create a plump, dewy effect. “It feels hydrating and cocooning while still not being too heavy on skin,” says Koestline. “I also appreciate the thought that went into the refillable and recyclable packaging design.”
Kinship Self Smooth 10% Glycolic Resurfacing Serum
Take the guesswork out of exfoliating with this straightforward acid serum. Apply it to clean, dry skin three nights a week and let the glycolic acid dissolve dead skin cells and buildup for a smooth, even-toned glow. “This works great and quickly too,” says Koestline. “I saw results after using it just one night.”
Biossance Squalane + Retinol Night Serum
Retinol—the hero in this overnight treatment—is the holy grail for stimulating collagen and elastin production and smoothing and firming skin. The catch? It can be irritating as hell. Luckily, the version used in Biossance’s formula is time-released, so it’ll create the greatest plumping effective with the least amount of irritation, says Dr. Mian.
Klur Unseasonal Kind Face Oil
“Between the CoQ10, vitamin C, and sea buckthorn extract, this face oil has all the antioxidants and nutrients your skin could need,” says Koestline, adding that “it feels wonderful on skin and smells great too.”
Herbivore Super Nova 5% THD Vitamin C + Caffeine Brightening Eye Cream
Dark circles, under-eye bags, dryness…none of them are any competition for this eye cream. It’s packed with vitamin C and turmeric extract plus de-puffing caffeine to make your eye area look brighter and more refreshed. “The consistency is beautiful,” adds Koestline. “It feels smooth on application without any tacky feel.”
Kate McLeod Daily Stone Solid Body Moisturizer
“I was skeptical about using a solid moisturizer bar…but wow, it’s perfect!” says Koestline. “It has great application and wonderful skin feel—not to mention it’s far more sustainable than your average body lotion in a pump or jar.”
Sahajan Ritual Body Oil
Inspired by Ayurveda, this luxe body oil (it’s a favorite of Dr. Mian’s) is an absolute treat for your skin and your senses. It’s loaded with a blend of all-natural coconut oil, sesame seed oil, and almond oil to smooth and soften skin plus naturally derived fragrance to promote an overall sense of well-being.
Nécessaire The Body Wash
Hillian, Koestline, Alvarez, and Dr. Mian all named Nécessaire’s fragrance-free body wash their favorite way to get clean in the shower. The gel formula suds up beautifully (thanks to plant-based surfactants) and leaves skin feeling nice and clean but not so clean that it feels dried out, says Koestline.
Josh Rosebrook Body Acid Serum
The perfect blend of nourishing oils and exfoliating AHAs, this body serum soothes and hydrates and provides a gentle resurfacing effect, says Dr. Mian. And according to Alvarez, it provides instant gratification too. “After the first time I used this, my skin looked so much more even-toned and bright.”
Humanrace Ozone Body Protection Cream SPF 30
Body sunscreen. You need it. Every day. And preferably this option from Humanrace. According to Alvarez, “it is lightweight and blends super fast,” two phrases seldom used to describe a 15 percent zinc oxide SPF 30. Also cool: It’s hydrating enough (thanks to sunflower seed and jojoba oils) to double as your body moisturizer.
Ranavat Sacred Rose Restoring Hand Cream With Antioxidants
This hand cream has all the good stuff, including antioxidant-rich sesame seed oil, soothing aloe, and hydrating glycerin, says Dr. Mian. It’s a godsend for soothing dry, cracked skin, and unlike other healing creams, it won’t make your hands greasy or your phone screen a smudgy mess.
Alo Supernatural Deodorant
Yep, we didn’t think our favorite leggings brand could also make our new favorite clean deo, but it did—and we’re so glad. It’s one of the few natural deos that kept our editors smelling totally fresh after an intense workout. And on top of that, the formula also contains probiotics, which, according to Dr. Mian, are an excellent way to maintain the skin’s microbiome and reduce odor.
The Best Clean Makeup
Saie Mascara 101 Lengthening and Lifting
For years, clean mascaras couldn’t complete with the conventional formulas, but Saie’s 101 changed all of that. A few quick coats make even the teeniest of lashes look long and thick. And as for the ingredients? “They’re the cleanest of clean as far as mascara goes,” says Alvarez.
Ere Perez Jojoba Eye Pencil
Creamy, blendable, and ultra pigmented, this pencil takes the top prize when it comes to best clean eyeliner. “I love all the colors (there are 10, to be exact) and how smooth they glide along the lash line and inner waterline of the eyes,” says Alvarez.
Manasi 7 All Over Colour
“Organic” has been synonymous with the neutral aesthetic for years, but these little cream blush pots are rewriting the script. “I’ve been using these colors for years,” says Alvarez. “They’re highly pigmented, so a little goes forever, literally! The colors are bold and flattering and come in the most stunning packaging too.”
Rose Inc Solar Infusion Moisturizing Cream Bronzer
This isn’t the bronzer of your middle school days. There’s zero orange tone or weird sparkle—only warm, illuminating pigments that create that just-back-from-vacay glow. “The shades are amazing for darker skin tones like mine too,” adds Hillian.
Mango People Highlighter
If you love the Fenty Match Stix highlighters (I mean, who doesn’t?), then you’ll be obsessed with this all-natural dupe from Mango People. It glides on skin like butter (thanks to a variety of nourishing plant oils) and gives skin an instant lit-from-within look. “I love this highlighter so much, not only for its ultra-clean ingredients but for the color payoff and performance too,” says Alvarez.
Ami Colé Lip Treatment Oil
“This isn’t sticky-feeling like most lip glosses,” says Alvarez. “It’s the best ever—never tacky and it’s super long-lasting too,” adds Hillian. Go ahead and swipe on any of the four juicy shades with abandon.
Honest Beauty Liquid Lipstick in Goddess
See those color-blocked lips on our models? It’s the handiwork of this stunning pink liquid lipstick from Honest Beauty. The creamy texture dries down to a matte finish but won’t dry out your lips, thanks to avocado oil and hyaluronic acid. Hillian loves that the formula is buildable too, so you can layer it on for a statement-making moment or lightly tap it on for a hint of color.
Mara Sea Silk Lip Balm in Coral
Part lip treatment, part lip tint, Mara’s Sea Silk Lip Balm delivers a dose of long-lasting hydration with the perfect sheer cherry hue, says Dr. Mian. “The texture is nice and silky and has good staying power too,” adds Koestline.
BareMinerals Complexion Rescue Brightening Concealer
The concealer version of BareMinerals’ iconic Complexion Rescue Tinted Moisturizer, this lightweight formula instantly camouflages dark circles, hyperpigmentation, redness, and more…all without suffocating your skin or getting all creasy and cakey. “I love that it allows my skin to breathe,” says Hillian.
Merit the Minimalist Perfecting Complexion Foundation and Concealer Stick
Both Alvarez and Hillian love this clean foundation stick. “It easily melts into my skin just using my fingers, and a little goes a long way too,” says Alvarez. “It gives a light coverage without looking cakey,” adds Hillian. There are 20 inclusive shades, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find your perfect match.
True Botanicals Everyday Skin Tint SPF 30
Ideal for busy mornings, this three-in-one skin tint combines the most important skincare and makeup steps to streamline your routine. It moisturizes with squalane (but still feels “sheer and breathable,” says Hillian), protects from UVA and UVB damage with SPF 30, and evens out your skin tone just like a lightweight foundation does.
Well People Bio Brightener Priming Serum
“The brightening effect this primer creates is an absolute game changer for me,” says Alvarez, adding, “I don’t even wear foundation all the time, but I still use this primer alone—it’s that good.” The magic? A blend of glow-boosting jojoba oil and aloe vera plus tiny light-reflecting particles.
Live Tinted Huebrow Clear Setting Gel
This isn’t one of those gels that makes your brows look like they have dandruff (IYKYK). The clear formula helps set and shape brow hairs without getting flaky or stiff. And like everything else in the Live Tinted line, this bb is clean, vegan, and cruelty-free.
Kosas 10-Second Liquid Eyeshadow
These shimmery gel-like eyeshadows are as versatile as they come. Swipe one on and sheer it out for a soft wash of color (Alvarez says she loves the formula for quickly creating a no-makeup makeup look) or stack a bunch of shades for a full-on eye moment like the one our model is sporting.
Manucurist Paris Green Nail Polish
There are plenty of nontoxic nail polishes these days, but not all perform the way Manucurist’s Green collection does. The formula goes on without streaks or clumps and is incredibly long-lasting (I got a solid six days out of a mani). Oh, and the shade range is 10/10 too—you’ll find everything from opaque pastels to sheer metallics.
Leland Francis James Eau de Parfum
Alvarez—and the entire Cosmo beauty team, FWIW—are obsessed with this green fragrance. It’s made with 100 percent natural and botanically derived ingredients, and it has a sweet, sexy, and spicy profile, says Alvarez.
The Best Clean Haircare
Act + Acre Plant-Based Dry Shampoo
With all the negative news surrounding traditional dry shampoos recently, this nonaerosol option is a safe bet, says Alvarez. It’s made with just six ingredients to effectively sop up excess oil and neutralize unwanted odor…all without giving your roots that matte, chalky look.
Typology Repairing Hair Mask
“This rinse-out hair mask leaves hair feeling super silky and soft,” says Koestline. “And unlike other heavy-hitting hair masks, it provides a deep-conditioning effect without leaving hair waxy or heavy.” Sign. Us. Up.
Briogeo Superfoods Avocado + Kiwi Moisture Leave-In Conditioner
“This leave-in is lightweight yet ultra conditioning, and thanks to added sunflower extract, it helps protect your hair from getting damaged as a result of UV exposure,” says Dr. Mian. And despite not having any synthetic fragrance, it smells absolutely divine.
Lolavie Restorative Shampoo
“I have thick, long hair, which means I typically need to use loads and loads of shampoo to get my hair really clean, so I was truly surprised when I only had to use a quarter of what I normally use to clean all of my hair with this formula,” says Koestline. “It didn’t leave my hair stripped at all—in fact, I could have skipped the conditioner.”
Everist The Deep Conditioning Concentrate
This checks both the clean and sustainability boxes thanks to its naturally derived waterless formula and recycling aluminum packaging. “The formula goes on beautifully and helps condition, detangle, smooth—all while being completely silicone-free,” says Koestline.
Drunk Elephant Laini Latherless Conditioning Co-Cleanser
Most co-washes either cleanse really well or condition really well but rarely do both. This winner from Drunk Elephant is the exception. “I love how this co-wash truly cleans without stripping and leaves hair feeling soft and healthy,” says Koestline. Dr. Mian is a fan too, adding that “it’s perfect for curly or textured hair and it helps keep the scalp clean while adding moisture and minimizing frizz.”
Adwoa Beauty Baomint Moisturizing Shampoo
“I’m very picky about shampoo—I have only three tried-and-true options in my rotation, including this one from Adwoa,” says Alvarez. “I’ve been using it for years and I love how moisturizing it is and how it never leaves my hair feeling stripped or dried out post-wash.”
As I Am Rice Water Conditioner
The hero ingredient in this conditioner for type 4 hair? Rice extract. “The ingredient helps promote hair growth and maintain the strength and moisture levels in each strands,” says Dr. Mian. Use it for hair that’s softer, stronger, and easier to detangle and comb too.
Bread Beauty Supply Mud Mask Hair & Scalp Detoxifying Pre-Wash Clay Treatment
This pre-wash scalp treatment is loaded with clays and plant extracts to remove product buildup and excess oil while simultaneously creating an ideal environment for hair growth. Also great? It has styling benefits for curly hair. “This deep-cleaned my scalp, but my thick curls feel super soft too,” says Koestline.
JVN Complete Blowout Styling Milk
Sure, silicones make hair look great, but certain kinds can mess with the quality and health of your hair with continued use. That’s why this styling milk (it’s Dr. Mian’s favorite) uses hemi-squalane—a plant-based molecule that gives hair slip and shine without any negative side effects.
Innersense Organic Beauty Quiet Calm Curl Control
Curly girls, get excited. “This is the perfect cream for anyone who wants to enhance their curl pattern without feeling product-y or creating too much hold,” says Koestline. “It gives my curls great moisture without weighing them down and even minimizes frizz too,” says Alvarez.
Rahua Hydration Detangler + UV Barrier
Not only does this spray-on detangler make it light-years easier to tackle knots and snarls without destroying your hair, it functions like a hair treatment too. “It’s full of vitamins A, C, and E as well as omega-3 fatty acids to improve the health of your hair,” says Dr. Mian.
Nuele Hair Serum
The secret to our model’s ultra-sleek lengths? This hair oil. A few drops nix frizz and flyaways and give hair mirrorlike shine without weighing it down. “I love this for smoothing frizz in an instant, and it protects my hair before heat styling too. The ingredients are clean, simple, and effective,” says Alvarez.
Cosmo’s Clean Criteria
There’s no universal definition of the term “clean,” which means everyone—from beauty brands to dermatologists—has their own interpretation. Right now, the Cosmo beauty team considers clean beauty to include brands and products that are not only effective and rooted in science but that also take people’s well-being and the planet’s well-being into consideration when being developed, manufactured, and sold. This means they often use the safest, highest-quality ingredients in formulas; utilize packaging that is refillable, recyclable, and/or created with sustainable materials; and are transparent with consumers about their production processes.
Our Product Selection Process
- January 2022: Cosmo’s team of four beauty editors begin researching and testing more than 600 products that meet our current clean beauty criteria.
- November 2022: Cosmo beauty editors nominate 400 product finalists across 50 different categories, including hair, skin, and makeup.
- December 2022: Finalists in each category send samples to our curated panel of clean beauty experts for review.
- February 2023: Cosmo beauty editors comb through data from our experts to identify a winning product for all 50 categories.
- March 2023: We share the winners and our testers’ thoughts on clean beauty with you!
On model, clean skincare: Annika Inez earrings.
Photographer: Vanessa Granda. Fashion stylist: Andrea Zendejas. Beauty director: Lauren Balsamo. Digital creative director: Abby Silverman. Producer: Ruben Chamorro. Art director: Katie Buckleitner. Visuals editor: Michelle Uzomba. Hair: Izumi Sato. Makeup: Mark de los Reyes. Manicure: Elizabeth Garcia. Models: Brenda Mutoni, Carmen Fozzard, and Olivia Tomasino.
Lauren Balsamo is deputy beauty director at Cosmopolitan, where she writes, edits, and produces all types of beauty content—from product reviews to personal essays and trend reports. She has covered beauty for nine years at Cosmopolitan and has contributed to Women’s Health and Seventeen magazines as well. Follow her on Instagram.