Here are the most coveted natural and clean foundations of 2023, expertly curated by Kristin Adams, a natural cosmetic industry expert.
If you are looking for the best natural and clean foundations, this post is for you! Below are my 18 best natural and clean foundation picks for 2023 that approximate the formulation, vibration, and the Afterglow ethos.
If you’ve found your way to this particular blog post, you may be looking for a comparable replacement for your now-unavailable Afterglow Organic Infused Mineral Foundation.
Or, perhaps you are new here and still on the hunt for that elusive “perfect match” that leaves your complexion, mind, and conscience beautiful, happy, and calm.
Either way, welcome!! I wrote this post for you.
But just a warning…
This is a long post with a lot of insider information I’ve never shared about how the natural cosmetics industry works… and what you need to know when shopping so you buy a product that aligns with your values, ethics, and expectations.
I want you to get what you’ve paid for and support those beauty companies that truly speak to your principles.
Impatient? Jump directly to my list of recommendations here.
My list of the best natural and clean foundations of 2023 includes loose mineral powder foundation, pressed mineral powder foundation, liquid foundation, and cream foundation.
Tell Me What You Love
Perhaps you bravely switched to a new natural or clean foundation on your own and found one that works for you. If so, I want to know about it in the blog comments below!
Please leave a comment at the end of this blog with the brand name, product name, and your experience with the product to give as many options as possible to the Afterglow community.
Before I Show You the Goods
Before I reveal my 18 best natural foundations for 2023, I want to set the stage, so you are well-armed with a treasure trove of knowledge to distinguish the naturally fabulous and clean from faux.
Some Things Don’t Change
I’ve spent 18 years in the cosmetic industry as a natural cosmetic brand owner, innovator, product developer, consultant, and professional speaker on the topic of natural cosmetics. I’ve developed hundreds of products for my natural cosmetics brands and other clients as an innovation and product development consultant.
One thing that has not changed in the 18 years I have been working in the natural cosmetic niche is the lack of definition and customer confusion around what “natural cosmetics” actually are.
Natural Is Still Booming, but…
According to Future Market Insights, the global natural cosmetics mark size was estimated at USD 34.5 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach $54.5 billion by 2025. The demand for natural cosmetics is so significant that drug and grocery stores and Ulta and Sephora all now have dedicated natural beauty categories.
Well, kind of… but the confusion remains.
The issue remains that we in the USA don’t have a singular legal definition for the category “natural cosmetics.” Even the FDA website says, “FDA has not defined the term “natural” and has not established a regulatory definition for this term in cosmetic labeling.”
The recent invention of the beauty category “clean cosmetics” further complicates the discussion, but I’ll get into that later…
Currently, in the USA, each brand and cosmetics store has defined what “natural cosmetics” means to them. As is often the case, beauty brands each define “natural cosmetics” to conveniently fit into exactly how their products are formulated and include within their definition the not-so-natural compromises they need to make to create their desired formula.
These “compromises” included in some natural cosmetics brands’ definition of natural range from including synthetic preservatives, synthetic fragrances, and synthetic and petroleum-derived dyes like FD&C in their formulas. These “clean” ingredients often show up in an ingredient list as something like this “Red 30 Lake (CI 73360), Red 7 Lake (CI15850) AKA 202, Red 6 Lake (CI 15850)”, as well as a myriad of synthetic binders and glycols.
Can the argument be made for using these synthetic ingredients in a “clean beauty product”? Sure. However, consumers often remain confused and think clean beauty and all-natural beauty are the same.
Are they both fantastic alternatives to traditional cosmetics for those looking to avoid certain ingredients?
Are “clean cosmetics” and “natural cosmetics” the same?
Sometimes clean and natural beauty brands transparently share their own definitions with their customers. Often the definitions come from the brand’s marketing department and aren’t coming from the person who formulates cosmetics, or understands the science, or the actual definition of natural as established by certain natural cosmetic ISO (International Organization for Standardization) industry standards (ISO natural cosmetics standard 16128).
And often, the “clean” or “natural” beauty brands completely bypass the conversation regarding their ingredient philosophy, their ingredient selection process, and the unnatural origin of some of the ingredients… and why they chose to include them in the formula anyway while maintaining very earthy brand optics.
What about those natural and non-toxic cosmetic certifications?
The lack of governmental definition around the term “natural cosmetic” in the USA has created a vacuum for private groups to offer certifications and charge a premium for these natural and non-toxic cosmetic certifications.
The most well-known natural cosmetics and non-toxic cosmetic third-party standards are EWG, Made Safe, NSF, EcoCert, COSMOS, and The Soil Association. However, in the US, you don’t see that many natural beauty and clean beauty brands carry these certifications.
Many beauty brands will formulate to these third-party certification standards and use them as a guide even if they can’t afford to get their products certified under that standard.
Why Don’t we see Many Brands with those Natural Cosmetic Certifications?
One word: Expense
Third-party natural cosmetics and non-toxic certifications are expensive, and most natural cosmetic companies are very small.
Unfortunately, most of these natural cosmetics certifications are so expensive that very few natural cosmetics companies can afford to go through the process to get their wide lines of products certified.
Many beauty brands that are just as natural (or even more so) don’t carry these certifications because it’s simply too cost-prohibitive for them to do so as an indie beauty brand.
Bad Advice about USDA-Certified Organic Cosmetics
I often see blog posts about natural cosmetics that suggest that readers “look for the USDA certified organic” logo to find the cleanest organic makeup and organic skincare. This suggestion reveals the writer’s lack of knowledge on their subject, and the suggestion is incredibly misleading to the reader.
Looking for a USDA logo on “organic cosmetics,” especially makeup, is half-baked advice.
The USDA Certified Organic certification is an agricultural and food-grade standard that was not and is not intended for cosmetics. In fact, the USDA Certified Organic certification does not even offer a cosmetic or personal care certification category. This means any cosmetic you see legitimately USDA Certified Organic is certified under an organic food standard.
Those cosmetics with the USDA Certified Organic logo on the product’s packaging must contain at least 95% certified organic ingredients. The remaining 5% of the ingredients must be free from a long list of unapproved ingredients.
Makeup (cosmetics that impart decoration, coverage, and color to the skin) generally requires at least 15%-30% minerals, micas, and pigments to achieve their functional promise. Minerals, micas, and pigments can all be natural in origin, but they are mined from the earth.
These colorants were never living and never part of the agricultural system. As natural as they may be, they are not eligible to be considered “organic” by definition because they are and were never living. The USDA standard is not just for any natural ingredient. It is only for botanical ingredients that have been grown under that organic farming standard.
If you see a makeup product that has a certified organic seal on it, it is likely from Australia, where they offer a standard that takes into account that the vast percentage of the product is not from a botanical origin.
Is the Australian Certified Organic Makeup Better?
No. It means they have a private 3rd party certification the brand paid for that accommodates the fact that most of the makeup formula is inert pigments and not certified organic ingredients. It doesn’t mean the formula is cleaner or the product performs better than a cosmetic that is not certified organic but contains just as high an overall percentage of certified organic ingredients.
“Green” Turns Into “Clean”
Formulating dogmatically natural cosmetics is difficult for many reasons. Truly natural cosmetic ingredients (especially pigments used in color cosmetics) are unpredictable and create batch-to-batch consistency and stability challenges. They have the added challenges of natural odors, shorter shelf life, and love to separate over time.
Many natural formulas require a preservative system to ensure product safety and stability. However, few (if any) natural preservative systems can measure up to the same indestructible multi-year shelf-lives required by the big retailers. Every year we hear of another natural cosmetic brand with a product that wasn’t properly preserved in the hands of thousands of women. 2023’s first national natural preservative scandal involved a mold issue in Kosas Revealer Concealer.
Natural ingredients also come from the earth. In the case of pigments oared from the ground like Iron oxide, this means never-ending batch-to-batch color-matching challenges and possible heavy metal contamination to contend with.
All of the challenges of working with natural cosmetic ingredients are avoided when you opt instead for what some in the cosmetic industry have coined “clean synthetic” ingredient alternatives.
Swapping out all of those annoying, unreliable natural cosmetic ingredients for some “clean” synthetics that don’t have a safety or toxicity rap sheet allows a “clean beauty” brand to address the difficult formulation challenges of making seriously natural products and allows the “clean beauty” brand to make a more stable product with a lot more formulation, color variety, and longer shelf-lives.
“Clean Beauty” advocates will also claim that by replacing natural pigments (like Iron oxide) with synthetic FD&C and Lake dyes they are actually making safer products since the Iron oxide for synthetic dyes removes the major potential heavy metal (mercury and lead) contaminant.
That’s debatable, but better left for a different blog post!
And this is how the “clean beauty” movement started. It found a clever answer to the challenges of natural cosmetics through the magic of clever hybrid formulating and genius marketing.
Do I think that there is something inherently wrong with “clean beauty,” which creates formulas based on the philosophy that there are good, clean synthetic and synthetic ingredients?
Not at all.
Some functionality (including many colors) can only be achieved by using synthetic FD&C and Lake dyes or the less savory (for some) carmine alternative.
What’s the problem, then?
Most people still think “clean cosmetics” are the same as “natural cosmetics” and “green cosmetics.” Many consumers naturally think that a clean cosmetics brand is also 100% natural.
How do I know this?
Being steeped in this industry for so long, hearing feedback from customers and my email, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn feeds full of excited, newly minted multi-level clean beauty brand representatives talking about how natural their clean beauty brand is.
They are not.
One way the indie cosmetic industry found to bi-pass some of the more difficult parts of formulating natural cosmetics was by inventing the “clean beauty” category to have the best of both worlds; the uninformed natural cosmetic consumer and traditional cosmetics retail.
Therein Lies the Problem & Challenge
It presents a real challenge to give you close product suggestions to replace Afterglow Cosmetics’ line because every cosmetic brand that markets toward the non-toxic, natural, and clean crowd has different parameters and a different “No-No List” of what ingredients are absolutely forbidden.
In general, the suggestions I offer below are quite natural. Liquid foundations present the biggest challenge to formulate effectively AND fairly naturally. There are truly natural liquid foundations available, but I think most of them are mildly horrible to wear. If you opt for a liquid foundation, know that it will likely be less natural than the powder foundation options.
Calling it Out
If you’re cool with “clean beauty” and don’t mind a few “clean synthetic” ingredients to be able to enjoy high-quality liquid foundation and all the color variety your heart desires, I understand.
Sometimes a girl wants to use a great, fairly natural liquid foundation that is as clean as possible while not sacrificing performance!
What most irritates me is not the use of benign synthetic ingredients. I’m not cool with customer confusion around what is being purchased.
For example, one of the most trafficked high-end cosmetic websites that sell the most well-known prestige and dermatologist-approved skincare and makeup boasts a “natural” category and states that to be listed as “Natural” on their site, the product’s ingredient label must indicate that “50% or more of the product’s ingredients are derived from a natural source, excluding water.”
Maybe it’s just me, but only 50% of natural ingredients are not a lot of commitment to claim a whole category called natural cosmetics.
For me, only 50% natural is a failing grade… and it’s their standard.
You can’t tell the percentage of a natural formula by looking at an ingredient list. The first ingredient or two could literally be 96%+ of a formula, with the last 4% comprising five or more additional ingredients. If you do the math looking at an ingredient list many products could be misinterpreted as natural.
As the conversation continues, I look forward to ingredient transparency becoming more… well… transparent and easy to understand.
My top 18 list of natural foundations includes some products that I consider a safer alternative and “natural enough.” All of the foundations I suggest below fit under the less strict umbrella of “clean cosmetics.”
When the product contains non-natural or potentially controversial “clean” ingredients, I make a note so you know the deviation from the more dogmatic natural position you are used to with Afterglow.
Afterglow’s Unique Brilliance
There are a number of aspects of the Afterglow organic-infused makeup line that remain unique in the marketplace. The most obvious point of difference is our dogmatic adherence to maintaining very natural formulas that were also certified gluten-free, corn-free, and soy-free, with an intense emphasis on using certified organic ingredients when available.
There are a number of extremely common cosmetic ingredients are derived from wheat, corn, or soy-derived. Many natural cosmetic companies use one, if not all, of these ingredients (or derivatives thereof) in their formulas.
At Afterglow, we also went one step further to certify our entire brand and every product in the line as GFCO Certified Gluten-Free cosmetics. You won’t see many comments below about brands’ gluten-free and allergen status since, currently, there are only two other makeup lines in the world GFCO-certified gluten-free Gabriel Cosmetics and Ilia Beauty (both linked below).
The process of becoming GFCO Certified is extremely involved and expensive to maintain every year. As with other certifications, most small natural cosmetic companies can’t afford this additional expense. Those who can afford the additional expense and claim that they don’t use gluten in their products may use a contract manufacturer to make their formulas.
This contract manufacturer often makes thousands of other products for many other beauty brands, some of which may contain gluten. This presents a potential cross-contamination issue. If a manufacturer has any gluten-containing ingredients in their facility, they are not eligible to become GFCO certified.
Same Ingredients but Different Experience
I’m sure you’ve had this experience…
You order the same dish (sometimes even from the same restaurant) with the same ingredients but it tastes vastly different from what you remember. The waiter swears that nothing has changed, and the ingredients are exactly the same.
In fact, if you look a little deeper, often what has changed is that they are now sourcing their ingredients from a different vendor (perhaps of different quality), they have a different chef preparing the dish or the method they are now using to cook it has changed.
The same is true for cosmetics.
The exact percentages of each ingredient, the quality and source of ingredients in the product, and the manufacturing method make a huge difference in the final product… even when the ingredient lists are identical.
This is a Guide
This is a guide, not a Bible, and certainly not the last word. After you scan the ingredients list, you can only tell if a product works for you by trying it yourself.
Check their return policy before purchasing, do your own research, make your own intelligent decisions, and dive in!
If you are very sensitive, always patch-test a new product. I’ve included links to all the products throughout this post so you know exactly where to get them.
A Comment About Color
One of the biggest challenges when formulating natural color cosmetics is working with the ingredients that impart color to the products. Each option has its own benefits and drawbacks, which could be a very long post in itself.
The most common forms of color in makeup are synthetic FD&C and Lake Dyes. The other ways to achieve color in makeup are by using naturally sourced mineral pigments like Iron oxides, Zinc oxide, Manganese Violet, Ultramarines, Chromium dioxides, Micas, and Titanium dioxide. The third most common way is by using a natural ingredient called Carmine which comes from the exoskeleton of a certain beetle.
At Afterglow, we always stuck to our ethos of using the most natural ingredients possible. All our ingredients were vegan except for organic beeswax in a few select products.
As you venture out into the world of green, natural, and clean cosmetics you’ll notice many “clean beauty” companies using synthetic FD&C and Lake dyes.
As I mentioned above, many brands in the “clean beauty” movement believe that, albeit totally synthetic, FD&C and Lake dyes are safer than their natural alternatives like Iron oxide.
SPF Claims and the Law
There are two ways to achieve sun protection in a cosmetic formula, with chemicals like Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Octisalate, and Avobenzone. The other, more natural way to achieve an SPF rating is with a physical blocking mineral ingredient like Titanium dioxide and/or Zinc oxide.
High concentrations of Titanium dioxide and Zinc oxide in a product offer a natural, physical barrier to protect your skin against the sun’s rays.
When you don’t see an SPF claim on an indie beauty brand’s product containing these ingredients it’s generally because they couldn’t afford the expensive lab tests to prove the exact SPF level. It’s illegal in the US to claim an SPF rating on packaging without those very expensive lab test results.
Have Something Nice to Say? Leave a Review
The cosmetic industry is incredibly competitive, and large corporations are doing their best to confuse the conversation about what natural beauty products are and aren’t. Independent natural beauty brands may look big to you, but often the reality is that they are very small and often one bad experience away from closing.
Every time you love a small business’ products, please leave them a review… this is especially helpful online, where there are competing for every sale. It would mean the world to them!
Why is Natural Foundation Important?
Our bodies are bombarded with a confusing cocktail of new chemicals every day, from every conceivable origin, from the polluted air we breathe to the chemical-treated fabrics we use in our car and household to the more than 15,000 cosmetic ingredients found in cosmetics.
That’s a lot for one body to process… often too much. It’s no wonder that a new disease called MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) has sprung to the forefront and is, unfortunately, growing in victims. If you react to many foods and products you uses, you may have a hyper sensitivity to chemicals. The conversation is complicated, but the natural response to having bad reactions to foods and products is to limit the ingredients and variety until the exact chemical and ingredient triggers are identified. Sometimes people realize that they feel better when they eat and use simple products that are more natural.
All things being equal, I believe it’s best to take the precautionary approach and choose more natural products with shorter ingredients that are overall less complicated – especially if you are already a sensitive person. Your foundation sits on your face all day. Why wouldn’t you want it to be as natural and uncomplicated as possible?
The BEST natural foundations of 2023:
I’ve done the work for you. The following brands were most aligned with Afterglow in pursuit of clean, simple, effective natural foundations.
If you need help understanding shade matching, please read my shade matching guide here.
Thank you so much for being a loyal Afterglow customer and an incredible part of our journey all these years!
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