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Shopping for clean beauty products can be tricky as each brand’s definition of clean is as varied as their respective product offerings. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only regulates the beauty industry, notably for adulterated or misbranded cosmetics, and doesn’t approve beauty products before they hit the market. Furthermore, the FDA cannot recall cosmetics, but it can monitor manufacturers that voluntarily request a product recall.
While there are a handful of national beauty stores that only sell what they deem clean products, among them Credo Beauty, Follain and The Detox Market, more mainstream stores like Target and Sephora, a Shopping reader favorite, have both expanded their offerings of clean beauty products. For its Clean at Sephora program, the retailer created a green-and-white seal that helps shoppers quickly identify items that align with the store’s definition of clean beauty. Right now, Sephora’s definition can be applied to skin care, makeup, hair care and fragrance items.
Given Sephora’s popularity among Shopping readers who are keen on keeping up with the store’s new and notable launches, sales and gift-worthy products, we learned more about the relatively new Clean at Sephora initiative.
SKIP AHEAD Best Clean at Sephora products
A brief history of Clean at Sephora
When the Clean at Sephora program launched on June 1, 2018, the beauty retailer required brand offerings to be free of 13 ingredients it considered problematic, ranging from mineral oils and parabens to oxybenzone and hydroquinone. At the time, only 50 brands and 2,000 applicable products met the standard. A Sephora spokesperson told Shopping that earning the Clean at Sephora seal doesn't involve payment nor advertisement with Sephora.
A little over a year later in July 2019, Sephora expanded its “formulated without” list to include over 50 ingredients, now listing ethanolamines and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), among others. That same year, Sephora Collection, the beauty giant’s in-house brand, started selling relatively affordable Clean at Sephora-approved products for $20 and less.
As we entered a new decade in 2020, 67 brands had earned the Clean at Sephora seal — today, more than 90 companies are part of Sephora’s program putting forth more than 1,680 “clean” products available on the site. A few notable and recent additions include Black-owned businesses like LYS Beauty, Qhemet Biologics and Topicals. There are also women-founded cosmetics brands like Merit and Westman Atelier, the latter launched by makeup artist Gucci Westman.
Clean at Sephora: Ingredients
According to Sephora, the retailer defines “clean” as “offering transparency in formulation and sourcing of ingredients along with avoiding synthetic ingredients such as phthalates, parabens, and sulfates.” Sephora noted it researches internally and relies on external sources like brand partners, consultants and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to determine inclusion of brands. We asked Sephora about the most common ingredients in the products it deems "clean," and list them below alongside their purported benefits.
Vitamin C offers both functional and aesthetic benefits, including treating acne, wrinkles, melasma and more.
Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that can help improve the tone and texture of your skin.
Squalane is a lightweight oil that helps hydrate, rebalance and improve the elasticity of the skin.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) are chemical exfoliants that can help minimize the appearance of pores and hyperpigmentation.
Glycolic acid is a small, colorless AHA that penetrates the skin easily and can leave it looking glowing.
Hyaluronic acid is a clear, sticky liquid that helps the skin retain moisture.
12 Best Clean at Sephora products
To help save you time scrolling through the 1,680 Clean at Sephora beauty offerings, we put together a roundup of highly rated products across skin care, makeup and hair care aligned with Shopping reader interests, plus new picks we think are worth getting to know better.
One of the best retinol serums, the Power Peel is made with 0.5 percent retinol and 14 percent glycolic acid, which together help buff away dead skin cells. It is also infused with hydrating shea butter. Board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD, previously highlighted that this serum boosts collagen production, minimizes hyperpigmentation and prevents signs of aging. It received a 4.5-star average rating from eight reviews on Sephora.
We previously named this one of the best vitamin C serums because it’s made with 20 percent vitamin C and 10 percent alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), which help exfoliate the skin and reveal a brighter complexion. Japanese angelica root extract also helps reduce dark spots on the face. It boasts a 4.2-star average rating from nearly 1,530 reviews on Sephora.
As one of the best sunscreens for dark skin tones, this “light as a feather” gel SPF earned praise from InStyle beauty director Maya Allen, who noted it “sinks into the skin so seamlessly." Board-certified dermatologist Michelle Henry, MD, added "it's literally unseen and clear from the offset — it looks like a makeup primer when you apply it." This SPF boasts a 4.4-star average rating from nearly 2,200 reviews on Sephora.
This spray is one of Caudalie’s signature skin care products and it received a 4.2-star average rating from more than 3,600 reviews on Sephora. The Beauty Elixir is infused with grape and rose extracts to tone your skin post-cleanse and it smells like rosemary and mint. After applying makeup, you can mist the Elixir onto your face to help prolong the wear of your cosmetics.
Glow Recipe is a Korean beauty brand known for its colorful products with effective ingredients, including this overnight face mask made for dry skin. This pale pink gel face mask is made with hydrating watermelon acid and hyaluronic acid, plus it boasts two types of AHAs — lactic and glycolic acids — to buff away dead skin cells. There is also peony root to help brighten a dull complexion. It received a 4-star average rating from more than 2,600 reviews on Sephora.
Herbivore’s blue gel face mask utilizes both AHAs and beta hydroxy acids to help dissolve oil and exfoliate the skin, while blue tansy can calm redness and fight acne-causing bacteria on the face. It received a 4.3-star average rating from more than 1,700 reviews on Sephora.
As we approach summer, you might be looking for a lightweight foundation. Enter Super Serum Skin Tint, a 3-in-1 product that offers a sheer, dewy coverage and SPF 40 protection. It received a 4.7-star average rating from nearly 4,760 reviews on ILIA. The serum is available in 30 shades and is made with a combination of squalane and hyaluronic acid for hydration, while niacinamide helps to minimize the appearance of pores.
Makeup artists recommend playing up your eyes when sporting a face mask — and having long, fluttery lashes can help draw attention to your eyes without the hassle of falsies. This lengthening mascara received a 4.7-star average rating from nearly 240 reviews on Sephora. It is made from beeswax, shea butter and quackgrass extract, which together helps soften and strengthen your lashes, according to the brand.
Embrace the carefree summer vibes and opt for easy, multi-use products like Tower 28’s 2-in-1 cream blush and lip tint. Beyond hydrating aloe vera extract, it boasts antioxidant-rich green tea extract. This month, Tower 28 expanded its shade offerings from three to six colors, including Rush Hour (currently out of stock on Sephora), Power Hour and After Hours.
BREAD was created with naturalistas in mind — its milky shampoo lightly lathers to cleanse textured hair without stripping it of natural oils. This hair cleanser is made with vitamin E-rich argan oil and aloe vera juice to help hydrate your strands. There’s also scalp-soothing lemon tea tree oil. It received a 4.6-star average rating from more than 40 reviews on Sephora.
After washing your hair, you might want a deep conditioner treatment to help soften and moisturize your stands. Briogeo’s hair mask boasts rosehip oil to minimize frizz and hydrate your hair, while algae extract helps strengthen hair and vitamin B adds sheen. It boasts a 4.1-star average rating from more than 2,800 reviews on Sephora.
This creamy leave-in conditioner features lavender and rosemary leaf oils, which have antimicrobial properties and boost scalp circulation, respectively. It is also made with nettle extract to enhance shine. This Clean at Sephora pick received a 4.5-star average rating from 95 reviews on Sephora.
Which brands are Clean at Sephora-approved?
If you prefer shopping by brand, here’s a quick list of all 91 Clean at Sephora brands listed in alphabetical order for your perusal.
- Aether Beauty
- alpyn beauty
- Bite Beauty
- Bread Beauty Supply
- by Rosie Jane
- CLEAN Reserve
- Dr. Barbara Sturm
- Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare
- Drunk Elephant
- Edible Beauty
- ELLIS BROOKLYN
- Fable and Mane
- Fenty Skin
- First Aid Beauty
- Flora + Bast
- Glow Recipe
- Indie Lee
- INNBeauty Project
- Isle of Paradise
- Josie Maran
- KORA Organics
- Lilah B.
- Lord Jones
- LYS Beauty
- Maison Louis Marie
- MERIT Beauty
- Milk Makeup
- Moon Juice
- Naturally Serious
- Original & Mineral
- Qhemet Biologics
- REN Clean Skincare
- rms beauty
- Rosebud Perfume Co.
- Rossano Ferretti Parma
- Saint Jane Beauty
- Saturday Skin
- Sobel Skincare RX
- Summer Fridays
- Tata Harper
- The 7 Virtues
- The INKEY List
- Together Beauty
- Tower 28 Beauty
- Volition Beauty
- Wander Beauty
- Westman Atelier
- Youth To The People