Fancy a cosmetics bag refresh that doesn’t cost the earth? This is for anyone who likes a polished, natural look, sometimes called minimal glam or the ‘clean girl aesthetic’, who’s looking for ‘clean girl’ makeup on a budget.
Some of the biggest minimalist and/or ‘clean’ beauty brands include Glossier, Jones Road, Tata Harper and Merit, and between them they have some beautiful products – but they tend to be really pricey. There are plenty of other more affordable options out there, including vegan and cruelty free brands, and companies using eco-friendly ingredients.
I should also point out here that saying ‘clean’ is potentially problematic, as it isn’t based in science and often functions more as a marketing term. It can also imply that other people or products are ‘dirty’ and that’s not something I want to buy into – it’s just makeup, come on. Anyway, on with the article.
Natural-look glam or ‘clean girl’ makeup enhances your natural features without looking overdone, and it uses fewer products so it can be cost-effective too. It’s sleek, it’s classy, it’s understated. It’s ‘me on a really good day’ stuff, and a quick, easy way to look put together. Most of it looks good on all skin tones and ages. Also: hard to get it wrong, no makeup artist skills needed, and great for anyone who’s always running late or catastrophically lazy in the morning (not me guv, honest *walks away whistling*.)
I’m including some original products and a few ‘dupes’ here, so take your pick from all these colour cosmetics.
Eyeshadow & mascara for the ‘clean girl’ or natural look
Minimalist / clean beauty eye makeup is kept simple, often with a single sweep of eyeshadow over the lower half of the top eyelid, sometimes with subtle shading. Natural-looking tidy eyebrows and a little lengthening mascara are all you need after that.
Luxury brand eyeshadows for this look are nearly always soft matte or sparkly shimmer liquids, or finely-milled matte or satin powders (avoid heavy metallics or big chunks of glitter), so I’m mostly going to look at those.
The best shades to try are nudes, beiges, light rosy taupes, soft golds and neutral browns. You could also try a bronze eye for this summer’s ‘latte look’, along with a sweep of bronzer and a slick of nude/brown lip oil.
There’s something to flatter every shade and depth of skin tone. Think natural, but a tiny bit elevated to make it pretty.
The e.l.f. Bite Size Eyeshadow quads, £4.00, are great quality, and they come in tiny palettes. The powders are pigmented, creamy and easy to blend, plus there’s very little fallout. For minimalist or clean looks stick to the new ‘I Love You a Latte’ palette with its matte daytime neutrals, or original palette ‘Truffles’ which is three slightly darker toned mattes plus a silver-taupe shimmer. Either is perfect for a pared back no-fuss makeup bag.
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MUA’s 5 Shade Eyeshadow Palette in ‘Neutral Wanderlust’, £3.75, is so good for the price. You get three nice quality matte shadows for an easy daytime look, and a couple of smooth shimmers to use sparingly for extra glam.
[PG TIP: Their larger 15 Shade Eyeshadow Palette in ‘Soft Nudes’, £6.00, is excellent value too. Long lasting colours that go on smoothly and blend easily, lots of options.]
Kiko Milano is definitely the place to look for the greatest variety of lovely colours and formulations. Their New Bright Duo Eyeshadow, £9.99, is silky textured with a decent colour payoff, and is available in 16 different colourways and finishes. I mean, look at how ridiculously pretty they are.
Find here >> Kiko Milano UK
[PG TIP: Kiko Milano also has an earth conscious ‘Green Me’ Duo Eyeshadow range for 2023 in plastic-free card packaging, currently on offer at £7.69. Vegan and cruelty free, good range of colourways. Nice matching blushers and bronzers too.]
For an easy sweep of matte colour, Lottie London Colour Cloud longwear matte liquid eyeshadow, £5.95, is an excellent alternative to a similar Glossier product that costs a lot more. You only need a couple of teeny tiny dots of this highly pigmented liquid, which blends out easily with either fingertips or a small brush. Lasts for hours, doesn’t crease, amazing quality for the price. As with the Glossier version, I think the most wearable colours are either cocoa or peach. Vegan and cruelty free.
If you’d prefer a lovely bit of glam shimmer just smudge on a really light layer of e.l.f. No Budge Shadow Stick, £6.00, then add quick mascara and a sweep of brow gel – you’re good to glow. These sticks have serious staying power, and you don’t need any makeup artist skills to make them look pretty. The best shades for the ‘clean girl’ aesthetic / minimalist glam are Champagne Crystal (contains microglitter), Rose Gold and Golden Goddess for light or mid skin tones, and Bronze Metal and Metallic Mocha for darker skin tones.
Some of the e.l.f. No Budge Matte Shadow Stick colours, £5.00, might appeal too. The most flattering shades are probably Thrift Shop, a mid-toned taupe, and Cool Beans, a deep coffee colour. Vegan and cruelty free. Find them at e.l.f. UK, Superdrug & Beauty Bay
If you have a little more to spend and want a wider range of shades, try Kiko Milano’s gorge new Long Lasting Eyeshadow Stick, £9.99, which comes in 28 different colours. Choice of satin, matte or shimmer finishes.
In the market for a new lengthening mascara? Lottie London Superfake Ultra Lengthening Vegan Mascara, £7.95, is great. It’s their best-selling product and award winner for a reason. Once you’ve got the knack of wiggling the skinny brush you get long, fluttery lashes that last all day. Or night. None of my business what you get up to.
Find here >> Lottie London
[PG TIP: Less to spend? Go for Revolution Beauty Stretch It Out Mascara, £4.99. A great everyday lengthening product that works. Suitable for vegetarians, cruelty free. Find at Revolution, Boots or Superdrug.]
Affordable blusher & bronzer for natural glam
Minimalist designer blushers tend to fall into two categories: sheer liquids for that walk-on-the-beach fresh flushed look, and thicker balms in tin or stick format for a more glowy, moisturising finish. No need for blinding highlighters or heavy contouring products though.
The spanking new tins of limited edition Makeup Revolution Balm Glow, £5.99 for 32g, look a lot like the multi-purpose Jones Road Miracle Balm (£36 for 50g), although the main ingredients are quite different and the shade range is slightly smaller. It gives a very glossy, dewy look and can be used on both lips and cheeks for a shiny, moisturising glow. The golden, brown nude and bronze ones also look nice used on the body. Vegan and cruelty free, but contains a small amount of mineral oil.
The new Rimmel Kind & Free Multi-Stick, £8.00, is for lips and cheeks, and comes in a range of five shades. These are buildable and give a natural flush, and it feels like a balm on the lips. This cruelty-free, ‘clean’ and vegan multi-stick is formulated without perfume and mineral oils, and the packaging is about 50% recycled materials. They look a lot like those Huda Beauty sticks, don’t they? Best for normal or dry skin types, and anyone who likes to travel light.
Old favourite MUA Blushed Liquid Cream Blush, £3.00 for 10ml, is vegan and cruelty free. It’s a non-greasy blush that gives you a pinched-cheeks look, and has a similar finish to Glossier’s more expensive Cloud Paint. Fairly pigmented, so use a light hand or brush – a tiny dot will do the trick. Interestingly MUA haven’t exactly copied the Glossier colours and have some nice shades of their own.
If you like to wear fuller coverage foundation, a balm or cheek stick can lift off your makeup, so a soft-toned powder blush might be a better alternative. Use a light hand and blend gently for a diffuse glow.
Another option is a light dusting of subtle bronzer. The W7 Honolulu Bronzer, £4.95, is obviously inspired by Benefit’s Hoola, but it’s more affordable as well as being vegan and cruelty free. It kicks up a little in the pan, but that’s not too much of a problem – it goes on smoothly, and lasts all day. Their lightest colour Sun-Lite is a bit more of a flattering neutral-tan shade on paler skin than Hoola Lite is, and I’ve been wearing it nearly every day since I bought it. Four shades available.
More here >> Amazon UK
‘Clean girl’ makeup on a budget: lip oils, gloss & lipstick
High end products for the clean girl / minimalist beauty look include some truly gorgeous lip oils and glosses, moisturising balm/lipstick hybrids, and sheer lipsticks. OMG they will set you back a pretty penny though, so let’s pick out something more, erm, cost of living conscious shall we?
There are cost-effective treats in all these categories. Again, we’re looking for flattering colours for that elevated but still natural look – think soft pinks, peaches, caramels and nudes.
The bargain lip oil to try is NYX Fat Oil lip drip, £7.50, which is available in a range of different tints. It’s a hydrating high shine lipgloss infused with squalene, raspberry and cloudberry oils. A little goes a long way, and it has decent lasting power for a lip oil / gloss hybrid. Plus it might remind you a weensy bit of something far more expensive by Dior.
My current go-to gloss is Benecos Natural Lipgloss. I have the ‘Natural Glam’ (light peachy nude) and ‘Flamingo’ (soft petal pink), and they’re moisturising without feeling tacky or sticky. Cruelty free, suitable for vegetarians. RRP £8.25 but regularly on offer, and made with natural and organic ingredients.
For a tinted lip balm with a lot of pigment, try new Rimmel Kind & Free Lip Balm, £6.99, currently exclusive to Superdrug. It’s best described as a balm-lipstick hybrid, and has the same main ingredients as its far more expensive rivals. These are vegan, cruelty free, fragrance free, contain no mineral oils, and are in part-recycled packaging. Nice shades, note that ‘Natural Apricot’ is more of a brown-nude than an apricot colour. They feel lovely on, and last a good while. Like the designer products that inspired it, the bullet is soft, so don’t twist it up much when applying.
More here >> Superdrug (exclusive)
[PG TIP: The latest ‘Berry Twist’ shade from Rimmel Kind & Free is very (remarkably, probably deliberately) similar to Clinique’s Black Honey Almost Lipstick, if you like a dupe – I’m stashing one away for autumn and winter. At Superdrug only, link above.]
MUA’s new Satin Sheen Lipstick Stylo is more of a creamy light lipstick, and comes in a wide range of shades, including various nudes and soft pinks. It’s comfortable to wear, goes on smoothly, lasts a reasonably long time considering it’s a super soft satin finish, and is a snip at £3.50 so I don’t mind reapplying it. There are also matching lip liners for £2.25. Vegan and cruelty free, casings include recycled materials, and I don’t think they contain any petroleum products either.
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If you want a certified eco-friendly, cruelty-free vegan lipstick, have a look at Lavera’s new Cream Glow Lipstick. These come in a range of natural shades and they’re packed with natural moisturising ingredients. I have one in Watermelon, which is a warm deep rose pink with a satin finish. Comfortable to wear and better for the environment.
Buy here >> Ecco-Verde UK
Full disclosure: Benecos and Lavera and products are review samples kindly provided by PRs without obligation to include. No paid placements, just my honest opinion. Remaining items all bought by myself, or swatched in store or at PR events.
Are you a fan of natural beauty, eco-cosmetics, or ‘clean girl’ makeup on a budget? Let me know if there are any other products or brands you love for the natural look.