Ever since I started working in beauty, I’ve figured the whole “all-natural” skincare movement was not for me. First of all, it’s expensive. And everyone who recommended it to me seemed to have beautiful skin already—plus endless cash. I, of course, am the opposite: My skin is finicky! Easily bothered! And I’m not rich! Nothing on the clean market felt like it was worth the breakout.
But then again, you can only interview so many Karen Lords, Jean Godfrey Junes, and Camille Becceras before you find yourself hopping on the bandwagon whether you wanted to or not. Those women really know what they’re doing when it comes to having a beauty routine. Jaded as I am, I started to get excited about the idea of simple, naturally derived products. So I dipped my toe into the natural world, hoping to find every last non-toxic beauty product meant for people like me: with oily, acne-prone skin. Turns out, there’s a ton to test—too much to write about here. Below are my favorites, from masks to toners to oils and anything else you would think about putting on your face.
The real catalyst for this story was a clay mask. At the beginning of the summer, I was traveling while breaking out, in desperate need of a skin reset. I went to Boots searching for my favorite thing—a clay mask—but couldn’t find a single one that wasn’t scented, artificially colored, or otherwise synthetic. When I reach for a clay mask, I want it to actually have some clay in it, y’know?
With my clean beauty swap challenge in mind, I found three I won’t give up anytime soon: A super gentle pink clay from Evan Healy, a bog-smelling and deep-cleansing formula from Kypris, and the slightly more science-y detox option from Goldfaden MD. Of the three, the Goldfaden is the most serious—more akin to a sulfur treatment type mask, but still doesn’t agitate my skin. The first two masks are so great, I use them on alternating days.
The Spot Treatments
The easiest way to go about treating spots naturally is with tea tree oil. Simple and effective, tea tree oil is the main ingredient in most natural spot treatments anyway, so may as well get straight to the point. But if you’re a product junkie, I love Grown Alchemist’s Blemish Treatment Gel because it balances out the salicylic acid (naturally derived!) with chamomile and aloe for comfortable, all-day wear. Alternatively, Pimple Mud is highly active and best used as a spot-mask. I turn to this one when I’m crazy broken out to suck all the bad out and speed up the healing process.
It was going to take a lot to get me to stray from my all-time favorite Avène Cleanance Gel, but the bar soaps I found—a charcoal one from Herbivore and a black clay one from Osmia—were incredible. Deeply cleansing, without over-drying, and definitely helped to rid me of little bumps. Almost worth the trouble of keeping in a little soap holder in my already crowded shower.
I like the idea of toners, but I’ve never actually found a toner that a) works, b) feels good on my skin, c) doesn’t smell like death. Everyone and their brother says toners are essential for oily skin, so I was very happy to try out S.W. Basics’ Apple Cider Vinegar version with no harsh alcohols (it does stink though). On the other end of the spectrum, Grown Alchemist’s smells so nice—and feels soothing, not sticky. Then there’s Osmia, which comes with a pump and boast aloe as an ingredient. It dries perfectly matte too, a super bonus.
At press time, it’s summer and I’m not using any creams or oils (though those are reviewed below). Instead, serum is my skin life-force right now—depending on how hot it is, I can wash my face up to three times a day. Dr Alkaitis’ Soothing Gel has been mentioned many times before and it does live up to the hype. It’s very botanical-smelling, and feels a bit active but definitely helps with my redness. Mad Hippie’s Vitamin C was also incredible, definitely more glow-giving, but still super light. It’s also worth mentioning that the True Botanicals Cellular Repair Serum from their Clear Collection is stellar for it’s all-in-one-ness.
Clarifying oils were a big breakthrough for me, and they’re essentially all clean products. I prefer they not be too packed with essential oils, so my mainstays are Herbivore’s Lapis (a long-time ITG commenter favorite), Dr Hauschka’s Day Oil, and Evan Healy’s Neem Oil. The key for me is to apply them while my skin is wet, only use a small amount, and try to avoid my oiliest T-zone.
In general, I hate creams unless they are mattifying or super light. This was the category I thought for sure clean beauty would lose out in. But to my surprise, clean beauty came through. These two fit the bill perfectly: Acure’s Mattifying Moisturizer is super light and gives a powdery finish on the skin and Ursa Major’s Daily Lotion smells incredible, has SPF, and is light as can be.
Turns out, I was wrong, clean beauty has a lot to offer for all types of skin. Everyone can buy into this marketing ploy.
Photographed by the author.
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