Years ago, I started to think about what I was putting in my body—food. Lots of years later, that question morphed into what I was putting on my body. I gave myself a parameter, that once cleaner skin care started showing up at Target, a place I could easily return things if they didn’t work out, I would give it a go. The day has come; it came. And it feels like I’ve tried it all, outside the new line they just launched. You’ll have to let me know what you think because I’m officially, mostly, done with the process of converting to cleaner skin care and makeup. And what a process it’s been.
I really had to own this mantra of clean-er, not clean, in converting my makeup and skin care towards more natural products. After months of trial and error, major breakouts, and itchy cheeks, I’m at a spot where my skin is really happy again, and my products are mostly clean, but not 100% clean. If you find yourself digging down the same rabbit hole, standing in the same aisle at Target, here’s where I landed. Settle into your chair. I’m sharing my tips for converting to cleaner products, the cleaner skin care and makeup I landed on (found mostly at Target), and a recipe for a DIY exfoliant (or as I like to say, exf-oat-liant).
Tips for Switching to Cleaner Skin Care
- It’s hard to get it all right at once. In fact, if you have sensitive skin, like me, you’ll create a bigger problem, rather than solving one, if you do a major overhaul at once. For that reason, take the process of converting your skin care slowly, one thing at a time. Too many variables will make it difficult to parse out what’s working and what’s not.
- Expect to make a tiny investment in this process. Converting to new products, especially ones that aren’t consumed at a mass level yet to bring costs down, is expensive. It’s also a long game of trial and error. When shopping, check the return policy first and save your receipts and packaging. Look for a 60-day return policy, specifically when buying foundation. It took me at least 1 month to really know if something would work or not. I’m also very stubborn. Maybe you’ll know sooner than that.
- Try a sample if you can. Despite many great return policies, I wanted to keep my waste low during this conversion process. I tracked down as many samples as I could before purchasing.
- One size never fits all. What works really well for one person, doesn’t work at all for another person. The product is not necessarily bad, just not a great fit. Keep looking.
- Grab progress over perfection. I’m using some products, which you’ll see below, that fall in the cleaner category, but they aren’t necessarily considered clean. Sometimes the right product isn’t on the market yet or your skin is way too unhappy to proceed. Pause if you have to or look for something that’s a little cleaner than you had before.
- Everything is connected. Your skin belongs to the ecosystem of your body and its external environment. So things like winter, humidity, diet, stress, and hormones are all variables to consider when understanding your skin.
- Adjust your expectations. Cleaner products perform differently. So expect less suds, less whipped lotions, and a shorter life span. You’re trading store-bought applesauce for fresh apples.
- Read Skin Cleanse by Adina Grigore, a nutritionist and the founder of S.W. Basics. Her advice is so reasonable and practical and educational. I’ve been using her simple skin care line for 2 years with great results. When I was in the thick of converting my makeup, I read every single word she wrote or spoke (podcasts). Her book has homemade skin recipes too.
- Don’t forget to laugh. Here’s one: how funny is it that we wake up and paint our face every day? And now we’re looking for organic, natural face paint. It’s kind of funny.
- Check out cosdna.com to better understand the ingredients in your products and to help figure out what might be irritating your skin. Warning: this site looks straight out of the early 2000s, but it’s super legit.
Cleaner Skin Care
Converting to cleaner skin care, which I did first, was a smooth process for me. The first thing I tried worked, and not only did it work, but it worked better than what I was using before. This adjustment was far easier than the makeup transition (see below). Here’s how my regimen goes: remove eye makeup with toilet paper. Remove face makeup with a cotton ball. Rinse face with a washcloth, warm water, and a pinch of exfoliant (see below). Using a cotton ball, rub cleanser over face. Rinse with warm water and washcloth. Using the backside of the cotton ball, rub face with toner and allow to dry before rubbing cream all over face and neck. Use acne treatment only as needed. Note: toilet paper and cotton balls can be composted. I’ve recently switched over to these reusable makeup remover pads with great luck.
SKIN TYPE: My mid-30s fair, sensitive skin tends towards dry. I have hormonal acne (and migraines) that show up around my chin. I also have an awful habit of touching my face, which spreads bacteria.
Physicians Formula Eye Makeup Remover: I’ve been using this product since high school. (It’s so good.) This gentle coconut milk lotion remover recently underwent a reformulation, pulling out the harsh ingredients. Physician’s Formula seems to be cleaning up their products. Note: I’m heavy-handed on mascara. If you’re not, you may not need eye makeup remover.
S.W. Basics Makeup Remover: Even with mixed online reviews, I love this 3-ingredient oil makeup remover. Many don’t like to use oil on their face, but my face is very happy with it. The oil is both a makeup remover and moisturizer.
S.W. Basics Cleanser: I started off trying their mini starter kit, with the cleanser, toner, and cream, 2 years ago to make sure it was a good fit. And oh, it was. With only 3 simple, familiar ingredients, this effective cleanser convinced me that we’ve been overcomplicating and over formulating skin care like we’ve been doing to our food. Note: this is a cleanser, not a makeup remover.
S.W. Basics Toner: I clean my floors and my face with vinegar. It’s gentle and effective and the strong scent quickly subsides. The apple cider vinegar works to balance out your skin’s pH levels while killing bacteria. This is the last thing I do before adding moisturizer, and it makes my skin feel so happy.
S.W. Basics Original Cream: From the extra dry winter to the hot, humid summer, this cream is my moisturizer both morning and night, made from only shea butter, olive oil, and coconut oil. I tend to use smaller amounts during the humid months. It’s lush, buttery, and creamy, settling nicely into your skin after a minute or two of absorption. I coat my lips in this at night too. Note: Shea butter is naturally SPF 6. Coconut oil is known to cause acne for sensitive skin, but I don’t experience it with this cream.
TreeActiv Cystic Acne Spot Treatment: I get a monthly hormonal blemish or two, but when I was in the middle of converting my makeup, my face was an unhappy mess. With a quarter-sized pimple on my forehead, not exaggerating, I found this product during a desperate late night Amazon search. This is a miracle clay. Add a dab overnight, repeating as needed for the stubborn ones. Note: I also tried Burt’s Bees Spot Acne Cream with no luck but great online reviews.
It took a whole lot of trial and error to get to these products. From November to April, my poor face was in an itchy, painful state. My friend finally said to me, “Melissa, I’ve always known you to have great skin. It looks so unhealthy.” That was just the nudge I needed to abandon the search for the perfect liquid foundation and go back to old reliable, which wasn’t all that bad to begin with. If you ever need a reminder to pursue better over perfect, now you have mine.
W3ll People Concealer: Though expensive, this super tiny tube goes a long way and covers well without caking or breaking out my skin. Note: I also tried Burt’s Bees Concealer. It offers only light coverage and tends to cake.
Clinique Acne Solutions Foundation: I’ve used this matte, oil-free foundation since college. While it lands in the cleaner category, free of parabens, phthalates, and fragrance, it’s not quite as clean as I’d like. I tried several other liquid foundations for a minimum of 1 month each, to give my face time to adjust. After 5 months of trying, my face was an itchy, swollen, broken out mess. For whatever reason, my face is very happy with this foundation. I’m sticking with it for now. In the process, I tried these foundations, all with great online reviews: Pacifica Alight BB Cream, Tint Skin Foundation from Beauty Counter, and Zuzu Luxe Oil-Free Liquid Foundation (I liked this one best, but still couldn’t shake the breakouts).
Zuzu Luxe Blush: Our co-op sells this brand, as well as Target. I trust them to vet and stock the best products. Though the price point is on the higher side, I really like this brand. I use this blush in Sunset. I also tried the Pacifica Blush, and found it to be messy, flaky, and goes on uneven.
Zuzu Eyebrow Pencil: I use this in Mink, which is a little on the light side for my brown hair, but I don’t want to go too heavy with my brows. The next color up reads more as black.
Zuzu Eyeliner: I use this in Obsidian. While I miss the twist-up plastic eyeliners, made like a wood pencil, this eyeliner is low-waste.
Zuzu Eye Shadow: This switch was an easy one. Previous shadows made my eyelids itch from time to time. I’ve had zero issues and the color goes on so nicely. I also like this Burt’s Bees Eye Shadow, but it’s no longer sold at Target.
Honest Mascara: I don’t wear a lot of makeup, but I wear some mascara. And my some, I mean a lot. I was worried I wouldn’t find what I was looking for in a natural version. It comes with a clear lash primer to use first before applying mascara. It lengths while also adding some volume, and stays put all day. NOTE: I previously used Burt’s Bees Mascara, but it made my eyes water quite a bit.
Exfoliating is great for ushering off those dead skin cells. When I don’t exfoliate nightly, I’m prone to bumpy skin, clogged pores, and extra breakouts. Believe it or not, a really great exfoliant is sitting in your pantry—oats. You read that right. To make, blitz organic oats in a Vitamix or food processor until a coarse meal. Add a pinch to a damp washcloth and gently rub around your cheeks and forehead to exf-oat-liate. When Hal was just beginning to eat food, I fed her oats this way, soaked in hot water and served with either mashed ripe bananas or roasted berries, plus a pinch of cinnamon. Oats are magic. (Note: Opt for organic oats here. Organic food is grown free of toxic, persistent pesticides. Keep those chemicals off that pretty face of yours if you can.)
UPDATE: I’ve switched to using this Dry Face Brush on the daily, and it’s amazing at both exfoliating, creating silky smooth skin, and reducing wrinkles.
And with that, I’m mostly done with this process of converting to cleaner skin care. Have you gone down this rabbit hole too? How did it go? Did you land on a couple things you love? Will you share in the comments, including your skin type?
First, I wanted to say that your cookbook is by far, my most used one. Everything we make from it turns out great! And your advice is so practical and efficient. Thank you! I came across this post a few days ago and decided to try the SW cleanser… I’m almost 40 and have worse chin acne than when I was a teenager. I think there should be a biological truce that we don’t have wrinkles/gray hair AND pimples! Anyway, I’ve been using the OCM which hasn’t made things better. So I’m switching to your cleanser and oat exfoliator…
All this long windedness to ask: do you use the cleanser morning and night?
Thank you for your time!
I love Tarte brand makeup and highly recommend their amazon clay foundation and their mascara (though it’s quite a bit more expensive than Burt’s Bees). I tried the Honest company mascara and had that same problem with my eyes watering! It was a mess. My favorite lotion and facial spf are Cerave: not a totally natural brand but mostly clean I think. (Based on EWG ratings).
Alima Pure works really well, i’ve been using this for years now. I used to use Clinque as well. I never thought I would like a powder foundation, but this stuff is great and doesn’t cause me break outs.
Thanks for the thoughtful post! Curious if you use a daily facial SPF as I’m currently reviewing the many, many options and am stuck in analysis paralysis…
Pacifica also has a good mascara, found at Target. I’ll have to try the ZuZu when my Nars blush runs out. I love Burts Bees — their Ultra Conditioning lip balm is my favorite. I’m now using their micellar wipes (just can’t kick the wipe habit!) and picked up their brow pencil the other day.
I recently switched from Bare Minerals powder foundation to Clinique liquid because I wanted a little more brightness in my face and their colors actually paired better with my skin tone. I love it! I get hormonal breakouts (which I’m on medication for and has greatly reduced) but I guess my skin is combination, a little oily in T-zone and chin. I also use a Clarisonic once or twice a week for exfoliation.
Hi Melissa- thanks for this as skincare products are notoriously overpriced and often full of less-than-good-for-us chemicals. I have 2 questions: 1) Do the S.W. products have strong smells? (currently using Evan Healy and find the scent of the products too strong for my delicate nose!). 2) Have you had an experience with the “Ordinary” products? Many thanks for your blog – I’ve learned a lot from what rug to buy to how to organize my pantry – our new home is remarkably similar in style, so that’s nice, too. Currently on the lookout for a giant chalkboard like you have!
I haven’t tried the Ordinary line but the packaging is beautiful! As for S.W. Basics, I paid close attention last night to the smells to give you a good answer. The cleanser, which is only on your face for a second, smells like faint roses from the rose water. I don’t love the smell of rose water and didn’t actually notice it until last night. The toner smells like a mild vinegar from the apple cider vinegar when you stick your nose to the bottle. Rubbing it on, the smell lasts for about a minute and then I’m rubbing in the cream which really cancels out any smells. The smell at first is noticeable but not pungent. It’s nothing at all like putting your nose to a bottle of vinegar or reducing vinegar. I’m so happy to hear the pantry organization has been helpful! And that chalkboard—it’s a wild goose chase, but once you find it, it’s like catching a falling star!
You may be interested in Emani foundation. It is next on my list to try. I have sensitive/acne prone skin as well and will definitely be testing that spot treatment.
Hey Melissa, love this, but do you use sunscreen on your face? I have such fair skin that I need it daily.
I only use it when I’m outside for a good chunk of time, on the weekends, so I coat my body in the same thing. We used mineral sunscreens last year but you probably wouldn’t want to use it on your face daily. Does anyone have something they love for a daily sunscreen?
I haven’t used makeup for years, but am always looking for a good moisturizer. My current favorite is a manuka honey moisturizer from New Zealand, but a more local source of something good would be preferable. I think I should also try exfoliating, since it helps with clogged pores. Thanks for this post.
We went down the clean products rabbit hole when my daughter was 17 and experiencing weird allergic reactions around her eyes. She had raccoon like rashes around her eyes and she developed acne all over her forehead.
We discovered Coconut oil was not a good fit for her.
We started switching her eye products to vegan and clean and also her foundation. It has taken almost two years plus help from the dermatologist to clear up her issues.
She stays completely vegan and clean on her face now and has to be vigilant in her skin care routine. We’ve cleared up the rashes by staying vegan only and her acne is reduced to mostly hormone break outs.
She has really like using body shop makeup. It is the best vegan product she has found that is still fairly affordable.
I’m excited to try your acne treatment suggestion.
Thank you for your time and research.
Incredible she was able to figure all of that out! It’s such a game of guess and check. And I haven’t thought to look at The Body Shop for makeup. I’ll have to check them out the next time I try to switch my foundation.