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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—I don’t love foundation. I’ve found it can cause more problems than it conceals, making me too dry, or too oily, or emphasizing texture and flakes. But testing out some of the best clean foundations on the market might have made me a convert. 

I have combination, acne-prone skin and, thanks to retinoids, a dry complexion except for my oily t-zone. I look for foundations that provide a natural-looking coverage, and, most importantly, don’t get cakey. (I shudder to remember the mid-2000s’ dry, matte foundation looks I grew up on.) And it’s always a plus when a formulation has beneficial ingredients like niacinamide or squalane—and many of the below clean formulas do.

The following brands create makeup that puts your skin first, the way it should have always been. They emphasize ingredients you’ll find in your favorite skincare products for skin that looks better when you take off your makeup, not worse. Every ingredient used is natural and organic to reduce the risk of irritation, making these products ideal for anyone with sensitive skin or whose skin is prone to conditions like acne, rosacea, or eczema. Every brand prioritizes sustainability, with measures like minimal packaging, recycled plastic, and ethical sourcing.

To test each foundation, I applied one pump (when applicable) all over with my fingers, then blended it in with a makeup sponge. And since it’s summertime, my skin is more tanned than usual, so the shades that worked for me below probably won’t work in the winter. Read on for my honest thoughts and tips on the following clean foundations.


1% for the planet
Cruelty free
Woman owned

Best For | Dry skin
Natural Ingredients | Aloe juice, niacinamide, squalane
Coverage Level | Light
Shades Available | 30
My Shade | Salina SF5
Price Range | $54

Ilia’s True Skin Serum Foundation is a step up from their Skin Tint in terms of coverage—it provides light coverage but can be built up to medium. The foundation blends in easily and leaves a dewy finish, so I might prefer it more in the winter when my skin is drier. Ilia’s added some skincare ingredients into the product, too—it has niacinamide, allantoin, and aloe, all at levels shown to benefit the skin. Ilia is committed to 1% for the Planet, and they back all of their makeup with skincare ingredients, creating clean products that prioritize the health of your skin and the planet.

2. Juice Beauty

Cruelty free
Woman owned

Best For | Silicone-free
Natural Ingredients | Champagne grape seed oil, coconut alkanes, rose powder pigments
Coverage Level | Light/medium
Shades Available | 13
My Shade | Naked Beige
Price Range | $44

Juice Beauty’s Phyto-Pigments Flawless Serum Foundation has my ideal light/medium coverage and a skin-like, not too dewy finish—this one might be my personal favorite. It’s full of skincare ingredients like antioxidant-rich grape seed oil and aloe juice, and it has a liquidy texture that substitutes silicones with coconut alkanes for a smooth finish. Plus, it looked exactly the same at the end of the day as it did at the beginning. Naked Beige was a perfect match for my summer tan, but I’d need something lighter in the winter—note that the shade matching was pretty difficult online, and the shade range isn’t phenomenal. Juice Beauty’s products are clean without sacrificing function, combining organic ingredients with clinically proven formulas for a foundation that works.

3. Kosas

Cruelty free
Woman owned

Best For | Higher coverage
Natural Ingredients | Caffeine, squalane, peptides, niacinamide, artemisia flower extract
Coverage Level | Medium
Shades Available | 36
My Shade | 190
Price Range | $42

While Kosas’ Revealer Skin-Improving Foundation had the most coverage of any foundation I tested, it still lets skin show through with a medium coverage. It’s packed with beneficial ingredients—niacinamide and caffeine for brightening, peptides and hyaluronic acid for plumping, and zinc oxide for SPF 25 sun protection. It had a nice skin-like finish that did dry down and become slightly cakey by the end of the day, so I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who’s super dry. I’d also recommend a setting spray, as it definitely isn’t transfer-proof! Kosas specializes in skin-first makeup, making products clinically proven to improve your complexion—so their foundation is a great open for someone who’s conscious about the health of their skin and the planet, but wants a boost in coverage.


Budget friendly
Cruelty free
Fair trade

Best For | Powder
Natural Ingredients | Corn starch, squalane, niacinamide
Coverage Level | Light
Shades Available | 12
My Shade | 4N
Price Range | $27

Well People’s Bio Powder Foundation might be my favorite powder I’ve ever tried. Instead of making my skin feel dry and cakey, it adds a luminous glow with the addition of light-reflecting mica and hydrating squalane, and it uses cornstarch instead of talc to absorb excess shine. It has light but buildable coverage, subtly blurring imperfections and making your skin a bit more radiant. Since I’m combo, I still prefer to use it only on my t-zone over a tinted moisturizer, but the powder is great for shine-reducing touch-ups on any skin type, dry to oily, and leaves skin with a lightweight, natural finish. Well People exclusively uses clean, ethically sourced ingredients for its dermatologist-developed formulas.

5. Merit

Cruelty free
Recycled materials
Woman owned

Best For | Concealer
Natural Ingredients | Sea daffodil extract, mica, glycerin
Coverage Level | Light/medium
Shades Available | 20
My Shade | Bisque
Price Range | $38

Merit’s Minimalist Perfecting Complexion Stick gives you as much or as little coverage as you want, anywhere you need it—and nowhere you don’t. It applies like a buttery concealer but blends out to a light/medium coverage foundation. I applied small strokes of Bisque where I most needed it—chin, forehead, nasolabial folds, and acne scars—and the lighter shade Ecru under my eyes, and buffed it all out with a makeup sponge (although the brand recs a makeup brush), leaving a surprisingly natural, glowy finish with just the right about of coverage. While the foundation was much easier to blend with a spritz of water or setting spray, it’s still such a convenient product for slipping in your bag for easy breezy coverage when you’re on the go. Merit prides itself on its minimalistic beauty products that eliminate any potentially harmful or irritating ingredients.

Natalie Gale is a Boston-based freelance journalist. When she’s not writing about art, food, or sustainability, you can find her biking to the farmers’ market, baking, sewing, or planning her next Halloween costume. Say hi on Instagram!