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Finding a Clean Foundation: Hard or Easy?

Written by Irina Webb

Looking for the safest clean foundation?  Read this special review of the most popular liquid makeup foundation brands to make an informed decision.  After looking into the ingredients and available test reports (for some brands), I grouped these makeup foundation products into the worst-bad-better-best categories.  When you find out what separates some products from others, you will be able to apply this knowledge even to the products that are not mentioned here and be a savvier consumer!  You will also learn why I didn’t include 100% Pure in my classification.

A picture of a woman using Clean Foundation

My Signature Approach to Research

To begin with, I asked the I Read Labels For You Instagram followers what liquid makeup foundation brands they would like me to review.  Then, based on the responses, I documented every brand mentioned and researched their makeup foundation ingredients.  As a result, I placed the researched products into what are, in my opinion, the “worst,” “bad,” “better,” and “best” groups.

Normally, I use my signature 5-step approach to research:

  1. I survey the product industry.
  2. I study manufacturing processes.
  3. I research product ingredients and their available safety data.
  4. I contact manufacturers when I feel necessary.
  5. I test those products whose ingredients look safe and clean.

After reading product ingredients for a decade, I can judge a product’s safety by looking at its ingredient list.  If I see concerning ingredients, I place a product into the “worst” or “bad” category – depending on the degree of the safety concern.  And if the product’s ingredients look good to me, I contact the company for additional information that will help me decide whether the product is “better” or “best.”

I followed the same steps to find the safest clean foundation for you and am happy to report that we have several winners!  Stay with me to find out what liquid makeup foundation products I consider the safest and why!

Makeup Foundation Ingredients of Medium and High Concern

To indicate the ingredients of medium to high concern in the researched makeup foundation products, I marked them with a red cross symbol ❌.  Personally, I cannot call a liquid makeup foundation a “healthy foundation” or “clean foundation” if it has any of the following ingredients. 

IngredientSafety Concern
❌Butylphenyl Methylpropional– potential allergen, toxic to reproduction, under assessment as endocrine disrupting (ECHA)
– The European Committee on Consumer Safety classified it as a moderate sensitizer.
– In 2021, the EU Commission banned it from use in cosmetic products (source).
❌Cyclopentasiloxane– persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to the environment (PBT) (ECHA)
– may be contaminated with residues of cyclotetrasiloxane (D4) which is potentially endocrine-disrupting and suspected of damaging fertility or the unborn child and is banned from use in cosmetic products in Europe (also read Cyclopentasiloxane Safety)
❌Ethoxylated (-eth, PEGs, Polysorbate plus number)– made with carcinogenic ethylene oxide and may be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4 dioxane (read Hidden Ingredients in Cosmetics)
❌Fragrance/Natural Fragrance– undisclosed ingredients
– may interfere with the endocrine system, cause allergies, increase the risk of cancer (read Natural Fragrance)
❌Parabens– potential endocrine disruptors (source)
❌PFAS Ingredients (e.g., pentafluoropropane, perfluorodecalin, perfluorohexane)– linked to numerous health issues (source)
Talc Powder– may be contaminated with carcinogenic asbestos (source)
– The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies talc powder that contains asbestos as “carcinogenic to humans.”
IARC classifies the perineal (genital) use of talc-based body powder as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” (source).
A picture of women testing liquid makeup foundation on hand

Liquid Makeup Ingredients of Low Concern

The liquid makeup ingredients of low concern are marked with a yellow triangle symbol ⚠️.  Ultimately, I do not consider a liquid makeup foundation a clean foundation when it has most of the ingredients marked with ❌ and ⚠️ on its ingredient list.  In my opinion, products with all or a combination of these ingredients fall under the “worst” and “bad” categories.

IngredientSafety Concern
⚠️Aluminum– linked to neurotoxicity, Alzheimer’s disease, and breast cancer
– systemic exposure to aluminum in cosmetic products is expected to be negligible because it is poorly absorbed
– accumulates in the body, contributing to “body burden” and potentially increasing the risk of health problems (source)
– may increase the risk of oxidative damage in the skin (source)
⚠️Non-organic Plant Extracts and Oils– may contain pesticide residues
– supporting ingredients (e.g., solvents) may be of concern
⚠️Nylon-12 Fluorescent Brightener 230 Salt– I haven’t found any safety data, but judging by its name, it may contain persistent and bioaccumulative PFAS.
⚠️Phenoxyethanol– potential allergen (read Phenoxyethanol in Skin Care)
⚠️Retinyl Palmitate-may have photo-carcinogenic effects (read Non-Toxic Anti-Aging Beauty Routine Guide)
⚠️Sodium Benzoate + Vitamin C (e.g., ascorbic acid, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate)-potential formation of carcinogenic benzene under certain conditions (read Sodium Benzoate & Citric Acid Myth)
⚠️Talc in Liquid ProductsBecause talc in liquid products does not get airborne, the concerns described in the “Talc Powder” section do not apply directly. 

Why ask for the makeup foundation heavy metal test reports?

Overall, for me, a liquid makeup foundation containing many of the concerning ingredients is not a clean foundation.  Conversely, if most of the product’s ingredients look good, I contact the company for 3rd party heavy metal test reports.

Indeed, many companies simply say that heavy metal levels in their makeup foundation are compliant with FDA regulations.  However, as it turns out, FDA regulations are almost non-existent.  So, what they say is not very reassuring.  To learn more about various regulations on heavy metals in cosmetic products, refer to my post about Heavy Metals in Makeup

Actually, heavy metals may be present not only in petroleum-based but also in mineral pigments.  Clearly, I do not recommend makeup products with petroleum-based lake dyes/pigments altogether because they may also contain residues of carcinogenic and/or endocrine-disrupting petroleum by-products (FDA).  Additionally, some dyes are linked to carcinogenicity, genotoxicity, and hypersensitivity. 

Although the dermal penetration of heavy metals is generally low, it may be higher in the following cases:

  • damaged, broken, or irritated skin
  • the product contains ingredients that enhance skin penetration
  • eating with unwashed hands after touching your face covered with liquid makeup foundation (may cause ingestion of tiny amounts).

Finally, heavy metals accumulate and stay in your body for decades!  

Of course, makeup in general and makeup foundation, in particular, are not the largest sources of heavy metal exposure.  Yet, I believe choosing the safest clean foundation is a good way to reduce heavy metal exposure in your life.  

Can makeup contain PFAS?

Another thing I want to make sure a potentially healthy foundation does not have is polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).  In fact, PFAS are associated with infertility, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, diabetes, impaired immunity, and cancer.  You can learn more about PFAS in my very helpful and detailed GreenPan Review.

For your information, in the spring of 2022, Mamavation tested 83 beauty products, including lipsticks, mascaras, and makeup foundation, for PFAS.  More than half contained organic fluorine that is indicative of PFAS.  And eight of these products had organic fluorine levels higher than 100 parts per million.  In December 2022, Mamavation updated her testing and found 404 ppm of organic fluorine in Ilia True Skin Serum Foundation. Some of the brands whose makeup had no detectable levels of organic fluorine were Beautycounter, Crunchi, and Pure Haven.

One of the researched foundations in the “bad” category contains three PFAS ingredients:

A picture of a brush.

“Worst” Liquid Makeup Foundation

Basically, the makeup foundation products listed below fall in the “worst” category due to a combination of ingredients that I find concerning.  They include:

❌Butylphenyl Methylpropional

❌Cyclopentasiloxane

❌Ethoxylated Ingredients

❌Fragrance

❌Parabens

⚠️Aluminum (in all forms)

⚠️Phenoxyethanol

⚠️Talc

In my opinion, these ingredients present too much of a health concern for any facial foundation to belong in a clean foundation category.  So, for the products in the “worst” and “bad” categories, I did not indicate whether they use organic or non-organic plant extracts and oils.  I believe that the ingredients listed above outweigh any potential benefit of organic plant ingredients.

ProductConcern
Armani Luminous Silk Foundation❌cyclopentasiloxane ❌ethoxylated (cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 dimethicone, PEG-10 dimethicone) ❌fragrance ❌methylparaben ❌butylphenyl methylpropional ⚠️aluminum starch octenylsuccinate ⚠️aluminum hydroxide ⚠️phenoxyethanol
Fenty Beauty PRO Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation❌ethoxylated (PEG-10 dimethicone, cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 dimethicone ❌fragrance ⚠️talc ⚠️phenoxyethanol ⚠️aluminum hydroxide
Il Makiage❌cyclopentasiloxane ❌ethoxylated (PEG-10 dimethicone, PEG-4, polysorbate 20) ❌fragrance ⚠️talc ⚠️aluminum hydroxide ⚠️phenoxyethanol
Lancome Teint Idole Ultra 24h Long Wear FoundationShades 085-495: ❌cyclopentasiloxane ❌ethoxylated (PEG-10 dimethicone) ❌ethylparaben ⚠️paraffin (petroleum-based) ⚠️aluminum hydroxide ⚠️phenoxyethanol
Shades 500-560: ❌ethoxylated (PEG-10 dimethicone, cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1, PEG-20) ⚠️cyclohexasiloxane (learn more here) ⚠️aluminum hydroxide ⚠️phenoxyethanol

“Bad” Makeup Foundation

Further, I do not consider the products in the “bad” category “clean foundation” because they have such concerning ingredients as:

❌Cyclopentasiloxane

❌Ethoxylated Ingredients

❌Natural Fragrance

❌PFAS Ingredients

⚠️Aluminum (in all forms)

⚠️Nylon-12 Fluorescent Brightener 230 Salt

⚠️Phenoxyethanol

⚠️Retinyl Palmitate

⚠️Sodium Benzoate + a form of Vitamin C

The good news is that fragrance (except natural fragrance), talc, butylphenyl methylpropional, and parabens are not present in the liquid makeup foundation products placed in the “bad” category.

ProductConcern
Arbonne Perfecting Liquid Foundation SPF 15 Sunscreen❌cyclopentasiloxane ⚠️phenoxyethanol ⚠️retinyl palmitate ⚠️sodium benzoate + tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate
Bare Minerals Barepro® Performance Wear Liquid Foundation SPF 20❌cyclopentasiloxane ❌ethoxylated (PEG-10 dimethicone) ⚠️aluminum hydroxide ⚠️phenoxyethanol
Burt’s Bees Goodness Glows Full Coverage Liquid Makeup❌natural fragrance ⚠️phenoxyethanol ⚠️Mamavation detected 357 ppm organic fluorine in Burt’s Bees mascaras.
Clinique Even Better Clinical™ Serum Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 25❌ethoxylated (PEG-10 dimethicone, lauryl PEG-9 polydimethylsiloxyethyl dimethicone, laureth-7) ⚠️alumina ⚠️phenoxyethanol
Estee Lauder Double Wear❌cyclopentasiloxane ❌ethoxylated (PEG/PPG-18/18 dimethicone, laureth-7) ⚠️alumina ⚠️phenoxyethanol
IT CC+ Cream with SPF 50+❌cyclopentasiloxane ❌ethoxylated (cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 dimethicone, steareth-20) ⚠️aluminum hydroxide ⚠️phenoxyethanol ⚠️retinyl palmitate
⚠️sodium benzoate + ascorbic acid
Tarte Amazonian Clay❌cyclopentasiloxane ❌ethoxylated (PEG/PPG-18/18 dimethicone, cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 dimethicone) ⚠️aluminum hydroxide ⚠️nylon-12 fluorescent brightener 230 salt ⚠️phenoxyethanol
The Ordinary Coverage Foundation❌ethoxylated (PEG-9 polydimethylsiloxyethyl dimethicone, dimethicone/PEG-10/15 crosspolymer, dimethicone/ bis-isobutyl PPG-20 crosspolymer) ⚠️phenoxyethanol ⚠️aluminum hydroxide

“Better” Clean Foundation

The reasons some liquid makeup foundation products did not make it into the “best” category are as follows:

⚠️Sodium Benzoate + a form of Vitamin C

⚠️Non-organic plant extract and oils

⚠️Phenoxyethanol

⚠️No test reports

As a matter of fact, I contacted the companies listed below requesting their heavy metal test reports.  However, to this day, I have not received any response.  While the ingredients in these makeup foundation products look good, without test reports, I cannot place them in the “best” category. 

ProductConcern
A’del Natural Cosmetics Cream Foundation⚠️no test reports
Beautycounter Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer⚠️non-organic plant extracts and oils ⚠️phenoxyethanol
EXA High Fidelity Foundation⚠️non-organic plant extracts and oils ⚠️phenoxyethanol
Fitglow Beauty Vita Active Foundation⚠️no test reports
Honest Beauty CCC Clean Corrective with Vitamin C Tinted Moisturizer⚠️no test reports
⚠️non-organic plant extracts and oils
Juice Beauty Phyto-Pigments Flawless Serum Foundation⚠️sodium benzoate + tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate
⚠️no test reports
Kosas Tinted Face Oil Foundation⚠️no test reports
⚠️non-organic plant extracts and oils
RMS Beauty “UN” Cover-Up Cream Foundation⚠️no test reports
W3LL People Bio Tint Multi-Action Moisturizer SPF⚠️sodium benzoate + tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate
⚠️no test reports
A photo of Irina Webb holding Crunchi Clean Foundation.

“Best” Facial Foundation

Fortunately, three products (out of those I researched) made it into the safest clean foundation category!  This means that not only their ingredients have no concerns (in my opinion), but also they provide heavy metal test reports.  Personally, I use Crunchi non-toxic foundation because it works so well.

ProductConcern
Beautycounter Skin Twin Featherweight Foundationnone
Crunchi Beautifully Flawless Foundation (get $10 off on the 1st purchase of $50+! This is why I use and love this non-toxic foundation.)none
Ilia True Skin Serum Foundation (In December 2022, Mamavation updated her testing and found 404 ppm of organic fluorine in Ilia foundation.)oils and extracts are not organic, though

Why I didn’t include 100% Pure in my classification

Although they say that they use only fruit and vegetable pigments in their makeup, I cannot call their product a clean foundation. 

First, I do not believe it is possible to create stable makeup products with only fruit and vegetable pigments, meaning that the colors remain the same and won’t acquire a greenish tint over time.  Over the years, I found no contract manufacturer who would be able to make fruit/vegetable-pigmented products.  

Second, the fruit/vegetable pigments 100% Pure uses are not on the FDA list of approved color additives in cosmetics.  In other words, 100% Pure uses some pigments that are not approved by the FDA and have no safety data or specification.

Third, if a plant is not organic, it might have pesticide residue.  In addition, juices, pigments, or supplements have concentrated amounts of heavy metals.  That is why there is often a California Proposition 65 warning on supplements made from plants. 

Plus, they use honeysuckle extract preservatives in some of their products.  Namely, they are Lonicera Caprifolium (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract and Lonicera Japonica (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract.  While they sound innocent, there is no safety information.  The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel has not reviewed them for safety, and they are not on the list of approved preservations used in the European COSMOS standard for natural and/or organic products.

The bottom line, I cannot stand behind this brand.

Summary of the Clean Foundation post

To sum up, the purpose of this post was to educate you so you could make an informed purchasing decision regarding a healthy foundation.

In this special review of the most popular liquid makeup foundation brands, I have looked into their ingredients and available test reports.  As a result, I have grouped these makeup foundation products into the worst-bad-better-best categories. 

Fortunately for us, three products have made it into the safest clean foundation category!  In other words, their ingredients have no concerns, and they provide heavy metal test reports as evidence of safety.  Personally, I believe that the best facial foundation is Crunchi Liquid Foundation, and I use it and love it!

Importantly, now that you have found out what separates some product groups from others, you will be able to apply this knowledge even to products that are not mentioned here and be a savvier consumer!

4 thoughts on “Finding a Clean Foundation: Hard or Easy?”

  1. I have sensitive fair skin and always used the supposedly “clean makeup”, or the expensive “purported to be cleaner” options, but it wasn’t until I took YOUR advice and tried Crunchi foundation, that my skin is finally clear, clean and healthy. Same with lipstick … no more problems.
    Thank God for YOU and all your tirelessly excellent hard work! I trust your ratings over all others. YOU are the best … God Bless You!

    1. Wow! Thank you so much for your kind feedback, Betty, – we appreciate it a lot!! We are truly happy to hear about the wonderful changes in your skin and that we could be of help! May God bless you abundantly!

  2. I’m curious if you’ve ever looked into Toups and Co in your makeup and beauty reviews? They seem to be very clean, but I’m curious how you’d compare them with someone like Crunchi. Thanks!

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