College Beauty Awards: 17 Must-Have Clean Beauty Products

College students are super discerning about how they spend money. They buy what they believe in, because Gen Z is more educated than ever about how and where their products are being made, and by whom. So, in 2020, clean beauty brands beget some serious social currency.

In the last few years, the clean beauty industry has grown enormously, and rightfully so. As we are more of conscious of what we’re putting on our bodies, that means doing away with toxic ingredients like parabens, sulfates, phthalates, artificial fragrances and other yuck. Better-for-you products are more innovative and accessible than ever. It’s a special time in beauty where ethics and aesthetics finally meet.

Here are the clean beauty champs that have elevated routines for college women everywhere, proving that something non-toxic can be just as effective.

Green Clean Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm

Farmacy, sephora.com, $34; shop now

Double cleansing is maybe the best thing to ever happen to your pores, and Farmacy has perfected a cleansing balm perfect for the job. This is made to be massaged onto a dry face, smudging away makeup from the day and other impurities. A jar of this bad boy lasts forever, and it smells like an essential oil-filled spa. It’s such an iconic example of top-performing clean beauty.

Moisturizing Toner

Caudalie, sephora.com, $28; shop now

Untangle the wiring in your head that says all toner has to be a super drying astringent. This one soothes and strengthens skin (really) while balancing pH levels, so you get texture improvement and hydration in a single bottle. It’s clean and simple, plain and simple.

Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Serum

The INKEY List, sephora.com, $8; shop now

Hyaluronic acid is an essential wingman to your skincare routine. Good news: this one feels more expensive than it actually is, which is probably why college women can’t stop slathering it on. Apply this all over (neck too) before your moisturizer for an extra plump and hydrated base layer.

Vegan Milk Moisturizer

Milk Makeup, sephora.com, $38; shop now

Milk Makeup created thee daily moisturizer y’all will love, without the ingredients you don’t. It has a rich and creamy texture, pumped full of yummy things like hyaluronic acid and oat milk, made to nourish even the most dry and sensitive skin. Just a bonus that this happens to be clean and fragrance-free!

Hydrating Facial Mist

Burt's Bees, walmart.com, $13; shop now

This mist takes to its job like a duck to water — aloe water, that is. When you need a spritz of freshness and hydration, spray on a light mist after cleansing, a gym sesh, to set makeup, or to wake up when online class starts to make you drowsy. (Yes, that’s a real hack one student swears by, and it indeed passes the vibe check.)

Overtime Mask

Summer Fridays, sephora.com, $44; shop now

Summer Fridays has taken the beauty world by storm, and it doesn’t show any signs of stopping. The overtime mask is holy grail for green queens fighting texture issues — and it also looks great in an Insta flatlay, just saying. Buff dull skin with this exfoliating mask, wait 10 minutes, and voilà: There’s a luminous glow hiding underneath.

Aqua Bomb Sleeping Mask

belif, sephora.com, $34; shop now

Not sure how you feel about this, but we think “aqua” and “bomb” are officially the two best words ever paired together. This sleeping mask is exactly what it sounds like: a pudding-esque mask that feels like a big drop of water replenishing your face. Use it in place of your nighttime moisturizer when you need something more potent, or to cool skin down after a hot shower.

Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40 Foundation

ILIA, sephora.com, $46; shop now

You should be wearing sunscreen every day, even when its cloudy. If you didn’t know that, now you do, and you can add this to your cart ASAP. Technically, this is a serum, but it feels way more like a tinted moisturizer or tinted sunscreen. The fact that ILIA magicked makeup, skincare and SPF into one bottle is a testament that you can make clean formulas work, without compromise.

Revealer Concealer Super Creamy + Brightening Concealer

Kosas, sephora.com, $28; shop now

Some people tend to fault clean formulas for their lack of staying power, but this concealer will prove you wrong. It dominates in undereye coverage, one of the trickiest areas to disguise, and it brightens problem areas beautifully. This tube checks all the boxes and then some.

Color & Light: Crème Cream Blush & Highlighter Duo

Kosas, sephora.com, $34; shop now

Two wins in a row? Well, Kosas certainly deserves it for another buttery and beautiful formula. Just like with the concealer above, this duo doesn’t sacrifice any pigment, and there are shade options for every skin tone. The highlight really compliments the blush color, and the final looks are just. so. illuminating. 

The Necessary Eyeshadow Palette

ILIA, sephora.com, $38; shop now

ILIA is crushing the clean beauty game, and it’s easy to see why conscious college students adore them so much. Some people are hesitant to switch to clean color cosmetics, but once you jump on the bandwagon, you won’t go back. The shadows in this palette redefine “long wearing,” and are said to look even better on camera. If you ask us, it sounds perfect for a full week of online Zoom classes. 

Limitless Lash Mascara

ILIA, sephora.com, $28; shop now

Let’s see those lashes! After a summer of bike shorts and SPF only, the back-to-school season means back to full-face makeup for many of us. Students rave about this comfy mascara that gets the job done aesthetically, but feels so gentle and hydrating in application. Who said you couldn’t have long lashes that wipe off easily before bed?

Tinted Daily Lip Balm

rms beauty, sephora.com, $20; shop now

This balm adds a beautiful tint of color to every look. The shades are fairly universal and can even be smudged on as a blush if you’re feeling matchy-matchy. It’s one step up from checkout aisle lip balm, but an important one you need to take.

Murumuru Butter & Rose Delicious Glow Body Lotion

Love Beauty and Planet, walmart.com, $7; shop now

Love Beauty and Planet had a big year for college students on a budget, and this lotion earned the highest marks of all. The brand and Gen Z alike both take great environmental responsibility, so on top of being an all-around luscious lotion, it feels extra rewarding to support a purpose-driven product.

Peppermint Pure-Castile Liquid Soap

Dr. Bronner's, walmart.com, $10; shop now

Be still our peppermint-obsessed hearts. If you haven’t joined the minty fan club yet, it’s time to get schooled on the most underrated beauty ingredient. This soap is all bubbles and tingly bursts that feel so cooling in the shower, bath, on your hands, hair… yeah, you can pretty much use this baby on anything. Makes for a great multipurpose product in your shower caddy!

The Body Exfoliator

Nécessaire, sephora.com, $30; shop now

European chic? Those are the only words that can describe how this swoon-worthy exfoliator makes you feel. The minimal design, the gorgeous scents, the soft post-shower legs — there are many things to love about this body exfoliator. Soon you’ll be asking: where has this product been all my life?

Be Gentle, Be Kind Banana + Coconut Superfoods Nourishing Hair Set

Briogeo, sephora.com, $56; shop now

Those controversial ingredients that are bad for your skin and bod are just as bad for your hair. Now meet your new BFF, a smoothie-inspired hair set that leaves you smelling of sweet banana for days. We swear it’s worth every single penny, and your hair will agree.