So How Do We Really Feel About The “Clean Girl” Makeup Aesthetic?

Photographed by Rochelle Brock.
What's in your makeup bag? Your beauty regimen has probably changed a lot over the last few years in response to the "new normal" that's anything but normal. Even for the most avid of beauty lovers, life got in the way and has caused many of us to reconsider how we get our faces together each day. Enter the "clean girl" aesthetic (not to be confused with "clean beauty"). As made popular by TikTok and Instagram, the "clean girl" aesthetic is basically just minimalist makeup. And when we say minimalist, we really mean that: throw on some skin tint or BB cream, mascara, brow product, blush, and lip gloss, and you're good to go. Because this particular look involves products that almost everyone has in their arsenal and is significantly low effort, it's caught on very quickly, inspiring a whole new trend of makeup application that's taken the internet by storm. 
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However, not everyone is buying into this overly-simplified iteration of "no-makeup makeup." Online discourse of the barely-there aesthetic is on the spectrum of folks embracing it with open arms (and wallets) to picking it apart for further enforcing a non-inclusive standard of beauty. Critics claim that the "clean girl" makeup aesthetic is actually more toxic than other beauty trends because it has a real representation problem; the only people who are associated with it are skinny women with looser-textured hair and no acne scars or hyperpigmentation on their faces. A look that should be accessible to all is feeling more like yet another impossible to achieve beauty standard that only the chosen few of us can attain. But even beyond the sociological critique, to people that spent the last five years glued to cut-crease tutorials and reviews of full coverage concealer on YouTube, this new trend of less being more just seems...blah. Where's the drama?
You know us  — if there's a conversation going on, we've got thoughts about it, and unsurprisingly, this particular beauty trend is getting mixed reviews from Team Unbothered. Everyone loves looking good, but the clear difference in opinion on what that means for each of us just proves that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.
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Sandy Pierre, Branded Execution Specialist
"I'm not for or against the clean girl makeup look, but I’m just not sure I understand this trend. Can't we just go back to calling it 'light makeup?' Personally, if I'm going to wear makeup, I want my face to be beat! Some days are a lighter beat than others, but I still want to look like I tried. Besides, I'd rather just not wear any makeup if I'm going for that 'clean' girl look."
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Kourtney Pope, Associate Social Editor
"Like most trends, clean beauty has come quite a long ways from its early iterations in the 90s and early 2000s. If you take a look at some of the first cycles of America's Next Top Model, clean beauty or 'model make up' was simply an even complexion, blush, a little gloss, and mascara. Cut to the 2010s, and we see it evolve with an emphasis on barely-there tinted moisturizer, brushed up brows, and a tinted lip that some could call the Glossier effect. Every article had a 10 step or more skincare routine because according to them, preparation was the key to achieving this 'you but better' look. Now in 2022, the term 'clean beauty' continues to be interchanged with terms like  'no make-up make-up"'and more recently 'soft glam'."
"In my opinion, clean beauty is whatever feels good and most authentic to you. I like the idea of clean beauty, because it gives me a chance to break free of my normal beauty routine and explore other features; I may decide to pull back on an eye look that day and let my cheeks be center stage. There's an effortlessness about clean beauty as we know it today that reminds me of growing up in the 90s — even though you knew your favorite celeb was wearing makeup, they still looked like themselves."
Wisdom Iheanyichukwu, Editorial Intern
"As someone who is both lazy and broke, my skincare routine consists of washing my face with Cerave’s Foaming Cleanser and then moisturizing with Lubriderm’s Daily Moisture lotion (which I also use for my body). Considering that I don't have a full-on routine and rely on Reddit instead of a dermatologist to explain why I’m currently breaking out, I don't think that I fit the qualifications to be part of the 'clean girl' aesthetic." 
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"I think the ‘clean girl aesthetic’ is deceptively easy. A lot of the influencers on TikTok that partake in it have money, which brings me back to the broke part. I can't afford to buy the multitude of products that they have access to, to make my skin consistently smooth and clear to apply that makeup style. The first rule of applying makeup (according to Google) is to always prep your skin with moisturizers, toners, primers, and whatever other skincare you choose. 1) I don’t even know what primer is, and 2) a lot of people promoting the aesthetic are starting with a clean slate by using products that I don’t have. My skin is oily and prone to random breakouts, and considering that my answer to all my skin problems is chugging water, I don’t think I have that advantage."
"Also, I worry that if I subscribed to the clean girl aesthetic and bought the makeup for it, not only would I lose a lot of money because makeup isn’t cheap, I might start to like my skin better, but only in the makeup-induced perfection which isn’t how it always looks. I don’t have perfect skin, and I don’t think that makes me a dirty girl (lol). It just makes me a normal girl. I’m not fully against the aesthetic. In fact, if you like it, I love it! But I personally will not be partaking in this trend.  However, once I get my bag up, you might see me in those aisles shopping for the necessary Glossier products. (Very doubtful.) Until then, I’m going to stick to pretending my current approach is an aesthetic – the 'normal girl' aesthetic."
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Rissa Papillion, Producer
"I never thought that I had sensitive skin. For years, the only thing that could impose change was the relentless sun of Florida summer, something that I would embrace as a way to hide my normal undertone that could be described as jaundice. But after puberty hit, and I began to shave my legs daily, I became interested in a more polished version of myself to match my smooth shins. Walgreens gave way to mall counters, and I eventually entered the hallowed aisles of Sephora. By the time my 18th birthday rolled around, I'd graduated summa cum laude from YouTube University’s School of Beauty. Mascara and tinted moisturizer were fond childhood memories that I associated with the long torso ass tanktops of Abercrombie and Hollister. In theory, I could create a flawless cut-crease, bake, and beat my face. What I didn’t account for was my lack of bone structure, eyebrows that grow long into my eyes, skin that splits if it thinks a product has more than three ingredients, and the joys of dermatillomania."
"I loved makeup, and it hated me. But like any toxic relationship, that didn’t stop me from piling on products for the sake of my vision of who I should be. For the past decade, I have spent a decade and a small fortune trying to find products to cover up hyperpigmentation, hide dark circles, and give me the radiance of lost youth. I wanted to look effortless, natural, French, but instead, I looked like I was wearing makeup. I was afraid of hugs and humidity, and it was taxing. Among other things, 2021 was the year most of my products expired, and I didn’t clamor to buy more. I was tired of trying to look like someone who I wasn’t. I’m not happy that I have acne scars and dark circles, but I’m no longer afraid of them; I now take the extra hour I used to spend doing makeup to sleep in. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not beauty agnostic — I try to get my eyebrows and nails done every three weeks, religiously apply sunscreen, and don’t leave my house without mascara but clean girl make up to me is more about allowing myself to embrace my face, chubby cheeks and all."
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Ineye Komonibo, Culture Critic
"I totally understand the pivot to wearing less makeup these days. We're still in a pan pizza, so masks are still necessary (put on your masks, people!), and climate change has had the earth feeling like the third floor of hell almost every single day this summer. So yeah, loading up a ton of makeup products on your skin can feel bad, and we should all be able to appreciate our skin in its most natural state. I can't overstate the importance of what's underneath and making sure that it's healthy and hydrated; after all, no makeup is going to look good if your skin isn't being tended to."
"But I'm not gonna lie… there are few feelings that are better than looking in the mirror after devoting some time to your makeup and just knowing that you did that. Seeing your base go from dewy to matte after setting it with powder is an immediate shot of dopamine. Using precise strokes on your brows so that they're sisters instead of distant relatives (a rare feat!), seeing your concealer melt into your perfectly matched foundation, getting that highlight on your cupid's bow just right, the seamless combination of brown lip liner, matte lipstick, and beauty supply lip gloss to achieve that iconic Black girl nude — that's actual magic right there. And it's a magic that sheer coverage tinted moisturizer (*eyeroll*) and barely there cream blush that you applied with your fingers just can't compete with, especially if you're a person with oily skin and hyperpigmentation hitting these New York City streets in 88 degree weather. Baby, if I'm going to wear makeup, I'm really going to wear makeup. Clean beauty is cute and can serve its purpose, but it simply does not hit like a full face does. Period."
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L'Oréal Blackett, Unbothered UK Editor
"As a former subscriber to the ‘lipgloss, mascara and go-gang,' I am all for elevating the original ‘no make-up, make-up’ look for something much more put together, and the clean makeup gurlies have lured me in with their slicked back hair, glowing yet sculpted skin and glossy lips… I WANT IN.  I can’t help but enjoy the trend’s emphasis on a great skincare routine, the laid-back makeup application (I can’t do a 'cut-crease' to save my life) and foundations and skin tints perfectly matched to your own skin tone. For me, it’s makeup that says 'she’s rested,' even when I'm not."
"But it is boring. The clean makeup leaves no room for creativity; like, it’s just four products from Glossier. For me, that’s the whole point. There are  moments when I just want to look natural and put together; it’s giving organized, productive, wakes-up-at-5am-and-drinks-lemon-water, and that’s just not my truth. In reality, I keep forgetting to empty the washing machine. Admittedly, the clean beauty makeup trend is a beautiful liar. It’s not as accessible as creators on TikTok would have you believe — I know I would have struggled to do this makeup when I suffered from acne. And, I’m wary of saying I want to be 'clean' because, from the looks of TikTok, it has become synonymous with trying to achieve perfection. I'm not aiming to be perfect with this look — just me, but better and a little less...messy."
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Kathleen Newman-Bremang, Deputy Director, Global
"Can I be real for a second? Is this a safe space? I have a beauty confession to make: I’ve never really taken care of my skin. You know those elaborate skincare routines all over TikTok? Well, because of 'dem good genes (thanks Ma!) and the fact that nighttime is when I exert the least amount of effort possible, for a long time my routine was basically just washing my face with drugstore cleanser (shout out Neutrogena Clean & Clear — been using that shit since high school) and maybe — maybe — some moisturizer I got at a work event for free. And when it came to makeup and beauty, I didn’t put much effort into that either. My makeup look has always been a “clean beauty aesthetic” but just because I’m lazy and didn’t know how to beat my face. It was minimalist by default. THEN, the lord giveth, and the lord taketh away because my clear skin privilege disappeared real quick during the pandemic. Recently, my skin is a whole mess. This aesthetic is only for people with great skin! Now that I am no longer one of those people, I need ALL of the foundation, a bold lip, and some big lashes to distract from the craters on my face. I am against this 'no-makeup' look until I can get my skin under control. Once I do, I give myself permission to be lazy again. Sure, some of you will argue that the TikTokers doing this look are just people who know how to do makeup well enough to make it look like they aren’t wearing a lot of makeup when they really are — but I am not that person either. I’m just praying to Beyoncé my skin starts acting right so I can go back to not caring and calling it an 'aesthetic.'"
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Venesa Coger, Style & Culture Specialist
“Clean makeup, full beat — there's no one technique that's better than the other, and there's a time and a place for each look. I’m definitely the type of girl who makes aesthetic choices based on my mood, so ultimately, it just depends on how I feel. Some days, I want to beat my face and play in different colorful eyeshadows and lipsticks. But then there are days where I'm obsessed with just doing my five-step skincare routine and topping it with SPF so that my skin is glowing. During the Glow Up, all I used was moisturizer and lipgloss, and my confidence was through the roof."
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