TikTok excels at repackaging trends that have existed for decades. ‘Coquette makeup’? That would be glamorous ‘60s Frenchwomen, all pouty pastel lips and dramatic winged liner. ‘Cold girl makeup’ is, more or less, a love letter to the long-understood flattering effects of pink blush. And ‘clean girl beauty’? It's the 2020s version of a timeless beauty adage: looking effortlessly fabulous. It’s about stripping back heavy layers of makeup to focus on healthy skin, while still looking polished and put together.

Of course, the word ‘clean’ in beauty requires an acknowledgement of its problematic nature. Concepts of cleanliness have undeniably difficult historical, racist and sexist connotations. ‘Clean’ has also come to denote a whole world of unregulated ingredient ‘standards’ and largely unhelpful ‘free-from’ ingredient lists. Happily, though, the ‘clean girl beauty’ trend, for all that its title relies on a somewhat tricky word as well as limited concepts of age and gender, is really suggesting something far more desirable and accessible for any person who wants to partake – looking like the best everyday version of yourself. And to achieve that, it’s really about getting to know your own face. (For instance, do you have skin that needs more than a sheer wash of colour to look polished? Welcome to the club! And yes, this look can still be for you.) As Mecca’s Head of Artistry Jennifer Horsley says, “you might still use a lot of different products to achieve the ‘natural‘ look – it’s really about finding products that work for you and your skin.” Let us guide you to finding them.

Prep with skincare

Every makeup artist in existence will tell you that pulling off a beautiful makeup look always starts with getting your skin in the best shape possible. For clean girl beauty, the skin prep is about hydrating and brightening.

Step 1 – Cleansing and masking

Jennifer tells us, “I think having a normal routine keeps your skin in its best state, but if I want the skin to have an glow, I’ll reach for a mask”. Start with a gentle yet effective cleanser that will get rid of debris (last night’s skincare, sweat, grime – sleeping really is so attractive) without stripping your skin and making it dry or tight. Synergie Skin’s BioCleanse Gentle Milk Cleanser is silky and softening, and rinses off easily.

If you prefer a refreshing gel option, Viviology Gentle Foaming Cleanser has a lovely zingy scent and is one of the only gel cleansers I have ever enjoyed using. Neither option will sting your eyes.

Once skin is rinsed and patted dry, it’s masking time. Sodashi’s Brightening Marine Mineral Mask has a thick cream texture which at first you presume will act like a traditional clay mask. However, rather than drying, cracking and drawing out impurities, it works the opposite way; skin actually drinks all of the nourishing oils in, leaving it with a nice glow.

Should you want a lighter texture, consider the Snow Fox Skincare multi-layered approach. I got the most refined results (that is, my skin looked clearer and less red) using the Ceramide & EGF Treatment Orb with the Cucumber Recovery Serum, followed by the cooling Arctic Breeze Rescue Mask.

Step 2 – Toners and serums

Fenty Skin’s Fat Water Pore-Refining Toner Serum is on my shortlist of most aptly and delightfully named skincare products ever created. Its texture is unique in the market – it’s not a lotion and it’s not a gel, but truly suspended somewhere in between. I found its cooling, comforting nature, not to mention the plumping and illuminating effects, delightful. It’s not technically a step you need, but definitely one you will want.

On the subject of brightening, Neostrata Enlighten Brightening Complex is an excellent formula. It contains both vitamin C and retinol, yet cleverly incorporates just enough oils and butters that those powerful actives don’t cause irritation. A one-and-done active option that will suit many skin types and gives great glow.

If your skin is still greedy for more, the Caudalie Premier Cru The Serum falls into the ‘expensive, but you can tell why’ category. The thin cream fluid spreads over the entire face easily and makes skin clearer, more comfortable and noticeably brighter from the first use.

Step 3 – Moisturisers and sun protection

Whether or not you generally enjoy an eye cream, it is a step more important to consider when you’re doing a makeup look which leaves your eyes are more or less bare. Sunday Riley’s Auto Correct Brightening and De-Puffing Eye Contour Cream simply makes your eye area look better than it did before application. It has a velvety, cooling texture which my exceedingly finicky eyes love, and this has never caused them to sting, either on the sensitive orbital skin itself or from doing that maddening ‘allow me to transfer right into your eyeball’ process which many options with more slip do.

For overall moisture, Jennifer says “I always like to use a really emollient option for this kind of look, to make sure the skin stays looking plump the whole day.” Olay’s Luminous Niacinamide + Vitamin C Moisturiser is a fantastic buy, that gives the entire face a refreshed look. It’s light yet nourishing, and plays very well under sunscreen (a necessity) and makeup (should you choose to add it). And while we’re on the topic of sunscreen… we are all aware that anyone who cares about their health, let alone that their skin, is making sunscreen their final – or only – step of a daily skincare routine. Owing to TGA regulations we can’t recommend specific options, but, happily, Australian’s stringent sunscreen rules mean that the vast majority of options available in our market these days are excellent.

Perfect with makeup

Now that the skin is a perfectly primed canvas, it’s time to add just the right makeup. So what’s the overall ethos of what we’re going for with our ‘clean girl beauty’ look? “It’s intended to appear elegantly casual but also minimalist”, says Jennifer.

Step 1 – Streamline the complexion

I cannot think of another brand more in keeping with the ‘clean girl beauty’ trend of polished effortlessness than Gucci Westman’s offering, Westman Atelier. It seems appropriate, then, that her most recent base offering, Vital Skincare Complexion Drops, would work so well for this look. Smoothed over the skin with fingertips, it feels almost like a tinted oil going on. Should you want more coverage, and to treat yourself with a seriously luxe purchase, the Liquid Blender Brush, which Gucci designed especially for this product, is a true pleasure to use.

“The reason skincare/makeup hybrids work so well for this look are because they gives the most hydrated, glowy finish without being shiny”, Jennifer shares. If you have skin that needs a bit more attention to look naturally flawless (and really, who among us…),  I was shocked by the KVD Beauty Good Apple Full-Coverage Transfer-Proof Vegan Serum Foundation. I have never come across a product with such high levels of coverage that somehow still manages to look natural, and not like an ill-conceived mask. On my own skin, it easily covers redness from my rosacea flushing, as well as brown pigment from sun damage and pink post-acne masks, yet brings such a gentle, flattering level of illumination to proceedings that it all feels very ‘just born this way’.

No matter the base you choose, after all that juicy skincare, you’ll need to rely on a little spot powdering to keep the ‘natural’ look on lock hours after application. In Jennifer’s opinion, “as much as I love dewy skin, if you are dewy everywhere then you lose dimension to the face. You want a product that eliminates unwanted shine, but doesn’t add texture to the skin”. It may be tempting to go the traditional route of dusting powder all over with a large fluffy brush, but allow me suggest something more subtle. Dip a small, flat brush (I like Spectrum x KJH 06) into a loose, translucent powder like Mecca Max’s newly-reformulated option, Life Proof Translucent Loose Setting Powder. Pat the product gently in targeted ways to areas that require extra coverage or tend to oiliness first (breakouts, plus often the nose, chin, and marionette lines). It’s a quick and easy way to ensure that the base coverage remains where you want it, while still keeping your overall look more dewy dumpling than mattified pancake.

Step 2 – Add in subtle colour

Now that we’ve perfected the base, it’s time to bring in some natural-looking colour. (I know, I know, ‘effortless’ or ‘natural’ beauty are feeling extra oxymoronic, aren’t they? But it’s good to be real about what it takes for every skin type to achieve the ‘clean girl beauty; look. Not all of us can roll out of bed looking like a French Vogue editor.) Jennifer loves cream bronzers and blushes for this look, and I couldn’t agree more. First, add gentle definition to your complexion with Ciaté London’s Dewy Bronze Stix. The glossy, almost wet look it gives the skin is so much more realistic and flattering than the often-chalky or muddy powder options. I like it best daubed onto the mid forehead and nose, then blended gently with a brush or sponge.

To tie the look together, give lips a complimentary of level of colour with Charlotte Tilbury’s Hyaluronic Happikiss Hydrating Lipstick Balm in Pillow Talk, a soft pinky-beige-brown neutral that brings some life to all skin tones and feels pleasingly comfortable on.

I am a true believer that blush is the product that ties a makeup look together, and can always be relied upon to enliven one’s face. Chanel’s Baume Essentiel Multi-Use Glow Sticks are beloved for a reason – easy to use, elegantly illuminating, gorgeous colour options – and the house has outdone itself this season with the limited editon 67 Rouge Frais shade. It’s a warm-toned red with a subtle hint of copper that leaves cheeks with a delicate flush and sophisticated sheen.

Step 3 – Define the eyes

Fluff Up Brow Wax, the newest star of Benefit’s industry-defining brow range, gives a groomed yet not overdone look no matter how blessed you are in the brow department. If yours are full already, just comb the wand through gently to set hairs in the direction you want them, and if you have sparser brows like I do, you can really brush the wand through to get maximum volume that is then locked in place. There is zero goopiness or crunchiness no matter how you use it, which is something of a miracle, as is the fact that you can add colour before or after you apply it. (Normally adding colour after you’ve applied a brow gel will get you nowhere, and even if you’ve added it beforehand, the gel may remove it).

If your brows are patchy or fine and need filling in, a few strokes of Mellow Cosmetics’ Brow Definer combined with the Benefit wax works a treat to bring the defined-yet-natural look together.

‘Clean girl beauty’ leaves eyes more or less bare; just sneakily helped along with a little enhancement. So eschew the shadow or liner for a defining mascara. Ilia’s Limitless Lash Mascara has a figure eight-shaped wand that gives you two options: apply with the comb part to separate each lash and add length, which is what we’re after here, or you have a stubby side with more densely packed bristles that you can use when you want more volume. Nothing takes away from a clean image like little black flakes or smears, so a tubing formula is particularly handy for this look. On that note, you usually have to gently pull off the little fibres of a tubing mascara in warm water, but this one is even easier, seemingly magically dissolving in your evening shower.

The finishing touch

The combination of this Maison Margiela fragrance’s name, Sailing Day, and its form – a pale blue liquid swirling around its simple glass bottle ­– could not more accurately represent what this scent is all about. ‘Clean’ scents often fall into that-old-thing-again territory of either clipped grass or laundry detergent. Instead, this is a fresh breeze off the ocean, when the weather starts signalling the end of summer, and you first notice a slight chill in the air. The predominant notes are salt water and minerals, and there’s no soapiness or florals in sight. It’s cool (in both senses of the word), would work easily on any gender and is a delight to wear. Polished yet effortless, indeed.

Story by Zoe Briggs. Main image via Instagram @westmanatelier.

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