In an article about clean girl makeup, an illustration of a girl with the look.
Illustration by Sarah Shin, George Washington University
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In an article about clean girl makeup, an illustration of a girl with the look.
Illustration by Sarah Shin, George Washington University

How to achieve makeup that looks and feels fresh, effortless and refined.

As one of the most common ways women express themselves, makeup can reflect different aspects of someone’s personality. A smoky eyeshadow look with dramatic lashes can communicate seriousness and reservation, while bright and colorful eyeshadow and graphic eyeliner can communicate playfulness and openness.

2016 was a big year for makeup trends, which largely focused on accentuating cheekbones with heavy contouring, dramatic winged eyeliner, big lashes, bold and drawn-on eyebrows and overlined, matte lips. This was the makeup era of physically manifesting luxury and sophistication and because so many celebrities and Instagram influencers were donning this look, everybody else followed suit and it stuck around. Since then, attitudes about what’s pretty have changed and so has people’s approach to makeup.

The aesthetic of clean girl makeup arose sometime between late 2021 and early 2022. It focuses on accentuating the natural features of someone’s face and prioritizes looking dewy and more realistic. It could be interpreted as the most recent iteration of “no makeup” makeup or “model off-duty” makeup.

The trend is arguably the biggest makeup trend since 2016, with many TikTok creators comparing their faces in both looks. It has become the new sought-after everyday makeup look. Read on to find out how to achieve it.

Skin Prep

Since this makeup look emphasizes looking natural and dewy, it’s vital that your skin is cleansed and moisturized before proceeding with any makeup products. The objective of clean girl makeup is to look as natural as possible, even with makeup on your face. If your face is dehydrated or not moisturized enough, you could end up looking tired or dull and makeup may not go on as smoothly.

Don’t forget under your eyes, either. Since the under-eye area is usually more naturally textured and creased, it’s important to make sure you’re using an eye cream or your regular moisturizer under your eyes to create a proper base for concealer.

Hydrate those lips, too! A popular choice for hydrated lips is the Laneige lip mask, but most lip balms or lip masks will do.

Face

Foundation aims to provide full coverage in certain makeup looks. Because of this, they typically possess a heavier physical consistency and are prone to clinging to dry spots and looking cakey and oily after just a few hours of wear. It’s recommended that for a refined and clean look you use skin tints to create a base for the rest of your makeup.

For daytime wear, aim for a tint with SPF to protect your skin. This will conveniently make clean girl makeup easy in the future since consistent SPF use helps slow aging, prolonging the youthful look clean girl makeup embraces.

When using any kind of base product on your face, always remember that less is more. The goal is to look as natural as possible and overusing your base product could interfere with that.

For the clean girl look, you also want to look awake and refreshed. This is where concealer factors in. If your under-eye area isn’t very dark or pigmented, you may be able to get away with blending your skin tint under your eyes. However, if you’re like me and happen to have hyper-pigmentation and bags under your eyes, concealer is a godsend when you want to look more awake.

Concealer is another area where less is more. Since the objective is to look natural and realistic, it’s okay to let some of the natural color of your under-eye area shine through. The best way to apply concealer is to dot it underneath the area you usually experience creasing and to blend it over your entire under-eye area.

Cheeks

Many people struggle with contouring. Since the objective of contouring is to accentuate or imitate the natural shadows of the face, many products used for contouring are cool or grey-toned. Because of their color and undertones, it’s easy to misuse products meant for contouring. You could end up looking ashy rather than sharp as you may have initially intended.

Contouring your face with blush and a touch of bronzer is a much more natural-looking and easy way to accentuate the details of your face. Lightly apply bronzer directly above the hollows of your cheeks and semi-liberally apply blush on your cheekbones and part of your upper cheeks. You can also extend a bit of blush onto your nose for a sun-kissed or naturally flushed look.

Eyebrows

Avoid over-filling your eyebrows for a clean girl look. The best way to achieve the right eyebrow for this type of aesthetic is to make them look fluffy and natural. Use an eyebrow pencil sparingly in the sparse areas of your eyebrows and lightly brush them out with eyebrow gel. Soap brows are also a popular way to achieve this.

Eyes

Fortunately, clean girl makeup is forgiving and flexible when it comes to eye makeup. While heavy eye makeup and big false lashes are too dramatic for the natural look clean girl makeup demands, you still have some room to play around when it comes to your eyes. You can leave your eyes and eyelashes completely bare if you wish, or you can go with a thin, winged liner.

If you prefer adding color to your eyes, go with using the same blush and/or bronzer you used on your cheeks. Apply either or both directly above the crease of your upper eyelid to achieve naturally looking contoured eyes (don’t forget to blend!). Using the same colors as your blush and bronzer will pull the whole look together and make everything look consistent and cohesive.

With mascara, anything goes. Whether you prefer to lengthen or thicken your lashes, this part is all up to you (as long as they don’t look clumpy).

Lips

Since clean girl makeup is all about looking natural and realistic, it’s best to go for a lip look that closely mimics the natural appearance of your lips. Some people like to just put on a clear or nude lip gloss and call it day. Some other lip techniques include blended-in lip liner with a clear gloss, colored lip gloss, tinted lip balm or a hydrating lipstick with a clear gloss on top. Avoid matte lipstick — this could cling to any lip flakiness and make them look dry and dehydrated.

Always remember that the goal of clean girl makeup is to look fresh and natural. Make sure every aspect of your face is nourished and moisturized, whether it be your face, under-eye area or your lips. Aim for products that enhance your face rather than products that change it to look as effortless and refined as possible, even without a bare face.

Writer Profile

Saba Bazzi

Wayne State University
English

Saba is a student and writer who is fueled by coffee and a desire for truth. She navigates the world with a sense of openness and values the power of conversation and written word.

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