IF I COULD “Supermarket Sweep” through any store, it would be Sephora: I imagine grabbing heaps of chubby Nars highlighter sticks, Pat McGrath glitter and enough Jo Malone London perfume to make me smell like a sprawling English garden. This fantasy has its flaws, being neither environmentally friendly nor financially feasible, but beauty products have always been an indulgence for me. As a child in the 1980s, I lived to poke around in my aunt’s nail-polish drawer; more recently, I’ve relished unsheathing my preferred Chanel Michèle lipstick. There was no fretting over ingredients or worries about hidden evils. Lately, however, cosmetics have grown complicated and makeup has become a minefield, thanks to the steady rise of “clean beauty.”
Just as #cleaneats infiltrated my Instagram feed, serving up photogenic bowls of virtuous, compostable kale, the beauty buzzword “clean” has exploded. It’s splashed on ads, anointed with tiny check marks on packaging, hashtagged on TikTok by Jessica Alba. It even has its own section at Target.