Clean Beauty at Sephora: How Clean is it Really?

Now Trending:
I'm wendy!

I'm a environmental toxins lawyer turned clean living coach who is obsessed with morning sunshine, Ningxia Red and all things holistic living (but for real life).  Catch me over on Insta and come say hi.


A few of my favorite things!

The cleanest, purest, most sustainable essential oils on earth. Use Code SHAREYL to Save 10%.

Whether it's blue light blocking glasses, red lights or my infrared sauna blanket, Bon Charge is my go-to. Use Code WENDYKATHRYN to Save 15%.

My must have all-natural skincare & deodorant that actually works. Use Code WENDYKATHRYN to Save 10%.

My family's favorite clean protein, electrolytes & Pre/Pro/Post Biotic. Use Code WENDYKATHRYN to Save 10%.




I’m answering a listener’s question today: How clean are Sephora products? Sephora boasts a long list of ingredients that they don’t allow, and they’re Clean at Sephora products, but is there anything concerning that they do allow?

With the popularity of Clean at Sephora growing, especially among teen girls, navigating clean products can get a little complicated. I want you to walk away from this episode armed with a little three-step hack you can use when looking at Sephora labels.

P.S. Want me to answer your question in an episode? Send me a voice message here!

In this episode, we talk about:

  • What is Clean?

  • Hack to Find Clean Products

What is Clean Beauty?

I’ve been talking a lot about clean Sephora products on Instagram lately. I’ve been trying to go through products and show people how to find things that are clean.

Let me start by saying Clean at Sephora products do not meet Wendy’s definition of clean. My definition of clean is a product that does not have any of my 25 toxic ingredients to avoid. My family avoids all the ingredients on that list, and I recommend people avoid them, too. Clean at Sephora products allow seven of them.

This episode isn’t an in-depth look at those seven ingredients, what the harm is, and how to read them on labels. That is more of an in-depth lesson I teach in my toxin-free in 3 course. I have an entire module teaching you how to read labels and what ingredients to avoid and why. You also get all the tricks on how to read labels quickly without sitting there with my list of 25 ingredients and trying to compare them because that takes a long time. So if you want to learn that, jump into my toxin-free in 3 course.

Hack to Find Clean Products

Here’s a quick hack when you’re looking at makeup in Sephora (or anywhere, really!) to find clean products.

Synthetic Dyes

The first thing I look for is synthetic dyes. Makeup is full of colors. That’s the whole purpose. We put colors on our faces, lips, cheeks, and eyes. The first thing to look for to determine whether or not something is clean is what those colors are made of and if it’s a synthetic dye.

You might see a color on the label, like red or yellow followed by a number. Or maybe you see the word lake next to a color. Lake Red 6 would be an example of a synthetic die. Look for anything that calls out the color.

The reason why you want to avoid these synthetic petroleum-based products is because they are literally made from petroleum. They likely have residue of things like heavy metals and carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting byproducts of petroleum. You don’t want heavy metals like cadmium or lead in your products. Carcinogenic ingredients cause cancer. All these things are contaminants of synthetic color.

When I am looking for a clean cosmetic, I want to see mineral iron oxides for colorants as a safer alternative. Some companies are using fruit now too, which is also a great alternative!

Undisclosed Fragrance

Step number two is looking for an undisclosed fragrance. Any product that says ‘fragrance’ on it and doesn’t specifically say it’s an essential oil or a botanical extract, avoid it. Clean at Sephora doesn’t allow fragrances that are more than 1% of the product, which is probably better than other places. However, inside that fragrance can possibly be thousands of different kinds of ingredients, and the majority of them are petroleum-based synthetic ingredients.

Sephora doesn’t allow phthalates in their synthetic fragrance, which is a good thing. Those are endocrine disruptors, and we all know how bad they are. They lead to breast cancer, infertility, and all kinds of other hormonal issues. But they do allow Lilial, and this ingredient is banned in the UK and Europe because it is a known reproductive toxin. It is found in Clean at Sephora products.

We’re allowing brands to sell products to mostly women, young girls, and teenagers that have known reproductive toxicity. I have a serious problem with that. The only way to avoid it completely is if you avoid undisclosed fragrance.


Step number three is to look for an ingredient called Phenoxyethanol. Phenoxyethanol is a preservative, and it’s found in a lot of products. It’s one of those middle-of-the-road ingredients – not terrible, but not super great. Products need preservatives if there’s any kind of water in it. You can’t have it molding or going bad before it’s bought.

Here’s the thing – if a product has Phenoxyethanol, it’s highly likely they’re also using ingredients that are a little bit harder to spot but are made in the same way.  Those are called ethoxylated ingredients. The issue with Phenoxyethanol is that it is made using phenol, which is highly corrosive, and a carcinogen called ethylene oxide. In the manufacturing process of creating this ingredient, it contains residues of both phenol and ethylene oxide.

Anything made with ethylene oxide is called an ethoxylated ingredient. You’ll see these ingredients as PEGs or PPGs, polysorbates and anything ending in -eth. But, if you look for phenoxyethanol, it’s likely there are other ethoxylated ingredients as well.

You’re not going to catch 100% of all the toxic ingredients out there, but these are the ingredients I see 90% of the time when I’m looking at products, and I’ve determined that they don’t meet my standards of clean. There are a lot of brands that Clean at Sephora uses with ingredients I feel are worse than others. MERIT is one of those “worse than others” brands – they market themselves as clean, but they use BHT, which is a well-known cancer-causing ingredient.

The greenwashing in the industry really bothers me – selling something as clean to people who are trying hard to do better. They care about their health. To make them believe they’re buying something clean and safe when it’s not is unethical. Informed consent and getting the word out is so important.

I believe knowing how to read labels is like knowing how to do your taxes or balance your budget. It’s one of those life skills that everyone should have. I believe everyone should be able to look at a label, understand the ingredients in it, the possible harm it could do to your health and your body, and know how to look for cleaner options. That’s why I’m here, and that’s what I do!

You can shop my favorite toxin-free makeup (and get a few discounts) here!

If you enjoyed this week’s episode, please:

Related Episodes

Episode 26: Detox Your Makeup: My Truly Clean Cosmetics Must Haves

Episode 30: Phenoxyethanol: Clean Beauty’s Dirty Little Secret

+ show Comments

- Hide Comments

add a comment


When you click my links, I get an affiliate commission and you get a discount— which I love because that helps me keep doing what I am doing and it saves you money. It’s a win-win.