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These three effortless, clean beauty brands were a hit during the pandemic—and are perfect for the reopened world

Tower 28, Jones Road, and Merit Beauty were designed to be easy to use, clean, and affordable—and we’re never going back to regular makeup after trying them.

These three effortless, clean beauty brands were a hit during the pandemic—and are perfect for the reopened world
[Photo: courtesy Tower 28]
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Throughout the pandemic, we saw many of our routines transform and evolve: our 9-to-5’s, our childcare, our social lives—and, of course, our self-care. Last May, McKinsey reported an influx of consumers seeking DIY beauty solutions—at-home hair color, nail care, et al.—while cosmetics (except eye makeup) saw a dip in sales. Still, the firm predicted momentum and innovation in the DTC makeup industry continuing post-COVID-19, thanks to consumers’ support of the intertwining of beauty and wellness—à la “self-care Sunday or a swipe of lipstick before a Zoom meeting.”

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Some makeup brands have already nuzzled into this sweet spot—easy, skin-forward, clean products that tick both beauty and wellness checkboxes. As we reenter the world, readjusting lifestyles and priorities, it’s not just “Does this makeup look good?” but “Does it make me feel good too?” And while the clean-beauty scene is flush with options, we went on the hunt for go-to brands that are creative, good for the environment and your skin, and just work really, really well.

Here are three new brands we reached for again and again throughout the pandemic. Count on them for fresh color, zero-fuss applications, and formulations you can feel good about.

[Photo: courtesy Tower 28]
Tower 28
In March, Tower 28 went TikTok viral after beauty influencer Haley Pham called its ShineOn Milky Lip Jelly her $14 “lip injections.” (I, too, own Coconut and can corroborate this claim.) The brand launched in April 2019, when founder Amy Liu (a vet of Kate Somerville, Smashbox, and Josie Maran) set out to develop superclean, U.S.-made formulas made especially for sensitive skin. Her SOS Daily Rescue Facial Spray is a $28 4 oz. pH-balancing, hypochlorous acid spritzer with the National Eczema Association stamp of approval—it works wonders after workouts, after the shower, and over and under makeup. The rest of Tower 28’s line—including the 100% colorless SuperDew Highlighter Balm ($18) and shimmery, silicone-free Bronzino Illuminating Cream Bronzer ($20)—abides by the association’s guidelines and the company’s own strict ingredient blacklist, banning the likes of harmful additives, preservatives, and both synthetic and natural fragrance.

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[Photo: courtesy Jones Road]
Jones Road
Bobbi Brown—the makeup artist and mogul, not the namesake brand, which she left in 2016—applied a meticulously curated touch to her new company, Jones Road, when she launched in 2020. The clean-beauty brand operates on the belief that products should be simple and effective, and a “less is more” ethos trickles throughout the collection. Each skin and beauty item is clean, in the sense that each follows the E.U.’s guidelines for more than 2,700 harmful ingredients, and is also cruelty-free and completely straightforward. The Oil Stick ($26) is a four-oil blend that glides from a push-pop-like dispenser in solid form, taming ragged cuticles and dry patches. The Miracle Balm ($38) is a massive 50 g pot of all-over, super-moisturizing sheer color in bronze-y and shimmering shades, is designed to be applied with the warmth of your fingertips. Swipes of an easy-breezy gloss, simple crayon-like coverup stick for the occasional blemish or dark circle, and effortless, neutral eye shadows make a “full face” without any fuss. Each item is designed to work well together or be a superhero on its own. Long live the queen of no-makeup makeup: She’s done it again.

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[Photo: courtesy Merit]
Merit 
Serial entrepreneur Katherine Power’s beauty brand, Merit, arrived earlier this year, with minimalist beauty products that deliver major impact with a quick swipe or a dab. The collection of color products (and one very luxe $30 blending brush) looks luxurious but is far from fussy. Items are designed for busy women who want makeup without any hidden harmful ingredients or empty marketing fluff, and that don’t require more than a few minutes of effort for a flawless, near-natural face. Merit makes this happen with items such as its inclusive skin-stick product called The Minimalist ($38), a foundation-concealer hybrid that dots on like a chunky crayon, adding moisture and coverage only where you need it. The full collection also abides by E.U. standards, relies on partially or fully recycled packaging, and is vegan and cruelty-free. 

Fast Company’Recommender section is dedicated to surfacing innovative products, services, and brands that are changing how we live and work. Every item that we write about is independently selected by our editors and, wherever possible, tested and reviewed. Fast Company may receive revenue from some links in our stories; however, all selections are based on our editorial judgment.