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Our 15 Absolute Holy Grail Makeup & Skincare Products (That Happen to Be Cruelty-Free)

Saturday is normally fashion day around here (unless we have something special up our sleeves) but Em shared a big styled-out post earlier this week, so we decided to try something else. Today, we’re diving into beauty, but with a very important twist. I can’t speak for the entire team (even though I kind of am right now?), but cruelty-free beauty and skincare is a topic I’m pretty passionate about. In true transparency, cruelty-free wasn’t even a thought in my head until about three years ago when I was supposed to do a story about it for my last job. After tons of research, I was SHOOK, and vowed to myself then and there to try to make a change. I did what I always do when I newly get into something: ran to spend money and resolved to never turn back to my evil ways. Well…it was a little harder for me mentally to let go of certain products I’d used for years (specifically Kiehl’s and NARS, neither of which are considered cruelty-free companies as they sell in China…will explain more about that in a sec). It was my acne-prone and sensitive-skinned face vs. the well being of sweet little animals. You’d think that would be an easier decision to make than it was, sadly and shamefully but look, we all have our journeys and I’m pretty much on the other side of it now. 

From the get-go, Cruelty-Free Kitty was a huge resource for me to learn more about CF beauty, what it all meant, why it was important and brands that did not test on animals. They have a very useful listing of companies that are both Leaping Bunny certified and PETA approved (you can also search by specifications like 100% vegan, palm oil-free, category, store and more). Anyhow, this post is not sponsored by CFK (or anything, just our genuine interest) but I would be remiss if I didn’t talk you through this fantastic resource. If you have others, please let us know! The site taught me a lot about what it means to be cruelty-free, including not testing ingredients or the finished product on animals, and that also, the term “cruelty-free” is not regulated here in the US, so literally, anyone can slap that language on a product. Make sure to look for the Leaping Bunny or PETA cruelty-free logos to be sure you’re supporting the right brands if this is important to you. Research is very important, and one dead give away is if a brand is sold in China. It’s required by law in mainland China to do animal testing if it’s a non-domestic product such as American or European brands, and a lot of these do not want to give up this enormous market. So while a brand might say its US products are not tested on animals, the brand itself is supporting the cruel practice that, FYI, isn’t even necessary these days.

Originally, animal testing was a thing when we weren’t sure what new chemical compounds and other ingredients were safe to use by the general public, but there are now over 7,000 ingredients that are already proven to be safe and no longer need to be tested on bunnies and guinea pigs and other cute little furry creatures. Animal testing is already banned in the EU, Isreal and India…come on America…GET ON BOARD. In the grand scheme of all the issues plaguing our country, this is probably way down on the list of priorities, but…just sayin’. The good news is that it seems that more and more brands are jumping aboard the CF train (Target even has their own new line called Versed…haven’t tried it, but probably will).

Anyway, you probably didn’t come here today to hear me go on about the specifics. Chances are, if you clicked through, you already know a little (but if not, welcome!), so let’s get into some actual products, shall we? A few of us here at EHD headquarters rounded up our absolutely HOLY GRAIL products that are cruelty-free. These are makeup and skincare picks that we use nearly daily and couldn’t imagine our routines without. This is not an “oh, I just tried this and it’s pretty good, give it a whirl” situation. This is undying dedication, things we’ve purchased on repeat that should they be discontinued, might cause a revolt (a touch dramatic maybe, but don’t get in the way of this woman and her glow tonic, mkay?).

First up is our girl Emily, then I’ll go and so on and so forth. And pretty please, share your own favorites below. We’re all always looking to add top-notch “this actually works” type CF products to our arsenals, so if you have something you use that you would consider “holy grail,” spill.

Emily’s picks:

Emily Henderson cruelty free makeup5

Perfekt Matte Tanning Gel: As you may or may not know, I’m a lover of the natural-looking spray tan. But it often fades on my legs in the first day or two which is really where I want it most as I personally don’t love a tan face on someone who is obviously fair skinned. This cream goes on chocolate brown, and you’ll freak out, but once it’s rubbed in, it looks relatively natural (a little darker than I think I could ever be) and washes off hands. It will definitely get on clothes so don’t wear white, but it also has SPF 30 and stays on well, and showers off at night. Anyway, I LOVE it.

PCA Beauty: This is ALL I use now. Literally, I’ve totally switched over and now use the toner, facewash, hyaluronic acid boosting serum, and moisturizer. It’s VERY effective. It’s not a highly marketed product, doesn’t have any “cool, millennial” packaging, so it looks simple, not-flashing but I don’t care because all that matters is that the products work. 

Arlyn’s picks:

Emily Henderson cruelty free makeup4

Mario Badescu A.H.A. & Ceramide Moisturizer: I have used Kiehl’s for years and have been on the hunt for a replacement moisturizer since I found out they are not cruelty-free and I FINALLY found my successor…something I used years ago and totally forgot about from Mario Badescu. This brand flies under the radar but it’s solid. The formula is spot-on for my sometimes-dry-always-oily-30-something-skin, it sinks in fast, and works beautifully under foundation. Just add an SPF on top for day time, and I’m all set with perfectly balanced, hydrated skin. Oh, and at $20, it’s far more affordable than other moisturizers in its category. 

REN Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic: REN has wonderful products and is a “clean” brand (which means it’s formulated without all the bad stuff like formaldehyde, triclosan, SLS, etc. and with less than 1% of synthetic fragrances), but this stuff right here is my everything…100% Holy Grail status for me. I use it morning and night and since I started using it a few months back, my skin has no joke transformed for the better. It’s not dull anymore or clogged, I feel glowy and far more confident makeup-free.

Too Faced Peach Perfect Comfort Matte Foundation: I found this wonderful foundation when I decided it was time to give up my beloved NARS (not cruelty-free). It’s full-coverage and pretty thick but it still looks natural on the skin. It comes in 30 shades, doesn’t transfer AT ALL (finally my steering wheel isn’t covered in the ghosts of my daily makeup), wears beautifully for the ENTIRE day, and controls my crazy T-zone oil. I’ll probably wear this for as long as it’s produced, which is hopefully forever and ever (do you hear me Too Faced?).

Sara’s picks:

Emily Henderson cruelty free makeup3

Farmacy Green Clean Cleansing Balm: This is my favorite face cleanser. I double cleanse which I explain to people is like rinsing your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher. The first rinse breaks down all the food particles and the second wash cleans away all the residues. This oil balm breaks down my makeup, sunscreens, and face oils (without stripping my skin), and then I use my favorite gel cleanser to rinse it all away. This balm gets through my mascara and eyebrow gel, leaves my skin super moisturized, and doesn’t leave the film residue that I’ve experienced with other face balms.
Paula’s Choice Anti-Redness Acne Solution: I’ve tried MANY toners. From cheap and trendy Glossier toners to wildly expensive P50 toners that you have to order from Canadian retailers. This toner seems to actually be DOING something for my skin, and without breaking the bank. This, combined with the face oil I use, have helped reduce a lot of the redness my skin experiences (I have a hard time wearing blushes or lipsticks), and it’s an exfoliant that doesn’t leave my skin stinging or bright red.

Herbivore CBD Face Oil: I love this face oil so much. I have super red skin, and this paired with my Paula’s Choice Toner have helped to significantly reduce the daily redness in my skin. It’s also really moisturizing. I’ve been using oils in place of cream moisturizers for a while, and I feel that they hydrate my skin better and give me more of a “glow.” I’ll put this oil all over my face after I cleanse and tone, and then I’ll add another extra drop to my IT Cosmetics CC Cream to help it apply smoothly and feel less cake-y, thick, or dry. It’s also a great oil to wear on a “no makeup” day.

Jess’ picks:

Emily Henderson cruelty free makeup2

Tatcha Nourishing Ritual: I first heard of Tatcha on Johnathan Van Ness’ Getting Curious podcast. After listening to the founder’s story and learning about her products, I decided to give it a go and I haven’t looked back. I feel like I FINALLY, after 31 years, have a skincare system that my sensitive, dry, slightly aging skin LOVES. I started out with the starter ritual kit that I got directly from her site to see if I liked it and when I saw a noticeable difference in my skin that was it. They have products for all different skin types so there is something for everyone. I have the Pure One Step Camellia Oil Cleanser, The Rice Polish Foaming Enzyme Powder and The Essence Plumping Skin Softener all available at Sephora, too. They aren’t cheap so I am saving up for the Silk Cream moisturizer and Violet-C Brightening Serum. Can you tell I’m hooked and they are going to take all of my money? But hey, this is the only skin bag I’ve got so I need to treat her well.

BLINC Mascara Amplified: I have previously gushed about this mascara but I have been using it for 5 years. Once I was freed from my “Raccoon Eyes” I got from traditional mascara, I vowed to never let this magical eyelash wand out of my sight. How it works is that due to magic (or science?), tiny tubes are formed around your lashes instead of painting the ink onto them. It sounds weird but go with it. Let’s just say no more nasty rings under those beautiful eyes!

Windle & Moodie Invisible Day & Night Cream: This is a “hell yes” product for me. It’s light, moisturizing, leaves zero residue, controls those flyaways and smells GREAT. Both Arlyn and Julie bought it as soon as they tried mine. It’s seriously magical. Now, Windle & Moodie isn’t denoted on Cruelty-Free Kitty (it’s not a large company) but I did some research and found other sites that confirm.

Ryann’s picks:

Emily Henderson cruelty free makeup 1

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair® Cream Intense Hydration: I am a simple woman when it comes to skincare. Not because I don’t have any pain points, but because I lack discipline and eagerness to try new products (and it’s so expensive to do so). I pretty much go with whatever is recommended via friends, the internet, or otherwise, but when I find something that works, I stick with it. I used to religiously use Origin’s Ginzing moisturizer, but their products are not cruelty-free (huge bummer) and they run out so fast. I went to Sephora and asked one of the gals who worked there to please please help and tell me what to do use for my dry as the desert skin. I was recommended First Aid Beauty’s Ultra Repair Cream and after trying, I was sold. It’s like slathering on a cool, silky shield and it leaves me feeling fresh and smooth all day long.

Glossier Boy Brow: Some days I really don’t want to put on makeup. Especially in the summertime, I start to feel icky with a lot of product/makeup on so sunscreen and moisturizer are all I want to put on my face. Oh…and Glossier’s Boy Brow. I have thick unruly brows but I prefer them to look natural (which really just means that I don’t get them waxed). I’ve been using this for a few years and I think it works perfectly for what I want to accomplish with my brows. I apply a few strokes going toward the direction of my brows, and a few going against to ensure I get enough coverage for natural, full looking brows and voila.

OUAI Wave Spray: If you read the EHD hair transformation post, you might remember that I don’t enjoy spending time on my hair. My ideal situation is to get out of the shower, brush and go. I am lucky because my hair air-dries fine, but it needs a little product to keep from falling flat. If this sounds anything like you, say hello to your new best friend: Ouai Wave Spray. It smells AMAZING, and gives your hair that extra volume like you just came from the beach…but make it fashion.

Alright, was there anything you saw here that use, love and can also vouch for? Don’t forget to throw some of your own CF skincare or makeup favorites into the comments. Let’s discuss, recommend and share! Thanks for hangin’ out today and see you tomorrow for The Link Up.

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4 years ago

The farmacy green clean contains polyethylene, which is technically microplastic (source: labmuffin beauty science)
Im hoping more brands will lean into being skin friendly AND earth friendly AND kind to animals.

4 years ago
Reply to  Sheri

Yes! Human friendly and earth friendly is important too! I barely use anything on my face; I have sensitive skin and I’m honestly thankful for it because it has made me more aware of what is in all these beauty products.

Here’s a recent article about chemicals in beauty products::

Stephanie Alsept
4 years ago

I wuld like to try free stuff

4 years ago

It would be super helpful to get a mini rundown of your skin types, etc, before the product recommendations. If your skin is very different from mine, that makes it likelier that your product picks won’t be a good fit for me.

4 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

Yes! I have sensitive skin and rosacea,
so most people’s recommendations don’t apply. If any of you have rosacea, then I’m all ears.

4 years ago
Reply to  Molly

Molly: I have rosacea also and Paula’s Choice CLEAR anti-redness and acne solution is very good. I’ve been using it for over a year now and my skin not only improved, but the redness diminished quite a bit too. Not entirely *sigh* but enough to continue the product. I love it!

4 years ago

China will no longer require animal testing starting in 2020

4 years ago
Reply to  Lisa

Unfortunately that’s not entirely correct. The reports about it have been a bit deceptive/not completely thorough. Justine Jenkins is a cruelty-free make-up artist who’s done a lot of investigation on this. Here’s one of her articles:

There are others as well. They’re getting closer, but unfortunately not there yet.

Julie P
4 years ago

Man… I too am very pale and hate pale legs. I got super excited about the Pefekt Body Perfection Matte Tan SPF but it’s sold out EVERYWHERE including your link. Bummed….. thanks for the recommendation though!

4 years ago
Reply to  Julie P

Julie, I’m super pale and have been using Isle of Paradise self-tanning foam (with a mitt). It’s on the “Clean from Sephora” list and the smell isn’t terrible, and I love the way it goes on. Just another option from one “porcelain” lady to another.

4 years ago

Savor Beauty is my new fav line that is cruelty free and uses organic ingredients.

Andrea M. W. Dvorak
4 years ago

I love AnnMarie Gianni skincare, all natural/wild, cruelty free of course, and based in San Francisco- kind of cant believe she wasn’t mentioned here!

4 years ago

I live in SF and have never heard of her! Another Bay Area clean beauty brand that I like a lot is Marie Veronique—I like their CE feurulic dupe. Not cheap but it’s clean.

4 years ago
Reply to  Kelly

I’m obsessed with Marie Veronique. I use so much of that line and my skin has never been better. Worth the steep price tag as it’s so high quality – and it lasts a long time!

4 years ago

I like The Ordinary, a Canadian company that should be added to this list. Straightforward, unassuming packaging, incredible pricing, and products that work. Very low profile.

4 years ago
Reply to  Elle

Yes! I have recently jumped on that bandwagon and lemme tell ya, I’m glad I did! I am 42 and my routine for the last 10-15 years was to wash with Bronner’s Baby Mild and moisturize with a few drops of jojoba oil. Occasianally I would DIY a mask with Redmond clay or exfoliate with evaporated cane sugar. If I wanted to get really crazy, I’d apply castor oil to my then-faint 11’s. But I’m middle-aged now so I’m stepping up my game. I love The Ordinary cleanser and I follow it up with caffeine under my eyes and a DIY cocktail of argan oil, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide all over. I think I am going to try Buffet next time I order (or pop into Ulta, yay!) I also LURVE the AHA peel. One product I did not like is the peeling toner. It leaves a sticky feeling. In just a few weeks of this new twice-daily routine (the peel is only once a week), I have no more T-zone oil and my skin overall feels softer and smoother. My under eye bags are still there but they are no longer dark. My whole face is brighter and more… Read more »

Kelly Henderson
4 years ago
Reply to  Elle

I just recently began the Ordinary line, as well & I currently live in humid, sunny Gulf Coast, Florida. As a young woman, I was taught by my mom & my Nona to NEVER leave the house without makeup! ? But they didn’t teach me proper skincare, b/c they were Sicilian& blessed with gorgeous skin, only requiring olive oil moisturizing. I, on the other hand, inherited my dad’s fair British skin & light eyes & burned to a crisp each summer, trying to look as glamorous as my mom & Nona. But, the Ordinary has helped to CHANGE THAT ALL! For the first time in my life, I’ve started leaving the house, sans makeup & maybe a tinted lip balm or mascara.
I’d start with the basics package (only $29 for an entire regimen!) & it lasts forever!
*A gentle reminder that no one seemed to mention, is that making your own masks & peels from fresh foods is always beneficial, as well as loads of water & eating good foods & supplements. Nutrition is KEY to healthy skin! ?

4 years ago

Worth mentioning- China has agreed to end the animal testing requirements by 2020 THANKS to American and European brands who chose to yes, sell in China, but also work closely with the Chinese government to change their thinking. It’s not always so simple, and I think there is something nice to know about brands who worked to make a difference in this huge market.

Suzanne B
4 years ago
Reply to  Ashley

Great article!
I noticed some people have commented that China plans on outlawing animal testing starting in 2020, but that’s actually inaccurate. Many headlines have been showing that, but when you look and the nitty-gritty of the legislation, it will still be required in many/most situations.
A good explainer article is:

4 years ago

I would love to know if anyone has a mineral sunscreen for face (and body, too, actually) that they love. I want one that goes on nicely, isn’t scented, doesn’t leave white residue, goes on nicely under makeup. Does it exist? Is it a unicorn? Also, how on EARTH are we supposed to reapply sunscreen every two hours while also wearing makeup? Reapply makeup every two hours?


4 years ago
Reply to  Annie

🙂 you’re not supposed to be in the sun that long. If your occupation or lifestyle has you out all day long then you wear a large hat, sunglasses and long sleeves and pants. You surely don’t want to wear makeup when you are on the beach all day long and you shouldn’t in the field either. It’s just not good for you and the chemicals might react with heat or uv rays. As for a daily commute, 15 minutes out before and after work is unlikely to hurt you, especially when you gradually take in uv rays over the spring months. By the time june comes along you’d unlikely get sunburn if your skin is producing melanin. Using sunscreen all day, everyday, can be more harmful than being out without it for a little bit There is a new meta-analytic study out confirming that our bodies need sun for various metabolic processes.m and lack of it may cause other diseases. I don’t have references but it should be easy to find. In small doses you can use chemical sunscreen on face and mineral on the body if you prefer. I just don’t see the point of it unless you… Read more »

4 years ago
Reply to  Lane

I think I found the study, and found this part particularly helpful:
“White people with Type II skin at 40 degrees latitude can obtain their annual requirements of vitamin D by spending about 15 minutes in the sun with face, arms and legs exposed (half that time if in a bathing suit) 2 to 3 times a week between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. during the months of May through October.”

I don’t know what kind of white person I am ( a complicated question!) but seems like a good instruction for how much time to spend in the sun to make sure I’m not vitamin D deficient, which is linked to the many maladies in the study.

For anti-aging effects on the face – I mean, I’m 35, the damage has probably already been done right? – SPF still seems to be universally recommended by dermatologists.

I full-heartedly agree that covering up is the most effective way to protect from the sun but I’m still perplexed and on the hunt for a workday face sunscreen situation that works for me here in sunny California. I appreciate the recommendations below and the info above!

4 years ago
Reply to  Annie

I use Australia Gold SPF 50 mineral face sunblock. It has a slight beige tint to it so no white cast at all. I also use the sunblock powder from Super Goop for reapplication. I’m a teacher in Florida. Most of our “hallways” are covered walkways outside. That means I’m outside to take the kids to PE, Then outside to pick them up. Then outside to go to lunch (or for recess duty), etc. Or near the large open windows in the classroom. So, that is what works for me. I love weekends when I don’t have to go anywhere so I can just use my sun block. I hope that helps.

4 years ago
Reply to  Annie

I recently started using Drunk Elephant in the tinted and I really like it. I’m fair and it blends in well and doesn’t pill under makeup if you apply thoroughly and let’s it dry for a few minutes before applying foundation.

4 years ago
Reply to  Annie

There is a sunscreen called Cotz tinted that I wear underneath my makeup every day that is cruelty-free and has titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as active ingredients!

4 years ago

All products from LUSH are cruelty free and the packaging is recyclable, compostable or nonexistent (think shampoo bars!). They are almost vegan, recently eliminating eggs from their line-up, but they still use ethically sourced honey and lanolin. Their bath bombs are — the bomb!! I love their stuff.

4 years ago

I love Krave Beauty’s Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser. It smells ever so subtly like a matcha latte, which is just the best feeling to have first thing in the morning!

4 years ago

Thanks for sharing all of these products! I absolutely love the farmacy cleansing balm. I use it instead of makeup wipes and it works wonders for my skin!!


Tina Schrader
4 years ago

Thanks for these recommendations! I’m always down to try new products. That said, I’ve been giving my sensitive, rosacea-prone skin a vacation from most products for the past few weeks after my slightly ruddy, fair-skinned face got irritated (again) one day. Lately I’ve been using items around the home and have found them to work well. For instance, I spray my skin with a mixture of aloe vera juice and water. I use olive oil to pre-cleanse my skin to take off the Joker Paint sunscreen I use and I apply it after I use Prosacea on my rosacea (it works!). I have really seen a difference in my skin from the oil, most likely due to its anti-inflammatory properties. I use a toner of apple cider vinegar and water sometimes after cleansing, which leaves my skin super soft. On another note, I am glad for the notices in the comments of the potentially harmful aspects of a product. However, finding a skin care product that checks all the boxes of clean, non-irritating, good for the environment and reasonably priced is a bit like trying to do a design job fast, cheap and good: it’s a tall, almost fantasy, order.… Read more »

4 years ago

Thanks for the recos! I too had perpetual Racoon eyes. Tried So. Many. Mascaras. One. Blinc was the first mascara I could use on a regular basis. So, I can endorse the tubing mascaras generally. But I’ve switched my loyalty to Glossier Lash Slick. It’s way easier to take off then Blinc. But somehow it still stays on. I like the brush better too. It’s even more magical. Also about $10 cheaper per tube.

Mavis Smook
4 years ago

Tarte is great

4 years ago

FYSA – Tatcha is having a “Summer Celebration Sale” from June 2 – June 6. Use the coupon code “SUMMER19” at checkout for 15% off.

(Please note that I have no affiliation with Tatcha. I saw the above on another website and thought that I’d share.)

Kishan Vishwakarma
4 years ago

Thanks a lot tarte is great things.

4 years ago

I love Thrive liquid lash extension mascara. It is another mascara that rolls off when you wash it instead of running down your face. Always get lash compliments when I use it! (leaping bunny approved)