People Are Buzzing Over The Clean Girl Aesthetic, But It's Not As New As It Seems
TikTok has transformed beauty trends as we know it. With an endless chasm of inspiration, recommendations, and very strong points of view, fads come and go at warp speed. One that has withstood the test of time, however, is the "clean girl aesthetic" (it first crossed our feeds almost a year ago, which is basically prehistoric by TikTok standards). A makeup look slash style inspo slash lifestyle, it has taken the beauty scene by storm, and it doesn't look like it's fizzling out anytime soon. So we thought it was time to dissect the popular look.
Although, we like to approach beauty from a place of inclusion around here, and this trend does come with quite a few faults. (We'll dive more into its contention below, but just to make ourselves clear up top.) Please know that anyone can achieve the clean girl aesthetic if they want to—and if you're a smidgen interested, you can find all of the details below.
What is the clean girl aesthetic?
Consider the clean girl aesthetic the next iteration of "model off-duty" or "no-makeup" makeup. Essentially, it's a natural-looking beat that focuses on dewy, glowing skin. Think tinted moisturizers and fluffy, natural brows over smoky eyes and sharp contours. Throw in some slicked-back hair, gold jewelry, and a jumbo claw clip, and you've nailed it.
It conjures a specific image, but the name itself is actually pretty elusive. "When I first heard of the trend, I actually thought that it meant replicating the dewy, glowy skin and boost of radiance one achieves after stepping out of a long, steamy shower," says makeup artist Alexandra Compton, product development manager at Credo. "I'm not sure if anyone actually knows the meaning or intent behind the phrase, or if there even is one." So you can really define it however you please.
We can credit the TikTok buzz to content creator Lizah Beauty (@xolizahbeauty), who posted the first viral "clean makeup" tutorial. She didn't coin the term, but she says in the video, "You know those girls that always look clean? Their skin is always glowing, their lips are always glossed, and they never, ever look like they're wearing too much makeup?" Fast forward several months and 11 million views, and the clean girl aesthetic reached fever pitch.
Why is it called "clean"?
Since its rise in popularity, the trend has received quite a lot of pushback, and rightfully so. First, the phrase "clean girl" can feel exclusive, as it implies a "dirty" girl on the flip side—that if you prefer heavier coverage or a full face beat, you are somehow less "clean." It doesn't exactly help that the accompanying string of videos feature users with naturally clear, hydrated skin; they may only use a thin layer of tinted moisturizer because they don't typically need anything else to mask breakouts or hyperpigmentation in the first place.
Let us declare up front: You can break out or have uneven texture and still achieve glowing, dewy makeup; skin concerns like acne, ruddiness, and texture do not by any means make you "dirty."
There has also been a lack of representation, way beyond skin type: In most of the "clean girl" videos, users are white, thin, and affluent, which implies that one can only hop on the trend if they meet these insurmountable standards. This could not be more false, especially because Latina women have been wearing gold hoops and slicked-back hair for ages without nearly the same commercial recognition. "We've been doing our hair like this all the time," user Lupita (@guada.lupita) says in a TikTok video. "When I was a teenager, [people] would call us dirty because you wouldn't do your hair and have it in a slick bun, ponytail, or braid with hoops. Now it's called 'clean girl,' when it used to be called the 'dirty look'?"
As a response, Latina women have taken ownership of the trend and created their own popular hashtag, #latinagirlaesthetic. Other counter-movements have emerged, too, led by those who rightfully refuse to adhere to these impossible prerequisites. For example, the hashtag #cleanmakeupforblackgirls has over 1 million views, and you can find plenty of videos depicting the "clean girl look" for those with acne-prone skin.
The bottom line? Anyone can rock the clean girl aesthetic, regardless of skin tone, body type, or budget, and it's not a new trend by any means—so it's important to give credit where credit is due.
How to get the look.
The full look includes a slicked-back hairstyle and some chic accessories (gold hoops, a baseball cap, etc.), but we're going to focus solely on makeup here. Follow our tutorial below, based on Lizah's viral video (with a few expert tips tossed in, of course), then go ahead and browse our guide to slick ponytails:
Strategically place concealer.
"Go in with your favorite lightweight and dewy concealer or foundation and strategically place it in areas that you want to brighten or conceal," says Compton, like your inner eye corners, sides of the nose, center of the chin and forehead, corners of the mouth, right underneath your brow bone, and on any breakouts you'd like to cover up. Blend upward with a damp beauty sponge—this technique lifts the face without the need for heavy contour.
Groom your brows.
"Groomed, fluffy brows are key to this look, as they frame the face," notes Compton. Brush them up with a clear or tinted brow gel, making sure to comb the tails diagonally for more lift. "If you have thicker, coarser, curlier hairs, try a brow wax for stronger hold," Compton adds.
Set concealer with powder.
To set the look and keep product from sinking into fine lines, gently dab a setting powder onto areas your concealer might crease: perhaps under the eyes, around the nose, and on the laugh lines. It helps to dip the tip of a beauty blender into the powder and press it into the skin, as opposed to swiping—that way, you won't smudge your makeup.
Curl and coat lashes.
Makeup artists agree: Curling your lashes can open up the eyes and make them appear bright, even without a stitch of mascara. You can even swipe on a layer of clear mascara before curling, if you want extra hold without wearing any pigment. Then opt for a clump- and smudge-free mascara, ideally one with a tapered, cone-shaped wand so you can precisely reach those stubborn outer lash corners without globbing on product.
Use cream or liquid blush.
Creamy blush is the name of the game. Grab your favorite pot of pigment and melt the formula into your skin, right on top of your cheekbones. (Remember to blend upward for more lift.) "My favorite trick lately to achieve the trendy 'sunburn blush' is to use Exa Color Corrector in Red-Orange as a liquid blush," Compton adds. "I place a few dots on my cheekbones and nose and blend with my fingertips."
Follow with a creamy highlighter.
Next, grab an equally creamy highlighter and dab onto the tops of your cheeks and along the bridge of your nose. If you want to keep the look very minimal, skip the shimmer—you'll look like you're radiating from within.
Line your lips and top with gloss.
With a soft, smudgeable liner, round out your bottom lip and accentuate your Cupid's bow for a plumper pout. Then with your ring finger, smudge the liner inward and upward to create a slightly diffused look ("sort of like you've just been kissed," notes Lizah).
"Lastly, to top off the glow factor, finish with a tinted lip gloss, sans glitter," says Compton. Your lips will look naturally plump and bursting with moisture.
Essentially, the clean girl aesthetic is just another name for a simple, "no-makeup" makeup look (which we also have a guide for, if you'd like to compare the two). It's by no means a new "discovery," but we can't ignore how the look has captured the attention of millions of TikTok users. The look doesn't seem like it's going anywhere, but then again, it's not really a "new" look at all.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.