Is MERIT Beauty Clean Beauty? Product Reviews (2024)

March 14, 2023 (updated January 26, 2024) — Written by

Is MERIT Beauty worth the hype? Its cool-girl, minimalist vibe is like a magnet for Millennials, and when you throw in the brand’s claims that it’s “clean,” you’ve got a snowball effect that makes it hard to browse socials without MERIT Beauty popping up. But I tried it, and I asked our resident cosmetic chemist to help me break it down. The verdict? MERIT is not as clean as it says. This is what I will and won’t use from the brand, plus more—keep reading!

A collection of MERIT Beauty products.
A collection of the MERIT Beauty products that I tried.

By: Lisa Fennessy


By request…Is MERIT Beauty clean beauty?

You asked, “Is MERIT Beauty clean beauty?” and I’m answering! To be honest, I’ve never gotten so many queries or requests to weigh in on a brand than I did with MERIT. Just take a look at this smattering of DMs I’ve gotten over the past few months inquiring about MERIT makeup: 

A reader DM about MERIT Beauty.
A reader DM about MERIT Beauty.
A reader DM about MERIT Beauty.
A reader DM about MERIT Beauty.
A reader DM about MERIT Beauty.
A reader DM about MERIT Beauty.
A reader DM about MERIT Beauty.
A reader DM about MERIT Beauty.
A reader DM about MERIT Beauty.
A reader DM about MERIT Beauty.

I didn’t know how to answer this question off the bat, so I can see why we got so many questions about it. It’s not easy to tell on the surface if MERIT is clean when you have ding-dongs running around on the internet calling it “very clean” beauty (just Google “MERIT beauty review”). So, with so much hoopla going on around this brand, I figured, we need to get to the bottom of this burning question: is MERIT Beauty clean beauty?  

RELATED: My honest review of Kosas.

Who is MERIT Beauty? 

MERIT Beauty markets itself as a clean beauty and organic lifestyle brand. It was founded by Katherine Power, the co-founder of Who What Wear and founder of Versed Skincare.

Katherine’s vision was to create essential makeup products with the belief that makeup should be easy, clean and feel as good on your skin as it looks. She also aims to simplify your routine without sacrificing quality or performance—think no-makeup makeup. 

MERIT is a Sepora exclusive brand, so currently you can pick it up only at Sephora and the MERIT website (and Kohl’s since you can find Sephora shops at most Kohl’s stores now). 

RELATED: Guide to clean beauty.

A collection of MERIT Beauty products on a vanity.
The MERIT Beauty products that I tried.

How does MERIT define “clean beauty”?

We always start here because as you know, “clean beauty” is a concept that is open to interpretation (as opposed to a regulated term like “USDA Certified Organic”). After hitting up MERIT Beauty’s “About” page, MERIT defines clean beauty as: “Creating products that are safe for body, skin and planet.” For them this means creating products that: 

  1. Are EU and Clean at Sephora compliant.
  2. Leave your skin looking better after wearing them.
  3. Are vegan, cruelty-free and certified Leaping Bunny. 
  4. Aim to eliminate as much virgin plastic as possible and are shipping in recyclable materials. 
  5. Are formulated in partnership with celebrity esthetician Biba de Sousa to be safe for acne-prone skin.

MERIT continues in their FAQ by adding, “While there is no regulated definition of ‘clean’ beauty, we focus on ingredients that are safe and effective, whether natural or synthetic.” 

My thoughts? These are VERY LOOSE guidelines and we see that shake out pretty clearly when we take a closer look at the ingredients. 

But before we do that, take a look at the claims above. Read between the lines: what is MERIT actually claiming? Ask these questions! What I see is MERIT’s strongest clean beauty claims above are their third party claims like “EU compliant” and “Sephora compliant,” but when we zoom in, even these fall apart a bit.

When MERIT states they are “EU compliant,” they are referring to the European Union Reach Program. This is a registration program designed to improve the protection of human health and the environment through better identification of the properties of chemical substances. MERIT is saying they are compliant but they are not actually registered with this program. So this is a theoretical claim.

RELATED: How to decipher beauty and personal care certifications.

The WHOLE POINT of third-party verifications are to have an unbiased party back up your claims so consumers can trust those claims. Here it’s MERIT backing MERIT’s claims. This is a massive conflict of interest, it’s slick marketing that toes the greenwashing line—and I don’t like it.

When MERIT claims they are “Sephora compliant,” they are referring to the Clean at Sephora program. MERIT IS ACTUALLY Clean at Sephora verified. What does this mean? These are clean beauty guidelines that Sephora has created to define what they are calling “clean beauty” and it’s some of THE LOOSEST guidelines I’ve seen.

Guys. Sephora at its core is a French multinational retailer of personal care and beauty products owned by LVMH (Moet Hennessy Louis Vitton SE). They offer 3000+ brands, including a private label. They are not here with a mission to advance the clean beauty movement. They are here to capitalize and make money.  

Why? The Clean Beauty Market is forecast to be valued at $37.65 billion by 2028 from $5.89 billion in 2023. And Sephora wants a part of that. What’s the easiest way in? Create your own clean beauty guidelines, make them super loose and mark products no one else is calling “clean” as “clean” to take advantage of this billion dollar trending clean beauty movement.

That’s just the way I see it. 

RELATED: What ingredients does TNK always say “no thanks” to? Check these out.

Does MERIT use any concerning ingredients?

Want to know what I mean by LOOSE guidelines? Lol, okay, let’s dive in with some ingredients that stood out to me. 

But before we do, I always encourage readers to bookmark and use the TNK No Thanks List as a tool when vetting beauty products and beauty brands (which is what we do internally too). Cross reference brands to this list and see if the brand you are looking at is something you want to personally use. Anyone can do it! 

Using this tool, here we see a *few* ingredients in the MERIT Beauty line that we flagged. 

BHT: We see BHT in several of MERIT’s products including their Flush Balm Cheek Color, Minimalist Perfecting Complexion Stick and Bronzer Balm Sheer Bronzer. Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), is linked to cancer and is used in some cosmetics as a synthetic antioxidant for preservation. More here.

Acrylate Copolymer: Products made with acrylates regularly contain more than 2 ppm benzene, according to the FDA. The World Health Organization concludes, “There is no safe level of benzene exposure, according to the WHO and the IARC, by dermal, inhalation, or ingestion routes, because it is a human carcinogen.” And the American Chemical Society agrees. More here

Phenoxyethanol: This is found in MERIT’s Signature Lip Lightweight Lipstick, Clean Lash Lengthening Mascara and Brow 1980 Volumizing Pomade. It’s typically made by treating phenol with ethylene oxide in an alkaline medium. Ethylene oxide is known to be a human carcinogen and it yields ingredients like polysorbate 20, polysorbate 60, polysorbate 80, phenoxyethanol, SLS and PEG compounds. More here.

Pentaerythrityl Tetra-di-t-butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate: Found in MERIT’s Tinted Lip Oil, it contains an endocrine disrupting contaminant called 3-(3,5-Di-tert-butyl-4-hydroxyphenyl)propionate that is accumulating in the environment. More here

Synthetic Wax: Synthetic wax, found in at least 3 MERIT Beauty products, has contamination issues via possible residual PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) carcinogens. More here

Aroma (flavor): Found in MERIT’s Signature Lip Lightweight Lipstick is concerning because it begs additional questions like…I don’t know…what is it???

Polyethylene: Found in MERIT’s Flush Balm Cheek Color, Minimalist Perfecting Complexion Stick and Signature Lip Lightweight Lipstick, is a non-biodegradable nanoplastic that releases toxicants harmful to human health, including benzene and plasticizers, and accumulates in the environment. More here

Chloroxylenol: Found in MERIT’s Brow 1980 Volumizing Pomade, and has been linked to causing dermatitis and post-inflammatory depigmentation. More here

PVP: Found in MERIT’s Clean Lash Lengthening Mascara, PVP readily diffuses into skin and can’t be broken down by the body. Some cosmetics use PVP at up to a 35% concentration. Contaminants in PVP can include lead, hydrazine, acetaldehyde and vinylpyrrolidone. This ingredient is made from formaldehyde and acetylene. More here

Ceresin: Found in MERIT’s Tinted Lip Oil, is a paraffin wax derived from ozokerite, which is mined from coal or shale and filtered through animal charcoal called “bone char” or “bone black.” Some cosmetic products on the market containing Ceresin have tested for concerning levels of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). More here

Polyisobutene and Hydrogenated Polyisobutene (also known as Polyisobutylene): I’m flagging this ingredient too because it’s actually available in more purified forms with the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) approval attached–which is NOT what we see here. Using USP Polyisobutene would have been more in line with Clean at Sephora’s requirements too. This applies to any formula using petroleum-derived waxy ingredients. The USP versions are always a better option. Also, workers who produce Polyisobutene are exposed to to a mutagenic metabolite of isobutene, 2-methyl-1,2-epoxypropane (MEP).


RELATED: My top clean beauty products.

MERIT products I would use

But let’s take a closer look because believe it or not, there are actually some products I would try from MERIT Beauty. MERIT currently offers 10 products and I’m breaking them down into two categories based on a look at their ingredients:

As you go through, you will see the ingredients we flagged above highlighted in each “full ingredient list” for easy identification. 

MERIT products I won’t use

Final thoughts…pros and cons of MERIT Beauty

When it comes down to it, I’m a pretty safe and hard NO on if MERIT Beauty is clean. While a few of their products provide some great user experience, their greenwashing really puts me off. 

Pros of MERIT Beauty

  • Some products provide a good user experience (Day Glow Highlighting Balm; Lip Oil; Bronzer Balm Sheer Bronzer).
  • Many of their products offer shade inclusivity.
  • Some of their pricing is more accessible.

Cons of MERIT Beauty

  • Many of their products (Minimalist Perfecting Complexion Stick, Flush Balm Cheek Color) don’t wear well and require reapplication during the day.
  • Some of the colors felt off to our team when trying them.
  • There’s a lot of greenwashing in the marketing of their “clean” claims—including that the brand’s loose guidelines for ingredients.
  • No third-party verification of the brand’s ingredient / compliance claims.
  • The line’s formulations include a decent sized list of ingredients that are firmly on TNK’s No Thanks list.
  • Sloppy sourcing of ingredients. 
  • Hard to find ingredient lists on MERIT’s website—if you’re proud of your clean beauty commitment, why not make those more accessible?
  • Packaging feels cheap and flimsy.
  • They don’t offer a gray shade in their eyebrow pomade.
  • There are better options for almost all their products (see our shopping guide below).

MERIT Beauty shopping guide

To save on other ethical beauty and lifestyle brands, check out our EXCLUSIVE coupon codes!


Is MERIT Beauty actually clean?

When it comes down to it, I’m a pretty safe and hard NO on if MERIT Beauty is clean. While a few of their products provide some great user experience, their greenwashing of their ingredients really puts me off. Read more MERIT pros and cons here.

Who founded MERIT Beauty?

It was founded by Katherine Power, the co-founder of Who What Wear and founder of Versed Skincare. Learn more about MERIT Beauty here.

What are the pros of MERIT Beauty?

Some MERIT Beauty products provide a good user experience (Day Glow Highlighting Balm; Lip Oil; Bronzer Balm Sheer Bronzer). Many of their products offer shade inclusivity and some of their pricing is more accessible. Want to learn about the cons? Read here.

Have you tried MERIT? What’s your take on their ingredients and performance?

xo, lisa in cursive

TNK Team Note: This article contains affiliate links. TNK uses affiliate links as a source for revenue to fund operations of the business and to be less dependent on branded content. TNK stands behind all product recommendations. Still have questions about these links or our process? Feel free to email us.

By Lisa Fennessy

Lisa is the founder of The New Knew. Passionate about clean beauty, organic eats and nontoxic lifestyle, Lisa writes to create awareness. Conscious consumerism and informed decisions will impact the marketplace, our health and THE WORLD!


  1. Reply


    Thanks so much for your review. Tried the merit foundation/concealer stick and noticed red bumps around my face, sometimes the clean ingredients can be worse…some even have coconut oil which is a huge no for me!

  2. Reply


    This was so helpful! Thank you!

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