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—what I will and won’t use from the brand, plus more, if you keep reading.
By: Lisa Fennessy
IN THIS POST:
- Who is MERIT Beauty?
- How does MERIT define “clean beauty”?
- Does MERIT use any concerning ingredients?
- MERIT products I would use
- MERIT products I won’t use
- Final thoughts…pros and cons of MERIT Beauty
- MERIT Beauty shopping guide
- MERIT Beauty FAQ
By request…Is MERIT Beauty clean beauty?
You asked 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:
I didn’t know how to answer this question off the bat, and 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: is MERIT Beauty clean beauty?
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.
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. 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:
- Are EU and Clean at Sephora compliant.
- Leave your skin looking better after wearing them.
- Are vegan, cruelty-free and certified Leaping Bunny.
- Aim to eliminate as much virgin plastic as possible and are shipping in recyclable materials.
- 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 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 we see 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, this 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).
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:
- Category 1: “I would use it.”
- Category 2: “I wouldn’t use it.”
As you go through, you will see the ingredients we flagged above highlighted in each “full ingredient list” for easy identification.
Great Skin Instant Glow Serum | $38
I didn’t try this product, but MERIT describes it as a lightweight and fast-absorbing bi-phase serum to hydrate, plump and glow. It’s formulated with a blend of 4 types of hyaluronic acid for deep hydration, 2% niacinamide for brightening, caffeine-rich cacao seed extract for plumping and Japanese goldthread root for soothing and antioxidant protection. MERIT adds that it can be used under moisturizer, day or night and is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin.
The ingredients look fine here. I don’t see any efforts being made to source organic, but I don’t see any glaring red flags either. If you try this, let me know what you think!
Full ingredient list: Water, Propanediol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Isononyl Isononanoate, 1,2-Hexanediol, Niacinamide, Sodium Hyaluronate, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Hydrolyzed Sodium Hyaluronate, Sodium Acetylated Hyaluronate, Coptis Japonica Root Extract, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Extract, Tocopherol, Butylene Glycol, Pentylene Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Dextrin, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate
Brush No. 1 Blending Brush | $30
I DID try this brush and to be honest, I’m on the fence about what category to put it in: the “I would use it” or the “I wouldn’t use it.” Here’s why:
- It works fine.
- It’s vegan.
- There are no glaring ingredient concerns.
- It’s not that soft.
- It’s kinda pricey.
- I have a ton of brushes and I wouldn’t reach for this one over the others.
- I also wonder what the bristles are made from?
So, take it for what it’s worth.
MERIT products I won’t use
Shade Slick Tinted Lip Oil | $24
This is marketed as a hybrid lip product that provides both color and nourishment to the lips. It comes in 8 shades ranging from nude to bright pink. I tried this Lip Oil in both Marrakech and Au Natural and I gotta say, I really like them (performance wise). They are truly like a colored lip oil that feels nourishing and moisturizing and I like how they make my lips look wet and juicy without feeling sticky or heavy. Just wish we could get this sans the highlighted ingredients below.
Nicolle jumping in too: “I also tried this and didn’t like it as much as Lisa did. The colors were off IMO, and looked a little clownish on me. I also felt like they didn’t have staying power and my lips felt dry after using them.”
If you are looking for a better option, I like the Kosas Wet Lip Oil Glosses, which is pretty much a direct comp performance wise, just better ingredients.
Ingredient list varies by color: Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, Ceresin, Silica Dimethyl Silylate, Octyldodecanol, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Rosa Canina Fruit Oil, Shea Butter Ethyl Esters, Ethylcellulose, Isostearyl Alcohol, Hydrogenated Dilinoleyl Alcohol, Nylon-12, Pentaerythrityl Tetra-di-t-butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate, Citric Acid, CI 77491/77492/77499 (Iron Oxides), CI 42090 (Blue 1 Lake), CI 77891 (Titanium Dioxide)
Flush Balm Cheek Color | $28
This is a cream blush that MERIT says, “melts into skin for lit-from-within color that stays flush all day.” Currently available in 9 shades, I tried it in Beverly Hills and Terracotta. I liked both of these shades and especially liked them blended together for more of a brown-based pink flush. I did enjoy testing this but my two gripes are the color didn’t last and also, can we not with the BHT “and friends”??
Nicolle: “I agree here. The colors were much better than the lip oils for me, but they last like 5 minutes. I mean, just because we’re going for a no-makeup-makeup look doesn’t mean I want to reapply my makeup six times a day.”
If you are looking for a better option, I’m currently obsessed with the Fitglow Beauty Multi-Use Ceramide Cream Lip + Cheek Palette, which is also a cream blush, plus *BONUS*, 4 colors.
Full ingredient list: Octyldodecanol, Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, Hydrogenated Poly (C6-14 Olefin), Polyethylene, Silica, Diisostearyl Malate, Synthetic Wax, Synthetic Fluorphlogopite, Sorbitan Isostearate, Ethylene/Propylene Copolymer, Cera Microcristallina (Microcrystalline Wax, Cire Microcristalline), Tocopherol, Methicone, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, BHT, Ci 77891 (Titanium Dioxide), Ci 77492, Ci 77499/Iron Oxides, Ci 15850 (Red 7 Lake), Ci 19140 (Yellow 5 Lake)
The Minimalist Perfecting Complexion Stick | $38
MERIT says this is “not a foundation or a concealer, but it will replace both in your makeup bag.” Nicolle and I both tried this and both hated it as a foundation. It catches in pores and reads flakey. It’s way better as a concealer…but still not great. Comes in 20 shades.
If you are looking for a better option, Cheekbone Beauty Sustain Complexion Pencils or the W3LL PEOPLE Bio Stick Foundation are a way better options both ingredient and performance wise.
Full ingredient list: Hydrogenated Polydecene, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Octyldodecanol, Silica, Polyethylene, Dipentaerythrityl Hexahydroxystearate/Hexastearate/Hexarosinate, Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, Cera Carnauba (Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax, Cire De Carnauba), Synthetic Wax, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Cera Microcristallina (Microcrystalline Wax, Cire Microcristalline), Sorbitan Isostearate, Pancratium Maritimum Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate, Dimethicone, Caprylyl Glycol, Propylene Carbonate, Ethylhexylglycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Stearalkonium Hectorite, Glycerin, Aqua (Water, Eau), Mica, BHT, Ci 77491/77492/77499 (Iron Oxides), Ci 77891 (Titanium Dioxide)
Clean Lash Lengthening Mascara | $26
I didn’t try this mascara, but I will say, the Clean at Sephora Program limites acrylates so when we called Sephora to ask why they marked this as “Clean at Sephora” when it has acrylates in it, they responded saying they do allow some acrylates like polymerized acrylates like “Acrylates Copolymer.” (None of which was clear at all from their “What ingredients are Clean at Sephora products formulated without?” list.)
Then they punctuated this explanation with saying that they might take the Clean Lash Mascara off the Clean at Sephora List.
At this point, do we laugh or cry?? IDK, but this is the exact reason “verification programs” like this are NOT the strongest tools to use because as you can see here, the guidelines can be bent and / or interpreted to favor one way or another. More on verification programs here.
Full ingredient list: Water, Acrylates/Ethylhexyl Acrylate Copolymer, Acrylates Copolymer, Iron Oxides (CI 77499), Oryza Sativa (rice) Bran Wax, Hydrogenated Olive Oil Stearyl Esters, Stearic Acid, Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax, Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax, Acacia Senegal Gum, PVP (Polyvinylpyrrolidone), Tromethamine, Glycerin, Alcohol, Steareth-20, Cetearyl Alcohol, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Simethicone, Steareth-2, Phenoxyethanol, Panthenol, Sodium Dehydroacetate, Ethylhexylglycerin, Ethyl Hexanediol (spelling is different above), Sodium Benzoate, Benzyl Alcohol.
Brow 1980 Volumizing Pomade | $24
MERIT describes this product as, “A nod to the brows of the ‘80s, this pomade adds color and volume for healthy, fluffy arches.” Comes in 3 shades (a gray shade is not offered). I didn’t try this, and I won’t because of the highlighted ingredients below.
Full ingredient list: Aqua (Water, Eau), Mica, Cera Carnauba (Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax, Cire de Carnauba), Polyisobutene, Propanediol, Glyceryl Stearate, Polyacrylate-21, Kaolin, Palmitic Acid, Oleic Acid, Stearic Acid, Synthetic Beeswax, Panthenol, Caprylyl Glycol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Myristic Acid, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Nylon-6, Butylene Glycol, Trideceth-6 Phosphate, Hexylene Glycol, Lauroyl Lysine, Dimethicone, Dipropylene Glycol, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Glyceryl Caprylate, Silica, Quartz, Potassium Sorbate, Phenoxyethanol, Chloroxylenol, CI 77491/77492/77499 (Iron Oxides).
Signature Lip Lightweight Lipstick | $26
MERIT describes this lipstick as “Lipstick you can live in—a hydrating, buildable lipstick with a soft satin finish.” Comes in 8 shades ranging from neutrals to earth-toned reds and pinks. I didn’t try this, and based on the ingredients, I wouldn’t.
If you are looking for a better option, ILIA’s Color Block Lipstick comes in 15 shades, is formulated with nourishing ingredients and is big impact, clean color. I love it in Cinnabar and True Red.
Full ingredient list: Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Isostearyl Isostearate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Dimer Dilinoleyl Dimer Dilinoleate, Tribehenin, C10-18 Triglycerides, Polyethylene, Bis-Diglyceryl Polyacyladipate-2, Helianthus Annuus Seed Cera [Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Wax], Copernicia Cerifera Cera [(Carnauba) Wax], Carica Papaya (Papaya) Fruit Extract, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Tocopherol, Beta-Sitosterol, Squalene, Phenoxyethanol, Tropolone, Aroma (Flavor). May Contain (+/-): CI 77891 (Titanium Dioxide), CI 77491 (Iron Oxides), CI 77492 (Iron Oxides), CI 77499 (Iron Oxides), CI 77742 (Manganese Violet), CI 42090 (Blue 1 Lake), CI 19140 (Yellow 5 Lake), CI 15850 (Red 7 Lake), CI 15850 (Red 6).
Bronzer Balm Sheer Bronzer | $30
The Bronzer Balm Sheer Bronzer by Merit Beauty is a cream, stick bronzer that comes in 5 shades. MERIT is calling this “the easiest bronzer ever.” I did like testing this product because there was no shimmer and I also liked that it left a dewy finish. Could have done without the BHT.
Full ingredient list: Octyldodecyl Myristate, Isononyl Isononanoate, Pentaerythrityl Tetraisostearate, Synthetic Wax, Diisostearyl Malate, Synthetic Fluorphlogopite, Silica, Bis-Diglyceryl Polyacyladipate-2, Diisostearoyl Polyglyceryl-3 Dimer Dilinoleate, Caprylic/Capric Glycerides, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Sorbitan Isostearate, Microcrystalline Wax, Ethylene/Propylene Copolymer, Lecithin, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Methicone, Aluminum Hydroxide, Water, BHT
May Contain: Iron Oxide Yellow (Ci 77492), Iron Oxide Red (Ci 77491), Iron Oxide Black (Ci 77499)
Day Glow Highlighting Balm | $30
I tried this product in Cava and Bounce and I like it. You can wear it as a wash of highlight or build it for more impact. I also like the creaminess of the product itself and the dewy finish. Available in three shades, Citrine, Bounce and Cava.
I was torn on which category to put this one in because even though I don’t like the sloppy sourcing of the hydrogenated polyisobutene, I might still reach for it.
From Nicolle: “Samesies. In fact, of all the products we tried from MERIT, I think this is the one I’m keeping in my makeup arsenal. I won’t wear it all the time, so I can justify it.”
A better option is Axiology’s Balmies. These are $15, made with nourishing (mostly certified organic) ingredients and are plastic-free. Frosting is a direct comp for Cava.
Full ingredient list: Squalane, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, 2 Octyldodecanol, Polyglyceryl-10 Pentaisostearate, Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, Phytosteryl/Octyldodecyl Lauroyl Glutamate, Dibutyl Lauroyl Glutamide, Dibutyl Ethylhexanoyl Glutamide, Alumina, Glyceryl Dibehenate, Tribehenin, Glyceryl Behenate, Tin Oxide, Tocopherol May Contain: Iron Oxide (Ci 77491), Mica (Ci 77019), Titanium Dioxide (Ci 77891)
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 of their ingredients 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
ALL the products we recommend in this post.
To save on other ethical beauty and lifestyle brands, check out our EXCLUSIVE coupon codes!
MERIT Beauty FAQ
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.
It was founded by Katherine Power, the co-founder of Who What Wear and founder of Versed Skincare. Learn more about MERIT Beauty here.
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?
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.
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