I Can’t Get Enough of Clean-Girl Beauty, So I Tried It Out for An Entire Week

March 01, 2022 at 06:30AM

I have always considered myself to be a no-makeup-makeup sort of person. In fact, scrap that—I’m just a no-makeup person. If you ever catch me with a full face of makeup on, feel blessed. Most days, I roll out of bed, do my skincare routine, brush up my brows, slather some concealer on my dark circles, chuck on some lip balm and head out. Spending hours on my makeup is simply not a priority for me. I don’t enjoy doing it and, more often than not, I hate the way it makes me look.

That’s not to say I hate makeup in general though. In fact, I’m quite obsessed with the glowy, natural-looking makeup I see all over Instagram and TikTok, but sadly my lack of makeup skills means said looks simply don’t translate on my own face. The key to a really great makeup look, if you’re asking me, is to look as though you’re not wearing a smidge of makeup at all—as though you radiate health and wellness naturally.


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So, when the clean-girl beauty trend hit TikTok late last year, suffice it to say that I was sold. Hailey Bieber, Rosie Huntington-WhitelyEmily Ratajkowski and Laura Harrier are trailblazers for the clean-girl beauty trend. The aim of the game is look clean, put together and radiant, without having to put in too much effort. According to TikTok, the success of a clean-girl beauty look comes down to five seemingly simple things: neatly manicured nails, brushed-up brows, glowing skin, glossy lips and slicked back hair.

Ever the beauty cynic, I couldn’t help but feel as though the girls on TikTok are making the aesthetic look easier than it really is. After all, they all seem to have naturally chiselled faces, unblemished skin, full brows and hair that does exactly what it’s told. So, I figured I’d give it a go for myself. I gave myself a week to nail the clean-girl beauty look, using each day as a test for each step, allowing myself time to really get it right. So without further ado, this is how I got on…

I knew straight away that I’d go to Harriet Westmoreland for inspiration here. She excels in clean-girl nails. The aim of the game is to give nails a clean-looking, glossy finish with a sheer, nude colour and a gel-effect top coat. I thought this would be easy, hence why I did it on day one. Turns out, it is not easy at all. First of all, my cuticles are in a hellish phase—I haven’t seen a manicurist in well over four months. I have realised that in order for your nails to look genuinely neat and perfectly manicured, they need to be perfectly manicured.

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Alas, I powered through and reached for CND’s Vinylux Romantique polish. It’s a sheer pink that, with a single coat, I felt as though would deliver the results I was after. Only, when you apply just a single coat of sheer nail polish, you get streaks. I tried another coat and it looked too opaque so removed it all and started again. I finished off with a top coat of Essie’s Hard To Resist Strengthener and called it a day. Up close, things aren’t great, but from a distance, they’re passable.


Day two called for another easy step for me—brushed-up brows. I brush my brows up every day and know exactly what products deliver a natural-looking finish. My go-to is bareMinerals Strength & Length Serum-Infused Brow Gel, which is what I’m wearing in the above picture. However, I thought I’d try something a little more high octane to get the super-brushed-up finish that so many clean girls champion. I reached for my Charlotte Tilbury Brow Fix and spent so long agonising over their symmetry that I scrubbed it all off and went back to my two-second bareMinerals routine. Overthinking clean-girl beauty is, after all, not the vibe.

Skin is undoubtedly the pièce de résistance of any clean-girl beauty look. You have to look hydrated, dewy, glowy and lit-from-within. My main gripe is that of all the clean girls I see on TikTok and Insta, not a single one of them has blemishes. My face is covered in red acne scars and visible bumps. My complexion is far from the smooth-as-butter texture seen on TikTok. But in the name of beauty, I persisted.

I reached for Rose Inc Skin Enhance Luminous Tinted Serum—a new launch from Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s brand that aims to deliver that clean-girl finish. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I then dabbed some of my favourite Gen See cheek tint for a radiant blush and left the rest as is. Technically, clean-girl beauty looks require face-lifting concealer, but for day three, I decided to steer clear. Often, concealer dulls my skin and causes flaking and I didn’t want to ruin what I had going.

It’s worth nothing that while I loved the look at the start of the day, within approximately 45 minutes my whole look had melted off. I refrained from reaching for setting powder as I knew it would dull things. In hindsight, I probably should have done. Day three boasted temperatures of 7 degrees so I’d dread to think how long it would have lasted on a genuinely warm day. 

I’ll admit, when I applied this lip I felt like my best self. A combination of By Terry Baume de Rose to take down any dryness and a layer of Tower28 Milky Lip left my lips looking wet-look and uber-glossy. Having said that, I feel brutally let down looking at this image. Instead of a super-glossy, plump, wet-look lip, it’s serving slightly balmy nothingness. In the flesh it looked beautiful (if I do say so myself), but that just hasn’t transcended on the screen. It makes me wonder just how many layers of gloss clean girls are applying to get their lips looking how they do on TikTok. Enough to cause sticky hair, I imagine. 

Although I’m all about skin, I must admit I was most excited to try this. Clean-girl hair follows a very strict criteria: a middle-part is a must, it is then slicked back into a low ponytail or bun and flyaways and edges are secured with a strong-hold product that leaves things looking naturally sleek rather than crispy. My hair is naturally fine and straight, so achieving this look is far easier for me than it might be for someone with wavy or curly hair. However, on my first attempt, my hair was freshly washed. This was a big mistake. I thought my hair would slick back without any issues but it was fluffy and would have required some product to get it clean-girl-approved, and I wasn’t prepared to ruin my washday with a load of hairspray. So, I abandoned ship and tried it again the following day.

First, I smoothed my strands with Gisou Honey-Infused Hair Oil and secured it with a hair band at the nape of my neck. I then used my trusty Got2B Glued Blasting Freeze Spray—I know from experience that this is the single best hair product for long-term hold. Because my hair is very long, I created a small loop bun at the back and wrapped the rest of the lengths around the band. And honestly, it looked so good I’m pretty sure it’s going to become my go-to hairstyle. I’m in love.

By day six, I felt confident enough to give a clean-girl beauty look my all. I combined all of the above tests and trials to execute what I think is a pretty good clean-girl look. Is it easy and low-maintenance? No. As you can tell, this took me six days to get right, with a lot of mistakes made along the way. And yes, while this looks wonderful for a quick snap or video, the truth is, the makeup has zero staying power. A dewy base really does require some sort of holding primer or setting spray (which does risk dulling the finish).

By the end of day six, I looked nothing like the fresh-faced woman I was first thing. What I have learned about clean-girl beauty is that it likely takes a village. The celebs we see sporting it day in and day out have makeup teams on hand to fix their melting formulas, hair stylings to secure flyaways and emergency nail kits for if they break a nail or their polish chips. Clean-girl beauty is no doubt a great look, but it is also, I have learned, setting a ridiculously unattainable beauty standard.

Perhaps the secret to clean-girl beauty isn’t in makeup application, hairstyle or nail colour, but instead to do with the naturally clear, blemish-free skin, deep, healthy nail beds and general wealth and access of its adopters. I’m feeling somewhat bitter about the whole thing, but the truth is, I’ll probably keep trying to make it work. (And no doubt feel desperately let down and worse about myself as a result.)

Next up, weddings will triumph this year—these are the 6 makeup ‘rules’ to know.

Author Shannon Lawlor | Whowhatwear
Selected by CWC