Best Ethical Beauty Products of 2018 - Top Face Skincare Picks

A few weeks ago I announced my plans to round up the best ethical beauty products of 2018 and kicked things off with my top makeup picks.  Things got a bit delayed with the final installment, but I am finally back with the last piece of the puzzle!  This week's category??  Facial products!

This is probably the one I review most often here on The ecoLogical, as I find skincare for the face extra special while also proving extra difficult to navigate!  The face is such a sensitive area, and can be so fussy, needing one thing one day and a completely other the next -- but it is because of this tricky status I find it so rewarding to discover the perfect products.

Of course I'll be following the same guidelines I set myself for the other parts of this series - only products I thoroughly tested and used in 2018, no BSA entries, and not many products that I got in the final bit of the year as I just haven't had time to fully play with them yet.

So, without further ado...

Transparency Key:
* This post contains affiliate links
 Gifted product
 Previous relationship with brand sometime within past 12 months, but personally purchased
§ Brand Ambassador

No matter how I have received a product, whether it has been purchased with my own money, gifted by a brand, been subsidized by a brand, won, gifted by friends/family, or purchased with a gift voucher, my approach is always the same -- honesty, integrity, and highlighting both the good and the bad.  You can find more information on Disclosures and Privacy here.


What do I look for in facial skincare?  Gentle ingredients, no coconut oil (as my congestion prone skin really rejects it!), no phenoxyethonal (as my face burns from it!), and aromatic qualities that are beneficial for wellbeing.  I like lightweight products generally, and opt for high quality formulas that target multiple skin problems usually.  I also tend to go for organic more often with facial treatments.

While the majority of my top picks are vegan (and all are clean and cruelty free of course!), I want to signpost that all of the balms mentioned in the Balm category contain bee-derived ingredients (honey, beeswax).

Gel Cleanser: Esse Gel Cleanser
I adore a good gel cleanser, as I find them most beneficial for my skin type.  Gel cleansers are perfectly suited to combat acne causing bacteria as it gives a deep clean and sorts out clogged pores.  But not all gel cleansers are created equally -- some are far too astringent, and some actually end up leaving your face feeling stripped of its natural barrier.  That's why I love Esse's Gel Cleanser.  This green beauty offers an experience that prevents breakouts, but each brings their very own additional special benefits.  The product from Esse comes in a glass bottle with a plastic pump, and it contains 99.8% natural ingredients, 70% organic ingredients, and 59% fairtrade ingredients -- definitely big perks in my book!  The gel formula provides a revitalizing cleanse that is pH balanced at 4.5.  The aroma is so energizing, with peppermint and spearmint filling your senses.  Perfect for mornings, and ideal for either use on its own or as a second cleanse.

Cream Cleanser: Antipodes Grace Gentle Cream Cleanser
This certified organic, all natural, and primarily plastic free (has a plastic cap, so not fully there yet!) cleanser is one of the few cream formulas that has proven suitable for my congestion prone skin.  Not only is it nutrient rich due to the avocado oil it contains, but it is also anti-inflammatory thanks to pinot noir grape skins!  I love how rich and luxurious it feels, and the fact I don't have to worry about pesky spots popping up is a huge bonus.  Another thing this cleanser has going for it is the smell which is a mix of light vanilla and almond with a hint of something faintly floral.  It's definitely a stronger scent than some other Antipodes products, but it really grew on me!  I would say this cleanser is best used in the morning or if you are having a minimal/no makeup day, as it does struggle to get a full face off.  But other than that, I can't fault this cleanser at all, and for that, it wins best Cream Cleanser of 2018 from me.

Cleansing Soap: Sknfed Organic Chocolate Bar Face Soap
This face soap is every chocolate lovers dream come true!  Not only is it shaped like a chocolate bar, it includes aloe, shea, cacao, coconut, cocoa, and vanilla which give the cleanser a lovely rich aroma.  I was worried Sknfed's Organic Chocolate Bar Face Soap would leave my skin feeling a bit stripped, as the majority of other face 'soaps' have left my face tight and a bit uncomfortable, but that wasn't the case at all.  My skin just feels clean and smooth thanks to the gentle exfoliating power.  I love that this product is plastic free, but another perk is that each square actually lasts a few uses, so this is a super cost effective product.

Exfoliating Cleanser: Awake Organics Sea Quartz Crystal + Algae Cleanser (†)
Awake Organics' Sea Quartz Cleanser steals the show and really changed the game in terms of cleansers IMO.  Packed with soothing and hydrating organic plants and botanicals like blue chamomile, coconut milk, and sweet orange, this product ensures skin is soft and smooth, but also safe!  Tumeric and brown rice work to brighten and refine the newly buffed cells, and in-house spirulina made in the AO studio plumps up the skin thanks to its natural levels of vitamin E, selenium, and tyrosine.  Talk about a powerful punch!  Honestly, everything about this exfoliating cleanser is stunning, from the glimmer the finely milled quartz crystals lend to the product, to the gorgeous emerald green shade of the formula.  An easy win for me.

Cleansing Balm:
2018 was the year of experimentation for me, and was the first time I jumped into the world of oil and balm cleansers.  And I am going to be honest -- I did not find my perfect cleansing balm (well, at least not one that fits my own guidelines for this post quite yet...).  I tried several I wanted to love, and to be fair they are STUNNING products.  Evolve's Gentle Cleansing Melt, for example, as well as Balm Balm's Little Miracle Rosehip Balm.  One that really broke my heart though was the Avo Bao Cleansing Balm from Bodhi & Birch which is seriously jaw dropping in every way.  With a gorgeous colour and texture, an impressive organic ingredient list, and a consistency reminiscent of silk, this cleansing balm is a total home run on paper.  It sadly just turned out to be a bit too heavy for me, as my congestion prone face eventually revolts against anything containing coconut oil.  It's moments like this where I wish I had a different skin type.  I happily used my sample pot, and I so so wish it worked for me because I loved the luxurious feel.  Sometimes it is just not meant to be *sigh*

Any recommendations of cleansing balms I should check out this year?  I already have a few contenders for Best of 2019, but I would love to hear what else you think I should try!  Just remember, if it has coconut oil it probably just won't work for me (no matter how beautiful a formula it has *cries*)

Cleansing Oil: Inner Senses Greenhouse Tomato and Carrot Seed Renewing Oil Cleanser (§)
Okay, so this is cheating a little bit as this did not technically release until the new year, BUT as a Brand Ambassador I was gifted a sample so I would be able to test the product out pre-release.  And guess what - it was stunning.  Greenhouse is bursting with a crisp aroma, reminiscent of fresh veggies, and it is so unique and revitalizing.  The oil is an absolute delight on the skin as you massage it in, and it works to clean away daily debris and grime as well as makeup.  I love how easily it glides across my face, how simple it is to remove, and how it leaves my skin feeling soft, smooth, and nourished.  Greenhouse gives a cleansing experience so totally different from anything else I have tried, and based on my glowing face, my skin loves it to bits.  I can't wait to get hold of a full size bottle and see long term results!

Remember, if you want to try Inner Senses or are planning on making a purchase, you can use my special Brand Ambassador code to grab yourself a free trial size product with any full size order by using my Brand Ambassador code, BRYANNA -- no minimum spend required, and samples range from £3.25 to £10 across the face and body range so this is a great way to trial a blend you are not 100% sure about yet.  You can find a rundown of all of Inner Senses products here to help you make your sample selection!

Exfoliation (Chemical): Madara Active AHA Brightening Peel Mask
I always worry about using chemical peels on my skin, as often they end up causing pretty bad irritation.  Madara was a huge surprise, as it is gentle enough for my face and leaves my skin feeling incredibly smooth.  I find that regular use helps keep my skin clear, radiant, and super soft.  While I am not so keen on the scent, I can't fault the formula's effectiveness or how easy it is to use.  Unlike typical face masks, this one requires just less than ten minutes!  I tend to leave on for around four, but sometimes forget and have it on a bit longer and to be honest I probably could push the upper limit if I was being especially daring -- no redness or sensitivity has occurred yet, and I have just finished up my second full size tube!

Exfoliation (Physical): Kiss the Moon Glow After Dark Face Polish () / BAO Avocado Orange Face Polish
I rarely opt for a physical exfoliant, as I find them a bit too harsh for my skin, but I do have two tried and true products that I love to use every few weeks just to maintain a super smooth and glowing complexion.  Kiss the Moon's Face Polish is for those times where you need a total reboot - flaky patches and dull skin be gone!  I don't usually use sugar scrubs on my face (remember my exfoliating series?), but the mango butter included in the formula helped keep the polish from being too harsh on my skin.  I love the grounding and calming aroma of geranium, may chang, myrrh, and petitgrain, the combination of which gives a lightly fruity and sweet scent which adds to the delectable 'I want to eat this' thought that first crossed my mind!  The Avocado Orange polish from BAO is more for moments where you know you need to give your face a gentle buff but also require a super nourishing touch.  The scrub smells incredible, like a 'creamsicle,' and the texture is pure perfection.  The blend has been whipped into a cloudlike consistency, and the oils work to soothe and heal while the bamboo buffs away dead cells.  Both products are totally different, but are equally beautiful in their own ways, and so this is a dual win for Physical Exfoliation.

Exfoliation (Mechanical): Foreo Luna 2 // The Konjac Sponge Co ()
Other than the classic muslin cloth, I have two holy grail products when it comes to mechanical exfoliation: the Luna 2 from Foreo, and the facial puffs from The Konjac Sponge Co.  Two vastly different products in terms of price point and method, but both the best of their product type.

I picked up the Foreo facial cleansing brush when it was on sale, and while it is definitely pricy, it was worth every penny.  I love how gentle the silicone bristles are on my skin, and I feel it gives a much deeper cleanse while also exfoliating my skin to keep it fresh and glowing.  Also, it dramatically cuts my routine down as the whole process only takes three minutes!  The machine is easy to use, rechargeable (and the battery life is impressive! I charge mine about 1-2 times per year I think!), and the design allows for it to hit even those harder to reach spots.  Plus, it has that added feature where you can massage your moisturizer/oil in after cleansing to help with anti-aging.  (If you are looking into buying the Luna 2, you can grab 10 off a 40 spend from Space NK which will help cut down the price a bit!)

On a totally different hand, The Konjac Sponge Co's "The Anti-Pollution One" is a plant based product made from 100% natural vegetable fibres and containing energizing tourmaline (yes, the gemstone!).  Rather than a pulsating machine, the "Korean beauty tool" puts you in total control of how and where you scrub and can be used without any additional product.  This is a great option for those with incredibly sensitive skin, as the exfoliation is so gentle - more so than any muslin I've ever used, and definitely a softer touch than the Foreo brush.  Previously, I could not exfoliate regularly without really irritating my skin, so I was thrilled when I discovered this sponge was able to be used daily -- perfect!  Plus, I find it fantastic for getting the crease of the nose, a spot that tends to have a bit more buildup (at least for me personally).  And when it is time to buy a new one, I can just pop it in the compost!

Toner: Bodhi & Birch Lemon Water Hydrosol Tonic
Remember what I said about wanting to love the cleansing balm from Bodhi & Birch?  Well, luckily this is one that worked WONDERS for me and I can enjoy it fully.  The Lemon Water Hydrosol Tonic is not your average toner - it is a product packed full of calming, hydrating, anti-bacterial, and anti-aging superfoods that improve the skin's overall health.  The cooling spray works to increase elasticity, hydration levels, and moisture retention, while also boosting skin tone and soothing sensitivities.  Plus, a small clear quartz crystal is inside so you are receiving the added positive vibrations (and get a lovely treat when you finish the bottle!).  Initially I wanted to use this sparingly as I was just so wowed by it - I felt it was something to treasure, something to only use on the most special occasions.  But it is SO good that I quickly began to incorporate it into my regular routine.  If you have a chance to try this hydrosol, do not hesitate -- I can't imagine anyone being unhappy with this purchase!

Floral Water: Alteya Certified Organic Bulgarian Rose Water (or any of their floral waters!)
I adore floral waters.  I use them constantly, not just as a toner, but as a refreshing mist throughout the day and as a focus aid while doing work.  And my staple has to be the Alteya waters.  Every single one is so lovely and super affordable!  I love that they are certified organic, not overpriced, and that they have introduced glass bottles to all of their varieties (perfect for those looking to cut down on plastic use!).  The rose water in particular is a delight to use - the smell is crisp, clean, and floral, not at all heady, and feels so light and cooling on the skin.  I have bought so many bottles of the rose water I have lost count, and nothing compares to the simple beauty of this product which is why it is a clear winner for Best Floral Water of 2018 for me.

Serum: Guiltless Illume Brightening Serum
Would you believe it if I said I had not tried a single serum until the beginning of 2018??  Well, it's true!  And I really struggled to find one that agreed with me.  That is, until I met Guiltless Skin's Illume Brightening Serum.  This formula is lightweight, fragrance free, and uses pure and simple ingredients that are effective yet gentle.  It's perfect for those with sensitive or congestion prone skin, or for those looking to add hydration into their skincare routine!  Not only does it sink right in (no sticky feeling, just a lovely freshness!), but it works to strengthen the skin's natural barrier without weighing you down.  I adore this product, and it is most definitely my top pick for best serum!

Grab £5 off your first order with Guiltless Skin by using my link!

Facial Oil:
This category I found it was literally impossible for me to choose just a single product for -- I tried dozens of face oils over the coarse of the year, and while there were a few that let me down, most were really memorable!  There were some that wowed me with their memorable scent, like Sofia Latif, Kiss the Moon Love After Dark, and Ilapothecary Remedy no. 6, a handful that impressed me with their intensive moisture boost such as Alexa Sky Botanicals Phyto Power Complex, those that were ideal for those times my skin was having a sensitivity flair like Mallow + White Soothe, ones that boosted my skin's radiance overnight like Inner Senses Reset, a few that helped clear up my skin like Awake Organics Citrus + Hemp and Trilogy Rosehip Oil, and some that were even light enough for me to use during the day like Lime & Lilac and Inner Senses GLOW.  No matter how my skin was fairing and no matter the weather, I was able to pick out the perfect formula to suit the needs of my face.  So how in the world can I pick just one??  I couldn't, nor should I.

You can find reviews of most of my favourite oils on the blog, but if you have any questions just ask -- I would love to talk about any and all facial oils with you!

(P.S. remember if you are thinking of making a purchase with Inner Senses, you can grab a free sample size oil with your order (no minimum spend, just pick up any full size product!) using my Brand Ambassador code BRYANNA)

Day Moisturizer: Terre Verdi NeroliPom // Guiltless Skin Timeless ()
These are two of the only moisturizers I have found that totally work for my skin -- they do not clog pores, don't lead to breakouts, are really lightweight but super nourishing, and don't leave any white sheen or tacky feel to the skin.  They're both so good!  I've already done a full review of both of these fab moisturizers, which you can find here (Guiltless) and here (Terre Verdi).  But just to sum up, 'Timeless' is a fifteen ingredient wonder that works to hydrate, protect, stimulate healthy cell production, soothe and calm, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and pores.  It's nourishing but not heavy, and it is fragrance free making it a great choice for those with sensitive skin or who are allergy sufferers.  'NeroliPom' is just as light and provides a great silky feel to the skin, and it smells delicious.  With a texture between a lotion and a serum, the moisturizer glides across the skin and sinks in pretty much immediately, making it perfect for those wanting a quick grab and go product!

P.s. Looking to try Terre Verdi for yourself??  For a limited time you can grab £7 off orders of £30 or more using code Ecological7 -- just pop this offer in at checkout and the discount will be applied!  And if you're looking to check out Kri Skincare (formally Guiltless Skin), use my link to get £10 off your first order!

Night Moisturizer: Dr Botanicals Pomegranate Superfood Regenerating Sleeping Mask
I'm not a huge fan of night creams, as I find them too rich for my skin and I prefer to use a facial oil, but when my skin needs a serious boost overnight then I find myself reaching for Dr Botanicals Po Mask.  I'm not overly keen on this brand as a whole, BUT their new(ish) Apothecary Natural Collection range has a genuinely clean ingredient line up and each product I have tried has been effective and fairly gentle.  While this is not a traditional cream, the mask is designed to hydrate thirsty or dull skin overnight, and I find it does a great job.  It doesn't clog my pores, and I love waking up to healthy happy skin.  And for that, this wins best night cream!

Acne Treatment: Trilogy Blemish Control Gel
If you need a fast acting treatment that isn't going to wreck your skin in the long run, then Trilogy Blemish Control Gel is your best bet.  If I have a breakout, especially if it is cystic acne (which I get if coconut oil is even near me it seems), I just pop a bit of this gel on and let it rest overnight.  The next day the spot has severely reduced in size and is much less angry.  After a few applications it is all but gone!  It does sting a little when first applied, but that quickly settles and it doesn't leave any redness.  The Blemish Control Gel is definitely my holy grail spot treatment, and I haven't found one better!

Face Balm:
Did you know I actually am not overly keen on face balms?  I know, a total faux pas for someone who loves skincare and organic beauty, as they are beloved in this world!  But I find them far too rich for my face, and more often than not the gorgeous ingredients within them are overshadowed by the fact my skin has erupted in spots.  It's a sad reality, but it's the truth.  So, while I adore balms like Max & Me's Sweet Serenity Rescue Balm and Beauty Balm, Ermana's Comfort Balm, Lyonsleaf's Marshmallow and Calendula Balm, and Alexa Sky Botanicals' The One Balm, none of them can be used on my face as a leave on treatment (or at least not often!).  It's times like these where I feel a bit envious of Tim's skin type, as I wish I could indulge in these stunning formulas as they were intended!

That being said, I challenge you lovelies to suggest a face balm that is suitable for my semi-sensitive and congestion prone skin.  What balm do you find lightweight and doesn't lead to blemishes?  Let me know, and I will give it a go.

Face Mask (Powder): Bodhi & Birch Renshen Root Exfoliant and Mask // Nini Organics Natura Miracle Mask
Another double win for 2018 - both Nini Organics' Natura Miracle Mask and the Renshen Root Exfoliant and Mask from Bodhi & Birch offer the perfect fusion of multi-tasking functionality and targeted skin benefits.

The Natura Miracle formula provides a healing treat for acne prone skin as well as a deep detox for those exposed to the daily grime of city air.  It blends luscious cacao with tropical coconut, floral hibiscus, earthy pink clay, and bold spirulina, and it surely packs a powerful punch.  Nini Organics has created a superfood blend for your face that is high in BHA enzymes, detoxifying ingredients, and antioxidants, all of which work together to become a "pollution solution!"  Plus it smells fab and is really versatile in terms of what it can be mixed with!  Some Nini recommendations?  Carrot juice, almond milk, kambucha, mashed avocados, mashed fruits like blueberries, raspberries and watermelon...

The Bodhi & Birch mask offers the same fabulously gentle exfoliation, but also works to refine and heal the skin thanks to actives like korean ginseng, wild yam, astragalus, kaolin clay, cat's claw vine, grape skin, and banana.  This mask has an incredible line up of potent ingredients, and the expert blend translates into very real results - my face always feels like silk after rinsing this off, and I swear I can see a visible difference immediately.  My skin is always absolutely glowing after a session with this beauty, plus I find the slightly woody scent so grounding.  And again, this mask mixes well, especially with liquids like neroli or rose water (or the stunning Lemon Water Hydrosol Tonic!).

Face Mask (Oil): Okoko Cosmetiques Secret du Dragon - Gel-to-Milk Mask ()
Honestly, this product is a masterpiece.  I reviewed this back in October last year, and I am just as wowed by it now.  Everything about it is absolute perfection -- the scent is a blend of sweet vanilla and delicate but juicy fruit, the texture is magical, going from a gel to an oil to a milky emulsion, and the feeling it gives your skin is pure bliss.  While the Secret du Dragon mask is incredibly rich, it did not break me out at all.  Instead, my face was left glowing and feeling soft as silk.  This is definitely a decadent product, and generally out of my price range, but if you have a special occasion coming up or you just want to experience the beauty of Okoko Cosmetiques, this is 100% worth saving your pennies up for (or requesting as a gift - Valentine's Day anyone?!).  I will be repurchasing as soon as my bottle is empty, as it has done wonders for my skin as both a mask and as a cleanser

Face Mask (Activated): Vestige Verdant Organic Peat Mask // Evolve Radiant Glow Mask
I have been using far fewer pre-activated face masks as time goes on, but I do have a few that really stuck out to me in 2018.  One is Vestige Verdant's Organic Peat Mask (which you may have seen several times over on Insta) and the other is Evolve Radiant Glow Mask.  Both of these masks are winners for me in terms of best pre-made mask formulas, but for very different reasons.  In fact, these two products couldn't be more different from one another!

Vestige Verdant is all about simplicity, using just one main ingredient to do the work.  And it does it so so well.  The sphagnum peat moss extract detoxes, firms, and de-sensitizes the face, all in just three minutes.  This super fast acting mask does not have a strong scent which is actually pretty refreshing since so many have overpowering aromas from their many added essential oils, and I find it ideal for calming angry blemishes and for thoroughly resetting my skin.  The Evolve mask is a totally different experience.  The mouth-watering aroma of chocolate bursts through as soon as you loosen the lid, and you're almost tempted to taste it (don't!). While the mask is exfoliating, it is fairly gentle on the skin and rather than irritating the skin the formula leaves it absolutely glowing.  I love how this mask does not dry down leaving your face feeling tight and uncomfortable, but instead it nourishes it and helps give a moisture boost.  Both of these masks are an absolute dream to use, so it's no wonder they grab the spot for best activated face mask!

I also want to give a special shout out to my other favourite face mask, Trilogy's Mineral Radiance Mask.  I love how cooling this mask is, and I find it to be the best clay mask out there as it is non drying and detoxifying without leaving your skin in spots the next day.

And that's that!  My choices for best ethical facial treatments in 2018!  These are the cruelty free, natural, organic, and vegan beauty products I think deserve recognition as the best for the bath and body category, and are the ones I keep coming back to or have permanently on my repurchase list because they are just that good.  Fab fragrances, gentle formulas, high quality, wonderful ingredients, and from brands I trust and respect.  It was near impossible to pick just one or two products as the 'best' as I did try out so many amazing goodies, but I did my best to limit it down!  I'm really curious to see how my list updates for 2019, and I will definitely be looking back on this post next year to see what green goodies stay ranked at the top and what slides out from my 'favourite' list.

Do you have any other products you think should have made my list?  I would love to know, as there is a chance I didn't even try them!  Or maybe I did, and they are some of my runners up for best products -- because trust me, this list doesn't even come close to representing *all* the amazing beauty treats I tested last year.  I would really enjoy hearing what your top bath and body products of 2018 were, and who knows, maybe they will make my next Top Ethical Face Skincare Picks roundup!

And that is it -- my Best Ethical Beauty Products of 2018 mini-series is complete! This was a long process and very difficult in terms of some of the choices I had to make, but it was so worth it.  The comments and messages I have been getting from you lovelies has been fantastic, and I am so happy  I can help guide you towards the best of the best when it comes to ethical beauty.  Remember, I'm always here if you have any questions! xx


  1. Love this Bryanna! There are some products I know and love here, and lots that I don't - I'm off to check those out now.

  2. Wow, this is so very helpful. I'm trying to follow a zero waste beauty routine. Not there yet but almost. Well, at least I managed to replace all my products by vegan, natural and organic ones. I mainly use handmade natural product brands. But always willing to try new products. From your list, I am particularly curious about the chocolate bar ;) and the acne products. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Great post - thank you so much for sharing all of these products (in such depth too!). I definitely will need to try some of them out! :)
    -Jenna ♥
    Stay in touch? The Chic Cupcake

  4. Thanks for sharing these. I'm always looking for more ethical products!

  5. Some lovely sounding products here, and I'm the same as you I much prefer a gel cleanser x


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