Ilia Beauty's "clean" makeup is all over the internet—is it worth it?
The products give you that “no-makeup makeup” look.
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Several times a week, I unlock my phone, tap the Instagram icon, and am greeted by a video of a woman shaking a bottle and applying its liquid to her face before blending it out to reveal the most glowing, even-toned skin I've ever seen. This is only an example of one Ilia Beauty advertisement that has come across my screen in recent months. And yes, the ads proved effective—even on me, Reviewed’s beauty editor—because I decided I had to try the brand. Ilia boasts similar claims to other mega-popular brands, like millennial-favorite Glossier or trendy newcomer Kosas: good-for-skin ingredients and buildable makeup that can look practically non-existent but enhance your features or be layered for a playful, dramatic look.
It’s like they knew me (those algorithms, I tell ya). I’m exactly that someone who prefers flexible makeup that allows my natural skin to show through while still allowing me to cover darkness or blemishes. I felt like Ilia could be my new go-to brand. I put some of the most popular items from the line to the test to see how they live up to the rave reviews.
What is Ilia?
Despite its more recent popularity, Ilia isn’t new. It was founded in 2011 by Sasha Plavsic, a graphic designer and creative consultant with a passion for health and wellness, when she realized that her favorite lip balm contained ingredients she deemed harmful for daily use. She set out to recreate a “clean” version of her favorite lip balm, and the brand expanded from there.
Ilia is listed under Sephora’s “clean” makeup and skincare sections, which the retailer describes as products “formulated without parabens, sulfates SLS and SLES, phthalates, mineral oils, formaldehyde, and more.” Though there is no legally agreed-upon definition for “clean” or “natural” makeup, it’s worth mentioning, as its listing under this category on Sephora’s site is a selling point for some customers who trust the retailer’s vetting process. Ilia’s pricing is also not far off from other high-end brands you’ll find on Sephora’s site, with products ranging from $24 to $54.
In addition to not including certain ingredients, Ilia makes a point to include “active” skincare ingredients, even in its makeup. For example, you’ll find protecting SPF (more specifically, zinc oxide) in the skin tint and hydration-boosting hyaluronic acid in the lip oil. You’ll also find oils and extracts, as well as other moisturizing and skin-protecting ingredients, in the makeup items, too.
Another part of Ilia’s mission is to create less waste by partnering with the Zero Waste Box program via TerraCycle, a company that “provides solutions for difficult-to-recycle waste that cannot be recycled through one of our free programs or through regular municipal recycling.” How this works: Ilia asks that you mail in up to five used-up products from Ilia or other brands per month using a prepaid shipping label. From there, TerraCycle breaks down the packaging to avoid them entering a landfill. Ilia also uses recycled aluminum, glass, and “responsibly sourced” paper in its own packaging to further its sustainability efforts.
How did I test Ilia?
I tested Ilia the same way you might—I applied the makeup to my face using the applications that the brand recommended. But then I went a few steps further. At first, I only used the Ilia products I received—a primer, skin tint, concealer, cream blush, cream highlighter, liquid eyeshadow, mascara, lip oil, and lip balm—to see how well they worked together. Then, I added in other products from my collection, like a setting powder, a powder bronzer, a liquid foundation, and more. I did this mainly because most people don’t exclusively use products from one brand. I also tried application methods that differed from the instructions on the packaging. For example, I applied the skin tint with a sponge instead of my fingers, and I tapped a brush into the cream blush instead of swiping it directly onto my cheeks. Along the way, I took selfies to keep a record of how everything tied together.
After just a few days of playing with the products, I’m ready to give you my thoughts. And ... I loved everything I tried from Ilia! As such, I did my best to put them in order from my favorite to least favorite (or most to least wow-worthy, really).
1. Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40
What it claims: As the use of “tint” rather than “foundation” suggests, this is a light-coverage makeup product. It comes in 30 shades ranging from very fair to deep with options for neutral, cool, warm, golden, and olive undertones. The “serum” references the included skincare ingredients like hyaluronic acid, plant-based squalane, and niacinamide, which hydrate, even the skin tone, and soften lines and “imperfections.” It also contains zinc oxide, which acts as an SPF to protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays. (Still, unless you apply a very thick layer and reapply, you may want to also use another source of SPF.) To apply, you shake the bottle, dispense a few drops into your balm, and blend it in with your fingers the same way you would a serum. It should dry to a dewy finish.
What it’s like to use it: I love this skin tint. I was skeptical of rubbing it into my skin like a serum, as opposed to putting a dollop on the back of my hand and patting it into my face with a damp Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge. I worried the result may be a blotchy, uneven layer of coverage. I’m happy to report that I was wrong! With the suggested application method, this offers enough coverage to even out a mildly uneven complexion (say, to blend away minor hyperpigmentation), but it’s not enough to cover acne on its own. I also tried applying this with my usual sponge method, too, which gave me an equally beautiful finish. I have faded dark spots from acne on my cheeks and this gave me an even wash of color that lasted all day.
Thin, runny formulas like this one sometimes look dry once they dry on my skin, as my skin tends soaks up moisture easily. This actually gave the dewy effect it claimed, leaving me with a satin-like sheen on my face that I could tamp down with powder in some spots and elevate with highlight in others. The glow lasted all day long (I wore the makeup for approximately eight hours), though it started to look a bit too dewy (read: oily) by the end. If I had somewhere to be, I’d blot my skin or add some powder to soak it up, but I was done with my day before I noticed the excessive sheen.
The only con of this foundation is that it has a strong odor that lasts a few hours after application. I attribute the smell to the addition of sunscreen, but it has a more powdery, playdough-like aroma to it. If you have a sensitive nose, this may bother you, but I can overlook it.
If you love light coverage that’s buildable, you need this foundation. Not only do I love the feel, look, and ease of application, but the added SPF makes me downright giddy. This is my new go-to complexion product.
2. True Skin Serum Concealer
What it claims: This liquid concealer comes in 20 shades, also labelled from very fair to deep, with the same undertones as the foundation (though with less nuance, as they cut 10 from the roster). It claims to have medium coverage and a “featherweight texture that blends seamlessly into the skin.” It’s supposed to reduce the appearance of dark circles with a creamy and creaseless formula. You’ll find vitamin C and bark extracts (both antioxidants) in the ingredient list to brighten the skin and protect it from environmental aggressors, like free radicals.
What it’s like to use it: I’ve tried a lot of concealers. I have blue under-eye circles that extend from inner to outer corner and fine lines on the outer third of my eye that concealers love to crease in. This concealer is a champ! I used two dabs from the doe-foot applicator in the inner corner of my eye and one dab on the upper outer corner level with where my top eyelashes start. From there, I patted the concealer in with my finger for about 30 seconds in each area and slowly blended the two areas together under my eye. This technique keeps me from packing too much product where my fine lines are, which can cause more creasing.
The creamy concealer blended like a dream, covering most of my darkness without settling into lines. I had to add a touch more to my inner corner because that’s where the majority of the blue is, but layering the concealer presented no caking. On one occasion, I dusted the Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder under my eyes to set the concealer and brighten my under eyes even more, and the two paired well without looking crepey or flaking up. With or without powder, the concealer creased toward the end of my wear test, but this is standard result for concealers on my eyes.
The Ilia concealer doesn’t beat the best concealer we tested, Tarte Shape Tape, in either coverage or creaseless lasting power. But I loved how easy it was to blend in and how it looks paired with a sheerer foundation. I’ll happily use it up.
3. Balmy Gloss Tinted Lip Oil
What it claims: When you think of a lip gloss, you may think “too sticky.” That’s why this product has the formula of an oil (thanks to a blend of fruit and plant oils) but the shiny finish of a gloss. It claims to hydrate and plump up your lips using hyaluronic acid for a pout that looks and feels smoother. Your lips should have a glossy finish and a light wash of color. There are six hues to choose from: “Only You” (pinkish nude), “Linger” (berry pink), “Tahiti” (dark coral), “Saint” (burnt orange), “Maybe Violet” (light purple), and “Petals” (pinkish coral).
What it’s like to use it: If a product claims to moisturize my lips and add color to them without actually feeling or looking like I’m wearing lipstick, I’m sold. This does just that. Because it’s an oil, it glides onto and blends into the lips with ease and feels ultra-comfortable. My own personal test when it comes to lip products is seeing if I can rub my lips together without a sticky sensation or a colorful mess smearing outside the lines. This passed my test. The shade Petal is a tad lighter than my natural lips so it wasn’t very noticeable but provided an even, slightly brighter appearance to my lips.
As for claims about it ‘plumping’ your lips for a smoother, cushiony effect, I’m not so sure. I have lines in my lip and this doesn't throw a veil over them. But this doesn’t surprise me—plumping lip glosses usually contain stimulating (er, irritating) ingredients like cinnamon or menthol to cause minor inflammation and the look of pillowy lips. Hyaluronic acid may give a similar effect by drawing moisture from the air into the skin to plump it, but I didn’t expect as noticeable results. Perhaps because of my tempered expectations, I’m pleased with the look and feel of this lip oil and would love to snag it in another color.
4. Liquid Powder Chromatic Eye Tint
What it claims: This eye tint claims to apply as a highly pigmented liquid and dry to a metallic powder. Though all metallic, this comes in eight colors: “Glaze” (light nude), “Fresco” (taupe), “Hatch” (sage), “Dim” (light purple), “Mythic” (rose gold), “Sheen” (bronze), “Umber” (burgundy), and “Gleam” (gold). It should be malleable while wet, allowing you to pack on pigment for a bold look or blend it out for a sheer wash of color. Once it dries, it should resist creasing.
What it’s like to use it: I was shocked when I saw that the eye tint hadn’t creased in my oily eyelids after several hours of wear! But before I get ahead of myself, this applied exactly as described—it felt creamy and easy to work with on my eyelids, and the color payoff was no exaggeration. Worried that it may look too bold for my video calls, I sheered the shade “Mythic” out across my lid and up into my crease. The result was a beautiful, shimmery flush of rose gold that looked both polished and effortless at the same time. And it took no more effort than applying powder eyeshadow. Thanks to my oily eyelids, I’ve never had great luck with liquid or cream eyeshadows (like the Glossier Lidstars, for reference), but this one stayed in place all day, which was the ultimate selling point.
Once I knew these could stay in place, I used them on top of my Physician’s Formula Butter Bronzer that I’d applied to my crease to give my eye definition. Possibly because it dries to a powder, the eye tint played well with my powder products and the two blended together well.
What it claims: The Multi-Sticks are a cream formula for the lips and cheeks in a cylindrical, twist-up tube. You can apply the product using your fingertips or a brush and the results should be a natural-looking flush of color. They come in eight tones: “Tenderly” (light pink), “Cheek to Cheek” (brick red), “I Put A Spell On You” (bright peach), “All of Me” (watermelon pink), “Dreamer” (peachy brown), “A Fine Romance” (bright berry), “At Last” (dusty rose), and “Lady Bird” (brownish rose).
What it’s like to use it: I gently swiped “Cheek to Cheek” across my cheek bone and tapped the product in with my fingers. The consistency feels more waxy than creamy, which meant that it didn’t melt right into my skin when I touched my cheek with the formula, but it wasn’t hard to apply, either. I needed two or three swipes to build up to a bold blush look. And when I applied it using a brush, I needed to wiggle my Real Techniques Expert Face Brush on the tip of the tube of blush to pick up pigment, rather than just give a quick tap like I might to a powder or more emollient cream. I don’t mind the texture or even the subtlety in pigment, as it makes it easier to customize your look.
With a product like the Rare Beauty Soft Pinch Liquid Blushes, a single dot deposits almost too much pigment, forcing you to backtrack. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Rare Beauty’s blushes, too, and neither are difficult to work with, but the Ilia Multi-Sticks are more forgiving. My qualm in general with cream blushes is that they can often remove or alter the foundation underneath as you swipe or stipple it onto the cheeks. Regardless of what foundation I wore or how I applied this one, I noticed zero disturbance of my already-applied complexion products.
Cream blushes, bronzers, and highlights are growing in popularity and if you’re looking for a way to get in on the trend, these may be just the ticket. That said, I wish you received more product for the price—the tube contains 0.15 ounces, or half an inch of blush when the product is rolled up.
What it claims: The Illuminators come in the same tube packaging with the same consistency as the Multi-Sticks and boast four shimmery shades: “Cosmic Dancer” (gold), “Summertime” (bronze), “Polka Dots & Moonbeams” (pearl white), “Stella by Starlight” (rose gold). These are designed to give a subtle glow to the high points of the face with “no sparkles, no glitter, just pure dew.” To apply, the instructions suggest you swipe your finger over the highlighter and tap it anywhere you want to brighten.
What it’s like to use it: I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of cream highlighters. Similar to cream blushes, they tend to move around the face products underneath. But I’ve found that highlighters can be even worse, because they’re higher on the face and interfere with both foundation and concealer, making a muddled mess that’s hard to undo, without starting from scratch. Again, like with the Multi-Sticks, I was surprised by how well the “Cosmic Dancer” Illuminator blended out over my foundation and concealer on the high points of my cheekbones. I needed to dab my finger into the tube a few times to build up a subtle, pretty glow on my face, so those who prefer a beaming highlight should take heed. To make it into my permanent collection, I’d like for this to pack more of a punch per swipe because this cream is pricey and you only get half an inch of product. But if you’re after subtle and effective, Ilia is worth a look.
7. Limitless Lash Mascara
What it claims: The mascara comes in one shade, “After Midnight” (a soft black), and claims to be buildable and flake-free. The website also says that it lifts, curls, lengthens, and adds volume to your lashes while conditioning them with ingredients like shea butter, keratin, and bee and carnauba (derived from plant leaves) wax. It should remove easily with only water without scrubbing.
What it’s like to use it: My natural lashes are long enough that they tickle my brow bone if I curl them (I know, lucky me…), so I look for volume and separation from my mascara. Still, I have a lot of lashes (yes, I know, but stay with me) and find that most black mascaras provide enough pigment to make my lashes appear fuller, so I’m not picky. This one did the job, but it didn’t “wow” me the way that an occasional mascara will, like the Milani Highly Rated 10-in-1 Volume Mascara that won our Best Overall spot from the drugstore.
The Ilia mascara added length and some density to my lashes and I liked that the silicone wand has a comb on one side that you can separate your lashes with, as this is something I often do with a separate eyelash comb. It lasted all day on my eyes without flaking, smudging, or transferring, and removal was easy with my cotton round and Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water (I didn’t try with only water because I want my skin to be cleaner than that). If you’re looking for great lash separation and a long-lasting formula, you could give this a try. Otherwise, I think you can find something similar at the drugstore for less money.
8. Lip Wrap Hydrating Mask
What it claims: This lip mask contains salicornia (a sea succulent) and hyaluronic acid to moisturize, mango butter to soften, and papaya enzymes to exfoliate the skin. The instructions recommend using it every night before bed and “with every use, lips instantly feel soothed and hydrated.”
What it’s like to use it: When I first applied this lip mask, I only skimmed the surface with my ring finger and got a thin layer of product on my lips that did not impress. But once I pressed my finger into the lush balm and got a pea-sized amount of product and smeared it onto my lips, I saw the appeal. It thins out once on the lips and doesn’t feel gooey or sticky at all, which I liked, especially for overnight use when my hair may fall into my face or my lips may touch my pillow. I have dry lips, which I can only blame on myself because I have a tendency to chew them. This mask helped, but didn’t do anything that other balms or even Aquaphor or Vaseline hasn’t done for my lips. I like it and I’ll use it up, but it isn’t a must-have, especially for the price.
9. True Skin Radiant Priming Serum
What it claims: This primer “[bridges] the gap between makeup and skincare” with ingredients like hibiscus extract, aloe extract, and beta-glucan (a humectant that attracts and retains water). The primer claims to help firm, moisturize, soothe, and protect the skin from environmental aggressors. After shaking the bottle, you apply three to four drops to the palms of your hands and massage into your face. You should notice a “tightening effect that diminishes the look of pores and fine lines” and a glowy finish.
What it’s like to use it: I didn’t feel or see a “tightening effect,” but the dewy, healthy finish that this primer leaves on the skin was noticeable right away. I liked using it and think it provided a nice base for the Ilia skin tint, but it didn’t make or break my makeup routine. For $52, I’d want to see major results in its skin-blurring or makeup-gripping abilities to make it worth it.
Should you try Ilia?
Sure! I plan to purchase more from the brand after trying it out. I mostly focused on the liquid and cream products this time because the brand is known for its natural-looking, effortless makeup that you can apply with your fingers. Aftering adoring most of what I tried, I want to dive into the powder products and already have my sights set on the Daylite Highlighting Powder and the Nightlite Bronzing Powder, for their buttery-soft powder formulas that add depth to the face.
If you’re into easy-to-use, no-fuss makeup that’s flexible depending on what you need from your makeup, you should give Ilia a try yourself. I guarantee you’ll find something in this line that’ll fit right into your routine, whether you’re committed to full coverage or accustomed to flaunting your face au naturale.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.