I'm not one to necessarily define things based on other similar things because everyone (ahem, every brand) deserves to exist in its own right. BUT I couldn't quite help it when I discovered this new minimalist K-beauty-inspired beauty brand via Instagram (naturally).
Rather, I should say, they discovered me. Getting all "WHO GOES THERE?" when gazing upon their regram of my photo, I was greeted with a feed featuring two things I love: Korean beauty products and minimalism. It was basically minimalist-beauty porn. *Follows back.*
A bit about the brand: CLE Cosmetics (not pronounced clee or clay, even though in my head that's how I say it), which launched this year, stands for Creative Lass Esthetic, which makes me think of the rolling green hills of Ireland, but no — the brand is based in Los Angeles and the products are made in Korea, creating this ideal marriage of sleek packaging and branding with the sophisticated formulation of Korean beauty products.
There are a whopping five items in their whole line, all of which seem to have been carefully considered as a glamorous desert-island packing list of what the minimalist woman would carry around. The active ingredients throughout are generally of the natural-yet-non-wimpy ilk (as are many Korean beauty products) like bamboo extract, natto gum, blueberry extract, niacinamide, snow lotus flower extract, and hyaluronic acid.
As with so many skincare and makeup products I own, I like when a brand breaks it down in a really minimal offering that relieves me of choice fatigue. I also really like when they incorporate SPF.
And now, to the products!
No K-beauty cosmetic brand excludes a cushion compact of some sort – it's seemingly prerequisite. CLE's Essence Air Cushion isn't a total innovation on the cushion compact, but one thing that differentiates it from the rest is that the formula is quite a bit lighter than the standard ALL DEWY ALL THE TIME cushion foundation formulas that seem ubiquitous to Korean brands.
Sure, enough layering with this one will make your skin look extra-juicy, but I appreciate its buildability. One quick pat-pat-pat of this cushion leaves the sheerest coverage that thankfully feels that way as well. It's like lingerie for your skin. Lingerie with SPF 50.
For $49, this comes with a free refill because this is America, goddamnit, and all cushion compacts more expensive than $30 should come with a free refill.
If you're not into cushion compacts because you hate cleaning the cushion applicator (much more laborious than cleaning your makeup brushes), the CCC Cream is a pretty cool alternative. It goes on white and has those micro-capsules that burst when you spread it, releasing the tint.
With SPF 45, a little goes quite a way with this one. The pearl-sized bead of a tinted moisturizer that I'd normally smear on my face was overkill, giving me a mannequin mask of eerily even, dewy skin tone. Start with less than you think you need. Trust me on that.
Once I figured out the appropriate amount to cover my face, the coverage was a lot heavier than it felt — meaning it felt like I was wearing a light moisturizer but with a medium-full coverage (a better surprise than the other way around).
I prefer the Essence Air Cushion, but that's mostly because I don't have to wash my hands post-application.
One fairly unique product is the Melting Lip Powder. Another Korean brand, Touch In Sol, also does this magic powder-to-liquid formula, but I became of aware of CLE's first. I'm pretty sure my brain melted, just like this powder does... into a liquid matte lip stain.
The Milk Choco shade is a velvety pinky-nude that looks great on everyone but me. It works as a cheek color for me, but on my lips unfortunately makes me look a bit like I'm getting over food poisoning. Oh well. Nudes are hard!
The Red Cherry one however is bright red. It looks almost like a hot pink in the bottle, but on the lips turns warm. These powders are crazy-pigmented. Just a dot on each cheek gives me that "Have you been working out?" flush that fools people into thinking I actually work out. Little do they know that I am a slug that sits at a desk all day and still says pie-lates.
It's not the best for dry, scaly lips since the pigment will find your dry patches and live in them, so get into some lip scrub before swiping this on. But once on, it lasts ages and doesn't smudge for anything. It doesn't feel like you've got anything on your lips, being a liquid stain, but it doesn't feel like the moisture is being sucked from your lips either. Vitamin E, y'all.
One thing I haven't really seen is a K-beauty (or K-beauty-inspired) brand that offers a twinset of double-cleansers. They don't come in a set, but at least in my perception, using both as a double-cleansing set makes sense to me — especially those who want to double-cleanse but don't necessarily want to do it with oil. It's entirely possible I'm not supposed to double-cleanse with both. But I'm just saying... it works if you do.
The Melting Cleanser works as a great makeup remover. It's more of a gel cleanser (not unlike that of Milky Jelly or La Roche-Posay's Cleansing Gel) rather than an oil-based cleanser, but has the power to move heavy foundation and waterproof makeup off your face.
The Oxygen Foaming Cleanser lives up to its name. You apply it on dry skin and watch it foam up like your whole face has rabies or something (I mean, not really rabies, but it bubbles like crazy when in contact with oxygen is what I mean). You're meant to leave it on to fizzle for 30 seconds like a quick flash mask. The bubbles mostly tickle but also supposedly promote collagen and elastin production. They tend to foam away to the point of being able to tissue them off, or you can do it the old-fashioned way: with a warm-water rinse. It's a good morning wake-up cleanser.
Using either one, my skin felt squeaky-clean — possibly a bit too squeaky clean? They're formulated to behave well for any skin type, but alcohol and fragrance made it to the last two ingredients on the list, so depending on just how sensitive your skin is, that's just something to know. My normal/combo skin had no complaints. No accolades, but no grievances either.
I'll admit, I fell for CLE's products based on looks, and I shamelessly stalked their Instagram feed. If there was a beauty Tinder, I def would've swiped right, and who knows where it would've gone? Fortunately, I really like enough of the products that should I be marooned on a desert island with them, I'd be looking pretty cute while stranded.
While I did immediately think of Glossier when discovering this like-minded "just the essentials" beauty brand, their differences are as clear as their similarities. Glossier has clever and fun branding, but CLE has SPF; both have a good aesthetic (if you ask me) and fine products.
Not that it's a competition; I'm mostly curious as to how the trend of minimalism is informing the beauty industry as a whole. Who will be the first to make powder-to-liquid foundation? Also, when will bots be able to do my makeup for me? These both seem like totally rational queries.