Here’s Why The ‘Clean Girl Aesthetic’ on TikTok Is Problematic

A trend we’re not fully into

clean girl aesthetic tiktok trend a photo of a woman with slick back bun, black sunglasses and hoop earrings
Christian Vierig/Contributor/Getty Images

In the beginning, the ‘Clean Girl Aesthetic’ trend that was all over TikTok didn’t bother us. At the time, it seemed to champion a clean and minimalist beauty routine of dewy skin, fluffy brows and a slicked-back low bun. But after doing a deeper dive into the aesthetic, we found it had a few red flags we can't overlook anymore. Here’s everything you need to know about the trend and why it can be problematic to try out. 

What is the 'Clean Girl Aesthetic'?

In 2022, the 'clean girl aesthetic' became the most popular trend on TikTok. The premise is all about keeping your entire beauty look fresh and natural. Basically, the 'clean girl aesthetic' walked, so 'quiet luxury' could run. From your hair to your makeup, the look calls for a minimalistic and simple take on everything.

a collage of the clean girl aesthetic with hailey bieber and sofia richie
Taylor Hill/Edward Berthelot/Jason Mendez/Getty Images

Hair: Slicked-Back Bun

For the hair, the ‘clean girl aesthetic’ takes a slicked-back approach, relying on oil, gel and a boar bristled brush to smooth down locks. The bun is usually placed at the nape of the neck (or the crown of the head) with a slight middle part. An alternative is to rock a low ponytail in a twisted braid. Whichever style you choose, no frizz or flyaways should be present. 

Skincare: Dewy Base

This trend calls for plump, glass-like skin. Similar to previous trends like ‘jello skin’ and ‘dolphin skin,’ you want a shiny base. (The dewier, the better.) Your basic regimen should include super hydrating skincare products like a nourishing cleanser, hyaluronic acid serum and a tinted moisturizer. 

Makeup: Minimal Look

The no-makeup makeup look is key, so rosy cheeks, fluffy brows and glossy lips are the way to go. You can add highlight, contour and eyeshadow, but stick to neutral shades for an all-around natural finish.

Why is the ‘Clean Girl Aesthetic’ Problematic?   

As harmless this aesthetic may seem at first glance, there are a few reasons why we’re straying away from wearing it ourselves. 

The Aesthetic Caters to a *Very* Specific Type of Person

The ‘clean girl aesthetic’ puts mostly white women front-and-center as the preeminent aspirational figure on TikTok. The hashtag tag lacks diversity and caters to one specific demographic. The trend alienates BIPOC women, fat women, women with acne-prone skin, women with disabilities, older women and so forth. Also, adding ‘girl’ to the name limits non-binary folks from feeling welcome to participate in the look. And as one PW editor recently wrote, ‘girl’ trends in general can diminish who we are as women, or worse, perpetuate the fear of aging. 

The Term ‘Clean Girl’ Can Be Harmful

‘Clean girl’ implies there’s a ‘dirty girl’ aesthetic. The popular trend makes wearing a full face of makeup or having textured skin seem less desirable. It also makes you wonder if having acne, natural hair or even body hair puts you in the ‘dirty’ category. Again, the aesthetic punishes those who don’t fit this very specific idea of what ‘clean’ means and looks like.

"[This is] just one trend of many and it can be inspirational, but ‘clean girl’ also reflects the values in our society of what the ideal woman is like, as a sort of reincarnation of girl boss," explains one creator. "It [perpetuates] consumerism and white privilege and tells us that the perfect woman has the perfect looking life and is constantly working on herself."

The Trend Isn’t Actually New 

While there are many facets to the ‘clean girl aesthetic,’ a common look involves wearing gold hoops (or gold jewelry in general), slicking your hair back into a low bun and smoothing down your edges. Yes, it’s super cute, but the ‘trendy’ style is certainly not new.

Gold jewelry and slicked-back hair has been popular among Black and Latinx women for decades before the Haileys and Kendalls of the world started wearing the look.

Let’s be clear: I’m not saying that BIPOC women have exclusive ownership of this look. Anyone can wear hoops and low buns. It’s just that historically, when Black and Brown women wore their hair back and showed off their jewelry, it was deemed ‘trashy,’ ‘dirty’ and ‘ghetto.’ Many of us have memories of our moms, aunts and grandmas pulling our hair back before school and getting ridiculed for our styles by other kids. But now that a few white women have claimed the look as a trend on TikTok, it seems to hold an entirely new meaning.

Here's How We're Fighting Back Against the Trend

New hashtags are challenging the aesthetic and elevating more communities on the platform. For example, the #LatinaGirlAesthetic sheds light on different Latinx cultures, representing not one, but many Latinx women who don't fall into a single category. Other hashtags like #CleanMakeupForBlackGirls and #CleanLookBlackGirl are showing this trend can work on all skin tones. 

Even the 'clean girl' tag is getting bombarded with women who have had enough. One commenter said it best: "Why is there a new aesthetic every day? Life is less stressful when [you] don't think about what girl aesthetic you want to be for the day. Just be yourself."

Bottom Line: We’re no longer letting the ‘clean girl aesthetic’ dictate what’s supposed to be on trend. Moreover, we need to consider how we can make the beauty world an inclusive space where everyone feels welcome. Let’s be more intentional about the trends we choose to participate in.

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about face matte fluid eye paint review chelsea candelario

Associate Editor, Ultimate Fangirl, Aspiring Beauty Guru

Chelsea Candelario is an Associate Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the internet...