How to Shop for Vegan Beauty Products
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A product being labeled vegan means that it was created without the use of ingredients from animals. Vegans take an ethical stance against the use, abuse, and slaughter of animals and seek to minimize animal suffering whenever possible. Vegans oppose animal oppression in support of animal liberation, and align their lifestyle habits with this value. The most commonly known way this is embodied is through daily food choices, divesting from animal agriculture with every plant-based meal.
However, a vegan lifestyle includes making mindful choices far beyond what’s on your plate. So while vegans don’t eat the flesh or fluids of animals, they may also avoid leather, silk, and fur when shopping for clothing. This avoidance of products from animals extends to all areas of consumption including what’s in our beauty products.
As more people shift towards conscious consumerism and utilize purchasing power to support brands in alignment with their values, the trend towards vegan beauty is rapidly growing. Forbes reported that “The global market for vegan cosmetics is estimated at $15.1 billion in 2020 and expected to reach $21.4 billion by 2027.”
When it comes to food, the switch may feel a bit more straightforward as one avoids meat, dairy, seafood, and eggs. However, with beauty products, the ingredients from animals sneak into your products in unexpected ways under hidden names. You may not realize that ingredients like shellac and tallow in your makeup are derived from animals.
You certainly don’t have to toss out all of your current products. You can make a gradual transition to vegan beauty, swapping out your mascara, lip gloss, nail polish, and skincare products as you run out and need to invest in more. Experiment with different brands to find what works best for you. You may even find that your existing products are accidentally vegan, meaning they don’t contain any ingredients from animals but may not be labeled or advertised as vegan. To find out if a product is vegan, you can read the ingredient label and watch out for animal-derived ingredients.
To support your shift towards vegan beauty, let’s dive into the top reasons to switch to vegan beauty products, and the ingredients to watch out for during your transition.
Reduce Harm to Animals
You can get all of your favorite makeup and skincare products without using ingredients derived from animals, which are often the result of suffering and slaughter. There is a wide array of plant-based alternatives that allow us to have shimmer in our nail polish and eyeshadow without crushing thousands of insects, for example. Many companies have continued with the status quo of using animal byproducts, ingredients that have often also been tested on animals causing further harm, because it’s what they’ve always done. We simply don’t need ingredients from animal byproducts in order to enjoy glowing skin and fun makeup. And there are plenty of brands that have committed to offering completely vegan products.
Be More Environmentally Friendly
Often when we consider the environmental impact of a beauty product, we think about the packaging. Is it in a glass container? Were the shipping materials recyclable, or better yet, biodegradable? Another factor to consider with the carbon footprint of your beauty routine is the impact of the ingredients. If, for example, a product you use contains milk, you can consider the land and water use it took to raise that cow so there could be milk in your face mask. With an estimated 264 million dairy cows worldwide, the dairy industry alone contributes to:
- Greenhouse gas emissions from the waste cows produce, which contribute to climate change. According to the USDA, “the waste from just 200 dairy cows produces as much nitrogen as the sewage from a community of up to 10,000 people.”
- Excessive water and land use are necessary to raise cows and the crops we feed them. Sentient Media reports that “A single dairy cow can drink as much as 150 liters of water per day. In 2018, there were approximately 9.4 million dairy cows in the U.S. alone. Just in drinking water, that is approximately 1,410,000,000 liters of water every single day that is being used to hydrate dairy cows so they can produce milk.”
- Contamination and pollution of local water, air, and soil. Unfortunately, animal agricultural farms tend to be located in low-income black and brown communities, creating increased health challenges for residents.
Is your face mask responsible for this alone? Certainly not. It may be contributing to the problem, though, and when you continue to purchase food, clothing, and beauty products with animal byproducts, it supports animal agriculture's unsustainability that’s causing harm to our environment at a time when we desperately need to shift.
Go Gentler on Your Skin
Vegan beauty products tend to be made with plant-based ingredients. Plant-rich vegan beauty products are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that are beneficial for your skin and often gentler on the skin than their non-vegan counterparts. These ingredients tend to be much easier to read on a label, and can also be more easily absorbed into your skin. However, this isn’t always the case and vegan beauty products could still include chemicals that may be harsh for your skin. It’s always best to read the ingredients and do a spot treatment to ensure your new cleanser or moisturizer is a good match.
If you’re interested in making the switch to vegan beauty, watch out for these common animal ingredients used in cosmetics.
Also known as: Adeps lanae, wool wax, wool fat, wool grease
Often found in: Lip products
What this ingredient does: Moisturizes
Why vegans avoid it: Lanolin is derived from sheep’s wool. Much of the wool used in clothing and beauty is mass-produced on farms with flocks of thousands of sheep. When an animal is being raised for profit, its welfare is not the top priority. While sheep don’t need to be killed for wool, when sheared without proper care they can be harmed in the process. Without human interference, sheep produce just the right amount of wool, naturally shed in their winter coats, and do not need shearing.
Vegan alternatives: Vegan lip products containing moisturizing plant oils such as shea butter and coconut oil
Also known as: Apis Mel, Apis mellifera, apic cerana, Cera alba, wax
Often found in: Lip balms
What this ingredient does: Keeps lips soft and smooth
Why vegans avoid it: Beeswax is used by bees to construct the honeycomb where they store honey and raise their young. When we take beeswax from bees, we are disrupting their homes and livelihoods.
Vegan alternatives: Vegan lip balms containing candelilla wax and soy.
Also known as: Mel, Mel extract, hydrogenated honey
Often found in: Skincare products
What this ingredient does: Provides antibacterial and softening benefits
Why Vegans avoid it: Creating honey is a process that requires bees to visit upwards of two million flowers just to produce one pound of honey. Bees engage in this time-consuming labor to feed themselves, not humans.
Vegan alternatives: Ingredients such as shea butter can be used to replicate the moisture-boosting and skin-softening effects of honey, and tea tree oil is a great replacement for the antibacterial properties of honey.
Hydrolyzed silk protein
Also known as: Silk, silk amino acid, silk protein, hydrolyzed silk peptides
Often found in: Haircare products
What this ingredient does: Gives hair a sleek and conditioning effect
Why vegans avoid it: Silk is derived from silkworm cocoons; a process that takes an estimated 3,000 silkworms to die for just one pound of silk.
Vegan alternatives: Hair products containing hydrolyzed oat protein
Also known as: Hydrolyzed collagen
Often found in: Anti-aging beauty products
What this ingredient does: Gives skin a plumping effect
Why vegans avoid it: Animal skin, tissues, and bones are the ingredients used to make collagen. This ingredient utilizes the byproducts of cows and fish from animal agriculture and it directly supports the exploitation and harm these animals face.
Vegan alternatives: While vegan collagen doesn’t exist, you can consume vitamins and minerals such as zinc and vitamin C for their collagen-boosting properties.
Also known as: Hydrolyzed keratin, keliwool
Often found in: Hair and nail products
What this ingredient does: Helps to strengthen hair and nails
Why vegans avoid it: Keratin is made from the hair, hooves, and horns of animals. It’s likely that the body parts of the animals used for keratin are byproducts of slaughterhouses. However, it’s worth noting that dehorning is an incredibly painful process for the animal if done while the animal is alive.
Vegan alternatives: Hair and nail products that swap out keratin for vegetable proteins have a similar strengthening effect.
Also known as: Lacca, lac resin, shellack. shellac orange S-40
Often found in: Eyeliner, mascara, and hairspray
What this ingredient does: Acts as an emulsifier in beauty products
Why vegans avoid it: The secretions of lac bugs are used to make shellac. In order to make one pound of shellac, it takes an estimated 100,000 lac bugs, many of which are killed in the process.
Vegan alternatives: A corn-based alternative can be used in vegan cosmetics for a cost-effective and cruelty-free swap. Vegan mascara can help keep your lashes looking luscious and lac bug-free.
Also known as: Ethylhexylglycerin, glycerides, glyceryls, glycreth-26, polyglycerol
Often found in: Moisturizing products
What this ingredient does: Softens and smoothes
Why vegans avoid it: Glycerine can be derived from animal fat, or from plant-based sources such as palm oil. However, some vegans also don’t use palm oil, as the palm oil industry creates deforestation which impacts Sumatran rhinos, pygmy elephants, and orangutans.
Vegan alternatives: Moisturizing products that use soya or coconut oil
Also known as: Milk, hydrolyzed casein, sodium caseinate, potassium casein, casein hydrolysate, rennet casein, caseinates
Often found in: Skincare and haircare products
What this ingredient does: Conditions skin and hair
Why vegans avoid it: Casein is derived from cow’s milk. A female cow is subjected to a lifetime of being forcibly impregnated and milked so that we can have milk. Dairy cows often spend their entire lives suffering until they are “spent” (can’t become pregnant or produce milk), at which point they are slaughtered for beef.
Vegan alternatives: Many skin and hair products use plant-based milk alternatives that can replace cow’s milk with the same quality and effectiveness, without harm to animals.
Also known as: Shark liver oil, squalane
Often found in: Makeup, lip balm, skincare products
What this ingredient does: Moisturizes and fights aging
Why vegans avoid it: Squalene is made from shark liver oil. In order to obtain this ingredient, deep-sea sharks are killed. Sharks play an important role in the ocean as one of the top predators, and mass killing sharks each year for food, vaccines, and cosmetics disrupts biodiversity and devastates our marine ecosystem.
Vegan alternatives: Wheat germ and olives are both vegan squalene alternatives.
Also known as: Sodium tallowate, tallow imidazoline, tallow acid, tallow amide, tallow amine, talloweth-6, tallow glycerides
Often found in: Lipstick, foundation, and eyeshadows
What this ingredient does: Conditions skin and acts as a stabilizer
Why vegans avoid it: Tallow is made from the fatty tissues of sheep or cows. The tallow in your cosmetics is often the fatty tissues that are trimmed off before the animals are sold for consumption in a meat facility.
Vegan alternatives: Vegetable tallow or paraffin
Also known as: Pearl essence or CI75170
Often found in: Highlighters and bronzers
What this ingredient does: Create a sparkly effect in cosmetics
Why vegans avoid it: Guanine is derived from the shimmer of fish scales. While many disregard the sentience of fish, as seen by our mass killing of over a trillion fish each year, the reality is that fish feel pain just like any other animal. Fish have complex nervous systems and they feel fear, pain, distress, and have a desire to live in peace—just like us.
Vegan alternatives: Vegan highlighters and other cosmetics containing rayon or mica to give you a guanine-free glow
The next time you’re in need of new skincare products or makeup, consider trying a vegan brand. Your skin, the animals, and the environment will thank you.