Most people are probably a little surprised to learn that being vegan doesn’t just stop at refraining from eating animals and animal products. They might not understand why some of their favourite cosmetics and personal care products state ‘suitable for vegans’; after all, you don’t eat soap do you? But being vegan is a lifestyle, not a diet, and to be truly ethical it is important to make sure that no animal products are hidden in the products you use. You’re probably reading this thinking: I know all of this already, and I only use vegan certified products. If you do then that’s fantastic, but what do you do if someone gifts you a product you aren’t familiar with? What about if you’ve run out of your favourite concealer and need to buy an alternative on the high street? Would you know how to identify whether or not a product was vegan without anything obviously saying so? Remember – even if a products boasts that it is cruelty-free, that doesn’t automatically mean it is vegan as well. Products can be non-animal tested yet still contain animal ingredients (similarly, products can be vegan in the sense that they are free from animal ingredients, but they may still have been tested on animals). Maybe you’re a new vegan, or thinking about making the switch, and are feeling confused about which products to use. We’ve put together a guide on common animal ingredients that could be lurking in your makeup, and how to spot them.
How to tell if a product is vegan
If you’re shopping online, it is generally a lot easier to find out whether or not products are vegan. The first step is to look for certifications or a clear statement that the item is suitable for vegans. If it doesn’t say, the next step is to scan the ingredients list for obvious animal ingredients such as beeswax or honey. The product description can be handy too – does the product claim to boast the ‘benefits’ of bee propolis for example? If you spot anything obviously non-vegan, continue your search for an alternative product. If you are looking at makeup in a shop, it can be a little trickier since not all products have room for a full ingredients list. If you are not in a hurry to buy the product, you could look it up online when you get home. If you are in a hurry, or you can get on the Internet on your phone, you can do a quick search, either for the product itself or for a specific ingredient (for example, try ‘*product brand and name* vegan’ or ‘*ingredient* vegan’). If Google hasn’t given you any answers and you still can’t decide whether or not you should buy the product, what now?
Look out for these ingredients
These are some of the most common animal ingredients that can be found in makeup. As we mentioned earlier, you’re probably already familiar with bee products and other animal-derived ingredients such as lanolin. But did you know that these can be hidden under alternative names? Sometimes it can be confusing for even the most clued-up vegan.
Alternative names/derivatives: Cera alba, cera flava
Commonly found in: Lipstick, lip gloss, lip balm, mascara, eyeshadow, eyeliner, blusher
Alternative ingredients: Paraffin, vegetable oils and fats, ceresin, carnauba wax, candelilla wax, Japan wax
Beeswax is a natural wax made by bees and is the substance that forms honeycomb. According to PETA, farmers at larger bee farms may cut off the queen bee’s wings so that she cannot leave the colony, or have her artificially inseminated. Bees produce honey which they need to survive the winter, but some bee farms replace it with a cheap sugar substitute that lacks the nutrition of honey. Many bees are killed or have their wings and legs torn off due to haphazard handling.
Alternative names/derivatives: Cochineal, carminic acid, crimson lake, natural red 4, C.I. 75470, E120
Commonly found in: Foundation, concealer, powder, colour cosmetics
Alternative ingredients: Beet juice, alkanet root, synthetic dyes, fruit pigments
Carmine is a deep red pigment that is derived from some scale insects such as the cochineal, which produces carminic acid to deter predators. Cactus farms are used to collect large numbers of cochineal insects, which are immersed in hot water or exposed to sunlight, steam, or the heat of an oven at 90 days old.
Alternative names/derivatives: Lanolin acids, wool fat, wool wax, wool grease, aliphatic alcohols, cholesterin, isopropyl lanolate, laneth, lanogene, lanolin alcohols, lanosterols, sterols, triterpene alcohols
Commonly found in: Lip balm, lipstick, blusher, bronzer, eyebrow products, concealer, eyeliner, eyeshadow, powder, foundation, mascara
Alternative ingredients: Plant and vegetable oils
Lanolin is a wax secreted by the sebaceous glands of sheep. It helps to protect their woolly coat and their skin from the climate and environment. Lanolin may seem like a harmless by-product of the wool industry, however, it usually comes from sheep that have been slaughtered for their meat.
Alternative names/derivatives: Pearl essence, CI 75170
Commonly found in: Nail polish, blusher, lip gloss, shimmery cosmetics
Alternative ingredients: Mica, rayon, leguminous plants, synthetic pearl, or aluminum and bronze particles
Guanine is a crystalline material that gives fish their shimmery appearance. It is taken from the scales of dead fish and then soaked in alcohol to create a pearly essence that is added to many makeup products to give them an iridescent finish.
Alternative names/derivatives: Hydrolysed collagen
Commonly found in: Foundation, lipstick, lip gloss, eyeliner, mascara
Alternative ingredients: Soy protein, almond oil, amla oil
Collagen is a protein derived from the connective tissue of animals. Animal skin, bones and tissues are boiled in order to extract the collagen. It is used in some cosmetics and skincare products as it is thought to produce a plumping or firming effect, however it has not been proven to have a direct effect on increasing collagen production when applied to human skin.
Your best bet is to email the company who make the product you want to buy and ask them about their ingredients. If you receive a long, wordy reply that doesn’t seem like a straightforward answer, the company may be trying to hide the fact that their products contain animal derived ingredients, or that they have been tested on animals. A respectable company will be prompt and honest with their response. Even if they disclose that some of their products contain animal ingredients, they should be able to clearly tell you which ones they use and which products they may be found in, along with a list of any of their products that are suitable for vegans.
Header image by Alexandre Vanier via Pixabay