cruelty free beauty

Non-vegan ingredients in cosmetics

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Animal testing is not the only thing to look out for when buying vegan-friendly cosmetics and skincare products.

You may think brands have to be clear about whether their products include parts of animals or their secretions, but sadly, you’d be wrong. It’s a bit of a minefield, and without some prior knowledge, it can be difficult to know what is and isn’t on the level.

Just to add to the confusion, some ingredients which can be derived from plants or animals, can have the same name-without the source identified (i.e. squalane). The only option here is to look up the manufacturer and see if they’ve have gone into more detail on their website.

Below is a list of some of the most common animal ingredients, and their vegan counterparts.

Lanolin-this emollient is derived from sheep wool, and is a common ingredient in lip products (balms, sticks, glosses) as well as hair products. It’s used to soften and moisturise. Synthetic (and plant-based) lanolin exists but be wary of so-called ‘cruelty-free’ lanolin, which may be still be derived from wool. Alternatives include plant oils (i.e. coconut, olive) and butters (shea and coconut).

Shellac-a resinous product, obtained from lac bugs. It is used in nail products as well as some hair lacquers. Hundreds of thousands of these insects are killed to create small amounts of this product.

Glycerine-this generally comes from animal fats, and is commonly used in a range of products including soaps, hair care, make-up, and moisturisers. Some products use vegetable glycerin, which is suitable for vegans. It can be derived from soya, coconut oil, or palm oil (which some vegans choose to avoid).

Casein-this is also known as sodium caseinate and caseinate). It is generally derived from cow’s milk, and can be used in conditioning hair products and face treatments. A vegan alternative can be derived from plant-based milks and will usually be labelled as  a vegetable protein.

Squalene-this chemical, extracted from shark liver oil, is commonly used in lip balm, deodorants, and moisturisers among other products. It is considered a powerful ingredient with anti-ageing properties. Vegan squalene exists and is derived from olives and wheat germ. It is not always labelled as such, so when a product lists this ingredient, you may have to do further research to establish whether it is plant-based.

Guanine-created by scraping the scales off dead fish, guanine is sometimes used to make sparkly nail polish, eyeshadow, highlighters, bronzers and blusher. 

Oleic acid-aka oleyl stearate, oleyl oleate or tallow. This animal fat is used as a softening and conditioning emollient in nail polish, soap, moisturisers and make-up. Oleic acid can be plant-derived from a number of sources including coconut, olives, and nuts. These forms may be labelled as vegan.

Animal hair-this can be found in brushes-even ones labelled ‘cruelty-free’ and is often sourced from fox, sable, horse, goat, mink and squirrel. Animal hair-particularly mink-is also sometimes used in false eyelashes. Synthetic options are available.

Stearic Acid-generally derived from pigs’ stomachs (also cows and sheep), this ingredient is commonly found in deodorant, soaps, hair products and moisturisers. A vegan alternative (also called stearic acid) can be derived from animal fats. As well as being cruelty-free, the vegan version is also less likely to irritate the skin.

Carmine-this can also be labelled as cochineal, natural red 4, E120, and C.I. 75470. This red colourant, which is often used in lipsticks, blushers and nail polish, is derived from insects. The cochineals are crushed and the colour is extracted, with tens of thousands of the creatures killed to produce mere grams of dye.

Collagen-used in lots of anti-ageing products as well as lip plumping items, this fibrous protein is derived from animal tissue, bone, skin, or ligaments-often from cows. The efficacy of collagen, in terms of whether it can even penetrate the skin, is questionable. Plant-based alternatives include soya protein and almond oil.

Elastin-this is often used in the same kind of products as collagen, and is also a protein extracted from the muscles, ligaments and aortas of animals. Vegan alternatives include hyaluronic acid and MSM.

Keratin-comes from the hair and horns of animals, and is often found in strengthening nail and hair products. Soya protein and almond oil are used as vegan alternatives. 

Beeswax-sometimes labelled as cera alba, this wax is often used in cosmetics to keep emulsions from separating into its oil and liquid components. It is commonly used in mascara too. Alternatives exist in the form of plant and soya waxes.

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