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Is my product vegan friendly?

August 28, 2018

This is a hot button topic right now chaps and I want you to know that I’m 100% onto it!

Vegan cosmetics may be hot right now but they are not a new thing, it’s just over the last year things have really picked up momentum. This is off the back of a growing awareness of the negative environmental impacts of a meat based diet plus growing concerns over animal testing – an issue that the Chinese cosmetic market has pushed back to the forefront thanks to their import testing requirements.

So how can you tell if your products are or aren’t vegan.  I mean, it’s not like you can just ask them is it?

Apparently vegan skin care is made from plant materials, minerals and some safe synthetics. I’d like to know more about those ‘safe’ synthetics as that would surely mean mineral oil based which actually means tiny little squashed dead things that are fossilised but anyway…

The ingredients list is a good place to start when ‘sanity checking’ a product and here are some things to check.

  1. Does it contain beeswax, honey, lanolin, milk, silk or derivatives thereof?  If it does it’s not vegan.
  2. Does it contain glycerin, squalene, collagen, hyaluronic acid?  These ingredients may or may not be animal derived.  Glycerin can come from the saponification of animal fat or (most likely) from vegetable oil saponification.  Hyaluronic acid can be from rooster combs but more often now it’s from microbial fermentation – you can read more about that here and work out for yourself if that still makes it vegan friendly.  Collagen is usually plant derived or a collagen-like substance but could come from animal cells and squalene can still be sourced from sharks although these days most western cosmetic companies source it from olive.
  3. Does the formula contain lecithin?  If yes, don’t stress as most comes from Soy or other vegetable sources (if organic it will be non GMO) BUT lecithin can come from eggs so you might want to double-check.
  4. Does it contain fatty materials other than glycerin?  Fats are the mainstay of the cosmetic industry and most come from palm (which is another story). These days it’s rare for things like stearic acid and Oleic acid to come from the meat industry but it’s not impossible, especially not in the cleaning and industrial end of the market.  Dow Chemicals still makes a range of tallow amines for industrial applications as per here. 
  5. Is it palm derived?  Palm oil is not animal derived and so palm oil derivatives are not strictly banned in vegan products but some vegans include palm free as a philosophy due to the damage that the palm industry is doing to the rain forests of the world. If this is a concern or something that a vegan brand wants to tap into then it’s essential to find the origins of all ingredients as palm can show up in a wide range of things including preservatives, emulsifiers and active ingredients.
  6. Is the product manufactured using ingredients from biotechnology?  Often microbes used in biotechnology materials are sourced from animals.  It’s not that animals are made to get sick so that the microbes can be harvested from them, more that certain microbes, when spotted during health checks, are swabbed and taken back for utilisation in this industry.  Otherwise microbes can come from plant material or other sources.  I don’t know if vegans go as far as to worry about the microbes that might grow their materials but this is likely to become a growing area of cosmetic science (due to the pro and pre biotic rush) so it might be worth having a bit of a think now. On top of various microbes potentially being sourced from animals, the broth used to grow (culture) these microbes is potentially made using bone and blood agar type media.
  7. Is there any Carmine in the formula? Carmine is a red/ pink pigment made from the Cochineal beetles that live on the prickly pear. This ingredient may also be known under its CI number: CI 75470. As it is expensive to source this colour from the beetle a fair bit of work is going into researching alternative sourcing methods including creating the colour via a fermentation process. This means that this beautiful red/pink colour may not be out of the reach of vegan skin care for ever.
  8. Chitosan – This fish-origin film former is sometimes added in natural hair gels, long-wear make-up, anti-wrinkle formulations and deep acting moisturisers. While it’s not that widely used it worth looking out for as it’s always derived from fishy little fish.
  9. Gelatin – Gelatin is not often used in cosmetics but it may well form part of a tablet coating or capsule coating, especially in natural products. This is extracted from animal connective tissue, skin and bone so it’s never vegan friendly unless it’s sold as animal gelatine and then it might be hydroxyethylcellulose or something similar.
  10. Keratin and/or Keratin Amino Acids – Chicken (Fowl) feathers are a pretty normal source of keratin for the cosmetic industry so unless you want chicken feathers in your creams and hair care, best leave this alone.
  11. Placenta – OK so this is a bit messy (pardon the pun).   The placenta extracts talked about in cosmetics can come from a number of sources, sometimes sheep or cow and other times human but mostly plant.  While plants don’t technically have a placenta in the same way that animals do, the term ‘placenta’ is sometimes applied to plant parts because the word grabs the attention and sells well. Then you have the ingredients that are synthetically made to re-create the goodness of a placenta without ever touching a placenta at all. So, vegans need not fear the placenta, merely do a bit more digging around in it to get to the bottom of what it is made of. Nice!
  12. Vitamin D (two types).  Vitamin D is not that abundant in plants but it is found in mushrooms so it may be that the vitamin D in your skin care comes from that source.  However, it could also come from egg yolks, liver or fish oil so it is definitely worth double checking.

But I’ve heard that there’s some other weird stuff put into cosmetics that can be from animals, like cows wee and stuff?

I’ve seen and had people ask me if the Urea in a hand cream comes from cows wee, the Allantoin in the soothing cream comes from Uric Acid (the stuff that gives you kidney stones – sourced from animal waste) or the Lactic Acid in the AHA mask comes from milk. The answer to all of these at least 99.9% of the time is NO, these things do not come from there and are, in fact, vegan friendly.

I think it’s worth noting that just because something CAN come from an animal source it doesn’t mean it ever HAS or is practical to continue to do so.  Sometimes I find that vegan reference sources are quite outdated and so it looks like something is a big deal when actually it is not.  That said, it is always good to double-check rather than not think about these things at all.

So is there anything else to consider?

Sure, there’s the animal testing credentials of the brand (and whether they sell in China as that’s most likely to put them into the animal testing basket at the moment although this situation will also change in the near future as China is investing the most in alternative testing methods.

People looking for vegan skin care should also satisfy themselves that the products being offered align with the reasons why they went vegan in the first place. Not everyone is vegan because of animal welfare for example, if you are more concerned about the environment and carbon footprints then it makes sense to seek out cosmetics that perform better than average in that realm too.

I hope this helps a little in your search for vegan skin care either as a maker or a wearer.

If you are a maker or wearer it is also worth noting that you can also look for products that have been accredited as cruelty free. Here is a link to the Australian teams website.  



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