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Why are people asking if vegetable oils and butters are vegan?

October 10, 2018

All of a sudden everyone wants everything to be vegan.

I’ve no problem with that and indeed, see many merits to a vegan lifestyle but I am kind of puzzled about how some people get here – to the vegan skin care thing, especially when those people ask me if a vegetable oil or butter is vegan.

I had a question from a client last week about Shea Butter – is it vegan. Another this week about Cocoa Butter.

I am left scratching my head trying to work out how people interested in being vegan cosmetic users/ makers couldn’t answer that. If truth be known I’m left fearing for humanity. Am I over-reacting?

The two butters I was questioned about come straight from the plant – Shea and Cocoa. To coin a Lady Gaga phrase, they are born that way babe. As far as I know no animals get their dirty paws into that process.

But not all butters are born that way – maybe that is a legitimate source of the uncertainty?

Some butters, take Almond butter for example, are made by hardening almond oil up with a hydrogenated vegetable oil – that vegetable oil can be anything, including (but not always – don’t fall into that trap) palm.  At the moment (and possibly forever) palm is still a vegan input being plant-based so even these manufactured butters are vegan friendly.  Further, it is also possible to be vegan friendly if synthetic additives (silicones and/or petroleum oils and waxes) are used so even these things would be vegan friendly.  Indeed the only things that aren’t vegan friendly are animal derived ingredients so let’s have a look at those.

Waxy things that MIGHT creep into manufactured (rather than ‘green’) butters and waxes and therefore MIGHT cause confusion for people looking to be vegan are:


Tallow wax

Tallow Stearin

Spermaceti Wax

However, these ingredients would generally appear on the INCI listing for the material as part of the ingredients.  There aren’t many ways to ‘hide’ the origin of these things, their name gives them away, so it should be quite easy to spot them and single them out to avoid. The only exception would possibly be tallow stearin which could be called ‘stearic acid’  or ‘Sodium Stearate’ if it had been reacted with sodium hydroxide.  However, since the mad cow debacle of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s not much tallow stearin is used in the cosmetic industry. It’s usually palm derived.

So back to the question my clients asked, maybe this is where seeds of doubt come in – the stearin origin?

Shea and Cocoa Butter are known to contain high levels of stearic acid, indeed it is this stearic that helps to give the butters their melting point.  Maybe some seed of doubt due to insufficient trust have built up leading to questions about the origin of such stearic acid.  While it is not impossible that extra stearic, possibly from tallow, could make its way into Cocoa or Shea Butter, the correct way to sell those products would be as mixtures, with two INCI listings, rather than as a whole, single ingredient.  This additional process step, of adding extra stearic, should also show up in a material manufacturing flow chart.  I’ve never seen this information reflected in a flow cart for these ingredients but I am aware that me not seeing it does not mean that it has never happened.  However, I would question the point of doing it a) when the butters contain enough natural stearic anyway,  b) when tallow stearin has to go through several processes before it can be used meaning it’s not just as simple as whacking in some tallow and b) much of the Cocoa and Shea butter produced goes into food applications and they are even more picky than cosmetics for food origin so it would likely cause a riot if this were, indeed going on.

After going through that I can now see how people might come to ask that question.

But I’m not sure that the people asking that question did come to ask it because of that way of thinking.

I anticipate that many people just don’t know any more.

Don’t know who to trust.

Don’t know where to go for information that’s ‘right’

Don’t feel empowered enough to make a call without double and triple checking.

And so once again I’m back to where I started, fearing about humanity…





3 Comments leave one →
  1. Margi permalink
    October 12, 2018 8:20 am

    It’s the insanity of the times.

  2. Verna Harris permalink
    May 11, 2020 1:13 am

    I had a friend ask me to make them a soap/product without nut oils because her daughter may have ciliac disease. That was interesting…she didn’t want nut oils or anything from a tree that produced nuts.

  3. Mike permalink
    May 11, 2020 8:43 am

    It’s all about the dumbing down of science curricula… people just don’t know anymore.

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