What Are Vegan Cosmetics?

Lumara Lee

Vegan cosmetics are body care products such as moisturizers, deodorants and makeup that don’t contain any components made from animals or produced by animals. This differs from vegetarian cosmetics which don’t use ingredients made from animals either, but which may contain substances such as lanolin and beeswax that are produced by animals. Vegan cosmetics are often cruelty-free because they aren’t tested on animals.

Vegan cosmetics are often produced using cruelty-free, hypoallergenic ingredients.
Vegan cosmetics are often produced using cruelty-free, hypoallergenic ingredients.

Many cosmetics contain ingredients made from animals, and it can be a challenge for someone following a vegan lifestyle to find vegan-friendly products. The product label will usually let the consumer know whether or not a cosmetic is vegan-friendly and cruelty-free. Sometimes, however, products that claim to be cruelty-free or natural contain animal byproducts, so the vegan consumer needs to be aware of the source of the ingredients listed on the label.

The squalene in cosmetics may be obtained from shark's liver.
The squalene in cosmetics may be obtained from shark's liver.

The name of an ingredient may not provide any indication of origin, so someone following a strict vegan path will have to become educated about the source of some ingredients commonly used in the cosmetics industry. For example, carmine is a red pigment commonly used in rouge, foundation makeup, lipstick, and eyeshadow. The name of this dye gives no indication that it is made from crushed insects. Elastin, seen on the label of many skin and hair moisturizers and conditioners, is made from animal connective tissue.

Lecithin is a waxy substance that can originate from either plants or animals. It is often seen as an ingredient in soaps, shampoos, lipsticks, lotions, and other cosmetics. Unless a product is labeled as vegan, the consumer has no way of knowing whether the lecithin on the label was derived from a plant or an animal source.

Squalene is an ingredient commonly used in skin-care products to moisturize and condition skin. It can be derived from either olives or shark livers. This is another ingredient that the vegan needs to watch out for. If the label lists squalene as an ingredient but doesn’t say the product is vegan-friendly, the strict vegan should look elsewhere.

Lanolin is used in many products to soften and condition the skin. This natural emollient is derived from the fatty substance in sheep’s wool that protects the sheep from cold, damp weather. Vegan cosmetics will utilize softening agents derived from plant oils in place of lanolin.

Several organizations have created websites where the vegan can go to learn which companies manufacture vegan cosmetics. Other organizations have instituted programs to certify products as vegan-friendly. Doing some Internet research and purchasing products that have the logo from any of these certifying organizations are the best ways for a vegan to determine whether or not a product contains any animal byproducts.

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