Introductory Guide to Vegan Beauty

Heather Faulkner

Is my make up Vegan? 


Melissa Watt gives the rundown to being a cruelty free beauty queen. 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll love a bit of a pamper sesh. Luckily for us beauty lovers, it is now super easy to buy vegan beauty products in store and at a reasonable price. In this guide, you can find some tips and tricks for shopping cruelty-free. Please note that packaging and ingredients can change over time, so it is always worth double checking.

What is the difference between ‘cruelty free’ and ‘vegan’?

Unfortunately, just because something is cruelty free doesn’t mean it is vegan – and visa versa. ‘Vegan’ (or suitable for vegan/SFV) refers to products that do not contain any animal by-products or derivatives. ‘Cruelty free’ (CF) describes cosmetics that were not tested on any animals during any of its production and completion stages. Most vegans try to shop for products that are both. In this day and age, it is worth being more vigilant when you check product labelling because it can be misleading. Loreal, for example, claimed to sell a vegan range despite testing its products on animals. They had to rebrand the range as simply having a vegan formula. This is the perfect example of when a product can be vegan but not cruelty free.

What is the law on animal testing?

Animal testing for cosmetic ingredients has been illegal in the UK since 1998 and was later made illegal in the EU in 2009. However, brands operating in the EU can still test on animals if required by non-European law. Animal testing is notably compulsory in China. Brands who sell their product in these countries cannot be considered cruelty free as some of their products must be tested on animals.

What’s the deal with parent companies?

A parent company is a large company which owns and oversees other smaller brands. This may result in a cruelty-free brand, such as Nyx and Urban Decay, being owned by a larger non-cruelty-free brand, such as Loreal. Whether you should avoid cruelty-free brands owned by animal testing parent companies is a grey area and is clearly a matter of personal choice. On the one hand, boycotting these brands prevents the profits of cruelty-free brands going to the animal-testing parent company. This indirectly funds animal suffering. On the other hand, choosing to only buy from cruelty-free brands, even those owned by a non-cruelty free parent company, creates a bigger demand for cruelty-free products. This may even encourage parent companies to turn cruelty-free. Industry giants are becoming increasingly aware that consumers value the ethics behind the products that they are purchasing. As Suzi from Cruelty Free Kitty puts, ‘supporting cruelty-free brands owned by companies that test on animals is better than purchasing from brands that aren’t cruelty-free’.

 How to shop cruelty-free

The easiest way to shop cruelty free is to look for accredited symbols on the product’s label or packaging, the most trusted being the Leaping Bunny. The Leaping Bunny is the only internationally recognised certification organisation for cruelty-free brands. It is also super selective, meaning that all of the brands pledging to be cruelty-free are thoroughly investigated and must meet a high standard. You can download the Leaping Bunny app to check quickly on the go. Determining whether a product is CF and SFV is often a quick google search away. Cruelty Free Kitty has compiled a database containing hundreds of cruelty-free cosmetic brands. You can filter your search to show brands which are 100% vegan, don’t use palm oil in their products or are not owned by a parent company who tests on animals. For something more mobile-friendly, Rae, from Rae Likes Froot, has created The Vegan Guide – portable lists of vegan-friendly products from your favourite cruelty-free brands.

If still in doubt, it is wise to contact the brand directly. Suzi from Cruelty Free Kitty recommends emailing customer service, rather than messaging someone on social media, as they are more likely to have in-depth product knowledge. In your email, you should ask if any of their products are tested on animals in any of the production or completion stages – not just the final product. This includes the ingredient suppliers and any third-party affiliations. It is also worth clarifying if the brand tests on animals when required by law. Superdrug is the most accessible place to shop for cruelty-free beauty. Superdrug is committed to stocking a wide range of affordable and cruelty-free brands including B., e.l.f, Barry M, Revolution, Gosh and Sleek.

They also have an online vegan filter to highlight these products and ranges. Superdrug conveniently uses the leaping bunny symbol on all of its own-brand products and indicates which of its products are suitable for vegans – which is a lot!

Non-vegan ingredients commonly found in cosmetics:


Ambergris: A fragrance fixative in perfumes produced in the intestinal tract of whales.


Animal hair or fur: Non-vegan makeup brushes and false eyelashes often contain the hair or fur of weasels, squirrels, minks, badgers, ponies or goats. These animals are often kept in poor and cruel conditions. There are now a range of synthetic alternatives available such as Taklon or Nylon. Both ingredients are naturally hypoallergenic and are better suited to sensitive skin.


Beeswax: Extracted from the honeycombs of honey bees, this is a prevalent cosmetics-grade wax found in most lip products, creams, lotions, mascaras, and sometimes eye shadows. It’s also used in foundations and face paints, and some whitening products.


Carmine/Carminic Acid /Cochineal: This is red pigment made from crushing the female cochineal beetle, often found in red and pink-coloured cosmetics. PETA reports that 70,000 beetles must be killed to produce just one pound of this red dye.


Casein/Caseinate/Sodim Casienate: This protein is generally extracted from cow’s milk and is widely used in hair products and beauty masks.


Cholesterol: This steroid alcohol is derived from a number of animal sources including fat, nervous tissues, eggs and blood. It is sometimes used in eye creams and shampoo.


Collagen: A fibrous protein that is naturally produced in animals. In order to extract the protein, collagen is taken from dead animals by cooking cartilaginous animal materials, such as bones, connective tissues and skin. Collagen is typically used because of its temporary plumping or firming effect and can be found in lotions, creams or lipsticks.


Estrogen/Estradiol: A female hormone typically extracted from the urine of pregnant horses. It is often found in lotions, perfume and restorative creams.


Glycerin/Glycerol: A by-product of animal fat and widely used in lip products, lotions, balms, toothpastes and soaps. Many companies have begun to ditch it in favour of vegetable glycerin.


Keratin: An animal protein made from ground hooves, horns, feathers and fur. It is a common ingredient in hair products including treatments, shampoo and perm products.


Lactic Acid: This is derived from the blood and muscle tissue and can be found in many exfoliators. Many companies are now moving toward a form of lactic acid sourced from beets.


Lanolin: An emollient commonly extracted from the oil glands of sheep. It is widely used in lipstick, lip gloss, lip balm and hair products.


Lecithin: Found in waxy cosmetics, this substance is often derived from eggs of found in animal nervous tissue. The vegan-friendly version is nearly always labelled as ‘soy lecithin’.


Glycerides/Monoglycerides/Triglycerides: An animal fat derivative used in glycerin based products.


Musk: This ingredient is traditionally sourced from the genital secretions of musk deer, otters, beavers and wild cats. It is used in some fragrances although brands are increasingly replacing musk with synthetic alternatives.


Oleic acid: A fatty acid found in tallow (a form of animal fat) which is often used as an emollient in cosmetic products. The vegan-friendly version is derived from nuts and olives.


Placenta: An organ found in pregnant mammals which is used in skin and hair treatments and anti-aging products. Though the extraction of the placenta is natural during birth, many animal rights activists insist commercial placenta is being harvested from the uteri of slaughtered animals.


Polypeptides: An animal-based protein commonly used in anti-aging products.


Polysorbates: An edible fatty acid derivative used as emulsifier in a range of cosmetics.


Progesterone: This animal-based steroid hormone is commonly used in a


Retinol: An animal-derived vitamin used for its anti-aging properties


- Melissa Watt


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