Vegan Beauty

By Lisa Sykes / July 6, 2012

It isn’t easy being vegan. Let’s face it, we need to be about 100 times as diligent as everyone else about what we eat and wear. Life can get complicated. And yet the vegan philosophy itself is simple: we believe that animals should not be eaten, worn, experimented on, or used for entertainment.

While ingredients like eggs, dairy, beeswax and honey– common in spa and beauty products–may be acceptable to vegetarians, to vegans they are not, even if it they are locally sourced and organic. And the same holds true for beauty and skincare: If we are so careful about what we put IN our bodies, doesn’t it make sense for us to worry about what we put ON our bodies, too?

Sure enough, over the last few years, there has been a huge spike in beauty and personal-care products marketed as “vegan.” It’s not surprising, since there are many more of us around. As part of the natural beauty movement, the vegan lifestyle is becoming more mainstream. Vegan is virtually everywhere, and this small but growing market is gaining momentum because we’re becoming more knowledgeable—and vocal—about ingredients and the treatment of animals. According to a 2011 poll conducted by the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG), three percent of U.S. adults say that they’re vegan. This is up from a 2006 VRG poll that revealed 1.4%. Sure, the percentages may seem small, but keep in mind the numbers are in the millions.

And consider the interest big companies have shown in cruelty-free product lines: Colgate-Palmolive purchased Tom’s of Maine, and Dean Foods, the largest U.S. producer of dairy, purchased White Wave (makers of Silk). While these acquisitions are fodder for debate among vegans, they indicate a shift in how corporate America now views the vegan market: profitable.

But what is vegan beauty, really? And how do you know if your beauty product—or tool—is vegan?


Animal hair brushes are generally made using fur from squirrels, minks, sables, horses, or goats, all by-products flowing from the fur and meat industries. Furthermore, many of these brushes are made in countries that have little or no regulations concerning animal welfare, which is why vegans choose brushes made with synthetic fibers such as amazingly soft taklon.


The skin absorbs products that are applied topically. If you abstain from eating fish or beef, you will want to avoid it in your personal care products, too. However, figuring out which ingredients to avoid can be tricky. You won’t actually see “fish liver” or “rendered beef fat” on a label, so some due diligence is required. And it gets even more confusing: several ingredients could come from either a plant or animal source, and the name on the ingredient declaration doesn’t distinguish between the two. Here are a few examples, and ingredients to look out for:

Collagen: A conditioning agent derived from the connective tissues of mammals. Though it’s generally taken from bovine sources, it can come from fish, pigs, chickens, or plants.

Elastin: Similar to collagen, it is derived from the ligaments of cows or from plants. It can also be synthetic.

Lactic Acid: An exfoliant and skin brightener, it can be derived from animal tissue or fermented plant sources.

Squalene: A lipid used as a moisturizer that is derived from shark liver or plants.

Vitamin A: Can come from fish liver, egg yolks, plant sources, or can be synthetic.

Sodium Tallowate: The main component in bar soaps, it commonly comes from rendered beef fat, though it can also come from plant sources.

In cases where the ingredients could be either flora or fauna, there’s no way to tell unless you ask the manufacturer to provide a copy of each questionable ingredient’s certificate of analysis. To avoid this kind of research, vegans opt for established vegan brands and third party certifications such as the ones offered by the non-profit Vegan Action ( and The Vegan Society (

LISA SYKES is a sustainability specialist for with expertise in ingredients and cosmetic chemistry. She is co-chair of the Green Spa Network ( personal care product committee and serves on its advisory council.



For environmental and ethical reasons, some companies have excluded animal testing and ingredients from the very beginning. These are just a few examples in a widening variety of vegan lines that are available:

SpaRitual: Hand, foot, and body products

including nail lacquers that include

mica instead of fish scales to provide a

glittering effect.

Intelligent Nutrients: Vegan, with the

exception of one product: lip gloss.

Sevani Beauty: Gluten-free, non-

GMO skincare formulated by a holistic

aesthetician with ayurvedic and organic


Bayberry Naturals: A new bath and body

line created by a mom for her family.

Earth Mama Angel Baby: Products

for pregnant women and babies.

Soapwalla Kitchen: Sensitive skincare

and deodorant.

Lisa Sykes
Lisa Sykes

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