Table of contents


What does vegan-friendly mean?


Animal Testing in Cosmetics


What animal-derived ingredients are in cosmetics?


How to tell if makeup is vegan-friendly


How to tell if makeup is cruelty-free


Where to buy vegan-friendly makeup

Being vegan can be a minefield. The longer you are vegan, the more you learn. Things you never even imagined contain animal by-products, and then there’s the issue of animal testing. How do you know which cosmetics are safe? Below we will explore how to buy vegan-friendly makeup to try and make it easier.

What does vegan-friendly mean?

Let’s start with the definition of vegan-friendly. The term vegan-friendly means that it doesn’t contain animal ingredients or ingredients derived from animals. A vegan-friendly product should not have any animal products used in the creation of it.

Since vegans seek to avoid the exploitation and cruelty of animals as far as possible, they should, where possible, endeavour to use cruelty-free products also.

This means that products or their ingredients should not have been tested on animals. This area can be tricky. Not all countries allow the sale of cosmetics that have not been tested on animals.

In March 2013, the EU banned the sale of cosmetics that had been tested on animals. This prohibition applies to both cosmetic products and their ingredients. After the ban’s introduction, cosmetics could not be sold in the EU if they had been subjected to animal testing after the date of the ban being implemented. On the face of it, this seems to provide peace of mind until you delve a little deeper.

animal testing on a bunny

Animal Testing in Cosmetics:

There are still many companies that test on animals, even vegan ones. It is not legal in the EU or the United States to sell cosmetics that have been tested on animals within country borders, but this does not mean they are cruelty-free. Cruelty-free means no animal testing was carried out during any point of production, including the ingredients used in them.

Some countries still require companies to pay for animal testing in order to sell their cosmetics in the country. China is one such country. Although the laws are slowly being reformed and some headway has been made, many cosmetic companies still have to pay for this animal testing to market their products there.

With China being the second biggest cosmetic market after the USA, bringing in £4 billion in revenue, this is a huge problem. It means that large companies such as L’Oreal, Estee Lauder and Procter and Gamble have paid for their products to be tested on to be compliant.

Companies effectively chose profit over morals, even those that had previously been able to claim their products were cruelty free such as L’Occitane and Yves Rocher.

In China, cosmetics fall into two categories, special-use cosmetics and non-special-use cosmetics. The law has recently changed in China. This means MOST non-special-use cosmetics that are imported to the country won’t have to submit samples for animal testing.

Special-use cosmetics, however, still have to be tested.

What’s a special-use cosmetic?

Cosmetics that make functional claims such as hair dyes, sunscreens, whiteners, deodorants, anti-ageing creams etc. or products that make new claims of their efficacy are classed as special-use cosmetics. These products, whether made inside China or outside China, still need to be tested on animals.

Non-special-use cosmetics include things like makeup and nail varnish.

In order for cosmetic manufacturers to sell their non-special-use cosmetics in China without the need for animal testing, they must meet the following condition.

  • Obtain GMP certifications issued and granted by the local government cosmetic authority
  • Provide a Safety Assessment that can fully confirm the safety of products

Some manufacturers have reported difficulties in obtaining these. Hopefully, as governments get used to these new rules, the red tape will be removed, making it easier.

Until very recently, ALL cosmetics imported into China had to submit samples for animal testing. So, the laws are being adapted, but it’s not really fast enough. In this day in age, we have found other ways to test products that don’t involve the torture of animals.

Cochineal Bug Dye

What animal-derived ingredients are in cosmetics?

When it comes to cosmetics, the labels can be confusing. Much of the ingredients have chemical names making animal products more difficult to spot than in food.

These cosmetics ingredients contain animal by-products:

  • Beeswax. As with honey, this is not vegan-friendly. Animal cruelty still occurs to harvest it. We wrote about why vegans can’t eat honey here.
  • Gelatin. (Usually made of skin and bones of pigs or cows).
  • Lanolin. (Dried sebaceous gland secretions from sheep). There are synthetic and plant-based versions of lanolin. But beware of ‘cruelty-free lanolin, which could still come from wool.
  • Oleic Acid / oleyl stearate, oleyl oleate or tallow. (Fatty tissue of cows or pigs). There are plant-based versions derived from coconut, olives, and nuts. They may or may not be clearly labelled, making it difficult to tell the difference.
  • Shellac. (Resinous ooze produced by the female Indian “lac” bug). It takes hundreds of thousands of bugs deaths to create a small amount of Shellac.
  • Glycerine. (Obtained from animal fats). There is a vegetable form of glycerin that is suitable for vegans. It’s not always clearly labelled as such, though.
  • Casein / Sodium Caseinate / Caseinate. (Comes from cows milk).
  • Squalene. (Extracted from shark liver oil). There is vegan squalene which comes from olives and wheat germ. Once again, the origin is not always clearly labelled, making this a grey area.
  • Guanine. (Dead fish scales).
  • Stearic Acid. (Pigs, cow or sheep stomachs) A vegan alternative can be made from plant fats. It may be difficult to tell the version from the label unless clearly labelled as a vegan product.
  • Carmine / Cochineal / Natural Red 4 / E120 / CI 75470. (Crushed Cochineal insects). Like Shellac, hundreds of thousands of dead bugs are required to make tiny amounts of this red dye.
  • Collagen. (From animal tissue, bone, skin and ligaments).
  • Keratin. (From animal horns and hair).
  • Elastin. (Extracted from aortas, ligaments and muscles of animals)
  • Animal Hair.  This can be used in eyelashes and makeup brushes. Even some brushes labelled cruelty free are from animals.

There are vegan-friendly alternatives for many of the above ingredients, which begs the question, why don’t the manufacturers use them instead. It’s the cosmetic equivalent of milk powder which seems to be in everything unnecessarily.

How to tell if makeup is vegan-friendly

The most obvious way to tell is to look for the trusted Vegan Society mark. This provides complete peace of mind as it’s been tested and certified by The Vegan Society. The problem is, not all vegan makeup contains this seal of approval. Brands have to pay to license their products on a per-product basis which can add up.

Some brands may self-certify that their products are vegan. We would always recommend checking out the ingredients yourself and researching to be safe here as there can be issues further back the supply chain.

You can, of course, clue yourself up on the list of ingredients to avoid from above. It may be difficult to remember them all. You could take a screenshot of them on your phone and save it to favourites.

There are also apps available from the app store which can scan barcodes and tell you if it’s vegan-friendly makeup. I have been trying out iVegan on my iPhone. Currently, many products come back unknown, but as more people use these apps, more information can be added to the database to make them more accurate.

Vegan trademarks

How to tell if makeup is cruelty-free

There are a few marks that brands can display if they are cruelty-free, see above image. There’s the leaping bunny, cruelty-free, cruelty-free international and not tested on animals. These are widely accepted accreditations for cruelty-free products.

Once again, companies can self-certify and may use their own icons. As with vegan self-certification, we would always advise a little bit of research to be safe with these products.

Google is a helpful guide, and there are websites such as Peta which list cruelty-free brands.

There is also an app for that. I have been trialling the Cruelty-Cutter app on my iPhone and have found it to have a more extensive database than the iVegan app, although the barcode scanner is more clumsy. I simply scan a product, and it tells me whether it’s cruelty-free or not. This is great when you are in the shops looking for products to purchase.


Where to buy vegan-friendly makeup

There are some companies that purely create vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics, such as elf, Barry M, and Kat von D’s line, KVD Beauty.

Other manufacturers have dedicated vegan-friendly makeup lines such as Makeup Revolution, NYX and even Superdrug’s own brand.

As with any products selling a more limited range, it can be difficult to always find them in-store, especially if you live in towns with smaller stores. The internet is your friend here. Shops like Superdrug, Boots and Marks and Spencer have dedicated vegan cosmetic pages on their websites now.

You can also Google brands names and products and use Amazon or Google shopping to find vegan makeup.

Being vegan has become easier as more and more people have made the change. The greater the demand, the more the big stores and manufacturers will stand up and listen. We can only hope that someday, in the not-so-distant future, vegan-friendly ingredients that are cruelty-free are the norm in everything.



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