Continuing our series on labeling in cosmetics, today we explore what makes products and cosmetics brands “vegan.” Fair warning: you might be surprised (and a little grossed out) by what’s in your natural products.

Let’s start with veganism. A strict vegan doesn’t eat animals or use or consume anything that exploits an animal. Said a different way, vegans avoid using animal products and byproducts, whether from live or dead animals, in all areas of life.

In the cosmetics world, vegan means a line or product has no animal ingredients or byproducts. While most vegan lines do not test on animals, they are not exempt from selling in China. You need to look for both cruelty-free and vegan to be sure you’re meeting both definitions.

Animal Byproducts

Obviously, we’re not putting slabs of bacon on our faces. But a surprising number of animal byproducts are used in skincare and makeup.

For naturalistas, these are the top offenders:

  • Bees: Beeswax, bee pollen, honey, and honeycomb are all commonly used in natural product lines. Royal jelly is a secretion from the throats of worker honeybees.
  • Sheep: Lanolin is derived from wool.
  • Cows: Yogurt and lactic acid are common natural exfoliators derived from milk. Casein is a milk protein used in moisturizing products.
  • Horses: There’s no sugarcoating this one. Urea or uric acid, aka urine. It’s from urine. On your face. Gross af. For this very reason, US brands use synthetic urea in cosmetics, but that comes with its own set of issues.


Other common ingredients that you’ll want to check:

  • Natural sources: A catch-all term that could mean animal or plant, allowed when less than 2% of a product by weight comes from that source.
  • Fish oil: Made from the scales of fish and full of established health benefits, but still requires dead fish.
  • Carmine: Also called “crimson lake” or “Natural Red 4,” a natural red coloring made from crushed beetles, very commonly used for deep reds, pinks, and purples.
  • Natural bristles: May be animal hair from one or many sources. Check your makeup brushes. Boar bristles are common in luxury hairbrushes.


If you want to look deeper and check your sources, here’s PETA’s full animal-derived ingredients list. (Caution: some of the descriptions might gross you out.)


Finding Vegan Cosmetics Brands

Very few brands are 100% vegan, but many have collections and specific colors that are, like Urban Decay and Kat von D’s #veganalert statement. For scents and skincare, Pacifica has a 100% vegan line of perfumes, makeup, skincare, home scents and candles. You can see a current list of third-party evaluated cruelty-free vegan cosmetics brands on Logical Harmony and download a handy shopping list to your phone.

If you like watching more than reading, YouTube vloggers like LaMadelynn, AlexandrasGirlyTalk and boxes of foxes regularly review vegan products and post Get Ready With Mes.

Thankfully, most of the ingredients needed to stabilize cosmetics can now be made from plant sources, including fats like coconut or palm oil, or synthesized in a lab. When the choice is natural animal fat or synthetic science from the New Jersey Turnpike, the Jersey-industrial complex start looking pretty good to you. But it’s your face and your choice. Continue to purchase and promote your own values.

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