Vegan Skin Care: An Honest Looks at What it Really Means
March 29, 2024

Vegan Skin Care: An Honest Looks at What it Really Means

What is Vegan Skin Care?

Living a vegan lifestyle has become increasingly common. Avoiding all animal-derived products has become easier to adapt to because of the accessibility of vegan options available in the market. There are a multitude of reasons why a vegan lifestyle is chosen, and the varying degree of adherence to living a strictly vegan life is often different for each individual. For instance, eating a diet that is void of all animal products is often the main goal for some individuals. However, depending on their level of commitment, some people kick it up a notch and try to avoid all animal products by choosing their clothing, home goods, shoes, accessories, and even skin care products to be vegan. Choosing a skin care product is tricky enough, but to choose a vegan skin care product can prove to be even more difficult. There are many brands that are labeled as vegetarian, vegan, organic, natural, cruelty-free, etc.

The Vegan distinction is that all ingredients must be:[1]

  • Cruelty-free (never tested on animals)
  • Free of all animal products (including by-products)

There are many non-vegan ingredients that may catch you by surprise, because they are either derived from animal products or can be produced using another animal-based ingredient.[2] Here is a table of some ingredients to look out for that are listed in an article by the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA):[2]

Table 1. Possible Non-Vegan Ingredients and Vegan Alternatives[2]

Non-Vegan Ingredients Source(s) Vegan Alternatives
Beeswax Bee hives Carnauba wax, candelilla wax, etc.
Hyaluronic acid An animal-based protein present in the synovial fluid of joints and umbilical cords[3] Plant oils or synthetic forms of hyaluronic acid
Collagen Animal-based protein found in joints Soy protein, almond oil, etc.
Keratin Protein derived from hooves, horns, etc. Other plant oils (i.e. almond oil) and oils with similar strength-boosting properties (i.e. rosemary oil)
Stearic acid Often made from the fat of hooved animals Derivatives of cocoa and shea butter
Lactic acid Made from animal-based food products Plant-based sugars (i.e. beet derivatives)
Retinol Animal sources of vitamin A Carotenoids (i.e. carrot-seed oil, astaxanthin, etc.)
Vitamin A Fish oil, eggs, etc. Plant-based carotenoids
Squalene Oil from shark liver Plant oils (i.e. olive oil)
Vitamin D3 Fish oil, dairy products, etc. Vitamin D2, sun exposure, plant sources of vitamin D, etc.


Potential Side Effects of Vegan Skin Care

Although there may be some benefits of using vegan skin care products such as possibly supporting a more “natural,” “ethical,” and maybe even more “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” product…there are still some potential side issues to keep in mind. For example, although animal-testing may be deemed “cruel” and unacceptable to some, it does have some advantages in terms of safety over products that are not tested on animals. Testing a product before putting it on the market is important for the safety of the public. The FDA does not require animal testing on cosmetics, nor does it have the power to approve the labels and claims on products before they are introduced to the public.[4] There is the possibility that a product that is not tested on animals, which includes vegan skin care products, may not be completely safe for human use (even if the ingredients are natural).[4]


Vegan Skin Care Labeling

According to the FDA, the use of the cosmetic industry to use labels such as “cruelty-free” and “not tested on animals” may not be regulated and may be inaccurate.[5] For example, a cosmetic company may be utilizing ingredients that are not currently tested on animals, but have been tested on animals in the past.[5] There is also no legal definitions of the terms “cruelty-free” and “not tested on animals” and so despite what you see on product labels more research may be warranted if you want accurate information on a product.[5]


Practical Tips for Choosing Vegan Skin Care Products

As you can see it is difficult to know exactly what is in your skin care products due to the non-regulation of labeling and claims made by companies. Here are some simple tips for choosing vegan skin care products:

  • Look for labels such as “vegan,” “cruelty-free,” “not tested on animals,” and research the product company to confirm that they are true claims.
  • Read the ingredient labels and research which ingredients may be from animal sources.
  • Test the product on a small area of your skin before applying to larger areas of your body to ensure you can tolerate the ingredients (especially if some ingredients are synthetic alternatives to animal-derived ingredients).
  • Visit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) website for a more extensive list of vegan vs. non-vegan ingredients that may be used in cosmetics.