When you decide to reduce the suffering of living things, compassion doesn’t end at meal time. As more people adopt a plant-based and vegan diet, they’re starting to look behind the label of their personal care and cosmetic products and surprised to learn that crushed bugs, fish liver oil, fat from slaughtered animals, and ground-up horns are commonly found in our beauty products.
- Beeswax (cera alba) – A wax secreted by bees to build their honeycombs, in which larvae are reared and honey and pollen are stored. Obtained by humans by being cut out of the beehives. Beeswax is used in cosmetics as an emollient, emulsifier and film forming agent.
- Propolis – This is basically bee “glue” – a mixture of tree resins and digestive juices of bees. Used by bees as a building material for sealing small cracks and reinforcing the hive. Propolis is used in cosmetics as a moisturizer, smoothing agent, or as an antimicrobial agent in toothpaste, shampoos, deodorants, etc.
- Biotin (often in shampoos) – Occurs naturally in differing amounts in many foods, notably in yeast, liver, kidney, egg yolk, soybeans, nuts, and cereals. Is typically manufactured by synthesis from petroleum products, but can also be derived from cysteine. Hair and skin conditioner in shampoos and cosmetic creams. (Also labeled as Vitamin H, Vitamin B7)
- Carmine (carminic acid) – Red dye from crushed female cochineal scale insects. More than 150,000 insects may be required for 1kg of the dye. Used as a colorant in cosmetics and foods. (Also labeled as carminic acid, cochineal, crimson lake, E 120)
- Castor (castoreum – from beavers’ anal glands!)
- Collagen – A fibrous protein in the connective tissue of vertebrates. Various forms are present in bone, teeth, cartilage, ligaments, sinews and skin. Is obtained from “slaughterhouse waste,” such as cartilage, sinews and skins of cattle and fish. Collagen is used as an active agent against wrinkles and a humectant in cosmetics. (Apparently this is all the rage right now and people are pouring it into their coffee but this shit literally comes off of the dirty killing floor. No thanks.)
- Fish scales (in shimmery makeup!)
- Gelatin – ground up animal parts, basically a hot dog for your face.
- Guanine – can be from killed animals or synthetic. The pearlescent part of fish scales. Industrially manufactured from the scales and skin of fish. Can also be produced from uric acid. Opacifier and colourant (pearlescent pigment) in cosmetics, e.g. shampoos, nail polish, eye shadow. Pearlescent in paints, lacquers, and plastics.
- Keratin – Protein derived from ground horns, hooves, claws, nails, hair, scales and feathers of diverse vertebrates. Keratin is used in cosmetics as a hair and skin conditioner.
- Lanolin (and various derivatives, including triterpene alcohol) – Secretion of the sebaceous glands of sheep. Is washed out of the wool of shorn or slaughtered sheep and purified. Lanolin is used in cosmetics as an antistatic, emollient, hair and skin conditioner, surfactant and carrier.
- Shellac – Dark brown resin from the excretions of lac scale insects, collected from the branches the insects live on. Emollient, film forming agent, viscosity controlling agent, and hair fixatives in cosmetics. Used in nail polish.
- Squalene – can be from killed animals or vegetable. Occurs naturally (along with squalane) in fish liver oil and many vegetable oils. Obtained from shark liver oil or olive oil. Antistatic, emollient, hair conditioner and refatting substance in cosmetics.
- Stearic acid – Generally derived from pigs’ stomachs (also cows and sheep), this ingredient is commonly found in deodorant, soaps, hair products and moisturizers. A vegan alternative (also called stearic acid) can be derived from animal fats.As well as being cruelty-free, the vegan version is also less likely to irritate the skin.
- Turtle oil
Ok, more bad news. When considering a cruelty-free lifestyle, there is also the additional issue of animal testing. I’m not going to belabor this section because we all know animal testing is awful. I could show you pictures of cats who were purposely blinded for mascara testing or a dog that was burned over and over and then killed for a face wash…but it’s Friday and I’m not in the mood. If you’re curious, you can google it.
The animals used in experiments for beauty products are not only confined to small cages and inhumane conditions, but they’re also subjected to tests that are beyond cruel. They’re tortured, maimed, blinded, and ultimately killed. Ok, I lied about showing you pictures – you can see a laboratory bunny here (warning: graphic content).
Some companies try to tell us that animal testing serves a purpose: tests are being performed on animals to make sure that ingredients and products are safe enough for humans. The truth is there are alternatives to animal testing for ingredient safety. For example, many companies choose to use in vitro testing, which has many advantages over animal testing. There are also cultured cell tissues and well as computer models.
Science favors these alternatives over animal testing because they’re more conclusive, but animal testing has the advantage of being low-cost. Animals are only used because they’re more “affordable”, which is extremely unethical.
Cats and dogs are commonly used in medical animal experiments, as well. Based on statistics from 2013, 67,772 dogs and 24,221 cats were used in animal testing in the United States alone that year. In terms of dog breeds, a shockingly large number of Beagles are used, because of their docile nature.
Which companies test on animals? Ugh, too many. Brands I have used in the past before I found out. Thankfully, there are quality products to replace this garbage (more on that below). In the meantime, avoid using:
Companies that test on animals in 2019 choose to test on animals.
Switching to cruelty-free products is one of the best ways to say no to animal testing. All life deserves to have respect, dignity and compassion! A living thing should in no way suffer for the sake of my lipstick.
It took me a while to figure out which products were cruelty-free and which were not. Be patient with yourself if this is part of your journey, but also be diligent and curious. There are a lot of resources to figure out what products are best!
When I bought makeup for my wedding, I walked into the makeup store and said, “Hello, I’m vegan, I would like to spend my money here, show me everything you have that is cruelty-free.” I took up SPACE in that store because it was important for me to speak up about what I would not tolerate as it relates to suffering. The same thing goes for getting services done, or makeup and hair done for events – if I can call beforehand and they offer vegan products, cool, if not, I do my own hair and makeup. There are also plenty of stores you can patronize that only sell natural and vegan makeup. My local favorite, thanks to my friend, Gabi is Aillea.
That being said, how do you get there if you don’t know much about personal beauty products?
If you’re unsure of whether a beauty product is vegan, first look that it hasn’t been tested on animals — the Leaping Bunny logo is an easy indicator. Then, double-check for any animal products like carmine, lanolin, collagen, or tallow. And don’t forget about beeswax, a common ingredient binder in products like mascara. Additionally, it needs to be totally cruelty-free, so any product that uses animal testing is out. Be careful of brands that operate in China! In China, animal testing is required, so if a brand is in the market there, they endorse animal testing.
Labels Can Be Confusing!
In law school, I did an entire presentation on the legal regime surrounding food and beauty product labeling. It’s constantly changing and to be honest, certain labels don’t really mean anything! Do your own research as much as you can. That being said, if a product doesn’t test on animals and doesn’t use animal products, it can use the word vegan on its packaging and marketing, although it’s not a guarantee that the brand doesn’t practice animal testing in other territories. The Vegan Society’s sunflower symbol has become a trusted trademark to help consumers identify vegan-friendly products. But as it costs money to certify, not all products that make the grade actually have the stamp. I like to use CrueltyFreeKitty.com to check my products.
Here are some of my favorite products:
- Aztec Secret – Indian Healing Clay (pro tip – mix with apple cider vinegar and not water. Water will make the mask clumpy and ACV makes it smooth).
- Sun Bum Sunscreen
- Tarte Foundation
- Zoya nail lacquer (Christmas gift from my parents and I’m obsessed)
- Hourglass blush
- Hourglass mascara
- Bite Lipstick
- ELF Cosmetics Tools (so cheap!)
- Cover FX contour kit (the woman who helped me at Sephora told me this brand was originally created for burn victims, which is a cool backstory, but yikes girl, don’t lead with that as you apply it to my face)
- Clove & Hollow matte lip velvet (I have two in “Fiesta” and “Road Trip” because I don’t understand what a “budget” is)
- 100% Pure’s Vitamin C serum
Going cruelty-free is also a great excuse to give more thought to your purchases and have more of a minimalistic approach. By only buying the items we need (or by buying less of what we don’t need!), we’re also minimizing waste and doing our little part to be more conscious, and less wasteful of our resources.