Beauty products are one of the main loopholes where brands get to use animal products without making it obvious. The lack of official regulation of vegan and cruelty-free certifications can make it even harder! Because of this, it’s extremely important for vegans to learn what these animal ingredients are, so they can avoid them. This way, you’ll be able to shop with a peace of mind, knowing you’re putting your money where your morals are.
We tried to be as thorough as possible! Here’s a list of 16 different ingredients that you should watch out for when you’re buying beauty products:
Collagen is a protein that is found naturally in many animals, but it’s also a very common ingredient in beauty products. It’s the stuff that keeps our hair and nails strong and skin smooth and elastic. When brands use collagen in our beauty products, they extract it from cows, pigs, and fish. Apart from this, collagen’s efficacy on the skin hasn’t actually been fully proven, so aren’t really missing out!
You can find this protein in human skin! Unfortunately, beauty product manufacturers extract it from cow neck ligaments and aortas. It’s mostly used by makeup brands, and many lip plumpers contain this ingredient. If you like wearing lip glosses that make your lips look fuller, look for one that doesn’t contain elastin!
Squalane is an oil often found in moisturizers, lipstick, and other beauty products, and it is a byproduct from animals—namely sharks. Shark livers have a high concentration of squalane, which only encourages the horrifying shark-fishing industry.
There are alternatives! You can use squalane sourced from olives or sugarcane, which is where brands like Biossance (whose star product is squalane) get theirs.
Lanolin (also known as wool wax or wool grease) is a wax secreted by the sebaceous glands of sheep. It’s used in a wide variety of beauty products, including lotions and lip balms. This is because it’s an emollient, meaning it makes your skin softer and more pliable.
Check out our lanolin-free lip balms
This is one of the most widely-used red dyes in cosmetics, and it’s also one of the least well-known animal by-products. It comes from crushed beetles, making it a non-vegan ingredient used as a dye in many everyday products. You can find it in everything from lipsticks to red cake icing. You can also find it as “cochineal” (for the insect from which it is extracted), “cochineal extract”, “crimson lake”, “carmine lake”, or “Natural Red 4”.
Ambergris —or “whale vomit” as it is sometimes known— is a waxy substance that forms inside the digestive tract of sperm whales. Perfume-makers have used it as an ingredient since ancient times and was once worth more than its weight in gold. Although it’s not as common nowadays, you can still spot in in some fragrances and cosmetics.
Stearic acid is found in everything from makeup and cosmetics to shampoos and deodorants. It’s used because it can help create a texture that’s both smooth and solid. It’s typically derived from animal fat—which means that you may be putting animal ingredients on your face or body without even knowing it.
Guanine is a shimmery substance made from fish scales. Makeup brands use it in lipsticks and eyeshadows, so always read the back of the palettes when you’re shopping. It’s a really pretty iridescent shimmer that often looks like glitter, but glides smoothly instead of catching on skin.
Although you may not have heard of shellac, you’re probably using it. We usually see shellac in nail polish, hair spray, and mascara, and many processed foods. It’s a resin secreted by the female lac bug, in the forests of India and Thailand, and it’s one of the most commonly used animal ingredients. Be careful! It also goes under many different names, including “sealant resin”, “confectioner’s glaze”, and “resinous glaze”.
Casein is a protein found in animal milk, and many manufacturers use it in their beauty products (especially those that are marketed as “natural”). It can show up in lotions, sunscreens, foundations, and powders.
Also found as “oleyl stearate”, “oleyl oleate”, or “tallow”, oleic acid is a fatty acid that comes from animal byproducts, like beef tallow, pork lard, and sheep wool. In the beauty industry formulators use it as an emollient, which makes products more moisturizing. It is also used in hair care products to make hair feel smooth, and in food to keep oils from separating.
Keratin is a by-product of animals (specifically the protein in their fur, feathers, horns, and hoofs), and it’s commonly used in hair products to help smooth the hair shaft.
Beeswax is made and secreted by bees, who use it to build their hives. What’s worse, when you’re looking at a product label, the word “beeswax” isn’t always there. Sometimes it’s listed as “cera alba” or “cera flava” instead.
It’s a well-known fact that honey is made by bees, but what some people don’t realize is that honey is used in many beauty products. If you’re vegan and looking to buy new cosmetics, it’s important to check the ingredients list for honey.
- Royal Jelly
It’s likely that you have heard of royal jelly before! It’s an ingredient in many different health and beauty products. It helps with things like anti-aging, wound healing, and the appearance of scars. Royal Jelly comes from glands in the heads of worker bees and is fed to queen bees so they can grow larger than their normal size.
One ingredient to look out for is propolis, which you can find in moisturizers and hand lotions. Propolis is essentially bee saliva—which, obviously, isn’t vegan. The bees make it to protect themselves and their nests from invaders like bacteria and fungi. It’s used in beauty products because of its antimicrobial properties.
An exception: Glycerin and Retinol
Some websites list Glycerin and Retinol as not vegan, but that is an outdated notion. Most of the glycerin you will find in beauty products nowadays is vegetable-based. The same goes for retinol, which is synthetically produced nowadays! What is more, naturally occurring retinol is not stable enough to use on the skin. We don’t believe in fear mongering, and we can assure you that you don’t have to worry about buying products that include them.
This list is mostly based on our research, but feel free to leave a comment if we forgot any animal ingredients you know! Some of these are pretty hard to spot, so if you see anything you’re unsure of, we’d recommend doing some research. There are a lot of vegan-friendly products out there that can replace more traditional products anyway.
Of course, at Not to Die For* we curate products so that you don’t have to worry over manufacturers and double-check ingredient lists for animal ingredients. It’s very important to find vendors that you can trust and who put their ethics over selling out to corporations. Learn more about our selection of vegan lifestyle products by visiting our shop!