Vegan vs. Cruelty-Free Cosmetics

The cruelty-free cosmetics movement has been one of the most successful consumer campaigns in history. Over the last decade, thanks to consumer demand, countless companies have abandoned animal testing, although a few manufacturers, such as Revlon and MAC, backtracked in order to sell cosmetics in China, where animal testing is mandatory.

vegan vs. cruelty-free cosmetics

image via pixabay

Cruelty-free cosmetics aren’t necessarily vegan

While it’s quite easy to find leaping bunny certified makeup and beauty products, vegan items are harder to find. I initially though cruelty-free cosmetics were vegan. But cruelty-free makeup can still contain collagen – from animal skin, bone and ligaments, retinol, animal glycerine and a host of other decidedly non-vegan ingredients. I mean, logically, how can an item be cruelty-free if it contains animal secretions (like honey, royal jelly, and pearl powder) or in the case of the colour additive Carmine (also listed as cochineal and natural red 4), the boiled bodies of dead insects? But I digress.

In my effort to find makeup and skin care free from animal products, my research took me to some rather unexpected places. For example, I discovered Carmine is one of the most difficult ingredients to completely avoid, and included in nearly all blush and lipstick. This creates a problem not only for vegans, but also conservative muslims and people who are severely allergic to shellfish. If you have a shellfish allergy and your lips and cheeks get irritated from your makeup, now you know why!

Despite the fact that Carmine is both a religious and medical issue, there are no “WARNING: contains carmine” labels on makeup products, which makes it tough for people to avoid. Also, many companies do not clearly label all their products, and instead use a generic ingredient for entire categories of cosmetics. For example, all eye shadows and lipsticks, even those that do not contain carmine, may have “may contain carmine” on the label, so that the manufacturer avoids having to create individual labels for each separate shade in their collection. It’s easy to see how this is problematic, especially for people with severe allergies.

Several companies now label their vegan makeup

Luckily, in addition to the minority of companies that manufacture fully vegan cosmetics. E.L.F. is one, though some of their brushes are non-vegan). There are also cosmetic companies that label their cosmetics individually, and a few even offers vegans a helpful list of suitable products. Urban Decay, Tarte (which also makes some vegan-friendly skin care products, which are hard to find), Too Faced and Kat Von D are some higher end cosmetic lines found in stores like Sephora that make it easy for consumers to recognize their products are free from animal products with convenient vegan lists on their respective websites.

I’m grateful to these companies for making it a little easier to find out if products contain animal ingredients. After I decided to stop purchasing-non vegan makeup, I had no idea where I was going to find vegan stuff (although there are up-and-coming all-vegan brands like 100% Pure that I hear are fantastic). So, for the time being, I’m buying fewer products, and focusing on using up my non-vegan makeup.

Still, I need a plan for what to do when I’m ready to start replacing my current products. I’m a huge Sephora user (I confess), and I really wanted to find makeup and skin care items sold there. The first time I went to the store, I practically went blind reading the fine print on ingredient labels, and the salespeople weren’t really aware of which products were vegan, so I knew I’d have to figure it out on my own.

It’s definitely best to shop prepared, so research your favourite brand before you go shopping. Usually vegan-friendly brands (like those listed above) will have information on vegan products in the FAQ section of their websites. Take some notes with you, so that you know exactly which items you’re interested in. A little preparation will make your shopping experience a lot more pleasurable.

3 Responses to “Vegan vs. Cruelty-Free Cosmetics

  • I definitely agree with this. While it’s already gotten a little easier for me to analyse labels and ingredients, it still at times gets a little exhausting. (And I haven’t even been doing it for very long.) I think the most frustrating thing, especially with cosmetics, is as you mentioned that a lot of companies DON’T label their products. I guess this most likely means they contain animal ingredients anyway, but for some that might not be the case. So frustrating. I’m also curious about the fact that some products that seem to be vegan aren’t labelled as such… does that mean they’re not vegan? Or just that they didn’t go through whatever necessary process to receive a certified “vegan” designation?

    • Thanks for the comment!
      I know what you mean. To some extent, I think you’re right – the products aren’t vegan in the first place, so they don’t bother. But there are lots of products that are vegan that are mixed in with non-vegan ones (a lot of eyeshadows are, for example, but they use bulk labeling so the “may contain” part is pretty misleading). I do think it helps when consumers contact companies and let them know they’d appreciate easy labelling for animal ingredients. Companies that aren’t known for their vegan products aren’t likely to bother labelling them as vegan, but hopefully that will change along with consumer attitudes.

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