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.

What do you think? Join the conversation!

  1. I always have the same question and I cant seem to find any answers to it. I’m not vegan. I eat meat and products that have animal cux usually all foods have animal and i find it crazy but we all eat it. But…. I’m allergic to cosmetics that are not vegan and I don’t understand how thats possible if what I eat is so different. My face starts to burn when I use make up that is not vegan. I barely found out about it because I tried so many cosmetics on and since nothing changed I searched for different types of make up and I found out about cosmetics that were vegan and I decided to buy some and it worked well with my skin and I felt it more comfortable and soft. FYI I’m allergic to animals too but like I said I dont get whyyyyyyyy if I eat meat and other things that aren’t vegan. Or maybe I am I just dont know about it. Please if anybody has an asnwer please let me know. Thanks 😊

    • Hi Michelle! Thanks for stopping by. Are you allergic to shellfish? Many people who have sensitivities to shellfish have issues with carmine, which is included in many non-vegan cosmetics. Pretty much anything red, pink or purple will use carmine as colouring, and many people are sensitive to it. Carmine is made from crushed insect larvae and it produces a bright natural colour. But it’s problematic for Jewish and Muslim customers (who may avoid these ingredients for religious reasons) and for anyone else who avoids shellfish.

      • No, I eat a lot of seafood. It’s my favorite. Thats why I have so many questions when it comes to cosmetics. I don’t understand why it’s happening to me if I eat anything and I’m perfectly fine. Just that one thing where I can’t be around animals. I wonder if it’s just the furr they have. Using certain lip balms also burn or irritates my lips.

        • My daughter has a classmate who is extremely allergic to animals, but eats animal products without a problem. She’s so sensitive to fur that she had an anaphylactic reaction to being in the same room as a rabbit fur at a museum! So scary. Anyway, in your case it could be the dander (skin) or fur, but it’s possible your problem lies with lanolin. Lanolin is taken from sheeps wool, but there’s very little of it left in wool sweaters, so you might not experience it wearing wool, but it’s obviously found in much higher concentrations in cosmetics. PETA has some great information about different animal ingredients (there are so many weird ones! https://www.peta.org/living/beauty/cosmetic-ingredients/) , and you may want to discuss the matter with your allergist if you have one. Regardless of what ingredient is bothering your skin, it’s important to figure out what it is so you can hopefully avoid it in the future. Fragrance is another one that bothers a lot of people!

          • I get pink spots on my body. Sometimes feel itchy but mostly its the spots. But I will go to an allergist because its really a big deal. Some creams don’t work for my face either. It gets very irritating. Thank you for your help! 😊

  2. 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.