Cosmetics will likely be one of the last areas you focus on, but navigating your way around vegan cosmetics can be more complex than food in some cases. Usefully, there are some valuable resources online such as the Cruelty Free Kitty and Logical Harmony websites, and plenty of animal rights groups have full lists of animal testing companies which are easy to find with a little bit of searching. When looking at cosmetics, we need to pay attention to the ingredients and whether or not the product was tested on animals, so things are a little bit more complicated. Fortunately, vegan companies usually advertise themselves as such, but be wary of companies advertising ‘vegan’ products that actually test on animals.

Vegan vs. Cruelty-Free

If you see the word ‘vegan’ on an item, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the item is vegan-friendly. Unfortunately, this is not the case. ‘Vegan’ is not a protected label and only means that the ingredients contained in the product are not animal-derived. Even in this instance though, it is still common for brands to test their products on animals, meaning that the item labeled ‘vegan’ is in fact not vegan at all. Similarly, an item can be marked ‘cruelty-free’ and still contain animal ingredients. Try to remember:

Vegan: Contains no animal-derived ingredients.
Cruelty-Free: Not tested on animals.

This means that to be certain a product is truly vegan by looking at the labels alone, you’d need to see both the Vegan and Cruelty-Free or Leaping Bunny label. The Vegan Society’s Label always means a product is vegan, for both food and cosmetics. To further complicate things, there are products not labeled vegan that are, they just tend to be ‘accidentally’ vegan and not marketed that way, though that is becoming less common the more popular veganism becomes.

Another issue to consider is whether you want to support vegan brands exclusively. Some
companies don’t test on animals but their parent companies do, and some vegans want to avoid these companies for that reason. Practically speaking, it would be difficult to only support vegan-run and vegan-owned brands. In fact, it would be completely inaccessible for a lot of us. Supporting vegan options at a non-vegan company does not make you any less vegan; this is ultimately a personal decision.

Non-Vegan Ingredients

Beeswax: Produced by bees.
Casein: Derived from milk.
Carmine/Cochineal: Made from crushed insects.
Chitosan: Derived from crustacean shells.
Collagen: Made from bones, skin and tissue.
Keratin: Taken from hair, nails, claws and horns.
Glycerin/Glycerol: Derived from animal fat.
Lanolin: A grease made from sheep’s hair.
Lactose: Derived from milk.
Polypeptides: Derived from animal proteins.
Royal Jelly: A secretion from bees.
Shellac: A resin produced by insects.
Squalane: Made from shark liver.
Silk extract: Produced by silkworms.
Tallow: Made from beef or mutton fat.

As well as these ingredients, you should also be wary of company statements that say they only conduct animal trials if required by law. This usually means that the company does not test their products in the UK, Europe or the US, but they do still sell in countries that require animal testing by law, usually referring to China in particular.

The Chinese government maintains strict controls on cosmetics – though the law requiring blanket testing on all cosmetics has changed, they do still have post-market testing practices in place for any product not manufactured in China, and can conduct animal trials on any brand sold there.

The way truly vegan companies get around this is by not selling in China. If you’re living in China then you can opt for Chinese companies that don’t test on animals, but otherwise, you should be looking for brands that have committed to avoiding animal testing in every way they can. This includes not selling in the Chinese market until these laws are changed. Fortunately, many popular brands have taken up this stance. This can all be a little bit confusing to research on your own, but fortunately, vegan forums and websites like Cruelty Free Kitty will usually have the answer for you.

Failing that, often just searching online for the brand followed by ‘animal testing’ will give you the information you need. Just take the company statements with a fistful of salt. Many companies that say they don’t test on animals phrase it in confusing ways to mask their practices without outright lying, so look for unbiased third-party opinions instead.