Here, we break down the pros, cons, and everything to look for if you want to join the 300k-plus people pledging this month
By January 1, 300,000 people had already taken the ‘Veganuary’ pledge, to go vegan for the month. That’s equivalent to 50 per cent of the number of vegans there were in the UK in 2018. The movement is undoubtedly growing, whether it’s due to the health benefits of going ’plant-based’, concerns about the environment or the slew of vegan documentaries out there, from Cowspiracy to The Game Changers. When we talk about veganism, we think of dietary changes first – swapping out dairy and meat for other alternatives. But for many vegans, the lifestyle goes beyond just diet and extends to what they feed their pets, what they wear and what they have in their bathroom cabinet.
Many new vegans (or experienced vegans, for that matter) might not imagine there would be much to change in the way of beauty products. What animal products could there be in mascara or moisturiser anyway? Plenty, apparently. Honey and beeswax are commonly known ingredients, perhaps because they’re labelled in such a familiar way. But how about carmine, squalene, or lecithin? They’re traditionally derived from insects, sharks, and eggs respectively and you’ll find them in lipsticks, eye creams, lip balms, and many other everyday beauty products. Mink and fox fur can be found in eyelash extensions, while stearic acid, often sourced from animal fats is common in deodorants, soap, and hair products. From sheep’s wool and fish scales to liver oil and proteins, there are a lot of animal products lurking under unfamiliar names.
“I am vegan (mostly) and it has been the beauty that I’ve struggled the most with,” says artist Siobhan Cooper. “I think items aren’t marked very clearly.” Kate Auguste, owner of sustainable store Mi Apparel, agrees. “I have now been a vegetarian for six months and I’m slowly becoming more vegan. I went to Boots, started to google the brands on display and none of them were clear as to what was in their products or how they’re tested. There’s also zero signage on whether it’s cruelty-free.”
While making sure ingredients are vegan is often the first port of call, many vegans also make sure to use cruelty-free products that haven’t been tested on animals. Even if they’re technically vegan in terms of ingredients, the use of animals in the testing process puts certain brands out of bounds for a lot of vegans. Beyond that, brands that sell in China or are owned by parent companies that trade there are out too, as beauty products sold there are required by law to be tested on animals. So while the likes of L’Oréal, MAC and NARS might not test on animals themselves, they sell to China, therefore perpetuating animal testing. Many refuse to accept them as cruelty-free or vegan, even when their products are marked as such.
For some, like Lola Méndez, who runs a sustainable lifestyle blog, the switch was easy, despite the limitations. “I’ve found (vegan alternatives) everywhere from Morocco, India, Uruguay, and beyond. If you live in a major city or have access to ordering products online you could literally make the switch overnight.” By using products from Nu Evolution, Peace Out, and OZNaturals, she says her skin is “clearer, more elastic, and more dewy.”
“While making sure ingredients are vegan is often the first port of call, many vegans also make sure to use cruelty-free products that haven’t been tested on animals. Even if they’re technically vegan in terms of ingredients, the use of animals in the testing process puts certain brands out of bounds”
Not everyone finds it so easy to make the swap. “I’m a relatively new vegan and I’m trying to swap all my beauty products to vegan-friendly ones,” says Eloise. “I’ve tried three vegan foundations and they all stung my face and eyes. But I won’t give up!”
Despite the trials and tribulations involved in swapping beauty products and seeing how your skin, hair, nails, or even mood responds to them, plenty of non-vegans are jumping on board as well. Staunch non-vegan Jon says that “by going vegan, you will have to take vitamins to make up for the nutritional deficiencies of such a diet, which is simply silly.” But when it comes to what’s in his bathroom cabinet, he says, “I have no problem at all using a product that will work for me, be it plant-based soaps or detergents. I don’t really see the point of limiting myself to anything I can use.”
Kat is more proactive in her approach: “I’m not vegan, and I’m not planning to become one, but as make-up and skincare run out I’m replacing them with vegan products and as little plastic as possible. I’m trying to be more environmental and I think skincare and make-up is an easy swap. I’ve found good local vegan alternatives.”
Of course, veganism is a contentious subject and some reject the idea altogether, even when it comes to beauty products. “I’m getting sick and tired of this big push by society to make everyone join in on the ‘being vegan’ bullshit trend. So I refuse to use anything vegan as I see it as supporting the effort to push everyone into conforming,” says Ally. “Fuck that. Vegan is not the way for everyone and certainly not for me.”
Others, though, have simply tried alternatives and just found animal products to be better for them. “I’ve made my own body cream for years based on plant oils, coconut and shea,” says non-vegan Lotte. “I was always trying different measurements to create the perfect cream. But none of them can compete with the tallow cream I make now. It’s just whipped organic tallow (animal fat often used in candles and soaps) with a little vanilla for scent. No need to add anything, it’s just perfect as it is.”
As Ally says, veganism isn’t for everyone but there are plenty of positive reasons to make the switch if you can. According to PETA, over 100 million animals are killed in the US alone each year in the course of animal testing (although not all of the testing is for cosmetics alone) so putting an end to this would save many animals from that fate. Avoiding meat and dairy products was cited as being the single biggest way to reduce personal environmental impact last year, and while there is little literature on the specific impact of animal products for beauty, creating products derived from eggs, cows, and fish, for example, still rely on the same pollution-heavy, water-intensive, habitat-destroying techniques.
As well as the environmental and ethical upsides, people have said that their skin responded much better to natural, plant-based products, especially if it was sensitive or acne-prone. “It can really help with any skin imperfections, allergies or skin conditions such as eczema or dermatitis,” says Victoria Wood, CEO and founder of vegan beauty store Greener Beauty. “Of course, this means using the right products for your skin type, so a little bit of thought does need to be given as to what you are using, especially when it comes to skin conditions. I suffered with eczema terribly as a child and it returned in my late 20s, however, moving to a vegan diet and clean beauty products cleared this up and I have now been clear for some time.”
“Avoiding meat and dairy products was cited as being the single biggest way to reduce personal environmental impact last year, and while there is little literature on the specific impact of animal products for beauty, creating products derived from eggs, cows, and fish, for example, still rely on the same pollution-heavy, water-intensive, habitat-destroying techniques”
When screening brands she’s considering stocking, Wood first confirms with the brand that they’re cruelty-free and whether they’re run by a parent company who would also need to be checked. “We check the ingredients list for two things – animal ingredients and the toxicity level of the synthetic ingredients. Just because a product is labelled vegan and cruelty-free does not necessarily mean that if we use it that it will be good for our skin or our health,” says Wood.
There are vegan beauty lines popping up everywhere from Boots to Wilko, but as you would with any products, it’s important to do your research and see what will work best for you. Switching over to a vegan beauty routine takes trial and error and if you’re unsure what to look for, keep the ingredients mentioned earlier in mind and, as Wood suggests, keep an eye out for Vegan Society and Cruelty Free International logos (although cruelty-free doesn’t guarantee vegan). If you’re still stuck, find a vegan-only platform such as Greener Beauty, Wearth, and MuLondon to take the guesswork out of things for you.
If make-up is your first port of call, EcoTools sell high quality, vegan make-up brushes, blenders, hairbrushes, cleansing mitts and cloths. Make-up artist Charlie Murray, who’s worked on projects for Matty Bovan, Kenzo, and Madonna always keeps Weleda Skin Food (a vegan version has just been released) and Depixym’s colour range in her cruelty-free kit, as well as products by RMS Beauty, Ilia, and Glossier, who aren’t fully vegan brands but carry vegan lines. For Murray, it’s all about knowing where to look without compromising on quality or creativity.
Like any big change, a vegan beauty routine is not right for everyone. But if you take it step-by-step, use up what you already have first and ask some eager vegans for advice, your face – and the planet – could reap the rewards.