While being vegan in your diet is (fairly) easy these days, what about inside your makeup bag? A-listers from Gwyneth Paltrow to Beyoncé have all touted the incredible hair, skin and health benefits that come with a vegan lifestyle. But while a plant-based diet is relatively straightforward (save for the nights when steakhouse dining appears to the only option for your friends), really living it can be a whole lot trickier. Especially when it comes to vegan cosmetics.
But while filtering your makeup search by “suitable for vegans” would once have yielded mere scraps, the tide is happily changing, as deputy editor Shannon found out when she went completely vegan (with her beauty routine, at least) for a week—you can read about her experiences here. Vegan lip balms and lipsticks abound, with the rest of the makeup counter from foundation to eye shadows, blush and mascara catching up fast too. Kat Von D made headlines just a fortnight ago with plans to overhaul her entire eponymous makeup line to ensure that every product is 100% vegan, and even iconic beauty brands with global reach are dipping a toe in.
So with the hunt for vegan makeup ramping up—the past decade has seen a 350% rise in the number of people opting for a vegan lifestyle in the UK, we thought it high time we pulled together everything you need to know. Keep scrolling for the definitive Byrdie guide to vegan makeup.
What does Vegan Makeup really mean?
A good question, since there are actually a fair few misconceptions surrounding what exactly makes a product suitable for vegans. Some confuse it with simply being cruelty-free, which of course it does need to be—animal testing is a huge no—but more than that, vegan makeup needs to contain absolutely no animal-derived ingredients or byproducts. That includes popular natural moisturising agents such as beeswax, honey and lanolin, plus colour pigment carmine, which is derived from the cochineal beetle. Scroll down for a list of ingredients to avoid if you’re going completely vegan.
Another misconception is that vegan products are free from all synthetic chemicals and are therefore immediately better for your skin. This isn’t necessarily true. Although lots of vegan and cruelty-free brands do tend to put an emphasis on using gentle, plant-based formulations that are kinder to the skin, many do still include synthetic pigments, preservatives and formula “fillers” (used to create texture and consistency) while skipping the animal derivatives. As always, it’s vital to check the ingredients label (we’ve got a vegan label guide below) to make sure you’re getting what you’re really after.
Is Vegan makeup any good?
While it’s fair to say that vegan makeup has earned a less-than-spiffy reputation over the years—for many, the phrase still conjures washed-out pigments and watery formulations—things have changed dramatically.
Thanks to leaps in cosmetic science, research and technology, vegan (and organic) products can now more than compete with their less compassionate counterparts. Just ask celebrity makeup artist Justine Jenkins, who uses a kit packed with nothing but high-performing natural, organic, cruelty-free and vegan products on her A-list clients.
“A few years ago, I would’ve agreed that there was a sacrifice in performance when choosing vegan makeup,” she says. “But technology and formulations have improved beyond recognition. Take Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics, for example: Its pigments are second to none.”
She’s right. Despite being 100% vegan, OCC is nearing on cult status, while brands like Cover FX, Lime Crime, Arbonne and Inika all blur the lines between what’s considered mainstream and alternative, thanks to punchy trend-led pigments, seamless coverage and impressive staying power.
How to be sure a product is vegan
Ingredients lists are crucial here, and it’s important to know what you’re looking for. We likely don’t need to remind you of the many marketing loopholes, ploys and downright fibs that still proliferate the beauty aisles.
Brands such as Cover FX, Arbonne, Axiology, Love + Sage, Pacifica, OCC, E.L.F, Beauty Without Cruelty, Lime Crime and Inika ensure that every product they produce is 100% vegan, while natural, organic and cruelty-free beauty brands including Green People, Tarte Cosmetics, RMS, The Body Shop and BareMinerals all offer a selection of vegan products too.
Several mainstream brands are also dipping their toes into the vegan sector—Urban Decay, Eyeko, Too Faced, Barry M and Anastasia Beverly Hills all offer a handful of vegan products (most of these will still contain synthetic chemicals), although, understandably, some vegans still feel conflicted about buying from companies that aren’t fully committed to a total boycott of animal-derived ingredients.
For a complete list of beauty ingredients that aren’t suitable for vegans (brace yourself, it’s an eye-opener), see PETA.org, but in the meantime, we’ve rounded up some of the biggies right here.
Ingredients not suitable for vegans:
- Beeswax—also labelled as cera alba or cera flava.
- Carmine—also labelled as carminic acid, cochineal, cochineal extract, crimson lake, natural red 4 or CI 75470.
- Lanolin—also labelled as aliphatic alcohols, cholesterin, isopropyl lanolate, laneth, lanogene, lanolin alcohols, lanosterols, sterols, or triterpene alcohols.
- Glycerin—also labelled as glycerides, glyceryls, glycreth-26, or polyglycerol.
- Shark liver oil—also labelled as squalane or squalene.
- Honey—also labelled as Apis mellifera.
- Fish scales—also labelled as guanine, CI 75170, C.I. natural white 1, dew pearl, guanine enol, mearlmaid or natural pearl essence.
- Marine oil—also labelled as piscum lecur (fish liver oil), gadi lecur (cod liver oil), salmon (salmon egg extract or salmon oil).
- Retinol—unless labelled as carotene, aka vitamin A derived from plants.
- Elastin—when derived from plants elastin is fine, but avoid hydrolyzed animal elastin.
- Keratin—when derived from plants keratin is safe, but avoid animal hydrolyzed keratin.
- Animal hairs and fur—look for brushes with synthetic bristles.
- Animal-derived collagen—also known as hydrolyzed collagen or hydrolyzed animal protein.
Determined to switch up your kit after reading this? Look no further than our gallery of Byrdie-approved products to weave into your makeup bag, all from brands that are 100% committed to the vegan lifestyle.
Such a pretty pink.
Try this foundation as an alternative.
Set with this cult favourite.
You always need a concealer in your makeup bag.
Such a chic palette.
Want something bold? We've got you.
E.l.f. is one of those brands you have to know about.
You always need a good set of brushes.
Another cruelty-free piece for your vegan makeup kit.
A great dusty pink.