The market for vegan beauty products has been around long before buzzwords like “clean,” “green,” “organic,” and “natural” started popping up on the packages of products, but the category in recent years has been fast growing. In fact, Economist reports that searches for “veganism” have doubled in the US since 2015, and that doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
When a makeup, skin-care, or hair-care brand claims to be vegan, that means it doesn’t use any animal byproducts in its formulations — no beeswax, no lanolin (an emollient derived from sheep wool), no shellac (a nail-polish ingredient created from lac bugs), or any other animal-derived ingredients. Instead, those are typically swapped with plant-based alternatives, like collagen and squalene.
The tricky part is that it’s not always easy to spot ingredients containing animal byproduct on the back of a beauty label; you’ll never see a lip balm list “from sheep wool” on the pack, for example. Some brands have obtained independent certifications from organizations like PETA and the Vegan Society, but not all. That means your best course of action is to research and familiarize yourself with commonly used ingredients before buying. To help make it a little easier, PETA has a list of animal-derived ingredients often found in beauty products for easy reference.
It’s also worth noting that vegan does not equal cruelty-free. While many vegan brands don’t test on animals out of principle, it’s not always a given. (It works the other way, too; just because a brand is cruelty-free doesn’t mean it’s also vegan.) You can tell if a brand is cruelty-free and doesn’t test on animals by looking for the Leaping Bunny certification or symbol on the brand’s website or packaging or checking the Leaping Bunny Shopping Guide (which also occasionally lists whether a brand is vegan, too).
Decoding the many different terms in the beauty industry can be tricky, but after doing some research, you’ll be a wiz at deciphering what the claims on your products actually mean. To get you started on your vegan beauty journey, we rounded up a few of our favorite vegan skin-care, makeup, and hair brands ahead.