The vegan beauty guide

Vegan beauty isn’t always as clear cut as food. Ingredients lists tend to be a lot more confusing with chemical names and the branding and marketing doesn’t make it any clearer - especially now brands have started to market themselves as vegan while they still test on animals. We’ve put together this guide to help you understand vegan beauty a little better and help you find the best vegan beauty products.

In this guide:

  • What is vegan beauty?
  • Vegan vs cruelty free
  • How to check if a brand is cruelty free
  • Ingredients to avoid
  • Vegan vs vegetarian
  • Symbols & what they mean
  • Vegan beauty brands
  • Vegan beauty products
  • Vegan beauty routines

We’ve created a free download of this guide for you to read and refer back to when you need. It also comes with bonus beauty routines, DIYs, dupes and tutorials.

What is vegan beauty?

Vegan beauty products are those that are made without animal derived ingredients. A lot of animal ingredients are standard in cosmetics production. These products may still be labelled natural or organic, which often leads people to believe that they're more ethical. Beeswax is a natural ingredient, however it is definitely not vegan.

Vegan beauty should also mean without animal testing but this isn’t always the case in products labelled as vegan.

Vegan Beauty Oil

Vegan vs cruelty free

Veganism is about reducing the cruelty to animals, therefore a vegan beauty product should not be tested on animals. However as we've come so accustomed to vegan meaning 'plant-based' in food terms, some products become mislabelled as vegan when they are still tested on animals.

Are cruelty-free products vegan?

Cruelty-free products are not necessarily vegan. A product that is cruelty free has not been tested on animals and does not contain ingredients tested on animals by another party. It must also not be sold in the Chinese market as this requires animal testing by law. If you read a brand's FAQs and they mention that they do not test on animals, except where required by law, it means that their products ARE test on animals and therefore not cruelty free.

Because the term ‘cruelty-free’ only refers to animal testing, it does not take into account any ingredients that are derived from animals, no matter how cruel you may deem that to be. E.g A product might be cruelty free but contain carmine - the red pigment from crushed insects (read more about the truth behind the colour red).

To put it simply...

Cruelty free beauty products:

  • Have not been tested on animals
  • Do not contain ingredients tested on animals
  • Are not sold in China
  • May contain animal derived ingredients

Vegan beauty products:

  • Have not been tested on animals
  • Do not contain ingredients tested on animals
  • Are not sold in China
  • Do not contain ingredients derived from animals

But, the vegan label used on products is mostly determined by ingredients and so it has been used by companies who test on animals but have a product that doesn’t have animal-derived ingredients. In the true definition of vegan, we would not consider it to be vegan.

Because of this, it’s important to check both the ingredients and the cruelty free status of the brand.

Vegan Beauty Testing

How to check if a brand is cruelty-free

Now that we know the two criteria to checking vegan beauty products: vegan ingredients & cruelty free status, here’s how you can check.

Check the brand’s FAQ

Cosmetics companies will have an FAQ section that almost always contains information about animal testing. There are a lot of sneaky ways that they get around the fact they they test on animals so you have to read carefully.

If they say that they don’t test on animals, unless where required by law it means that their products are sold in countries, like China, that require animal testing by law. They have a choice to be in this market and so they are willingly participating in animal testing. They are not cruelty-free.

Check an online resource

A quick Google search of ‘company name cruelty-free’ will pull up resources and articles determining whether a brand is cruelty-free. One of the most trusted resources is Cruelty Free Kitty’s brand directory. She contacts brands herself and determines whether they are cruelty-free (note: they’re not all vegan and don’t all produce vegan products). She now has an easy ‘search’ function. You might also find people’s blog posts - but remember to check that they have evidenced their statement with brand emails or brand FAQs.

Contact the brand

If you’ve had no luck searching for the brand or what your own reassurance, you can reach out to brands yourself. The questions that Cruelty Free Kitty asks are:

  1. Do you test on animals, at any point during the production of your products?
  2. Are your ingredients tested on animals by your suppliers?
  3. Does any third party test on animals on your behalf?
  4. Do you test on animals when required by law?
  5. Are you owned by another company? (optional if you don’t buy from parent-owned companies - a company might be cruelty-free but are owned by a company that tests on animals)
Vegan Beauty Ingredients

Vegan cosmetics: Ingredients to avoid

Now that you’ve determined whether a brand is cruelty-free, you need to look at the ingredients of the specific product you’re interested in. The main ingredients you need to look out for are:

  • Carmine (Alt: Cochineal Dye, Cochineal Extract, Crimson Lake or Carmine Lake, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470, or E120) A red pigmented collected from crushed insects. Typically found in blushers and lipsticks but can also be seen in lots of cosmetics. Cosmetics that have a red or warm undertone to them often use this pigment.
  • Lanolin (Alt: Wool Wax or Wool Grease) A wax ('fat') produced by wooly animals like sheep. These animals are bred to produce more wool and in turn produce more lanolin. Can often be found in most cosmetics, including eyeshadows.
  • Beeswax (Alt: Cera Alba or E901) Often used in waxy products like lipsticks but can also be found in foundations.
  • Gelatin (Alt: Gelatine) A gelling or thickening agent derived from boiled skin, tendons, ligaments and bones of animals. Will tend to find in creamy products.
  • Collagen A protein from animal tissue. Is often used in skincare for its supposed plumping effect.
  • Retinol (Alt: Vitamin A) Retinol does not always have to be from an animal derived source, but often is. Double check as there are skincare products that contain vegan retinol.
  • Tallow (Alt: Rendered Animal Fat) Tallow is an animal fat that comes from boiling an animal's carcass. It can be found as a base to many cosmetics.
  • Guanine (Alt: G, Gua) A crystalline material found in crushed fish scales. It's often used in mascara, nail varnish and lipstick.
  • Ambergris (Alt: Ambergrease or Grey Amber) Produced in the digestive system of sperm whales, it's commonly used in perfume.

Vegan vs vegetarian

We've mentioned that products can be labelled as cruelty free and / or vegan, but what about vegetarian? Sometimes products are labelled as vegetarian, which can lead you to believe that it doesn’t contain animal products.

What the vegetarian symbol means:

  • A vegetarian beauty product does not contain parts of an animal e.g fat, gelatin or its meat (this would be unusual to find anyway.)
  • Some products do contain animals fats - predominantly in skincare.
  • A vegetarian beauty product may still contain animal by-products that are not part of the animal's body like lanolin or honey.
  • Vegetarian products are also not necessarily cruelty free.
  • Vegetarian products are not vegan - but some products that are labelled vegetarian might be vegan and just not labelled as so - so don’t immediately assume they won’t be vegan.
Vegan Beauty Symbols

Vegan beauty: Symbols to look out for & what they mean

If you've already started to look out for vegan products, you might have found it a little difficult to find certification on the packaging. Firstly, there are a lot of products (just like food) that are vegan but just aren't labelled. Some vegan labels, like the Vegan Society, must be paid for and a lot of brands do not have the budget for it. So don't assume that a product must have a label.

These are accredited symbols that verify the vegan status of the product. This means that an external party have reviewed the products and their production process to ensure that they meet their standards.

You might see that products create their own symbol, or simply label a product as 'vegan' or use a ‘v’. This means that the company is confident in making this claim, but hasn't necessarily been assessed by a third party. Generally a brand would be foolish to lie about labelling like this, especially because of legal implications, BUT, as we mentioned earlier, there is sometimes a misconception that vegan just refers to the ingredients, so always give a product labelled like this a check to be safe.

Vegan Beauty Brands

Vegan beauty brands

We’ve put together a list of vegan beauty brands that’ll make your shopping a little easier. These exclusively vegan and cruelty-free so you don't need to worry about reading labels.

Here are a few of our favourites:

B. at Superdrug


Eco Tools

Spectrum Collections


Cover FX

Jeffree Star Cosmetics

Maria Nila

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