When you’re making the switch to a more eco-friendly lifestyle, your mind might linger on the big-picture details.
From taking fewer flights and switching to public transportation over cars to committing to ditch fast fashion and minimize animal products in your diet, these major lifestyle choices can seriously impact the wellness of the planet.
Yet, there’s a part of your routine you may have overlooked: what’s inside your bathroom cabinet and makeup collection.
If you haven’t veganized your beauty routines yet, you’re missing a major opportunity to live a greener lifestyle!
Here’s everything you need to know about why you should switch to vegan beauty products—and our best practical tips about how to get there.
Why is Vegan Beauty Better for the Planet?
Before we dive in, let’s talk about why vegan beauty is the more eco-friendly choice.
It all comes down to formulations. Because they need to avoid all animal products, vegan beauty brands have perfected the art of making products from synthetic ingredients and plant derivatives instead of products and by-products from raising animals.
This matters because large-scale animal husbandry is one of the major sources of environmental damage. Cows, pigs, and chickens clog the air with methane gasses and create mountains of off-gassing waste.
At the same time, farmed seafood pollutes rivers, causing algal blooms, and wild-harvested seafood depletes critical masses of the ocean’s already precarious stock.
Anything that causes a need for more animals to be raised and slaughtered is, by necessity damaging to the environment, which typically makes the process of creating and manufacturing vegan beauty products much healthier for the environment.
Because of their ethics, vegan beauty brands are typically more conscious about their environmental impact beyond the formulation of their products.
Many of them use minimal packaging or offer carbon-friendly solutions for shipping and manufacturing to further their brand’s advocacy work.
When you opt to buy and use vegan beauty products, you’re voting with your dollars to show brands that they need to pay attention to these environmental concerns.
This actively incentivizes more brands to switch to more environmentally conscientious practices, paving the way for a better future.
What Makes a Beauty Product Vegan?
The amount of vegan beauty products available on the market has skyrocketed over the past few years, with some experts estimating that it has increased by over 100%. But even as vegan beauty grows more popular, many consumers are uncertain of what the vegan label actually means.
If a product is labeled “vegan,” that indicates that it has been made entirely without materials sourced from animals or of animal origin.
For a long time, these types of products were confined to crunchy brands found in health food stores, but these days most high-end brands brag about the vegan credentials of their products.
Any beauty product labeled vegan has no animal ingredients in any part of its formulation.
That includes trace amounts of ingredients like beeswax, lanolin, collagen, elastin, or any other animal-derived compounds.
Vegan vs. Cruelty-free: What’s the Difference?
While vegan beauty products are becoming more common on drugstore and beauty supply shop shelves, there’s another even more widely used animal-friendly label that might have caught your eye: cruelty-free.
Both vegan and cruelty-free products claim to be better for animals, but what’s the difference between these two labels? And which is better?
As you now know, vegan beauty products are completely free of animal ingredients, so no animals are harmed in their making. Theoretically, vegan beauty products could still use animal testing, but we’ve never actually seen this happen.
If a brand is going to go to the trouble of avoiding easier-to-use, cheaper animal-derived ingredients in favor of going vegan, they’re not likely to undermine their work with the use of animal testing.
However, cruelty-free products are not so straightforward in their approach to animal welfare. The cruelty-free label simply means that a brand doesn’t test on animals to create this particular product.
While the FDA does not require animal testing, many brands still use mice or rabbits to test their formulas on, a practice that has long been considered cruel and outdated, so avoiding animal testing is a good thing!
But just because a product isn’t tested on animals doesn’t mean it’s vegan. Products that have not been tested on animals can still contain the same animal-derived compounds we mentioned earlier, meaning while no animals were harmed in the testing stage, you should still consider them less animal and eco-friendly than the vegan alternatives.
Take a look at this short video by Cityline for more on buying vegan beauty products:
Learn Your Labels
By now, your head might be spinning with all the differences between vegan, cruelty-free, and any other claims made on the labels of beauty products that might claim to be better for the planet, however dubious their evidence is.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to adapt to a vegan beauty lifestyle: learning to read your labels.
8 Common Beauty Product Labels to Know
Here are some key terms often used on the packaging of so-called eco-friendly beauty products and what they actually mean:
1. Clean Beauty
While it sounds nice on paper, this beauty industry buzzword is largely useless, as different brands have different definitions of “clean.”
2. Carbon Neutral
3. Fair Trade
Products that are labeled “fair trade” pay their workers a living wage and are committed to maintaining safe and ethical workplaces.
4. No Animal Ingredients
It contains no animal products, but it might use animal testing or use animal-derived ingredients like carmine or silk.
No animal testing has been used on this product, but it still might use animal-sourced or derived ingredients.
It does not contain animal ingredients derived from killing animals but still might use animal-derived ingredients or be tested on animals.
This product is free from animal or animal-derived ingredients, including even trace amounts of animal by-products.
8. Cruelty-free and Vegan
This product is free of animal-derived and tested ingredients and has been created without animal testing.
By keeping this handy list in your back pocket, you’ll be able to quickly determine whether any given beauty product is vegan and planet-friendly or merely use buzzwords to capture your attention.
How to Shop for Vegan Beauty Products
It might seem overwhelming to shop for vegan beauty products, but by keeping your label list handy, finding new formulas that fit your regime is a snap.
If you need help figuring out where to start, read reviews of popular vegan beauty brands. For example, cult favorite vegan beauty brand Vegamour has literally thousands of reviews on their website for all of their products, making it easy to find the formula that will work for your hair.
Their classic GRO essentials kit is a great place to start, with everything you need to kick off a cleaner hair habit, replacing your standard hair care products with a beloved vegan swap.
To find a vegan beauty brand that fits your needs, google your product category of choice + the term vegan. Then, order online, or learn which drugstore brands meet your new ethical standards.
A Final Word on Making the Switch to Vegan Beauty
It might be overwhelming to think about replacing all of the beauty products in your bathroom cabinet with vegan alternatives, but you can always go gradually.
In fact, the most eco-friendly way to switch to a vegan beauty routine is to do it one product at a time rather than throwing out all your old non-vegan products, causing unnecessary pollution and waste.
As your old products run out, replace them with a vegan equivalent. Before you know it, you’ll have a revamped vegan beauty routine that’s better for you and better for the planet!
About the Author
EMILY BEYDA is a Los Angeles native who for the past three years has written the popular “Dear Glutton” advice column in The Austin Chronicle. A graduate of Texas State’s M.F.A. program, she currently resides back in L.A. The Body Double is her first novel.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to shop for vegan beauty products?
To find a vegan beauty brand that fits your needs, google your product category and the term vegan. Then, order online, or learn which drugstore brands meet your new ethical standards. Read the full guide to learn more about buying vegan beauty products.
Vegan vs. cruelty-free: what's the difference?
The cruelty-free label simply means that a brand doesn't test on animals to create this particular product. Vegan beauty products are completely free of animal ingredients, so no animals are harmed in their making. Theoretically, vegan beauty products could still use animal testing. Read the full guide to learn more about the difference between 'vegan' and 'cruelty-free'.
Why is vegan beauty better for the planet?
Anything that causes a need for more animals to be raised and slaughtered is damaging to the environment for many different reasons. Commercial farming causes a host of negative environmental impacts, from greenhouse gas emissions to water pollution. Read the full guide to learn more about how switching to a vegan beauty routine will benefit the planet.
Environmental Working Group: EWG’s Skin Deep Database of Products and Ingredients
Fairtrade International: Fairtrade Products
Leaping Bunny Cruelty-Free: The Corporate Standard of Compassion For Animals
One Green Planet: 10 Common Cosmetic Ingredients that are Derived from Animal Products
The Carbon Trust: Carbon Neutral Verification
The Vegan Review: What Does Vegan Certification Mean and Is It Necessary?
US Food & Drug Administration (FDA): Animal Testing & Cosmetics