While adhering to a vegan diet is (fairly) easy, ensuring that the contents of your makeup are vegan has historically been a bit more difficult. In fact, filtering your makeup search by “suitable for vegans” would once have yielded mere scraps, which is why we’re so pleased to report that the tide is changing. (Exhibit A: See what happened when deputy editor Shannon went completely vegan—with her beauty routine, at least—for a week.)
Vegan lip balms and lipsticks abound, and foundation, eye shadow, blush, and mascara formulas are following suit. Kat Von D overhauled 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. 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. Introducing 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 moisturizing agents such as beeswax, honey, and lanolin, plus the color pigment carmine, which is derived from the cochineal beetle.
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 still include synthetic pigments, preservatives, and formula “fillers” (used to create texture and consistency) while skipping the animal derivatives. It’s vital to check the ingredient 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.” And she’s right. Despite being 100% vegan, OCC is nearing 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 Axiology, Love + Sage, Pacifica, E.l.f. and Beauty Without Cruelty ensure that every product they produce is 100% vegan, while natural, organic, and cruelty-free beauty brands including Green People, Tarte, 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 which still contain synthetic chemicals), although 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 labeled as Cera alba or Cera Flava.
- Carmine—also labeled as carminic acid, cochineal, cochineal extract, crimson lake, natural red 4, or CI 75470.
- Lanolin—also labeled as aliphatic alcohols, cholesterin, isopropyl lanolate, laneth, lanogene, lanolin alcohols, lanosterols, sterols, or triterpene alcohols.
- Glycerin—also labeled as glycerides, glyceryls, glycreth-26, or polyglycerol.
- Shark liver oil—also labeled as squalane or squalene.
- Honey—also labeled as Apis mellifera.
- Fish scales—also labeled as guanine, CI 75170, C.I. natural white 1, dew pearl, guanine enol, mearlmaid, or natural pearl essence.
- Marine oil—also labeled as piscum lecur (fish liver oil), gadi lecur (cod liver oil), salmon (salmon egg extract, or salmon oil).
- Retinol—unless labeled as carotene, aka vitamin A derived from plants.
- Elastin—when derived from plants elastin is fine but avoid the hydrolyzed animal elastin.
- Keratin—when derived from plants keratin is safe but avoid the 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.
Next up: discover 22 luxurious vegan products you have to try.
Opening Image: @axiology_beauty/@menageriepdx