You’re probably familiar with the many reasons people choose a vegan diet: They believe it’s better for their health; it’s great for the environment; they believe meat and dairy products are cruel to animals. Whether or not you agree with all of that rationale, you might not quite be ready or willing to commit to a drastic change in your lifestyle. But if you want to be more conscientious about the products you buy and use on your body—which cab seep their way into your system through your skin—making the switch to buying vegan skincare is an easy and effective step to take.
You may not be aware of how many animal byproducts are in common skincare and cosmetics. It is difficult to recognize them by name without knowing what to look for. Here's why we think it's worth the effort:
1. What Is Vegan Skincare?
To be clear, a label that says "vegan" does not necessarily mean "cruelty-free." Vegan strictly means that nothing in that tube, jar, or bottle is made from an animal byproduct. At the very least, you know that your money is not contributing to certain cruel practices involved in raising farm animals, harvesting things they naturally make for themselves (like beeswax), or hunting and fishing.
Some vegan products might still be tested on animals, though, particularly if their manufacturer plans to sell them in China, where animal testing is required by law for imported cosmetics. Another potential problem comes when products are made from palm oil. This product (which may be listed as PKO, palmitate, palmate, palm kernel stearin, or other variations) often contributes to deforestation, endangering the habitats of species such as orangutans, and contributing to climate change. Some companies that haven't yet found substitutes for this inexpensive oil have made commitments to finding conflict-free, sustainable sources of palm oil.
The bottom line: If your concern as a vegan or vegan-adjacent consumer is to avoid harming animals, look for products that say they're both vegan and cruelty-free. (On a side note, the label "certified organic" doesn't indicate at all whether a product is vegan, cruelty-free... or effective, for that matter).
2. Vegan Skincare Is More Appealing
For the sake of comparison, here are a few non-vegan ingredients that are common in skincare products:
- Squalene (or its more-stable derivative, squalane): This moisturizing ingredient often comes from shark liver oil, unless it's specified as being a plant-derived ingredient, coming from olive oil, wheat germ, or another plant source.
- Lanolin: Sheep produce this oil in their skin, and it's then often used in shaving products, moisturizers, and makeup.
- Oleic acid, stearic acid, and other fatty acids: These are great moisturizers for skin, as they mimic our own lipids, but some companies derive them from animal fat—unless the ingredient list specifies vegetable oils.
- Glycerin: This common ingredient in soaps and cleansers often comes from animal fat.
- Collagen and elastin: These products are always derived from animal tissues and bones. Though beauty products aim to increase our own production of these cells in our skin and hair, there's little evidence that applying another animal’s collagen and elastin directly to our skin will actually help do that.
3. The Best Vegan Skincare Ingredients Are Game Changers
While the above-mentioned animal ingredients have been used for generations in cosmetic products, the demand for vegan skincare and makeup has made many beauty brands look into plant-based alternatives. In doing this research, they have found (or in many cases, rediscovered) plants that have multiple possible benefits to the skin.
For example, in looking for a way to replace sperm oil or spermaceti, which used to come from hunted sperm whales, farmers and the beauty industry found ways to use oils from plants such as meadowfoam, oats, and cotton. Many of these vegetable oils turn out to have high levels of moisturizing fatty acids as well as antioxidants that can fight the signs of sun damage and aging.
While retinol has long been the go-to collagen-boosting ingredient dermatologists recommend for everything from calming acne to reducing dark circles under the eyes, it's another substance that's often derived from animals (and there's some concern that it may cause cellular damage and heart problems). The search for a vegan replacement for retinol led to the (re)discovery of bakuchiol. This hero ingredient that comes from the babchi plant—an herb used in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine—and has many of the same anti-aging benefits of retinol. But even better, it's been shown to be totally safe, and isn't irritating to sensitive skin, making it more ideal for use in products such as eye creams.
4. Going Vegan (On Your Face) Helps the Environment
Climate scientists have told us time and again that meat and dairy animals are a big source of greenhouse gases. These animals also take up 80% of the world's farmland while providing only 18% of the world's food calories. This is one reason many people choose to go vegan—it's been lauded as one of the biggest ways to reduce your own environmental impact on the Earth. But if doing away with all animal products isn't feasible in your diet, you can at least reduce the amount you depend on them in your daily life, including in your beauty regimen.
Consider, for instance, using a product that gets its exfoliating alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) from sugar cane instead of from milk sugars. This means you'll rid yourself of dead skin cells without adding any methane to the planet.
One great thing about buying sustainable, plant-based alternatives is that your purchase can encourage farmers to put more effort and investment into a certain type of crop. It's like voting for the planet to get greener, one product at a time.
5. You Can Find Affordable Vegan Skincare For Every Skin Type
The increased demand for vegan beauty products of late has meant that there's a diverse array of options out there for everyone. (It also means you can buy cheap vegan skincare, thanks to the laws of supply and demand.)
Looking for a cleanser that won't irritate your sensitive skin? There are plant-derived ingredients that gently clean and exfoliate without disrupting the skin's natural barrier or setting off an allergic reaction.
Need a moisturizer that won't leave you with clogged pores and an acne breakout? A lotion with anti-inflammatory antioxidants from seed oils, plus some probiotics to balance out the skin's microbiome, is at the ready—no animal products necessary.
Turning your medicine cabinet vegan might just be one of many steps you take toward weaning yourself off of all animal products. Or choosing vegan cosmetics could be the only step you can see yourself taking right now. Either way, it's never been easier to make this switch, and it won't be a compromise but an improvement.