Cosmetics and toiletries

Man holding vegan cosmetics

Veganism is more than just a diet, it is a lifestyle. This means veganism applies to more than just the food you choose to eat. It affects the products you choose to use, such as cosmetics and toiletries. Take a walk down any make-up aisle and before long, you’ll realise how many animal-derived ingredients and other hidden nasties there are in everyday products!

The good news is that as veganism continues to rise, so does the number of vegan and cruelty-free products. But even if labelled as cruelty-free, it doesn’t necessarily mean the product is vegan as many cosmetics and toiletries have hidden animal-derived ingredients.

What’s the difference between cruelty-free and vegan?

Quite simply, cruelty-free means the ingredients have not been tested on animals. Vegan means that the product doesn’t contain any animal products or ingredients derived from animals. Therefore, it’s best to buy products marked as both cruelty-free and vegan as this means both the ingredients and production process are 100% vegan.

Testing cosmetics on animals has been banned in the UK and EU. However, if companies want to sell their products in China, they currently must submit samples for mandatory animal testing. This means some companies, whilst selling cruelty-free products in the UK, will still be responsible for animal testing. The good news is that China has committed to lifting this cruel law! If you’re looking for a specific product, we recommend checking the Cruelty Free Collection site for the most up-to-date information.

Animal-derived ingredients can be easy to miss as often they are hidden behind E-numbers. For example, silk can be hidden in shampoo, beeswax is used as a glazing agent in cosmetics, glycerol is often derived from animal fat, and cochineal (a scarlet dye derived from crushing the cochineal insect) can be used as cosmetic colouring.

Thankfully, non-vegan cosmetics are easy to avoid, once you know what you’re looking for. And you’ll be surprised how easy (and cheap!) it is to fully replace your regular routine with amazing vegan beauty products which don’t hurt animals or the planet.

Do vegan products also mean they are ‘natural’ and ‘organic’?

In short – no. The word ‘natural’ is overused in cosmetics as there’s no clear definition for what it means. A product could be labelled as ‘natural’ if it has as little as 1% naturally-sourced ingredients (i.e. not synthetically produced).

The same goes for ‘organic’, products can claim to be organic if even just a small percentage of the ingredients are organic.

Just because something is vegan does not mean the ingredients are naturally-sourced (not synthetic) or that they are organically grown.

Mostly pink vegan cosmetics and makeup items

Animal-Derived Ingredients

Here are some of the most common non-vegan ingredients found in cosmetics and toiletries. They all have vegan alternatives and so, without clearer labelling, it can be difficult to know whether a product is actually vegan or not. This is why it’s best to always look for the vegan label.

IngredientDefinitionVegan alternative
AlbuminProtein derived from egg whites and used as a coagulating agent in cosmetics.Vegan albumin can be extracted from soybeans
Beeswax / Cera Alba (E901)Produced by bees and derived by melting honeycomb. Used to bind emulsions in a wide variety of cosmetics.Vegan alternatives include soya and other plant waxes.
BiotinDerived from milk and used as a texturizer in shampoo and a variety of cosmetics.Vegan alternatives can be derived from nuts and soybeans.
Carmine/Cochineal (Also labelled as natural red 4, E120, and C.I. 75470)A red cosmetic colouring taken from insects. Tens of thousands of cochineal bugs are crushed to produce a tiny amount of this dye.A vegan alternative is beet juice, which also gives a vibrant red colour.
CaroteneDerived from animal tissue and used as an orange colourant in cosmetics.Carotene also naturally occurs in many fruits and vegetables, such as carrots.
CaseinDerived from beavers anal glands and used in perfumes.A vegan alternative can be derived from plant milks.
CastoreumDerived from beavers anal glands and used in perfumes.Animal-derived protein taken from animal tissue, bone, skin, or ligaments, usually from cows. Supposedly has anti-ageing properties but this is disputed.Many companies now use synthetic castor, which is vegan-friendly.
CollagenAnimal-derived protein taken from animal tissue, bone, skin, or ligaments, usually from cows. Supposedly has anti-ageing properties but this is disputed.A vegan alternative can be taken from soya protein and almond oil.
ElastinAnother protein used in a similar way to collagen. Derived from the muscles, ligaments and aortas of animals.A vegan alternative is hyaluronic acid.
GelatineDerived from boiling animal bones, ligaments and skin. Used in shampoo and a variety of cosmetics.A vegan alternative is agar-agar and carrageenan, taken from seaweed.
Glycerol/Glycerine (E422)Derived from animal fats and used widely in the cosmetics industry, from soap, to hair products, to toothpaste, to moisturiser.Some products do use vegan glycerine, derived from soya or coconut oil.
GuanineDerived by scraping the scales off dead fish and used in highlighter, nail polish, and bathroom products.Synthetic vegan alternatives are available, made from plants, aluminium or bronze particules.
KeratinFrom the hair and horns of animals and thought to be strengthening, often found in nail and hair products.A vegan alternative can be taken from soya protein and almond oil.
LanolinDerived from sheep’s wool and generally used to moisturise. Lanolin is commonly found in hair products and lipsticks, although don’t be surprised to see it in other cosmetics too.Plant oils (coconut, olive) and butters (shea and coconut).
Lecithin (E322)A waxy material derived from eggs and used creams, lotions, soap, shampoo and other cosmetics.A vegan alternative is soyabean lecithin.
Oleic acidAlso called oleyl stearate, oleyl oleate or tallow. Derived from animals fats and used to soften/condition in moisturiser, soap, nail polish and makeup.Oleic acid can be derived from plants including coconut, olives, and nuts.
Pearl powderDerived from molluscs and ground into a fine powder and used in highlighter, lotions and moisturisers.Vegan alternatives to pearl-based highlighters use jojoba and plant oils like almond, grape and sunflower.
Shellac (E904)Resin secreted by female lac bugs. The bugs must be killed to create shellac, it takes hundreds of thousands of lac bugs just to produce a small amount. Commonly found in nail products, particularly gel nails.Vegan shellac is extracted from corn maize.
Snail mucin / gel / filtrateSnail gel is extracted from captive snails. Some snail farms extract the slime using water and ozone that doesn’t harm the snails. Other extraction methods include dunking snails in water mixed with salt or vinegar, or using acetic acid or ammonia - clearly harming/ killing the snails in the process.There are many plant-derived ingredients which can soften and hydrate skin.
SqualeneDerived from shark liver oil, alleged to have anti-ageing properties and used in lip balms, moisturiser and deodorants.Vegan squalene can be derived from olives and wheat germ.
Stearic AcidDerived from the stomachs of pigs, goats and sheep and found in deodorant, soaps, hair products and moisturizers.Vegan alternatives include cocoa butter and shea butter.
TallowDerived from beef fat and used in lipsticks and some other cosmetics.A vegan alternative is vegetable tallow.

Shampoo and Conditioner

The most common hidden ingredients in shampoo and conditioner are keratin, silk, beeswax, milk and honey. Also look out for biotin, casein, collagen and elastin. Vegan shampoo and conditioners are just as cleansing and soothing to the non-vegan alternatives, whilst also being kinder to animals and the planet.

Vegan shampoo and conditioners are often loaded with nourishing and natural ingredients such as argan oil, lemon oil, cocoa butter, hemp and aloe vera. Here are our favourites:

Faith in nature vegan shampoo and conditioner bottles

Best Luxury: Don’t be fooled – although this is our ‘luxury’ choice, it’s not going to break the bank. Faith in Nature is a vegan staple, we simply had to mention it! Offering a range of shampoo, conditioner, soaps and shower gels, they tick all the boxes. And, they’re only £5.49 a bottle — making luxury more accessible.

Superdrug pro-vitamin vegan-friendly shampoo and conditioner bottles

Best Budget: Who can complain for just under £3 a bottle? Superdrug’s own brand vegan shampoo and conditioners are just as good as their more expensive (and non-vegan) counterparts. The entire range is clearly labelled and can be found in nearly all their stores, making it a winner for budget haircare!

Lush vegan shampoo bar in a tin

Best Plastic-Free: LUSH sells a range of plastic-free shampoo bars, which work just as well as regular shampoo. These little bars last ages, just don’t leave them sitting in water! They leave your hair feeling fresh, with no greasy or waxy residue. They’re priced at £8 a bar and come in delicious scents of lemon, coconut and chamomile.

Soap, Shower Gel and Bubble Bath

Similarly to shampoo and conditioner, you can expect to see many animal-derived ingredients hidden in soap, shower gel and bubble bath. It’s so important to look for the vegan label as producers do not have to say whether ingredients are derived from plants or animals. Some key ingredients to look for are biotin, gelatin, glycerol, lecithin and stearic acid.

Molton brown vegan friendly gels

Best Luxury: Molton Brown is a treat! It lasts much longer than cheaper gels and its fragrances are delightful. £22/100ml. Our other favourite is LUSH – a little goes a long way and fragrances are intense. £14/250ml.

Original source shower gel bottles vegan friendly

Best Budget: Original Source Shower Gel has a fantastic range of fragrances and is widely available in Boots, Superdrug etc. Price around £1.05/250ml.

Lush fun bubble bars vegan

Best Plastic-Free: LUSH have fun bubble bars in delightful fragrances and shapes, as well as vegan shower jellies at £5.50/100g.

Cosmetics and Makeup

Don’t forget to check your make-up brushes! Some brushes and also false eyelashes are made from fox, sable, horse, goat, mink and squirrel. Synthetic brushes and eyelashes are available.

You can expect to find lots of hidden animal-derived ingredients in make-up and beauty products. From collagen which promises to halt the ageing process, to pearl powder which claims to make your skin radiant, to shellac — a cruel addition to nail polish. But don’t worry, there are tons of cruelty-free and vegan make-up brands that it was actually difficult to choose our favourites!

Kat Von D vegan cosmetics

Best Luxury: Kat Von D has a great balance of feeling luxurious without the crazy price tag. This has proved a firm favourite among Viva! staff for its vibrant colours and long-lasting wear. Plus, you must have heard this viral makeup review after Kat Von D’s eyeliner passed the ultimate test!

Barry M budget began makeup

Best Budget: For us, Barry M was a clear winner. They have a wide range of vegan products, from concealer and foundation, to eyeliner and mascara. Be careful as the whole range isn’t vegan (that pesky beeswax!) but they are working towards having an entirely vegan range.

ZAO vegan cruelty free makup

Best Plastic-Free: Plastic free make-up sounds impossible, right? Wrong! With bamboo-based materials and a fully vegan range, we recommend ZAO Make-up. Many of their products are refillable, meaning you only have to buy the full-sized product once. Any product which isn’t fully plastic free uses recyclable PET plastic.

Toothpaste

When it comes to toothpaste, the main thing to look out for is glycerin — derived from animal fats. Again, producers don’t need to state on the label whether glycerin is derived from plants or animals.

Aloe den vegan toothpaste

Best Luxury: This is the freshest, mintiest toothpaste you will find that leaves your mouth zinging (in a good way!). It uses a host of natural ingredients for keeping teeth white and protecting gums and doesn’t have any of the nasties that a lot of toothpastes include. Aloe Dent is £3.99 and available in Holland & Barrett, health food shops, Waitrose and online.

Superdrug procare whitening toothpaste vegan

Best Budget: It’s Superdrug again! They have a fully vegan range of toothpaste and mouthwash which is readily available and well-priced at £1.99 a tube. It’s well worth checking out their entire toiletries range.

Truthpaste vegan toothpaste

Best Plastic-Free: Based on budget and availability, we’ve chosen Truthpaste. It’s available online and in lots of health food or zero-waste shops, for around £3.99. Although it might take some adjustment to use toothpaste in a jar not a tube, it’s worth it for the benefits to our planet.

Deodorant

That’s right, even deodorant can include non-vegan ingredients. Look out for beeswax, squalene (otherwise known as shark liver oil) and stearic acid which is taken from the stomachs of pigs, sheep and goats.

Don’t confuse deodorant with antiperspirant. Although the two names are used interchangeably, deodorant tackles body odour and antiperspirant stops us sweating in the first place.

dr hauschka rose deodorant vegan

Best Luxury: Ranging from £9.95 – £13 depending on where you shop, Dr Hauschka’s deodorant is the subtle yet powerful deodorant you’ve been waiting for. Available in two flavours, mint and sage, and rose, this delicate and non-oily deodorant promises to last all day long.

Superdrug deodorant sensitive vegan

Best Budget: You guessed it, Superdrug again! We did say you should check out their entire toiletries range! Superdrug markets this as a deodorant and an antiperspirant. It’s also suitable for sensitive skin and a bargain at just 99p.

Pure chimp natural balm deodorant vegan

Best Plastic-Free: You may recognise the name Pure Chimp as they also offer a range of tea and skincare. Their natural deodorant balm has only six ingredients, a delicious banana scent and actually works!The arrowroot powder also helps it function as an antiperspirant. Plus, it comes in a jar so it is plastic free. It’s more pricey at £9.95 but the jar does last a while.

Perfume

When it comes to perfume, you may be surprised about what makes them non-vegan. In addition to the more obvious fragrance extracts, such as milk, honey and beeswax, many perfumes use secretions from the anal glance of civet cats, beavers and musk deer! Although this sounds unusual, it is surprisingly commonplace and to make it worse, perfume producers are under no obligation to list animal-derived ‘musk’ on the label. Instead, you will see ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ on the label.

The hidden ‘musk’ industry is incredibly cruel. Let’s start with civet cats who are captured from the wild, bred and kept in tiny cages for years, completely deprived of all their natural behaviours and environmental enrichment. The musk is then forcibly ‘scraped’ from their anal glands around every ten days.

The same process applies to beavers, to obtain an ingredient called ‘castoreum’ ⁠— a yellow liquid from the castor sacs (next to the anal glands). In the wild, both male and female beavers would use their castor sacs to scent mark their territory. Instead, they are captured and killed, as castoreum cannot be removed from live beavers. The castor sacs are removed, dried and castoreum extracted. All so that humans can have a ‘leather musk’ in perfume.

The cruelty doesn’t end there, perfumes can also include ‘ambergris’ which is obtained from sperm whale intestines. Although this can sometimes be found washed up on beaches, whales can be killed for it too.

le labo santal 33 vegan perfume

Best Luxury: Ranging from £9.95 – £13 depending on where you shop, Dr Hauschka’s deodorant is the subtle yet powerful deodorant you’ve been waiting for. Available in two flavours, mint and sage, and rose, this delicate and non-oily deodorant promises to last all day long.

eden vegan perfume

Best Budget: We just love Eden Perfumes. With a wide range of products to suit every scent, the entire range is vegan-friendly. Their entire range contains between 80% and 90% certified organic ingredients. We even awarded them the Best Perfume award in our 25th Anniversary Awards.

Lush vegan karma perfume

Best Plastic-Free: It’s LUSH again! Leading the way in plastic-free cosmetics and toiletries. They offer a range of perfume balms in glass jars, which are delicately scented. You may need to apply it a little more often than spray perfume, but that little jar goes a long way and so will last ages!

Cleaning Products

The issue with cleaning products tend to be more to do with animal testing than the ingredients themselves. But they may still include ingredients like tallow, glycerol, stearic acid, beeswax (again!) and lecithin. So it’s best to buy certified vegan and cruelty-free products.

John lewish method cleaning products vegan

Best Luxury: Ok, so can you really have luxury cleaning products? Either way, these ones are stocked at shops like John Lewis and so count as luxury for us! They’re still very affordable and are completely vegan. They are classed as ‘non-toxic’ and have made a guarantee that their products are good for the environment. Plus they’re just packaged so nicely!

astonish vegan friendly cleaning products

Best Budget: You actually will be astonished with the Astonish range of cleaning products. Found in bargain shops such as Poundland and Home Bargains, they are free from animal products and are not tested on animals. Best for your wallet and the animals!

lemons

Best Plastic-Free: Ok, hear us out. Some of the best cleaning products are our everyday products. Lemons are great for cleaning as citrus juice is a natural bleaching agent. Bicarbonate of soda is great for removing odours and stains, plus it can be bought in cardboard boxes so it is plastic-free. Distilled white vinegar (bought in glass bottles) is perfect for removing lime scale.

For a multipurpose 500ml spray

  • Use 1 tsp bicarb
  • 50-100ml white distilled vinegar
  • 30 drops essential oils (our favourite is a combination of tea tree, peppermint and may chang)
  • Fill the rest of the bottle up with water

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