Skip to main content

The Ultimate Guide to Vegan and Cruelty-Free Beauty

The Ultimate Guide to Vegan and Cruelty-Free Beauty
Fragrance Direct Blog
Writer and expert3 years ago
View Fragrance Direct Blog's profile
Veganism isn’t going anywhere, and we’re all about the healthy, environmentally-friendly lifestyle and what it can do for us. Whether you’re a long-standing member of the vegan community or you’re new to the game in 2021, you might not have considered your makeup and skincare products when cutting out ingredients.

We often don’t think about it, but many cosmetics contain animal-derived ingredients, like beeswax, gelatin, and ambergris. If you’re reaching for a totally vegan and cruelty-free routine, there are a few things you need to know about.

In this guide, we’ll share some of the most common animal ingredients found in cosmetics, so you can look out for them the next time you buy. But don’t worry! We’ll also recommend plenty of vegan-friendly alternatives, so you can keep enjoying your beauty routine with the added benefit of a clean conscience.

Which animal products are used in cosmetics?

Below are some of the most common animal ingredients that vegans should watch out for in makeup, skincare, and perfumes.

1. Lanolin

Lanolin is a waxy ingredient which often comes from sheep’s wool. It helps the animals repel water, keeping them dry and warm. Sheep often aren’t harmed to produce lanolin, which can be extracted once their wool has been cut. Still, vegans might prefer to avoid it in their beauty routine. In cosmetics, lanolin works as a soothing emollient.

2. Shellac

Shellac comes from the lac beetle, who leave their sticky resin on tree branches to protect their larvae. It dries shiny and hard, making it a favourite ingredient in nail products. Many female lac beetles are killed or harmed to produce shellac, so vegans might want to avoid it.

3. Glycerin

Glycerin is found in animal and vegetable fats. It is used in various cosmetics, including toothpaste, hair care, moisturiser, and many other products. Plant-based glycerin, which comes from vegetable oil, is safe for vegans to use. Animal glycerin, from cow fat, is definitely not vegan! There’s often no way to be sure, so look carefully at the label before buying a product that contains glycerin. If it’s certified vegan, you can be sure the ingredient is sourced from plants.

4. Casein

Casein is a type of protein that comes from milk. It’s used as a binding agent in cosmetics, including nail polish, hair care, and face masks. Vegans who avoid milk should stay away from these.

5. Squalene

Sorry, but your favourite cleanser might not be vegan. Why? Squalene and squalane come from sharks liver, where the substance is found in a naturally high concentration. The squalane we find in skincare is often taken from plant sources instead, but be sure to look into it before using these products in your routine.

6. Guanine

Guanine is used in many cleansers, shampoos, conditioners, lipsticks, and other cosmetic products to give them a pearly colour. But where does it come from? Sadly, the ingredient comes from fish scales, which means it isn’t ok for vegans to use.

7. Oleic acid

A cleansing agent and texture enhancer, oleic acid also helps preserve other delicate ingredients in cosmetics. It can be found in lots of our favourite skincare and makeup, but it’s not suitable for vegans. This acid traditionally comes from animal fat. However, many plant-based alternatives, from olives, coconuts, and nuts, are substituted in vegan-friendly products.

8. Collagen

Collagen is an effective natural moisturiser, making it a primary ingredient in many cosmetic formulas. You’ve probably heard about the collagen in your own cells, so it should come as no surprise that it’s derived from animal tissue. Plant-based alternatives are available from soya and almond oil, so look out for those when you’re choosing your products.

9. Elastin

Like collagen, elastin is a protein that comes from the muscles and ligaments of animals. It can be found in many products, but good news! Hyaluronic acid is a fantastic vegan alternative with extra benefits of its own.

10. Beeswax

Sure, vegans avoid bees’ sweet syrup in their diets. But both honey and beeswax are often used as ingredients in natural beauty products, which illustrates the big difference between vegan and natural cosmetics. Natural options often include animal-based components, so it’s useful to be aware of the difference. Look out for honey and beeswax if you’re searching for vegan products.

The best vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics

Now we’ve shared what not to use, you might be feeling a little disheartened. If we’ve just culled half of the products from your routine, have no fear! There are plenty of luxurious and practical vegan beauty products out there. These are only a few of our favourite plant-based makeup, skincare, and hair care products.

The best vegan skincare

Choosing vegan products for your skincare routine is a little harder than you might think. But once you know which brands and ingredients to look out for, picking high-quality, environmentally-friendly cosmetics becomes much more straightforward.

Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel

Start out your routine with this beautiful cleansing gel from Dermalogica, one of the best-quality brands you can turn to for vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics.

gruum Kyra Gentle Face Wash

Or perhaps you have sensitive skin, or want to be a little gentler in your skincare steps? This naturally-derived face wash is a perfect choice for vegans. It smells great, and the sleek packaging is something we can all get on board with.

Urban Veda Purifying Day Cream

This light day cream from Urban Veda is ideal for everyday wear. It’s hydrating, detoxifying, and mattifying, making it great for spot-prone skin. Did we mention it’s vegan?

St Tropez Gradual Tan Face Moisturiser

If you want a little colour from your cosmetics, choose this vegan tanning moisturiser from St Tropez. It’s perfect to boost your tan in summer or help you feel great through the colder months.

Elemis Superfood Night Cream

For indulgent hydration at night, turn to this vegan moisturiser from Elemis. It’s rich in omega and contains barley, quinoa, and concentrated almond milk to nourish the skin while you sleep. If you love this one, check out the rest of Elemis’ vegan skincare.

REN Clean Skincare Rose O12 Moisture Defence Oil

If you’re looking for deep hydration and a vegan-friendly product, you can do a lot worse than this REN Clean Skincare oil. Perfect for dry or maturing skin, this intensely nourishing oil helps hydrate and lock in moisture.

Jason Vitamin E 5000IU All Over Body Nourishment Oil

Another beautiful vegan face oil, this option from Jason combines almond, apricot, and avocado oil. It’s an excellent product to use all over your body, so you can treat your arms and legs to a little extra boost. Expect smooth, soft, healthy-looking skin when you reach for this one.

Ayumi Neem & Tea Tree Face Mask

Who doesn’t love a weekly face mask? This natural, vegan mask from Ayumi is deeply cleansing and refreshing, with rosemary, eucalyptus, and tea tree oils to help balance the skin.

Dr PawPaw Shea Butter Balm

A good-quality lip balm is an essential item in even the lowest-maintenance skincare routine. Throw this Dr PawPaw Shea Butter Balm in your bag for soothing moisture whenever you need it. This vegan lip balm is 100% natural and can be used anywhere, from your lips and cuticles to elbows, knees, and heels.

The best vegan brands

Chances are, once you find a favourite vegan and cruelty-free beauty brand, you’ll be able to get most of your products from the same source. Many vegan brands offer complementary formulas, like cleansers, toners, and moisturisers, which work best together. So switching up your routine to avoid animal products has never been simpler!


Jason is one of our favourite skincare brands full stop. Throw in that almost all their products are vegan, and we fall in love with the brand even more. The only exceptions are Jason’s Cooling Minerals and Tea Tree Muscle Pain Therapy, containing beeswax.


An excellent vegan brand you might not have heard of, grüum make beautiful products for your face, body, and hair. So it’s easy to fill up your rotation with their stylishly-packaged cosmetics. The young British brand was founded in Manchester, focusing on clean ingredients for everyone. A couple of their products contain animal ingredients, so be sure to check before you add everything to your basket.

Alya Skin

Harness the power of Australian pink clay when you pick something from Alya Skin’s small range. This natural ingredient has risen in popularity over recent years as dermatologists have found that it clears and brightens your skin. The collection includes a cleanser, scrub, mask, and moisturiser, which is everything you need to complete the routine.

Urban Veda

If you’re after a 100% vegan, cruelty-free cosmetics brand with lots of choices, discover Urban Veda. This multi-award-winning brand is dedicated to environmentally conscious ways without ever compromising quality. Products are split into ranges by skin type, so you can always find something that suits your unique needs. All their products are bursting with natural ingredients that provide results, so choose your perfect selection and give your routine a vegan overhaul that works.

Whether you replace your entire collection with vegan products or add them to your rotation one at a time, you can enjoy excellent results without animal ingredients. Pick a favourite brand or two and stick with it! Whether you follow a plant-based diet or not, choosing animal-free products is a straightforward way to support the environment.

Fragrance Direct Blog
Writer and expert
View Fragrance Direct Blog's profile