A tube of lipstick or a bottle of nail polish may seem like a pretty straightforward purchase. However if you are trying to eliminate animal products from your life, buying makeup can feel like walking through a field of landmines.
Although animal products fill the ingredient list of many cosmetics, they can be nearly impossible to spot if you don’t know what to look for. We’ve rounded up some of the most common non-vegan ingredients that are lurking in your makeup, along with animal-friendly alternatives to look for.
1. Albumen (aka albumin)
What it is: Albumen is a chemical compound derived from protein. Though it can be made from milk, muscles, and blood, the type used in cosmetics is usually made from egg whites.
What it’s for: Albumen is a coagulating agent, meaning it causes liquid to thicken. It serves this purpose in lotions, cream makeup, conditioners, anti-ageing serums, and some concealers.
Vegan alternatives: Albumen can be made from vegetable tissues as well as animal protein. Look for ingredients that specify vegetable albumen or vegan albumen. Anything labeled “cruelty-free albumen” may still be derived from eggs.
2. Carmine (aka cochineal or carmininc acid)
What it is: Carmine is a red pigment that is derived from the crushed body of the female cochineal insect. It has been used for centuries in both cosmetics and paints. Allegedly, over 70,000 insects must be crushed to produce one pound of dye.
What it’s for: Cochineal is used in red or pink makeup, including lipstick, lipgloss, eyeshadow, and blush. It is also added to some shampoos and conditioners.
Vegan alternatives: Beet juice can be used to produce the same type of red or pink color in cosmetics, as can the root of the alkanet tree. Look for these specific ingredients, or makeup that is labeled “fruit-dyed.”
What it is: Lanolin is an oil excreted from the glands of sheep and gathered from their wool. It has many other names, including cholesterin, amerchol L101, isopropyl lanolate, laneth, lanogene, lanolinaAcids, wool fat, or wool wax.
What it’s for: Lanolin is an emollient that is used to soften or soothe the skin. It is a common ingredient in lipstick, lipgloss, lip balms, lotions, hair products and salves.
Vegan alternatives: Plant and vegetable oils can be used in place of lanolin. These include coconut oil, olive oil, palm oil, shea butter, and cocoa butter. If an ingredient is labeled “cruelty-free lanolin” then it may still be derived from sheep wool, but synthetic lanolin is usually vegan.
4. Ambergris (aka pristane or squalene)
What it is: Ambergris (which means “grey amber”) is a chemical produced in the intestinal tract of sperm whales. It is extracted from their excrement or vomit, which become solid once expelled into the ocean.
What it’s for: Ambergris is used in high-end perfumes to fix fragrance to the skin. It can also be used in scented cosmetics, though this is rarer because ambergris is so expensive—a single pound of it can be worth over $60,000. It is illegal to use ambergris in the United States because of the sperm whale’s status as an endangered animal, but it is still a commonly-used ingredient in European cosmetics (particularly French perfumes).
Vegan alternatives: Plant oils may also be used as fragrance fixatives in perfumes in place of ambergris. Beware ingredients labeled “synthetic ambergris”; these could be chemical ingredients, but they may also be false ambergris derived from the liver oil of sharks.
5. Caprylic Acid (aka carprylamine oxide or capryl betaine)
What it is: Caprylic acid is a liquid fatty acid extracted from the milk of cows or goats.
What it’s for: Caprylic acid is naturally antibacterial and antifungal, so it is commonly used in perfumes and cosmetics to keep them from developing bacteria. It is also a surfactant used in soap production.
Vegan alternatives: Coconut and palm oils contain high levels of caprylic acid. Look for ingredients that specify plant-derived or vegan caprylic acid. Ingredients labeled “cruelty-free caprylic acid” may still come from animal sources.
What it is: Collagen in a fibrous protein derived from animal tissue, usually the bone, skin, or ligaments. It often comes from cows.
What it’s for: Collagen is used in many anti-ageing cosmetics, serums, and lotions, even though most studies show that it cannot penetrate the skin. It is also commonly used in lip-plumping lipsticks or glosses.
Vegan alternatives: Plant-derived alternatives to collagen include almond oil and soy protein. Note that kosher collagen is still derived from animal tissue.
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7. Casein (aka caseinate or sodium caseinate)
What it is: Casein is a protein that is found in mammalian milk. Commercially, it is usually extracted from cow’s milk.
What it’s for: Casein is used to condition, soften, and smooth the hair and skin. It is commonly found in hair treatments and face masks.
Vegan alternatives: Vegetable proteins are the most commonly used vegan replacement for casein. These are usually labeled “vegetable protein” or “soy protein.” They may also be listed as a type of non-dairy milk—for example, soy milk or almond milk.
8. Oleic Acid (aka tallow, oleyl oleate or oleyl stearate)
What it is: Oleic acid is a long-chain fatty acid that is found in tallow—a form of animal fat.
What it’s for: In cosmetics, oleic acid is used as an emollient that softens and conditions the skin, preventing dryness and cracks. It can be found in cream, soap, lipstick, nail polish, and other makeup.
Vegan alternatives: Oleic acid can be found in many plant sources, including nuts, olives, and coconut oil. Look for these specific ingredients; it may also be labeled “vegan oleic acid” or “plant-derived oleic acid.”