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  • Writer's pictureKat

Non-Vegan Beauty Ingredient Guide

Vegan certified products make shopping cruelty free a heck-of-a-lot easier, but what exactly makes your makeup not vegan?

Let me start with a quick reminder of the difference between certified cruelty free and certified vegan products:

  • Cruelty Free: neither the ingredients nor the finished product has been tested on animals, nor will it be tested on animals where required by law.

  • Vegan: cruelty free (see above) AND contains absolutely no animal derived products, directly or indirectly, nor were animal products used in the process of manufacturing any ingredients (for example, if sugar is an ingredient, it must not have been filtered with bone char).

That being said, there are still many beauty products out there that are cruelty free, but not vegan. Here's a brief list of major ingredients that are not vegan, unless otherwise stated.

Note: Vegan alternatives are available for most, if not all, of these ingredients.

Animal Hair Brushes

Makeup brushes can be made with many different types of animal hair such as, mink, squirrel, sable, horse, or goat, while hair brushes can be made with boar bristles. Make sure to look for certified vegan brushes as an alternative.


This is an obvious one and is sometimes debated. Beeswax does not contain animal products but is seen to be exploitive and even harmful to bees, therefore it does not fall under the definition of veganism. In my research, some companies have stated that the beeswax used in their products had been ethically or sustainably sourced. Beeswax can be found in products like lip care, skincare, eyeshadow, and eyeliner.


Carmine is actually made up from the crushed and boiled bodies of cochineal beetles. Sure, that sounds like lyrics from a brutal metal song, but it's not something I want in my makeup, and quite frankly, bugs are friends. Sadly, carmine is used to make red pigments and is commonly found in eyeshadows and lipsticks.

Other names: cochineal, cochineal extract, carmine lake, crimson lake, natural red 4


This ingredient is derived from sheep wool. This is another one that is sometimes debated as far as if it's ethical or not, but cannot be considered vegan because it is an animal product. The practice of mulesing sheep in the wool industry is cruel and still used in Australia. The method of obtaining lanolin can also be a by-product of the meat industry, sourced from sheep that are slaughtered. It is an emollient used to moisturize and is commonly found in all different types of skincare, haircare, and makeup. There are now alternatives to lanolin derived from plants.


This ingredient is created from lac beetle secretions (ew) and the method of collection can kill or injure the bugs. This type of resin can be found in products like nail polish, mascara, eyeliner, and hair spray.

Other names: lac resin, resinous glaze


This ingredient can be derived from animal fats (tallow), or plant sources, however products might not specify which is used. Glycerin is a moisturizer so it is found in plenty of skincare, haircare, and cosmetics. Vegetable glycerin is a vegan alternative.

Other names: glycerol, glycerolum


This ingredient is derived from shark livers. You can read more about it in my other other blog post, Are There Sharks Lurking In Your Home? . To make things more confusing, squalane (with an 'a') is an ingredient derived from squalene, that is also an ingredient in cosmetics. Again, this is a moisturizing agent and can be found in many different cosmetic products. Squalane can be derived from plant sources.

Other names: squalane


Like squalene, this is a secretion taken from sperm whales. It is commonly used in perfumes.


This ingredient is derived from crushed up fish scales. It is used to add a pearl-like shimmer to products like eye shadow, nail polish, and even shampoo.

Other names: pearl essence

Oleic Acid

This is another one that comes from animal fats (tallow), and is likely sourced as a by-product from animals slaughtered for meat. It use used in many cosmetics, skin care, and hair care. There are plant-based sources available.

Other names: oleyl oleate, oleyl stearate

Stearic Acid

Here we go again - this one also comes from the fat of cows and pigs. However, there are plenty of plant sources, and it's a major component of cocoa butter and shea butter. Stearic acid is commonly found in cosmetics, hair care, and skin care.

Other names: octadecanoic acid


This ingredient is a protein sourced from the tissues of cows or fish. It can be found in hair and skin products, for the purpose of strengthening hair, and moisturizing and renewing skin. These days there are plant-based collagens available.

Other names: Hydrolyzed Collagen


This ingredient, commonly used in hair treatments or nail strengtheners, is actually made from ground up animal parts. Keratin hair treatments have also been controversial due to the use of formaldehyde. Luckily, vegan alternatives to keratin are starting to pop up.

Other names: Hydrolyzed Keratin


Elastin is similar to collagen, in that it is a protein derived from the tissues of animals and fish. It is commonly used in skin care products to restore the skin to a more youthful appearance. There are now plant-based alternatives to animal derived elastin.

Other names: Hydrolyzed Elastin

This is not a complete list but I will be updating as I do more research! Remember to always check the ingredients. Products not certified vegan might be accidentally vegan or even in the process of being certified. Also check products that are only labeled cruelty free, as they may not be vegan.



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