As veganism grows its ranks year by year, rarely has a food trend driven such divisive opinions. Whichever way you sway, there is a branch of veganism that won’t affect your dietary preferences: vegan beauty. Some brands have built their entire image and consumer messaging around this concept whilst others have started to dip their toe in it. As the beauty industry is flooded with an increasing number of confusing claims, here I try to untangle them, from natural to organic, cruelty-free to vegetarian and vegan.
First things first: the law
In 2004 the EU brought in a ban on animal testing for finished goods, meaning that the individual ingredients making up the cosmetic product could still be tested on animals. This was rectified in 2009; since then it has been illegal to test both the final cosmetic product and its ingredients on animals in the EU. In 2013 a further ban was introduced where products and their ingredients sold in Europe cannot be tested overseas.
Claims: what do they mean?
- Natural: the product uses natural ingredients (animal and/or vegetal). This should be self-explanatory however as it it not a regulated term it can be used quite loosely to indicate that just some, but not necessarily the majority, of ingredients in the formula are natural. A certification logo will help to clarify how truly natural a product is (more on that below).
- Organic: the Soil Association describes organic beauty as ‘the formulation of cosmetic products using organically farmed ingredients. These ingredients are grown without the use of Genetically Modified Organisms, herbicides, synthetic fertilisers and more.’ So again this should be pretty straightforward, and whilst the term ‘organic’ is regulated in the food industry, in beauty it is not, so the best way to ensure your beauty product is what it claims to be is to look for a certification logo on the pack.
- Vegetarian: the product contains no animal-derived ingredient obtained as a result of animal slaughter. Similar to a vegetarian diet, the product may feature ingredients that come from animals but do not require slaughter, such as beeswax and honey.
- Vegan: free from animal-derived ingredients. This means the beauty product is made from plants, minerals and safe synthetic ingredients. As customers increasingly demand vegan-friendly products, brands are responding by getting a Vegan accreditation or creating their own way of highlighting it, like The Body Shop.
- Cruelty-free: simply put, the product has not been tested on animals. This sounds like a repeat of the EU ban, however this claim further specifies that the company does not do animal-testing abroad or by a 3rd party.
The ingredients list: what to look out for
It’s all well and good to be told to read the list of ingredients, but many are in Latin and not exactly customer-friendly. Some animal-derived ingredients you will recognise such as beeswax (popular in balm cleansers), lanolin (found in lip balms), keratin (present in hair treatments), collagen (anti-aging creams), honey (in oils) and silk (for shiny hair). If a product contains an animal-derived ingredient it does not mean that an animal was harmed in the process, so harvesting honey for example does not kill bees when done properly. If in doubt on any of the ingredients listed on your favourite products, the best way to get a clear picture is usually to contact the brand directly and ask for clarification.
The certifications: the guarantees
There are numerous certifications out there, I am listing some of the most recognisable ones in the UK:
Soil Association Organic: for leave on products like body creams, 95% of physically processed agro-ingredients (eg. blended or chopped) must be organic and at least 20% of the total ingredients must be organic. For rinse off products like shower gels, 95% of physically processed agro-ingredients must be organic and at least 20% of the total ingredients must be organic. In addition the ingredients list must be written in English for full transparency and informed choices by shoppers.
Cruelty-Free (BUAV Leaping Bunny): as well as not testing on animals, products are not sold to countries that require animal testing as a condition of importing (China for example). You can search all certified brands here.
Vegan Society: Dominika Piasecka, spokeswoman for The Vegan Society, explains that ‘a vegan beauty product is one that does not contain animal ingredients and has not been tested on animals. The term ‘vegan’ isn’t legally protected when it comes to labelling cosmetics and body-care products, which is why we created the Vegan Trademark. Our dedicated staff check ingredient lists of each of the products and make sure that the manufacture and/or development of the product, and where applicable its ingredients, have not involved the use of any animal product, by-product or derivative.’
If you are shopping for beauty products that guarantee no animal by-products as well as no animal testing, a good combination is to look for vegan and cruelty-free accreditations. What do you look for in a beauty product? Leave a comment below to let me know.