How and Why I Went Vegan and Cruelty-Free in My Beauty Purchases
Written by Dana Dworkin
Before we start -- I promise this won’t be preachy. I know the word vegan automatically strikes annoyance in the hearts of many, but I’m not here to tell you what to do. I’m just here to share my point of view and whether or not you agree is none of my business.
I’ve been a vegetarian for 12 years - since I was 10 years old. Veganism wasn’t even on my radar back then. A few years ago, after realizing that the dairy industry wasn’t much better than the meat industry, I decided to go cold-turkey vegan. I failed spectacularly, only lasting a few weeks. My love of baked goods and the thrill of trying local food in the places I traveled won out over my guilt. These days, I keep vegan in my home but meals outside of my house are fair game for dairy and eggs. Despite this small step towards veganism, I still felt a nagging guilt over my inability to fully commit. I wanted to take another step towards reducing my contribution towards animal suffering. As part of my 2019 New Year’s resolution, I decided to go vegan and cruelty-free in my beauty and fashion purchases.
Coming off a co-op at a company where I was inundated with new free makeup, I was sure it would be easy enough to cut out any animal by-products in my beauty purchases since I didn’t really need anything new. Plus, I decided that I wouldn’t throw out any old makeup that didn’t meet this criteria, but simply would not purchase anything new that didn’t fit the guidelines. While I would love to say that I made a huge sacrifice and worked really hard, it has honestly been fairly easy to make those changes. With a little bit of research, and some small moments of mourning for past favorites that were used up and are now gone from my collection forever, I’ve been successful so far in this New Year’s resolution.
There are some hidden roadblocks and beginner mistakes that one can face when making this transition, but by digging on internet forums and contacting brand’s customer service emails, I’ve gained some insight that can help make the transition easier for anyone else looking to make this change.
What animal ingredients are in cosmetics?
Just to preface, this article will not explain why these products are unethical or harmful to animals. I encourage you to do your own research about why using products, beauty or otherwise, that are tested on animals or contain animal by-products is detrimental to animals and the environment. I recommend checking out The Humane Society of the United States for an explanation of animal testing, as well as this guide to animal ingredients in cosmetics.
Off the top of the average person’s head, it would probably be hard to imagine any animal products that we would put on our face or body. Sure, beeswax, but what else? Even if you were to read the label of your favorite lipstick, you probably wouldn’t think anything of seeing the words carmine and lanolin among the long list of foreign ingredients. While the names are innocuous, the reality is, for lack of a better word, kind of icky. Carmine is a common ingredient in bright red or pink lip products. Its origin? Dried out Coccus Cacti bugs are boiled, and the resulting colored water is used to create a vibrant pigment. Lanolin, an ingredient commonly found in lip balms and other moisturizing products, is a wax produced from the sebaceous glands of sheep.
In my quest to maintain as many of my old favorites as possible, I recently emailed Bite Beauty to inquire about my holy grail Amuse Bouche lipstick in Terracotta. The website advised that certain shades may contain carmine, but when I inquired further about what non-vegan ingredients are found in the product, they disclosed that the formula also includes silk and pearl powders. Although these two objects are more commonly known for their use in fashion and jewelry, respectively, they can also be found in your cosmetics. Silk is created from the cocoons of silkworms, and pearls are produced by mollusks. In the link above about animal ingredients in makeup, you can find an even more extensive list of animal ingredients.
The topic of bee by-products is a controversial subject in the realm of veganism. As I said, I’m not here to preach. I personally do not have an issue with honey or beeswax in my items as I think buying products which encourage companies to support healthy bee populations is a positive thing to do, but it’s up to you whether you want to include these ingredients on your no-buy list.
What makes something cruelty-free?
Speaking of controversial topics, it can be hard to define a cruelty-free (CF) brand. On its surface, a cruelty-free brand does not test on animals at any stage of creating a product. But what if the company itself doesn’t test its products on animals, but the company is owned by a larger parent company who does support animal testing? If a company sells its products in China, where it’s required by law to test on animals, but doesn’t test on animals in any other country, is it cruelty-free if you buy it in your local Sephora? This is another personal line that each individual consumer has to decide where to draw. Personally, I won’t buy from any companies that sell in China, but I will buy from cruelty-free companies who are owned by non-CF parent companies. I believe that if the parent companies see the revenues for their CF companies increasing while the brands who test on animals experience diminished sales, it will encourage them to transition all of their subsidiaries to a CF testing regimen.
How can you tell if something is cruelty-free and vegan?
If you do decide to avoid companies that test their products on animals, the internet is your new best friend. Blogs like Cruelty Free Kitty and Ethical Elephant have done the hard work for the rest of us and contacted companies, researched their practices, and organized their findings. Here, you can find lists of CF and vegan brands, organized by price point, product type, or where they can be purchased. For brands which are not completely vegan, Cruelty Free Kitty did the legwork to list which products are free of animal-derived ingredients.
So, should you go CF/vegan?
This experience has had minor annoyances along the way, but it’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience. I have to be a lot more thoughtful in making purchases, which has drastically brought down my unnecessary spending on beauty purchases. My beauty collection, although still excessive, is becoming more and more carefully curated. And while I still feel a twinge of anxiety when I eat the free bagels and cream cheese at work on Fridays, it does help my guilty conscience to know that I am actively taking steps towards reducing my negative impact on animals that I have spent over half my life trying to minimize.