From leather to lipstick, vegan living beyond food is becoming mainstream. Among the growing movement for environmental consciousness in the beauty industry, interest for vegan beauty is growing: sales of beauty products labelled “vegan” grew by 38% in the UK in 2018, with global sales expected to reach $20.8 billion by 2025. The GrandView report that found this data stated that “rapidly changing cosmetic trends are affecting global marketplace, as most consumers find cruelty to animals unethical and are spreading awareness against this act.”
If you are cautious of cruelty to animals, “vegan” is one label you should look out for – the other one being “cruelty-free”. Many think that the two are interchangeable, but in reality there is a big difference. While the term “vegan” means that the product doesn’t include any animal-derived ingredients, the labelling “cruelty-free” refers to animal testing, which still occurs largely in the cosmetics industry. A product can be labelled “cruelty-free” if both the final product itself and all its ingredients are free from animal testing. Some products are cruelty-free and not vegan, and others are technically vegan, but as animal testing still occurs in the supply chain, they are not cruelty-free.
Knowing whether your products are cruelty-free can be tricky. In 2013, a sales and marketing ban on cosmetics tested on animals was introduced in Europe, with other territories following suit, such as India, Turkey, Israel, New Zealand and Guatemala. These landmark regulations had a deep significance for the movement – they were clear statements that profiting from animal torture is wrong. But do such bans mean that all brands sold in the territory are automatically free from animal testing? The short answer is “not really”. In the EU, the chemical testing programme REACH is insisting that chemicals be tested when there is a possibility of workforce exposure during the manufacturing process.
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Plus, there is the issue of China. This large and significant market requires that cosmetic products sold there go through animal testing – although there is hope. Recently, the Chinese government took steps to lessen its regulations by removing constraints on testing. But at the moment, no brand selling their products in mainland China can be considered cruelty-free, which leaves brands with the choice of not selling their products in China – or having their cruelty-free status revoked.
Revoked by whom, you might ask? There are three mainly recognised cruelty-free certifications. For the US and many other markets, PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies is a programme certifying brands and products that do not test on animals. The list on the PETA US website not only mentions brands that don’t test on animals – it also lists those that do, making it clear what to stay away from.
In Australia, the organisation Choose Cruelty-Free has a bunny logo with the text Not Tested On Animals, which accredits cruelty-free brands and products. And in Europe, Cruelty-Free International’s Leaping Bunny is a widely recognised and trusted symbol.
But just because products are labelled cruelty-free doesn’t mean that they are necessarily vegan. Certifications by organisations such as The Vegan Society do exist, but far from all vegan products feature them. A vegan product is one that contains no animal-derived ingredients – and such ingredients are not necessarily always easy to spot. Sure, label-reading might take you part of the way when it comes to substances like beeswax or tallow, but how many of us know what ambergris, carmine or squalene are? Ingredients that derive from fish scales and crushed bugs (I’m not making this up) are common in cosmetics, and it’s not always simple to recognise them. And some substances, like glycerine, are vegan on some occasions and not on others. The best plan of action here is to get in touch with the brand and ask if their products are suitable for vegans. Many brands will have this information on their website or at least be able to tell you when asked. Finding your new go-to brands is a useful first step in making the transition – here are a few more tips and tricks to a more ethical beauty routine:
Don’t throw out your entire beauty cabinet.
When people discover the cruelty behind animal-derived ingredients and animal testing, some are prompted to get rid of all cosmetics they own and replace them with new products. This is very wasteful, and environmental destruction never helps animals. Keep your products, use them up, and then replace them with vegan-friendly options.
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Venture outside your habitual beauty shopping routine.
Vegan beauty is more widely available now than it’s ever been, but you still might have to branch out to explore and discover new favourites. Look up online marketplaces, and look into smaller, niche brands. Chances are your bathroom will quickly fill up with new favourites.
Use your voice.
If during your research you find that it might be time to part ways with your go-to labels because they don’t cater to vegans, it’s a good idea to let the brand know. Drop them an email outlining the reasons why you can no longer shop with them, and hopefully the message will take hold and inspire them to change their practices.
Forgive yourself for any slip-ups.
Just like going vegan in the kitchen, transitioning to vegan beauty is a process. Mistakes will happen. That email you wrote to that shampoo brand might have gotten the response that they are indeed cruelty-free – only for you to later discover that they sell in China, only when you’re already several bottles in. Don’t beat yourself up, keep learning and tweak your habits accordingly.
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Cover image via VICUSCHKA.