As a lifestyle philosophy that goes beyond what’s on our plates, veganism also extends to our wardrobes, our travel plans, our home décor and our beauty routines. The latter have in recent years commonly come to include so-called ‘tweakments’ – injectables such as Botox and fillers being among the first to come to mind. These less invasive facial modification treatments have skyrocketed in popularity. During the pandemic, interest for the procedure has increased by 40% in the UK and 50% in Australia. Be it the constant Zoom meetings or the desire to emerge from our cocoons as fresh-faced butterflies, it’s clear that ‘tweakments’ are booming. But as more people line up at the clinic dreaming of a wrinkle-free face, the question arises: is Botox vegan?
To answer that question, it’s important to remember the distinction between vegan and cruelty-free, both of which are relevant here. A product or procedure is vegan when it contains no animal ingredients, and it’s considered cruelty-free when no animal testing took place in its manufacturing. These two factors often go hand in hand, but one does not guarantee the other.
Botox is made with a neurotoxin produced by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. It works by freezing the treated muscle and preventing it from contracting, which causes wrinkles to soften or disappear. Aside from treating wrinkles, Botox is also used for medical purposes such as migraines and muscle disorders. As it is considered a medical substance, Botox has had to undergo animal testing in the past – just like any medication, from painkillers to anaesthesia. There are no medical products or substances on the market that have not been tested on animals – but as the definition of veganism clearly states that contributing to cruelty to animals should be avoided “when possible and practicable”, the overwhelming majority of vegans agree that necessary medication and medical treatment should not be a hurdle to veganism. To put it short: you are still vegan if you take Paracetamol. However, whether a cosmetic treatment falls in that category is rather questionable, to say the least. It can be argued that receiving a vaccine or life-saving surgery is different from injecting your forehead with animal-tested substances for beauty-related reasons.
And animal testing is rife in the cosmetics industry. According to PETA US, even as companies develop alternatives to animal methods, mice are still being poisoned in experiments including paralysis and potentially leading to a slow, agonising death. A recent study showed that around 400,000 animals are killed annually in Europe alone in experiments to test Botox and similar products.
However, there are updates on this front as Allergan, the company making Botox, has approval for an innovative alternative method. The company told us: “Allergan uses a fully in vitro, cell-based potency assay (CBPA) that has been approved by many regulatory agencies. The company developed a method for assessing potency using cell culture – this took ten years of research to create.” This is part of Allergan’s plans to reduce their reliance on animal tests by 95% by 2023 – which should signal remarkable progress. Change in any industry rarely happens overnight, and cosmetic treatments are no exception.
But whether the product itself is vegan is another question – here we find the issue of animal-derived ingredients. Botox itself doesn’t contain any, but the toxin used in the treatment is prepared in egg albumen. This is highlighted in relation to egg allergies, with warnings to steer clear if you are affected – but vegans should be aware that an animal ingredient is involved.
All this info putting you off having Botox? Laser treatments may be a more suitable option – but even then, the numbing cream used prior to the treatment may not be vegan-friendly. Research is always a good idea prior to any treatment, but if you’re vegan, that research is likely to also include checking the product’s origins, animal testing history and ingredients. The bottom line is often that with any medical procedure, animal testing and animal-derived ingredients are very likely to be involved. So, for anything that’s not strictly medically necessary, vegans might choose to stay away (and learning to love your natural face is never a bad thing).
As the number of vegans and vegan-curious consumers grows, these questions become more frequently asked in clinics and doctors’ practices – which will inevitably lead to more animal-friendly, cruelty-free treatments in the future.
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Cover image by Liderina/Shutterstock.