vegan beauty products on a natural background of leaves

The ultimate guide to vegan beauty

17 Jun 2021 • 5 min read


Vegan living is on the rise, and it doesn’t just involve eating a plant-based diet.

From a diet perspective, a record number of people signed up to The Vegan Society’s annual Veganuary campaign in 2021 (more than 560,000). Meanwhile, Deliveroo’s vegan orders have rocketed by 163% over the last 12 months alone. And by 2025, vegans and vegetarians are anticipated to make up a quarter of the UK population.1

From a beauty perspective, vegan facial skincare launches almost tripled between 2013 and 2018, and the sale of prestige vegan beauty products increased by almost 40% between February 2017 and January 2018.2

Household products, clothing and accessories are increasingly following the vegan trend too; vegan eating and vegan beauty are just two of the original pieces of the overall vegan lifestyle puzzle. In this article we provide you with an all-you-need-to-know guide to vegan skincare and beauty.

What is vegan beauty?

It involves the same principles that apply to food, but they’re applied to beauty products instead.

According to The Vegan Society, a product can only be classed as being vegan if it hasn’t been made with any animal-derived ingredients and hasn’t been tested on animals at all.3

Vegan beauty means:

1. Products don’t contain any animal-based ingredients.

2. No animal-derived ingredients have been used during the manufacturing process.

3. None of the products or ingredients have been tested on animals.

In addition to using vegan makeup and other beauty products, many people who embrace vegan beauty may also go that one step further by not eating, using, or wearing any animal products whatsoever. For instance, this means they don’t eat honey, wear leather or wool, or use beeswax.

What’s more, look out for the words, ‘cruelty-free.’ Cruelty-free means a product has been developed without any animal testing, while vegan means the product does not contain any animal-derived ingredients.4

One of the main indicators of cruelty-free makeup and other beauty products is the Leaping Bunny logo. It’s the only internationally-recognised symbol that guarantees no animal testing was carried out when developing the product(s). 5


  • Vegan beauty follows the same principles as vegan eating
  • Vegan beauty products don’t contain any animal-based ingredients
  • These products haven’t been tested on animals either

What are the non-vegan ingredients to avoid?

Despite the continued upsurge in vegan living, lots of beauty products have traditionally been made using animal-based ingredients. However, more-and-more vegan products are becoming available, but it can be difficult to tell if they are 100%-free from animal ingredients.

Even if a product says it’s vegan, you can only be sure if it carries a certified vegan logo, e.g. the likes of the Vegan Society’s sunflower symbol, and every single ingredient that’s been used to make it is vegan. Even if just 1 of the 10 list of ingredients comes from an animal, the product isn’t vegan.6

Here’s a list of some of the most common, non-vegan ingredients to look out for7:

  1. Lanolin

A moisturising emollient that comes from sheep wool and is often found in lip products, balms, sticks and glosses, and hair products. It’s possible for products to be made from plant-based lanolin too, but watch out for lanolin that’s labelled as being cruelty-free because it still may come from wool.

  1. Squalene

Extracted from shark liver oil and is mainly found in lip balms, deodorants and moisturisers.

  1. Shellac

Used in lots of nail products, e.g. nail varnishes, and hairsprays, and actually happens to be made from masses of insects.

  1. Animal hair

Most often used to create makeup brushes that are made from fox, sable, horse, goat, mink and squirrel. It’s not uncommon for mink hair to be used to make eyelashes too.

  1. Stearic acid

Comes from the stomachs of pigs, cows and sheep and is mainly found in deodorant, soaps, hair products and moisturisers.

  1. Casein

An ingredient that comes from cow’s milk and is used in conditioning hair products and face treatments.

  1. Collagen

Found in lots of anti-ageing and lip-plumping products. It’s derived from animal tissue, bone, skin or ligaments that tend to come from cows.

  1. Elastin

A protein that’s extracted from animal muscles and ligaments, and is often used to make the same products as collagen.

  1. Keratin

Comes from animal hair and horns and can be found in strengthening nail and hair products.

  1. Beeswax

Often used in cosmetics to prevent emulsions from splitting out into their separate oil and liquid components. It’s a common mascara ingredient too.


  • Lots of beauty products contain non-vegan ingredients
  • Look out for the Vegan Society’s sunflower symbol when buying vegan beauty products
  • ‘Traditional’ beauty, non-vegan-friendly ingredients include keratin, elastin and beeswax

What are the vegan ingredients to look out for?

As vegan makeup, beauty and skincare have evolved, the list of vegan-friendly ingredients has grown. This means there are now lots of natural and synthetic alternatives to animal-derived ingredients available.

Some of the most common vegan-friendly beauty ingredients include 8,9:

  1. Squalane made from olives and wheatgerm - rather than shark liver.
  2. Wax that’s made using plant, soya or wild mango wax - rather than beeswax.
  3. Soya protein and almond oil - instead of keratin.
  4. Hyaluronic acid and MSM - rather than elastin.
  5. Soya protein and almond oil - rather than collagen.
  6. Vegetable protein derived from plant-based milks - instead of casein.
  7. A plant-based stearic acid, which is also called stearic acid - instead of an animal-derived version.
  8. Synthetic animal hair - rather than mink, fox, sable, horse, goat or squirrel hair.
  9. Soya or coconut oil - instead of glycerine.


  • There are lots of natural and synthetic alternatives to animal-derived ingredients
  • Vegan-friendly ingredients include squalene made from olives and wheatgerm, soya or wild mango wax instead of beeswax and soya protein and almond oil instead of keratin

Is vegan skincare better?

Why do people switch to vegan makeup, beauty and skincare products? What makes it better than traditional products?

We’ve listed some of the main reasons why people choose vegan over traditional beauty products below10:

6 benefits of vegan beauty

  1. It’s kinder to animals

The main benefit most people associate with vegan beauty is that it helps reduce animal cruelty. As we mentioned up above, ‘true’ vegan products don’t contain any animal-based ingredients, not even a trace of them, and they haven’t been tested on animals either. Instead, plant-based ingredients or synthetic versions of animal-derived ingredients are used.

  1. It’s kind to skin

This is because vegan makeup and other beauty products may have more of a gentle effect on skin. This is believed to be down to the fact they contain fewer, less-processed ingredients.

  1. It’s good for the environment

Most vegan products tend to be made from recyclable materials or have been designed to create zero waste. It’s not uncommon for vegan manufacturers to try and understand where their ingredients come from and are kinder to the planet too.

  1. It helps you to embrace vegan living even more

If you’re already following a vegan diet, and have embraced a vegan mindset in other parts of your life, then switching to using vegan beauty products makes your move to veganism even more complete.

  1. It contains minerals and nutrients

Choosing vegan beauty means you are opting for plant-based products, such as seaweed, coconut, banana, tea tree oil and aloe vera, that are full of so many minerals and antioxidants. Not only can these ingredients work in harmony with your skin, they can aid the ageing process and keep skin looking healthy and hydrated.

  1. It gives you peace of mind about your beauty regime

If you’ve taken the time to scrutinise the ingredients list to make sure what you’re buying is 100% vegan, then this means you know exactly what you are putting on your skin. Surely that’s a good thing, right?....


  • There are lots of benefits associated with switching to vegan beauty
  • For instance, it helps reduce cruelty to animals
  • Vegan beauty products reportedly contain fewer, less-processed ingredients

Is vegan makeup clean?

If it’s been manufactured to be that way, then ‘yes.’ But on the whole, as with products that have been labelled as being vegan, you’ll need to do your research and check those ingredients lists carefully.

And, as you now know, vegan makeup products don’t contain any animal-based ingredients and haven’t been tested on animals. Basically, animals aren’t involved in any of the processes involved in creating and making them.


  • There are lots of benefits associated with switching to vegan beauty
  • For instance, it helps reduce cruelty to animals
  • Vegan beauty products contain fewer, less-processed ingredients

Handpicked content: ‘What is clean beauty?’

8 vegan beauty products

We've pulled together the 8 top vegan beauty products for your skin, hair and nails. 

Vegan skincare

REN Ready Steady Glow Tonic

Formulated with gentle, yet powerful Lactic Acid (AHA) and Salicin (BHA), this skin-resurfacing tonic is formulated for daily use, brightening skin and bringing energy back to pollution, city living or tired looking skin.

Holfd93 says – 5/5 stars – ‘Smells amazing. Really lovely smooth tonic for your skin. My skin is revived and looks healthy when using this, the vitamin moisturiser and the mask!’

Holland & Barrett Vitamin C + Hyaluronic Acid Serum 30ml

Our refreshing Holland & Barrett Vitamin C + Hyaluronic Acid Serum has been formulated with high quality natural ingredients to help give your face an amazing healthy-aging boost.

ShiClaw says – 5/5 stars – ‘I am always skeptical when it comes to face products, especially with such good ingredients. I am amazed by how little of the product you need to feed your's a totally valid serum, I will buy it again.’

Dr Organic Aloe Vera Gel 200ml

Dr Organic Aloe Vera Gel uses pure aloe vera. This ensures the plant’s beneficial polysaccharide levels are captured and maximised to help soothe, moisturise and restore dry and sun-exposed skin.

Katurah says – 5/5 stars 'I love this product and buy it any chance I get. It really works for my skin and produces great results.'

Vegan hair products

Faith In Nature Dragon Fruit Shampoo 400ml

Bursting with fruity aroma, this exotically-fragranced shampoo is infused with dragon fruit that is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It’s revitalising for all hair types and is made with 100% natural fragrance and essential oils. It also comes in 100% recycled and recyclable packaging.

Deemee says – 5/5 stars – ‘I absolutely love this shampoo, it has changed my hair completely, it's so much more bouncy now. I was getting a really itchy scalp and couldn't find the reason for it, a friend recommended this shampoo and after a few washes, my scalp feels amazing!’

Dr Organic Rose Otto Conditioner 265ml

This conditioner is packed full of nourishing properties, leaving hair hair manageable, refreshed and healthy looking. 

Readerjules says – 5/5 stars – 'It’s a lovely product. Gentle on the scalp and hair, really pleasant scent, very good value.'

Avalon Organics Rosemary Volumizing Shampoo 325ml

Avalon Organics Rosemary Volumizing Shampoo is ideal for hair that is thin and limp. Made from a medley of rosemary essential oil, quinoa protein, calendula, aloe and Vitamin E, this shampoo thoroughly cleanses while building volume from root to tip.

September22 says – 5/5 stars – ‘I absolutely love this shampoo and the conditioner. Against animal testing is a must for me, so I was so pleased when I found this. It smells amazing and really adds bounce, volume and shine to my hair.’

Vegan makeup

PHB Beauty BB Cream: Porcelain 30g

This skin-loving BB cream blurs the lines between makeup and skin care. It’s handmade with rosehip oil and aloe vera to nourish skin, whilst pure minerals provide SPF15 protection and natural-looking coverage.

Alepou says – 5/5 stars – ‘Great colour match to my skin. Good value for money, quality product.’

PHB 100% Pure Organic Lipstick - Plum 9g

Handmade using 74% organic ingredients, including rosehip, jojoba and shea butter, PHB’s pure organic lipsticks are designed to give your lips a splash of colour whilst keeping them soft, hydrated and luscious. PHB’s nourishing creamy formula moisturises like a lip balm whilst pure mineral pigments provide rich, deep colour.

Ldw11 says – 5/5 stars – ‘I have an allergy to lipsticks and some lip balms so was desperate to find a lipstick that didn't aggravate. This lipstick didn't, possibly because it’s as natural as it can be. The plum colour is great.’


Vegan beauty is giving people the opportunity to apply vegan living to another part of their life. Aside from the main, widely-recognised benefit of helping reduce animal cruelty, the natural and less-processed nature of these products mean they can be kinder to our skin too.

We hope now that you’ve reached the end of this article you feel fully informed about what vegan beauty is and the benefits of embracing it, the ingredients to look out for and avoid, and which products to add to your vegan beauty shopping list.     

For more vegan beauty insight, check out this article: ‘5 vegan friendly skin care routines.’

Last updated: 26 March 2021



Author: Doaa Al MosawiInternational Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: Mar 2019

BSc (Hons) in Biomedical Science

After completing her BSc in Biomedical Science, Doaa worked in Research and laboratory for 3 years. Doaa was also a member of a product development team in a manufacturing company specialising in sun care and personal care products, researching and providing regulatory advice regarding international regulations.

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