It is one of the fastest growing segments in beauty, and as a result a host of beauty brands have popped up proudly proclaiming their vegan status. According to reports published by Google there has been a massive increase in searches for all things vegan, with a report compiled by food-centric media outlet Chef’s Pencil stating that “interest in veganism is at an all-time high in 2020”.
So, with all the buzz around conscious beauty, you’ve made the decision to be more, well, conscious with your choices. But you’ve Googled it and it’s left you a bit overwhelmed and with no idea where to start. Here are a few key points you need to understand when it comes to going vegan.
What does it actually mean?
There are a few very common misconceptions about what exactly qualifies a product as vegan or being suitable for vegans. You might be surprised to hear that it doesn’t necessarily translate to “all natural” or “clean”. Vegan beauty products will often still contain synthetic and chemical alternatives that are not derived from animals. And before you gasp at the use of the word chemicals – chemicals are not the enemy. We are all made of chemicals. Water is a chemical. We’ll get to that later…
Another very common misconception is that cruelty-free equates to vegan. And although no animal testing plays a big part in vegan beauty products, the key to a product being truly suited for vegan use is the elimination of all animal ingredients, animal by-products and animal derivates. This would include common ingredients like honey, beeswax, carmine, lanolin and collagen. “Cruelty-free” is in reference to the testing process and indicates that the product and ingredients have not been tested on any furry friends. This includes suppliers and all third parties involved at any point in the process of the manufacturing of the product. It does not mean it doesn’t contain ingredients of animal origins. It is thus entirely possible for a product to be cruelty-free and not vegan.
You mentioned synthetics and chemicals?!
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? What is a synthetic ingredient? Simply put, it means that a naturally derived ingredient – such as retinol or hyaluronic acid – which would originally come from an animal, has now been replicated within a lab to mimic the original molecule with the same effects. A great example of a very commonly synthetically produced ingredient is retinoids, which is a derivative of Vitamin A.
Just because something is synthetic or a chemical (I’ll remind you that water is a chemical) doesn’t mean it is automatically bad for you.
The belief that replacing anything deemed “unnatural” with something “natural” is automatically the better choice is misleading and untrue.
So how do you make an educated decision?
Know your ingredients and do your research. You will have to start familiarising yourself and getting into the habit of carefully reading that fun little list of words on the back of the product or box. You will find that some items jump out easily as non-vegan, but there are some tricky ones, like squalene vs. squalane (are we confusing you? Good!) Squalene with an e, is an oil naturally produced in the body by our oil glands. It is also a very popular ingredient in skincare and for a long time, shark liver oil was one of the most common squalene sources used in cosmetics because of the high concentrations found in shark livers. Due to the very obvious ethical concerns regarding this, very few beauty companies still use shark-derived squalene in their products and have shifted to squalane with an a. The squalane you now find in products is derived from plant-based sources such as olives or other plant oils like wheat germ.
Our point being, make sure you read and research before you buy anything.
You can also look for legit international certifications like PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies logo that states cruelty-free and vegan on it, The Vegan Society, Certified Vegan by Vegan Action and the most commonly known Leaping Bunny certification. But please take into account these are limited to international products and very few, if any, local South African brands have gone through the process to get these certifications. If they state suitable for vegan use, it is up to you to check and double check the ingredient list.
Lastly, if you are choosing to go vegan with the intention of avoiding nasties, chemicals or thinking it’s a clean or organic choice – rather than it being an ethical standpoint – you might want to reassess. Choosing a vegan skincare or beauty product simply means, no animals were harmed or used in the making of the product.