What’s with the vegan beauty boom?

Everyone’s going bonkers for vegan beauty, but should we all be jumping on board? Elle Turner explores.

Vegan beauty is big news. Searches for it have doubled on the Boots website in the last two years and demand for vegan hair products has risen by 180 per cent since 2013. Supply, too, is booming to meet the growing demand, with countless vegan and cruelty-free beauty brands (Kat Von D, It Cosmetics, Nailberry and more) launching over the last decade. And the high street is on board – Superdrug has increased their vegan offering by 20 per cent in the last few years, expanding to include over 700 products across multiple categories.

It’s not just the beauty industry, though. Clean, vegan, organic – the movement has been making its way across our lifestyle and diet, too. But why? Mintel cites awareness as one of the reasons: “Consumers today are doing more research and reading up on the products and services they buy more than ever before,” according to their Global Beauty Trends 2018 report. And, as climate change and sustainable living become increasing concerns, it’s become a focal point for many consumers. In the last decade alone, The Vegan Society has seen a 360 per cent uptake in veganism (said to be better for the planet due to the reduced emissions and waste that go into producing plant products) sparked by the growing demand for products that feel environmentally conscious.

So, when it comes to beauty, what does vegan mean? Put simply, it’s products that a) aren’t tested on animals and b) contain no animal derivatives. In the EU, the first part is simple enough because, since 2013, animal testing has been banned – meaning no products that have been newly tested on animals can be sold here. In China, however, it’s still required by law, so any brands selling there must first test their products on animals.

Superdrug has increased their vegan offering by 20 per cent in the last few years, expanding to include over 700 products across multiple categories

In terms of what that means for us, many of the “big brands” you see in beauty halls have made their products available in China. And, despite efforts by some to campaign to change China’s testing methods, those that undertake animal testing elsewhere in the world aren’t considered vegan or cruelty-free here.

Beyond that, the message from vegan brands is that animal byproducts, of any kind, are unnecessary. Lots of beauty products still contain ingredients that can be harmful to animals. Carmine (regularly used to give cosmetics a red colour) is made from crushed beetles and squalene (used to make products feel soft) is often made from shark’s livers. But other animal-derived ingredients are not considered vegan either, including lanolin, honey and beeswax, which many brands (such as The Body Shop, Liz Earle and Burt’s Bees) consider ethical to use. For example, lanolin is a wax that comes from the wool of a sheep’s fleece once it’s been sheared. “If a sheep isn’t sheared annually, their fleece becomes too hot and heavy,” explains Kirsten Carriol, the founder of beauty brand Lano, which uses lanolin as one of its main ingredients. Similarly, The Body Shop continue to use animal-derived ingredients, as Diego Ortiz de Zevallos, their skincare expert, explains: “For example, honey, which is sourced through our Community Trade programme which helps to improve the community where it’s harvested by providing them with trade”. And Burt’s Bees relies on “responsibly sourced and sustainably made” beeswax for many of their products. It’s a topic that divides opinion and ultimately it comes down to personal opinion. No-one but you can decide what to put on your face. For those happy to use lanolin, honey et al, look for products that are registered vegetarian (usually depicted by a green “V” sign). Like vegan these haven’t been tested on animals.

Once home to wishy-washy pigments and well-meaning creations that simply didn’t work, better formulations and ingredients are enabling brands to provide products that live up to the quality and performance consumers expect

For those wanting to steer clear of animal products altogether, the good news is that vegan beauty products have come on hugely. Once home to wishy-washy pigments and well-meaning creations that simply didn’t work, better formulations and ingredients are enabling brands to provide products that live up to the quality and performance consumers expect. “The beauty industry is improving year on year thanks to new technologies, research and innovation. And with growing competition in the vegan territory, brands are striving harder than ever before to achieve the same standards in their vegan and non-vegan portfolio,” says Ortiz de Zevallos. “Animal ingredients historically used in mascaras to hold a curl and maintain long-lasting colour in lipsticks have been replaced with plant waxes such as candelilla and canauba,” explains vegan-beauty brand Inika’s senior brand manager Celia Trevisani – and pigments for make-up such as blushers and eyeshadows are being created using naturally occurring minerals found in fine rock crystals, such as mica and titanium dioxide. In fact, there’s more choice than ever before, with countless brands (Urban Decay, Kat Von D and Superdrug’s B range, to name a few) continually innovating and expanding their vegan offering.

So, how can you tell if a beauty product is vegan? There’s no standardised labelling system for vegan products yet and many organisations have created their own – Peta’s bunny and The Vegan Society’s sunflower are both trusted ones to look out for. Peta has a fairly comprehensive search engine here, but a good rule of thumb is to look on the packaging and search for products that say “certified vegan” rather than simply “vegan”, as they’re likely to have undergone more rigorous testing.

Unlike the many trends that have gone before it, vegan beauty is not just another flash in the pan. It’s a central focus, not just for beauty brands (“All our new product development is briefed to be vegan,” says Ortiz de Zevallos) but for the food industry and for many consumers, too. By no means is it a fix-all sustainable solution – it still uses plastics and sometimes replaces animal fats with synthetics that aren’t any better for the planet. But open-mindedness and a better awareness of the products we’re using is surely no bad thing. That said, there’s no need to be binning the contents of our make-up bags and swearing off our favourite Nars foundation forevermore. A bit of balance and, if you’re interested, a few vegan beauty products here and there might just be a good way to start.



All of the B. range is vegan, but this day cream is particularly good. Feather-light, it completely quenches dry skin without feeling too heavy and without creating extra oiliness. A great daytime option for all skin types.

  1. Radiant Day Cream, £10.99


Barry M has been a cruelty-free brand since its inception and, while some of their products contain beeswax, they have a brilliant vegan offering (marked with a green circle symbol) – including all of their nail polishes. I love the shade Siren, a cherry red that strokes on without streaking and stays chip-free for a good five days.

Barry M Nail Polish in Siren, £2.99


Kat Von D is working hard to make all of its products vegan. In the meantime, there’s a dedicated section on its website, #VeganAlert, showing which products already are vegan. Top of the list is their Tattoo Liner. The fine felt-tip nib offers complete precision and the colour Trooper is a seamless inky jet black – the staying power is phenomenal.

Kat Von D Tattoo Liner Eye Liner, £17


My favourite eyeshadow, hands down, is Urban Decay, because of its rich, velvety pigment. I love Half Baked, a bronzey-gold, but their shade range is limitless. All are outstanding and blend like a dream. All of Urban Decay’s vegan products are listed on their website.

Urban Decay Eyeshadow in Half Baked, £15


Finding a vegan mascara that matches up to my previous favourites has been tough, but Inika’s silky Long Lash mascara does exactly what it says on the tin. The long, thin wand works wonders at lengthening and defining, deposits just the right amount of colour and helps lift lashes and keep them in place all day.

Inika Long Lash Mascara, £23


Smooth as you like and with a punch of colour to boot, Axiology’s lipsticks are as comfortable as they are impressive. One hundred per cent natural, 100 per cent vegan and with delicious ingredients like vitamin E and sweet orange essential oil, they glide on and feel wonderful.

Axiology Lipstick, £25


Pixi’s whole range is vegan, but their Glow Tonic has become something of a beauty hero, on account of its ability to transform dull grey skin into something altogether more healthy and glowing. Pop a few drops on a cotton pad and swipe over your cheeks, forehead and chin to lift away dead skin.

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