Vegan and vegetarian how can we recognise a vegetarian or vegan cosmetic product?

The abundance of raw materials, components and additives used to produce cosmetics may often be confusing for people who prefer vegan or vegetarian options.

Published: 4-04-2022

As a matter of fact, vegan and vegetarian cosmetics are frequently purchased even by clients who do not follow a particular diet. Why? Because these products are very safe and typically offer an excellent quality-price ratio. They contain carefully selected ingredients of plant origin, are preservative-free, and absorb easily. The range of vegetarian and vegan products available nowadays is very broad. Manufacturers of cosmetics are eager to develop these product lines, as the market shows an increasing interest in all that is healthy and ecological.

Which cosmetic should you chose from the rich selection available? Does its composition guarantee that the product is vegan or vegetarian? The raw materials used to produce cosmetics may be of plant or animal origin

Manufacturers of cosmetic products do not have to provide the information about the origin of the ingredients used in cosmetic formulations on the packaging. How can we make sure if the product is really vegan? We can use markings and logotypes of certificates confirming that the cosmetic product does not contain any ingredients of animal origin or their chemical derivatives. The most recognised international certificates for vegan cosmetics are the Vegan Trademark and V-Label. The Polish certificate is Znak V.

What is the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian cosmetic product?

Cosmetic products for vegans

Cosmetics made for vegans cannot contain any ingredients of animal origin or their derivatives. It is important to remember that white and colour cosmetics, as well as personal care products, often contain animal-derived substances.

Creams, lotions, masks or lipsticks are often produced using milk, beeswax, animal fats or pigments.

However, these ingredients are not necessary in cosmetic formulations. They can be substituted by substances of plant origin that demonstrate the same effects and offer identical, or even better, conditioning, nourishing or beautifying properties.

Vegan cosmetics are not only free from animal ingredients and their derivatives, but are often based on what is best for our skin: natural plant extracts, herbal extracts and minerals. It applies both to skin care products and colour cosmetics for make-up. The ingredients prohibited in the manufacture of vegan cosmetics include honey, milk, propolis, and vitamin preparations of animal origin.

Summing up, vegan cosmetic products must contain exclusively natural extracts from flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruits and essential oils. In their manufacture, only plant or mineral extracts can be used, obtained in compliance with the principles followed by vegans, i.e. without the infringement of animals’ right to freedom and living in a natural habitat, and respecting the dignity of animals.

Cosmetics for vegetarians

Vegetarian cosmetics are products that do not contain any ingredients made from animals. Also, animals were not harmed or exploited in their production, directly or indirectly (e.g. by contamination of water or soil).

Cosmetics for vegetarians are presently very popular among those looking to eliminate various animal ingredients and products from their consumption due to their preferred lifestyle and diet. These are often very good products, not tested on animals, demonstrating superior quality compared to a number of cosmetics available in drugstores. These cosmetics have excellent compositions and are highly effective.

Cosmetics for vegetarians and vegans typically are marked as such on the packaging. However, sometimes it is worth analysing their composition. That which is good for a vegetarian (e.g. cosmetics with beeswax) may not be appropriate for a vegan. People also demonstrate different levels of tolerance to individual natural ingredients that may cause allergies.

Cruelty free – products that are not tested on animals

Another important condition for a cosmetic to be considered fully vegan or vegetarian is that is cannot be tested on animals.

Cosmetics dedicated for vegans contain components that were not associated with animal suffering at any stage of their production. It applies to the final cosmetic products, as well as to all of the ingredients and additives in the formulation.

Thanks to vegan products, we know that taking care of one’s health, appearance and hygiene does not require the use of animal-derived products in any form. This includes practically all types of cosmetics: from body and face care products, to colour cosmetics, to personal hygiene products, and hair colouring and styling cosmetics.

On 11 March 2013, the European Union completely prohibited the testing of cosmetic products and their components on animals. Outside of the European Union, it is recommended to pay attention to the labels on the cosmetic products we are interested in. Marks such as Leaping Bunny Seal, Vegan Flower, Natrue Seal, Natrue Seal, Ecocert, Ecocert Cosmos, and PETA are certificates confirming that a product was not tested on animals.

However, certain products tested before 11 March 2013 are still approved for marketing in the EU. Many ingredients in the cosmetics available on the market are also subject to the REACH guidelines, and may be tested on animals. These ingredients are used not only in cosmetics, but also in the production of medications or detergents.

Are vegan or vegetarian products less effective than traditional ones?

Nothing could be further from the truth! The belief that vegan or vegetarian cosmetics are less effective is a myth. The components of these products are selected and tested very carefully. They usually demonstrate much better conditioning effects than traditional drugstore products.

Vegetarian and vegan products are effective in eliminating skin irritation. They are excellent moisturisers and restore skin freshness and glow. The colour cosmetics from the “vegan” shelf help to achieve perfect makeup without any damage to the skin and, importantly, without any harm to animals. Vegan and vegetarian cosmetics are full of specially selected and tested gifts of nature.

Examples of animal-derived cosmetic ingredients and their vegan substitutes

  • Cholesterol – a substance obtained from animal fat. Its plant equivalent is sterol, which can be obtained e.g. from soy.
  • Civet (civet musk) – is the glandular secretion produced by a small mammal found in Africa and Asia. Civet is very popular as a fragrance ingredient in perfumery, as its smell is very similar to that of musk. In this case, labdanum oil can be an alternative option.
  • Cysteine – is a substance obtained from keratin from animal hair and horns. Alternative sources rich in cysteine include walnuts or sunflower seeds.
  • Chitin, chitosan – are natural thickening substances used in hairstyling products. They are obtained from the shells of insects and crustaceans. The plant substitutes of these substances are locust bean gum or xanthan gum.
  • Elastin – is a protein substance obtained from bovine neck tendons. It demonstrates a nourishing and firming effect, and increases flexibility. The plant alternatives to elastin include wheat or soy protein.
  • Glycerine – is a substance obtained from bovine fat. It has moisturising and oiling properties, which makes it an excellent ingredient of creams, lotions and other white cosmetics. It can be substituted by plant glycerine, obtained in the process of saponification of plant oils and fats.
  • Guanine – is a pigment used in the manufacture of colour cosmetics (eye shadows, nail polishes, powders, lipsticks). It is produced from fish scales. Plant alternatives to guanine include mica.
  • Silk – a valuable material produced by silkworms. It is used not only in the manufacture of cosmetics, but also in the textile industry and in medicine. Silk proteins and silk threads are used mostly as ingredients in creams and haircare products. Aloe vera, mica or plan hyaluronic acid are good substitutes for silk.
  • Cochineal (carmine, E120) – is a popular red dye, use in colour cosmetics (lipsticks, eye shadows). It is obtained from Dactylopius coccus Sources of natural plant pigments include beetroots, seaberry, onion peels, berries, elder, buckthorn bark and many others. Plant pigments are anthocyanins or anthocyanosides, and they are considered flavonoids. They come in various shades of red, blue and purple. They demonstrate the properties of glycosides, i.e. they contain sugar groups, mostly derived from glucose, and less often from galactose, xylose, rhamnose and arabinose. The colour of anthocyanins is determined by the pH of their environment. If the pH is below 7 (acidic), they are red, and in neutral or basic pH (pH > 7) they are blue or purple.
  • Keratin – is a substance obtained from hooves and horns, feathers or sheep wool. Keratin in haircare products provides glow, flexibility and smoothness. It also has a strengthening effect. In vegan cosmetics, keratin can be substituted by soy proteins.
  • Collagen – is a protein of animal origin, used in the manufacture of many cosmetic products. It ensures smoothness, elasticity, good tone and hydration of the skin. Sources of collagen include animal products: beef, pork, the meat of fish, squids and octopuses. It may also be obtained from animal bones, skin and tendons. In vegan cosmetics, collagen is replaced by phyto collagen from sea algae.
  • Hyaluronic acid is a chemical compound naturally found in the human body as sodium salt (sodium hyaluronate). In the past, it was obtained from animal tissues: shark skin, bovine eyes and rooster combs. At present, hyaluronic acid is mainly derived from Streptococcus equi bacteria, while in the production process microbiological fermentation is used.
  • Stearic acid is an organic substance. It is a saturated fatty acid, which can be found in stearin. It is used as a principal component in many ointments and creams. Stearic acid is obtained from pig stomachs. It may be alternatively produced from plant oils, e.g. coconut oil or palm oil.
  • Lanolin – is a popular substance derived from the secretion of the sebaceous glands of sheep. It is used in the manufacture of white cosmetics as an emollient and emulsifier. The plant substitutes of lanolin are plant fats.
  • Lecithin – is a product of animal origin, obtained from the nerve tissue or eggs. It demonstrates very good nourishing and strengthening properties. Plant lecithin is obtained from soy and sunflower seeds.
  • Royal jelly – is produced in the glands of worker bees. It is the main food of the queen bee. Due to its nourishing and smoothening properties, it is used in the production of skincare products (creams, body lotions). Vegan substitutes of royal jelly include comfrey or aloe vera extracts.
  • Propolis – is a substance produced by the wax glands of bees, and it is commonly used in cosmetics and pharmaceutics. It has very good antibacterial properties. Plant alternatives for propolis include licorice root extract or witch-hazel extract.
  • Shellac – is a special resin secreted by insects. It provides excellent gloss. It is used in the production of hair sprays and nail polishes. The plant alternatives to shellac include plant waxes or mica.
  • Vitamin A – beneficial for the skin, it is produced from fish liver, butter or egg yolk. It is a perfect ingredient of anti-ageing creams. Vitamin A can be synthesised or obtain from carrots, apricots or lemongrass.
  • Beeswax – is a natural substance that demonstrates an excellent moisturising, nourishing and elasticity improving effect. As an ingredient of creams and lotions, it enhances their application and absorption. The plant alternatives for beeswax include carnauba wax, candelilla wax, coconut oil or avocado oi.

Where can we buy vegan ingredients and additives for cosmetics?

Many animal-derived cosmetic materials and their substitutes are available on the market. It is impossible to mention them all, but it is worth getting acquainted with the offer of the manufacturer providing the cosmetic industry with a range of high-quality vegetarian and vegan cosmetic ingredients and additives. Examples include the Rokamina (Coco Betaine) and Rosulfan (Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate) products from the PCC Group’s offer. Both groups of products were manufactured based on natural plant ingredients. They are ecological, not tested on animals, and skin-friendly. They do not contain allergens or nanomaterials. Rokamina and Rosulfan are groups of surfactants that make excellent ingredients for the following final products:

  • cosmetics and detergents;
  • shampoos and colouring shampoos;
  • hair conditioners;
  • shaving foams;
  • bubble baths;
  • shower gels and liquids;
  • liquid soaps;
  • intimate hygiene products;
  • face washing products;
  • micellar water;
  • oral hygiene products.

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