Looking for animal-free cosmetics? It might not be easy. Not only are the ingredient names confusing and often unpronounceable, but there are some ingredients that can be derived from plants, or from animals, or created synthetically in a lab.
Take glycerin, a common ingredient in skincare and cosmetics. It keeps water from separating in a given product. It’s also a lubricant. But just how do you know where it comes from?
The origin is rarely specified, unless the company itself is vegan -- and only a handful will make this claim. Occasionally, a product will be marked as vegan. More often than not, even when cosmetics are animal-free, the responsibility of ascertaining such information is left to the consumer.
In the cosmetics industry, beetles may become lipstick. Fish may become eye shadow.
Mascara almost always includes beeswax. The wax is used as a thickener and makes mascara waterproof and long-wearing. Aveda and Urban Decay, two companies that produce ranges of vegan make-up, use beeswax in their mascara. Companies that do produce vegan mascaras include Zuzu Luxe, Ecco Bella and Beauty Without Cruelty.
Animal products, because they are so common on the market, are often the least expensive. To add to the confusion, cosmetic recipes sometimes change from batch to batch based on the market value of various ingredients. This might explain why most cosmetic companies don’t label animal-free offerings: there’s no guarantee that the next batch of make-up won’t contain animal products. So, when I asked the manager of Beautypedia, the most comprehensive computer database of reviews for skin care and cosmetics, to list individual products as suitable for vegans, I was told that this would be “impossible” because of the frequent changes to cosmetic formulations.
And yet, understanding the ingredients lists can be practically impossible as well. The terms are technical, and far removed from the animals from some are derived. “Carmine” is a bright red pigment that is derived from a small insect. It’s frequently found in cosmetics, and it’s also used in paints and foods. Carmine or “cochineal” -- which is the small insect -- can also appear in a variety of cosmetics, because of concerns that artificial dyes might cause allergies. But it’s not used in every lipstick, blush or other cosmetic product. It’s not easy to know what’s what.
So, for a long time now, advocacy groups have alerted consumers to cosmetics and skin-care companies that avoid the use of animal products in some way. Internet sites and pamphlets, some designed by popular animal advocacy groups, offer listings of “cruelty-free” cosmetics companies. But does that term mean the company does not test on animals? Or does it mean the product’s ingredients are vegan?
The meaning of “cruelty-free” varies from company to company. It might mean the company doesn’t test its finished products on animals, but the same company might buy individual cosmetic ingredients from companies that do.
Often, there is no way to know whether an ingredient is synthetic simply by reading the label — especially when most companies refuse to label cosmetics that don’t include animal products. What should we do? Talk to the company. If you have found a cosmetic you like that is vegan, encourage the company to label it vegan and to keep it vegan.
Sales staff might regale you with outlandish claims about their “miracle” products, but rare is the representative who can identify one that contains no animal material and hasn’t been tested on animals. Most cosmetic companies have customer service lines, though, with representatives who can answer such questions. If you want to know about a specific product, call the company’s toll-free number and talk to a customer service specialist. Be prepared with detailed information (name, shade and type) of the product.
Ask your questions clearly. Some companies we called did not consider bees or their products to be animal-based
Retailers Offering Animal-Free Cosmetics (no animal testing; no animal ingredients):
408 S. Pasadena Ave., Suite 1
Pasadena , California 91105
Toll Free: 866-758-5837 (United States & Canada)
Cosmo’s Vegan Shoppe
672 Highland Avenue NE
Atlanta, Georgia 30312
Toll free: 800-260-9968
Pangea Vegan Store
2381 Lewis Ave.
Rockville , Maryland 20851