What’s the Deal with Vegan Makeup? Busting the Myths

There are so many misconceptions about vegan makeup and how it relates to cruelty-free makeup so let’s clear that up.
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What’s the deal with vegan makeup?

What is vegan makeup actually made from? Is it better than non vegan makeup?

There are so many misconceptions about vegan makeup and how it relates to cruelty-free makeup so let’s clear that up. (Using “makeup” and “beauty products in general” interchangeably).

First, let’s find out what vegan makeup actually is.

What is vegan makeup?

It’s not as different to non-vegan makeup as you may think. In fact, I’d bet that the majority of the makeup and beauty products you already use are coincidentally vegan, whether you actively seek cruelty-free brands or not.

However, makeup and beauty products can be technically vegan, but not cruelty-free, aka tested on animals.

The term “vegan” as it relates to beauty products means that the product does not contain any animal product or by-product. This is a pretty cut-and-dried term, as it is universally understood that certain ingredients come from animals.

For example, carmine, lanolin, beeswax, honey, and certain types of collagen are not vegan since they come from animals. That is not an extensive list, but those are the most common ingredients to look out for in cosmetics. So a lot of beauty products can be vegan by default.

Prefer to watch a video? Check out my YouTube video on this topic.

How does “vegan” relate to “cruelty-free”?

The term “cruelty-free” is not as simple. (I have a whole post about this topic that you can view here – but I’ll summarize). The term “cruelty-free” is not regulated, and is open for interpretation.

The largely accepted definition is that it means “not tested on animals”. But, companies can claim this even if they commission a third party to do the animal testing on their behalf, or if they sell in a country (mainly China) where it is required by law. (I also have a YouTube video on that, current as of January 2021, that you can view here).

The terms “cruelty-free” and “vegan” are NOT interchangeable. Nor are they mutually inclusive. So a product can be vegan even if the brand is not cruelty-free, or a brand can be cruelty-free and still produce non-vegan products. And so-on.

This is something I see all the time – “how can XYZ brand be cruelty-free if their products contain carmine, lanolin, etc?” Cruelty-free does not mean vegan, it means “not tested on animals”. And, “cruelty-free” does not mean entirely free from all types of cruelty, just the “pouring chemicals into bunnies’ eyes” kind of cruelty. (Sorry). Again – I talk about this in the aforementioned YouTube video.

How to find cruelty-free brands?

There are several websites and organizations that will contact cosmetics brands personally and ensure that they meet certain guidelines to be considered cruelty-free. My personal favorites are Logical Harmony and Leaping Bunny, as they seem to be the most thorough.

Just don’t fall for the buzzword marketing that some brands like to do, by saying their products are vegan, when they still test on animals.

How are vegan products different from non-vegan ones?

So, back to vegan makeup. Like I said earlier, most of your makeup and other beauty products are likely already vegan. The ingredients aren’t usually that far off from non-vegan for most types of products. Plus, due to an increased demand for vegan products, brands have started reformulating some products to be vegan when they previously were not.

There are a few categories of products that I’ve noticed to be *mostly* vegan by default with very few exceptions – these are shampoo, conditioner, hair products in general, cleansers, moisturizers, toners, foundations, concealers, setting powders, setting spray, and I’m sure there are others.

Are vegan products good?

There are lots of well-known, high-performance makeup products that are vegan. One of the misconceptions about vegan makeup that I see all the time is that it’s not as good as non-vegan makeup, or that it has to be “natural/clean” and “organic” and all that, which is not true.

For most products, a vegan version versus a non vegan would be nearly indistinguishable.

However, there are some products that are slightly lacking in availability in a vegan version. Though brands are making changes and coming up with better formulas as the demand for vegan options keeps climbing. I have yet to discover any type of product that is completely unavailable in a vegan formula.


For example, vegan mascaras – especially waterproof, are harder to find, though they’re out there. Waterproof mascara used to rely on beeswax, but now they can use synthetic beeswax in combination with other ingredients.

Red eyeshadow

Another example is red, pink, and purple eyeshadows. These used to rely on carmine, which is a certain type of beetle that is crushed up to make a red pigment. Now, manufacturers are using red dyes in place of the carmine. This is good news even for non vegans, as carmine is a fairly common allergen.

The problem with dyes is that they can stain the eyelids, and some of these are not approved in the U.S. by the FDA as being “eye safe” though most of them are approved in the E.U. The FDA is a little slow. This is why you will see some eyeshadow palettes labelled as “pressed pigments” and “not for use in the immediate eye area”… because they don’t wanna be sued.

There are lots of vegan eyeshadow options – I have a handy dandy list for you here, and there are lots of both neutrals and colorful ones. In my experience, some brands stain more than others but it doesn’t bother me. If you find any eyeshadow to be irritating (vegan with the dyes, or non-vegan with carmine), please discontinue use.

Mascaras and eyeshadows are really the only differences I’ve noticed with non-vegan ingredients. I don’t feel personally limited by this, there are plenty of vegan options. Actually, I find it to be quite the opposite of limiting, because there are soooo many makeup products out there, searching for vegan ones makes the choice easier sometimes. And new and better formulas are coming out all the time.

How to find out which products are vegan.

It is also becoming easier to find out which products are vegan. Cruelty-free brands know that their customers also care about products being vegan, so they are doing better about specifying which products specifically are vegan. You can usually find this on their product pages, and even sometimes on store displays. You can also check in their FAQ section of their website, some brands have a vegan product list, or even better – the entire brand is 100% vegan. Though sometimes you do have to read ingredients, which can be daunting. If I’m on my computer, I’ll try and CTRL F to find ingredients quickly.

Are vegan products really better?

So are vegan products “better” than non vegan ones? In my opinion, yes. There is no reason to use animal products in cosmetics with so many alternatives readily available. Especially when the alternatives are just as good quality, if not better.

However, if you are looking for more “clean” or “natural” beauty products, a product being vegan doesn’t inherently make it more natural. This is a topic for another day, but I personally am vegan for the animals, and honestly am not concerned about my beauty products being “natural” or “clean.” Those are largely just marketing buzzwords to scare you out of using “dirty” cosmetics – which don’t exist.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and share with a friend if you’ve learned something!

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