Vegan lifestyles are on the rise, and with that, we’ve seen a surge in vegan beauty products. What was once specialised and rare, is now more readily available than ever. But what exactly does “vegan beauty” mean? Is it the same as “cruelty-free”? And how do you know whether a product is vegan or not?
“For a skincare product to be registered as vegan it needs to be free from animal ingredients and animal testing,” says Dr Alek Nikolic, an aesthetic medical practitioner and founder of vegan skincare brand, sk.in.
“For an ingredient to be classified as vegan it needs to be derived exclusively from non-animal sources i.e. petrochemical, mineral or plant. The word ‘animal’ includes the entire animal kingdom. Specifically with animal testing this includes that the skincare product itself has not been tested on animals and that all the ingredients used have not been tested on animals by the supplier or anyone in the chain for that ingredient. And finally a brand’s claim that their products are vegan should be certified by a recognised vegan body such as The Vegan Society,” he says.
A vegan beauty product is thus much like a vegan food product. It is free from any animal-derived ingredients, and no animals were harmed in the manufacturing of that item. According to Stuart Russel, co-founder of vegan skincare brand Thoclor Labs, some of the most commonly used non-vegan ingredients include beeswax, honey, carmine, silk powder, collagen, keratin and lanolin. Dr Alek also notes that retinol (vitamin A) is usually derived from animal sources, as is cholesterol, glycerine, squalene and panthenol.
But the great news is that there are amazing alternatives for all of these ingredients. Stuart notes that the following ingredients can be used as effective substitutes:
- Beeswax – Plant or soya waxes
- Honey – Colloidal oatmeal or aloe vera
- Collagen – Acacia leaves & Fruits / Seaweed
- Lanolin – Plant oils
- Keratin – Plant derived proteins
- Silk powder – Arrow root powder
- Carmine – Beetroot
And you don’t need to give up on the benefits of your beloved vitamin A, either. Dr Alek suggests using a serum that contains a retinol-derived form of carotene, or a synthetically-derived retinol, such as those included in the formuations of sk.in flash, sk.in bounce, and sk.in avenge HPR. He also suggests opting for coconut oil or soya-derived vegan alternatives to glycerine.
What are the benefits of following a vegan skincare routine?
“For me the biggest benefit is knowing that nothing I have applied to the skin has been derived from an animal and that no animal testing has been performed with any of the ingredients,” says Dr Alek. Stuart has seen an increase in general vegan and plant-based lifestyles. “Many people are seeking to make life choices that reduce the impact on animals. Adopting a vegan lifestyle usually begins with eating choices followed by other areas of life. The increase in available vegan skincare products suggests that this aspect is important for many people and may be partly motivated from a moral position and partly from a health point of view.”
In early 2020, South African supermarkets reported that the demand for vegan food options has never been higher, and that they were adapting their delis and ready-meal offerings to reflect this change. “I do believe that a vegan lifestyle is becoming more popular however this is still a small percentage when compared to a non-vegan lifestyle,” says Dr Alek. But what is it about the plant-based lifestyle that is so appealing to South Africans?
“There is definitely a growing trend towards simpler, more natural and sustainable skincare products. People who do not necessarily embrace veganism broadly may find the simpler products more suitable to their skin. This indicates that vegan-based skincare has broader support than vegan eating habits. Remember, just because it is a vegan product, it does not automatically make it 100% safe, so check the ingredients,” notes Stuart.
Many of us are interested in vegan products, without necessarily wanting to embark on a fully vegan lifestyle, but the truth is that even small changes can make a difference. We asked the experts for some tips on how to transition to a vegan lifestyle.
Dr Alek says, “If someone is interested in following a vegan lifestyle my advice would be start with doing some research (there are multiple vegan websites with excellent info and advice) and in particular on vegan recipes. Subscribe to their newsletters so that you receive monthly tips and ideas. This will allow one to plan your approach to a new way of life and how to shop and how to prepare your food.
It is important to take it slowly and make changes incrementally. I would suggest making small changes, like removing meat or dairy one day a week and then increasing the number of days. I would also recommend that you primarily enjoy whole, plant-based meals, rather than heavily processed or premade or fried vegan food. Think delicious vegetable stews and thick wholesome vegetable-based soups.
Once you are completely vegan, consider supplementing your diet with iron, vitamin B12 and zinc. It may be worthwhile to have your vitamin D levels checked to see if that should also be supplemented.”
Stuart notes that it is important to make distinctions between vegan and natural / organic products. “People sometimes assume that vegan skincare products will always be organic or natural since they tend to use plant-based ingredients. But this may not be the case as they may make use of synthetic colourants or fragrances and chemical preservatives. To ensure the range is completely natural double check these details before committing to a product.
Lastly, if animal welfare is a major concern for you then it is important to ensure the products that contain palm oil are using ethically-sourced palm oil. This is a tricky fact to establish so many people avoid products containing any palm oil because of the negative impact on the global orangutan populations due to deforestation.”
Great quality vegan cosmetics are much easier to come by than they used to be. Some of our favourites include:
sk.in – Dr Alek’s cosmeceutical skincare range that offers prescription-grade active ingredients to ensure measurable results.
365 Skin Workout – Hailing from Barcelona, this range of anti-ageing skincare is brought to SA by Sorbet, and promises to address skincare concerns in just eight weeks.
Inoar – A Brazilian professional hair care brand that cares about your health, as well as the environment.
Alexia Rich – Premium collagen supplements that are 100% free from animal derivatives.
RefectoCil – Vegan eyelash and eyebrow tints that have been around since 1930.
Skin Republic – A range of face mask sheets for every concern. Check the packaging of the masks to see which ones are vegan.
Skin Creamery – A local, natural and 100% organic skincare brand known for simple yet effective skincare.
Thoclor Labs – A biotechnology company dedicated to blending the powers of medical science with the miracles of nature.
Lush – Fresh, handmade cosmetics that are cruelty-free, vegan, use ethically-sourced ingredients and minimise their packaging.
RVBLAB The make up – Professional makeup that is vegan, paraben-free and contains no heavy metals.
Calvin Klein CK Everyone – It’s not easy to find a vegan fragrance, but this one from Calvin Klein boasts 79% naturally-derived ingredients and is vegan too.
Stella McCartney – Did you know that fashion mogul Stella McCartney is a dedicated vegan, and all her brand’s fragrances are vegan, too?
What is your favourite vegan brand?