A Beginner’s Guide to Vegan Makeup (UK)

I spoke recently on my Instagram about how I feel a lot of people are possibly on the brink of veganism, waking up to the fact that they care about animals a lot more than their everyday lifestyle would suggest, and I asked whether any of my followers would appreciate me reigniting this blog to share some more detailed vegan content.

The response was an overwhelming yes (thank you) and in particular, a couple of people mentioned that they’d be really interested to get some insight into how to “veganise” their makeup bag.

A few people said that they found shopping for vegan and cruelty free cosmetics confusing, and so ended up feeling overwhelmed and sticking with the products that they know. Hopefully, I can shed a little light on getting a cruelty free face easily, and not too expensively, here in the UK.

First things first, if you’re thinking of becoming vegan, or you’re relatively new to veganism, please consider using up your non-vegan cosmetics first. Simply throwing them away and replacing with new products doesn’t “un-buy” them, and is just wasteful. In the name of mindful consumerism I’d recommend gradually replacing products as they run out or expire, with kinder alternatives – it’s also a lot easier on your budget!

Let’s look at the difference between vegan, cruelty free, and… everything else, when it comes to makeup.

Vegan – Vegan makeup is free from animal ingredients but also not tested on animals in laboratories. There are lots of animal ingredients that you might find in a cosmetic product that you pick up in the shop; lanolin (from sheeps wool), gelatine, bone char, silk fibres, milk, honey, animal fats, beeswax – the list goes on. This can feel really overwhelming at first, don’t worry.

Cruelty Free – Cruelty free makeup is makeup which is not tested on animals, and may carry a number of symbols on the packaging to certify this, such as the familiar “leaping bunny”. These products may contain animal ingredients, beeswax in a lipstick, for example, and therefore wouldn’t be considered vegan friendly – but for many non vegan makeup wearers with an interest in animal welfare, the most important thing is to avoid those products that still rely on live animal testing. For most vegans however, makeup does need to be free from animal ingredients and laboratory testing.

Everything Else – There are lots of products out there that are 100% plant based, but are tested on laboratory animals, and vegans wouldn’t use these products. There are also lots of products that are tested on animals and contain lots of animal ingredients too – an animal cruelty double whammy if you like. But it can be difficult to identify these thanks to their vague and misleading testing policies.

Understanding Animal Testing Policies

The most important thing to know when trying to buy vegan or cruelty free cosmetics is that at this current time, all cosmetics and hygiene products sold in China are required, by Chinese law, to go through animal testing procedures before they can appear on the Chinese market. If you are using a product which is available to buy in China it simply won’t be cruelty free.

Of course, this eliminates a lot of the biggest, designer names in cosmetics manufacturing – Chanel, Dior, Benefit, Loreal, Mac, MaxFactor, Maybelline, Revlon, Estee Lauder – these brands are all available to buy in China so you can dismiss them automatically.

When you look at animal testing policies for these companies though, their language can be misleading. For example, Benefit state;

“Benefit does not test our products on animals.

Since 1989, the Perfumes & Cosmetics companies of LVMH group (including Benefit Cosmetics) have not performed any tests on animals for our products – this was implemented long before the 2013 official ban set by the European Union.
We are deeply committed to the elimination of animal testing. We’re playing a leading role in developing alternative methods through our support of the “Fund for Alternatives to Animal Testing” in the United States. We also actively participate in validation studies of new alternative tests in the framework of the European cosmetics association, Cosmetics Europe. We are one of only a few companies to have invested in creating our own internal department to test raw materials and ingredients to further ensure the quality of our products and the satisfaction of our customers, which is our top priority.

As a result, all Benefit products undergo very strict tolerance tests using non-animal methods during the development of each product to ensure quality and safety prior to market.

Some customers expressed concern regarding the situation in China. Our products are made in Europe and for imported cosmetics, the Chinese health authorities order some test on animals: they require companies to make their products available to be tested in state-certified laboratories for registration purposes only, as it is currently their only recognised method to demonstrate product safety .

We are hopeful that alternative testing methods will be adopted worldwide and we will see an end to animal testing.”

It’s obvious that whoever wrote this hopes that you’ll get overwhelmed by how wonderful they are before you reach the end, where they admit that despite being really really upset about animal testing, and pioneering research into other methods… it doesn’t quite upset them enough for them to cease trade in China.

Mac make a similar statement;

“M·A·C does not test on animals. We do not own any animal testing facilities and we never ask others to test on animals for us. While some governments conduct animal testing to prove safety before they will allow us to sell our products, M·A·C has never tested on animals and we continue to be a leader in the movement to end animal testing globally. To this end, we are proud to partner with IIVS (INSTITUTE FOR IN VITRO SCIENCES) to expand the use and acceptance of non-animal testing methods worldwide.”

You could almost be forgiven for assuming from this statement that Mac don’t actually sell in China. They do.

If and when China stop animal testing, and these companies are no longer required to submit their products for testing in Chinese laboratories, then the number of vegan friendly cosmetics available, including some of your favourite high end brands, will rocket. In the meantime, there are literally hundreds of makeup options from brands who’ve taken the compassionate step towards a cruelty free world by refusing to sell in China until current practices end.

Loreal,  for example, claim that they continue to sell in China because they believe it enables them to work with the Chinese government to bring about an end to their animal testing policies. But that isn’t happening. There is, at the time of writing, no suggestion that this practice will be stopping any time soon, and one of the biggest influencing moves an enormous company like Loreal (the Nestle group) could do, would be to pull out of China entirely – the hit to the Chinese economy (especially when smaller brands may also choose to follow) might be enough to bring this issue to the forefront of change. However, as pretty as their animal testing statements might be, they’re simply too greedy to make an ethical move.

So – if you’re looking to go vegan in the makeup aisles, you now know to completely disregard any brands that sell their products in China, and look out for pesky animal ingredients. When you’ve established that a company don’t test on animals (and I’ll give a list in a moment) – you can check whether individual items are vegan with a quick google search, or by asking staff if you’re in a shop – retailers such as The Body Shop carry a vegan list at the till point and can quickly look up a product for you if you ask.

There are blogs dedicated to reviewing cruelty free cosmetics and you can simply Google “is GOSH velvet touch lipstick vegan?” for a pretty automatic answer.

The Difficult Business of Parent Companies

One topic which is hotly debated within the vegan community, is the use of brands with non-vegan parent companies. The Body Shop were a good example until very recently. The Body Shop have always been a cruelty free brand, their products are not tested on animals and a lot have completely vegan ingredients (though do look out for bee products such as wax and honey in some makeup lines). However, The Body Shop were, for a long time, owned by Loreal – a decidedly non cruelty free company. The Body Shop were purchased from Loreal by a cruelty free Brazilian company in 2017.

There’s no right or wrong here. Some vegans will refuse to buy products from the likes of Urban Decay, for example (also a Loreal brand) because they don’t want their purchase to line the pockets of companies complascent to animal torture in labs. On the other hand, other vegans will tell you that buying from these cruelty free smaller brands, sends a message to the parent company that there is a demand for vegan friendly cosmetics.

Personally, and this post isn’t really about my individual ethics, I do buy products from brands with a nasty parent company. I agree that it’s important to say to brands like L’oreal that I’m not interested in their animal tested ranges, but that if they keep running brands like Urban Decay as cruelty free, I’ll turn up. I see every pound I spend as a “vote”, and by buying from the likes of Urban Decay, I believe I’m “voting” for cruelty free products over the alternative. I also buy my tofu from supermarkets that sell meat, my cotton from retailers who carry wool lines, my vegan magazines from the same shelves as those with a roast chicken on the front cover. So to me, as long as the items I buy have contributed to as little harm as possible, I’m OK.

However, if you feel differently, and you decide to boycott these companies altogether, then that’s good too!

vegan lipstick

So who IS vegan friendly?

If you’re out and about on the British High Street and looking to renew your makeup collection, Barry M are one of the most widely available cruelty free brands. Not all of their products are vegan but a majority are, and their website has a full vegan list that you can quickly reference.

Urban Decay, Bare Minerals, Kat Von D and Too Faced are three examples of slightly more expensive brands which you might have to venture to a department store to find. They aren’t all 100% vegan but info on individual products is easy to find. Anastacia Beverley Hills is also cruelty free.

Marks & Spencer do their own makeup, the “Autograph” line, including some collaborations, like Rosie for Autograph (with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) which is vegan.

If you have a Superdrug locally (if not, they’re online) then all of their own brand products, from makeup to tampons, are cruelty free and vegan. I use them for things like nail varnish remover and hair removal cream too. They also carry a number of other vegan friendly ranges such as e.l.f, and GOSH, Makeup Revolution, and MUA.

Here’s what I use:

Concealer: “B. HD Concealer Pen” by B.Cosmetics (Superdrug’s own range)

Foundation: “Flawless Finish Foundation” by Barry M

“Amazonian Clay 24hr foundation” by Tarte

Highlight: “Strobe Highlight” by Makeup Revolution

Brows: “Dipbrow Pomade” by Anastacia Beverley Hills (or a dark brown eyeshadow if I’m in a rush!)

Eyeshadow: Any of Barry M’s eyeshadow palettes. At the moment I’m using Meteor Storm and it’s amazing! The Too Faced “Chocolate” palettes and The Balm’s “Nude Dudes” are both really good high end nude palettes for those who like to splash though.

Mascara: “Fat Brush” by Eyeko, but “Better Than Sex” by Too Faced is one of the most popular vegan mascaras.

Eyeliner: I just grab a black pencil liner from Barry M, e.l.f or Superdrug’s own.

Lips: Too many different ones to count as I own many lip products. I love the lip tints from Lush, but also buy lipsticks from Barry M, e.l.f, MUA, Autograph at M&S, OCC (Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics, only available online in the UK as far as I’m aware but their Lip Tar products are just incredible) and LimeCrime.

When veganising your makeup bag, remember to think about your tools too – there are lots of plant based makeup brushes on the market, but it’s always best to double check before you purchase.

If you’re looking for an exhaustive list of “Approved” brands, I recommend the Cruelty Free Kitty blog – here’s a link to her most up to date list, including everything from high end luxury brands such as Illamasqua and Charlotte Tilbury, to cheaper drug store options such as NYX and Glossier. Ultimate Guide to Cruelty Free Makeup.



One thought on “A Beginner’s Guide to Vegan Makeup (UK)

  1. This was so helpful! You brought up all the issues and arguements and explained them. So many times when I’ve looked I’ll see someone suggest something for someone to turn around say they sell in China then a debate over that happens and I’m never so sure what is ‘right’. So, thank you 😊


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