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20 Animal Ingredients Hiding In Cosmetics (And Why Organic Doesn't Mean Vegan)

In today’s beauty landscape, the quest for cruelty-free and vegan beauty has never been more prevalent. However, navigating through ingredient lists can sometimes feel like deciphering a secret code. Many animal-derived substances hide behind innocuous names, making it challenging for consumers to make informed choices. Let's unveil 20 such ingredients, along with their common code names, lurking in your cosmetics, and explore cruelty-free and vegan alternatives for a conscientious beauty routine.

This article will also help you understand why the common misconception that organic cosmetics are the same as cruelty-free or vegan is simply not true. When we say “organic” we refer to ingredients which are derived from the natural, organic sources - meaning not only plants, but animals as well. This is in direct contradiction to the term “vegan” which reflects the absolute lack of any animal ingredients in a product.

1. Carmine (CI 75470 or E120): Carmine is derived from crushed cochineal insects and is used to add red pigment to lipsticks, blushes and nail polishes. The coloring potential of the female Dactylopius coccus bugs was discovered during the ancient times, when they were used to dye textiles. Due to their size, thousands of insects need to be crushed to produce only a few grams of dye.

2. Lanolin (E913): Lanolin is produced by the sebaceous glands in sheep’s skin and extracted from their wool. It Is is commonly found in lip balms, moisturizers and a wide range of medical creams. Choose products containing plant-based oils like coconut or almond instead.

3. Beeswax (E901): Also known as cela alba, beeswax serves as a thickening agent in lip balms and creams. Look for vegan alternatives formulated with candelilla or soy wax.

4. Guanine (CI 75170): Guanine is derived from fish scales and adds shimmer to cosmetics. Brands that are 100% vegan use alternative ingredients such as synthetic mica, which is more ethical while not compromising the shimmery potential.

5. Squalene (E913): Often sourced from shark liver oil, squalene is used in moisturizers and serums. Opt for squalane derived from olives or sugarcane for a cruelty-free and vegan option.

6. Keratin (E913): Keratin is used in hair care products for its strengthening properties and is sourced from animal hooves, feathers, and horns (think Rhino poaching). Instead, seek out plant-based keratin options made of proteins like soy or wheat.

7. Shellac (E904): Derived from lac bugs, shellac is used in nail polish to create a glossy finish. Look for brands offering plant-based alternatives or water-based formulas.

8. Gelatin (E441): Although mostly known to be used in food products, gelatin is also widely present in cosmetic products such as mascaras and nail treatments as a thickening agent and is derived from animal collagen. Cellulose or gum arabic are some of the vegan alternatives that give the same effect.

9. Animal hair: Many squirrels, horses, goats, minks, rabbits and other furry animals are farmed and exploited, among other things, for their hairs and keratin that can be derived from it. Due to its softness and quality, animal hairs find their way into makeup brushes, shaving brushes and false eyelashes. Unfortunately, many videos can be found online of animals having their fur plucked from their skin without any anesthetics, while they are tied or chained, which is an excruciatingly painful method that often leads to a very small death.

10. Oleic Acid (E570): Often sourced from animal fats like tallow, oleic acid is used in skincare products for its moisturizing properties. Look for plant-based oils such as olive or avocado oil as alternatives.

11. Stearic Acid (E570): Recognizable as E570, stearic acid serves as an emulsifier and thickening agent in cosmetics and can be derived from animal fats. Opt for products containing stearic acid sourced from plants like cocoa butter or shea butter.

12. Tallow (E570): Derived from animal fat, tallow is used in soaps and moisturizers for its emollient properties. Choose vegan alternatives made with plant-based oils like coconut or palm oil.

13. Glycerin (E422): While glycerin can be plant-derived, it may also come from animal fats. Look for products clearly labeled as using vegetable glycerin or glycerin derived from plant sources like soy.

14. Lactic Acid (E270): Typically sourced from dairy products, lactic acid is used in skincare for its exfoliating properties. Opt for lactic acid derived from fermented plant sugars for a vegan option.

15. Collagen (E270): Widely used in anti-aging skincare products, collagen is typically sourced from animal connective tissues. Choose products containing vegan collagen alternatives derived from plants or microorganisms.

16. Hyaluronic Acid (E270): While hyaluronic acid can be synthesized in labs, it may also be sourced from animal tissues. Look for products labeled as using vegan hyaluronic acid derived from fermentation or plant sources.

17. Elastin (E270): Similar to collagen, elastin is sourced from animal tissues and used in anti-aging skincare products. Opt for products containing vegan alternatives like peptides or plant-based proteins.

18. Guanine (CI 75170): Derived from fish scales, guanine is used in cosmetics to add shimmer. Choose products formulated with synthetic or mineral-based alternatives for a cruelty-free option

19. Squalene (E913): Often sourced from shark liver oil, squalene is used in moisturizers and serums. Opt for squalane derived from olives or sugarcane for a cruelty-free option.

20. Estrogen: Sometimes used in skincare for its purported anti-aging benefits, estrogen may be sourced from animal urine. Look for plant-based alternatives like soy or red clover extract.

By understanding these common code names for animal-derived ingredients and seeking out cruelty-free and vegan alternatives, you can align your beauty routine with your values of compassion and sustainability. Choose brands that prioritize ethically sourced ingredients and transparent labeling to support the shift towards a more humane beauty industry. 

At Cruelty-Free Babe, more than 80% of products are vegan, and many brands such as Essence, Catrice, Axiology, Karla Cosmetics, Real Techniques, and others are 100% vegan brands. We are soon introducing more fully vegan brands in our shop, so stay tuned and subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to get the news!