Turning vegan is more sustainable for the planet and a LOT kinder to our furry, multi-legged, winged and finned friends, so good on you for going there if you want to. Whether it’s easy to make the switch in your skincare regime is another question, because there is so much confusing, conflicting, and frankly misleading information out there. So once and for all, we’re here to bust the beauty myths of what is and isn’t true.
Vegan means it’s all ‘natural’: FALSE
Vegan means ‘free from animal and animal-produced ingredients’, it doesn’t necessarily mean ‘made from leaves and nuts and blessed by songbirds.’ It’s perfectly possible to buy vegan skincare that’s mostly or entirely synthetic (Vaseline is synthetic). And there needn’t be anything wrong with that: synthetic ingredients aren’t equivalent to ‘toxic chemicals.’ The skincare world excels in brilliant, skin-transforming, lab-made ingredients as much as it does in fab natural extract and in many cases they are more sustainable.
Squalane is squeezed from sharks: FALSE
Jaws was indeed widely hunted for this sebum-like oil, which is also found in olives. Today the latter is the far more likely source in skincare, or even more prevalent is a squalane bio-derived from sugar cane. Yes, it went through a geeky lab process, but it’s still 100% vegan and very sustainable and delivers the desired moisturising benefits and skin barrier protection.
Find it in: Biossance 100% Squalane Oil, £25, Cult Beauty
Retinoids are usually animal-derived: FALSE
A search for ‘vegan retinol’ will throw up the suggestion to look for ‘carotenoids’, the form of vitamin A found in plants. Any retinoids (meaning retinol and its many derivatives), it is often said, are typically not vegan. Except this is true for food, not cosmetics. “Whether it’s in cosmetics or prescription skincare, retinoids are always synthetic,” says Paula Begoun of Paula’s Choice. “The main reason for this is because it’s impossible to get a stable, bio-available retinol from natural sources.” And in case you wonder what these synthetic compounds are made of? “Lab-engineered retinol is not in any way derived from animals,“ says Dan Isaacs, director of research at Medik8. So, in short: retinoids are vegan as standard.
Vegan means cruelty-free: MOSTLY TRUE BUT CHECK THE LOGO
It’s not common for vegan products to be tested on animals, but it is possible. To be 100% assured, truffle out those with official certification from the Vegan Society, Leaping Bunny certification, or products with the US PETA accreditation, which is given to brands that are both vegan and cruelty-free. Animal testing has long been outlawed in Europe, but the Bunny and PETA logos ensure your product is not sold in China, where foreign products are required to tested on animals before they can be sold.
Glycerin can’t be vegan: FALSE
Traditionally this moisturising 'humectant' ingredient came from animal fat. "However glycerin is present in all lipids, both animal and vegetal. It can also be synthetically manufactured, which is the version you’ll find in most modern-day skincare products,” says Begoun. So keep an eye out for either vegetable glycerin (unless derived from unsustainable palm oil) or for glycerin-containing products marked as vegan.
Vegan is better for your skin: FALSE
Carefully crafted, clinically researched ingredients are good for your skin, whether they be natural or synthetic or vegan. The law forbids dangerous ingredients and there’s exhaustive regulation preventing it. However allergic reactions or adverse effects from overuse can be caused by naturals and synthetics – your skin does not distinguish between the two. However, it's fair to say your conscience may feel a whole lot cleaner.
Lactic acid comes from milk: NOT IN SKINCARE
You’d think so judging by the name. But this mild exfoliating ingredient that improves skin tone and texture is derived actually from vegetable-based fermentation, so it's vegan. And Begoun adds. "It’s difficult to extract lactic acid from milk and make it stable, hence it tends to be lab-engineered and vegan.”
There's a natural vegan retinol extracted from a plant: FALSE
When a skincare product claims to contain ‘vegan retinol’ from an actual plant (or ‘phytoretinoid’), you’ll find it’s not retinol but, in most case it’s bakuchiol. A great plant active, it boasts some of the same benefits as retinol, but works in an entirely different way. The same goes for sea fennel (or rock samphire), which, despite being a source of carotenoids and a great skincare ingredient, is not a vegan retinol equivalent, as is often claimed.
Collagen comes from animal sources: USUALLY TRUE
The vast majority of collagen supplements are derived from fish, and some from cows or pigs. Vegan collagen supplements aim to stimulate the body’s production of collagen; they’re not made from ‘plant collagen’ as this doesn’t exist in nature. In skincare, actual collagen is also animal-derived. One notable exception is Algenist skincare, who have engineered a proprietary ‘vegan collagen’ by teaming algae oil with vegan amino acids that structurally mimic collagen molecules.
However, a word of caution from Begoun, “The claim that large collagen molecules could absorb and bind to the collagen in your skin and reinforce it has been shown to be sheer fantasy.”
Cholesterol is an animal by-product: TRUE
“Cholesterol is never vegan; it’s not found in the plant world,” confirms Begoun. “But as it’s simply a waxy fat (or lipid), it can easily be replaced by plant-derived omega fatty acids or squalane to give the same moisturising and protecting effect.” Or, says Isaacs, “You can use phytosterols, the plant version of cholesterol, as we do at Medik8.”
Probotics are cultivated on milk: TRUE, BUT…
“Probiotics are often grown on milk, so can’t be vegan,” says Isaacs. “But there is an alternative that is grown on vegetables, which we use.” So it’s a matter of seeking out vegan brands or ‘vegan probiotics’ specifically.