Vegan down to the skin


If you don’t wear animals on your body, chances are you’re loath to smear one on your face. And even if an animal byproduct isn’t used in a moisturizer or a blush, those who don’t eat or wear products of any kind from beings that walk, fly or swim have another concern. They want to know that the goods they use weren’t tested on animals. Satisfying the demand for products that fit those descriptions is an uber-niche market in the cosmetics industry: vegan beauty products.

An extension of so-called natural beauty products, which largely eschew petrochemical ingredients, vegan items restrict their ingredient lists even further by prohibiting beeswax (which is often used in lip balms and mascaras), milk (found in soaps), collagen (a skin strengthener derived from cows), carmine (a colorant that comes from beetle shells) -- even the animal hairs that are used in the applicator brushes that accompany many products.

“What you’re eating reflects on your skin, and if you do all this stuff to eat vegan, then it makes sense that you’d use good things on your body,” said Joni Keim, head of product development for Beauty Without Cruelty, a vegan beauty line in Petaluma.


At Beauty Without Cruelty, being animal-free means using herbal extracts for cleansing and essential oils for fragrance. At Ecco Bella, a “mostly vegan” beauty product line based in New Jersey, the substitutes for animal ingredients include iron oxides for pigments, coconut and other non-animal-derived oils for cleansing and moisturizing, and sea algae and marigold extracts for anti-aging products. At Zuzu Luxe, a vegan cosmetics company in Bellevue, Wash., candelilla, rather than beeswax is used in mascaras, and mica, zinc oxides and iron oxides substitute for the colors many other product lines derive from carmine, or beetle shells.

“Green is definitely growing,” said Zuzu Luxe founder Gabriel De Santino, who says he’s been fielding a lot of inquiries lately from department stores, pharmacies, specialty boutiques and spas -- in addition to the usual outlets where he sells: health food stores (such as Whole Foods and Pharmaca) and online ( and “People are more aware of what they’re putting on their skin.”

Like vegan fashion, which is part of a larger, green fashion trend, vegan beauty products are an extension of the fast-growing natural beauty products movement, which is going mainstream and bringing veganism along with it.

Origins, a boutique beauty product line, doesn’t use animal products (other than cruelty-free honey and beeswax). And the edgy cosmetics line Urban Decay is marking its vegan items with a purple paw print.

Though prices are generally higher for vegan beauty products than for drugstore brands, they’re lower than those at department stores. And while the greatest beauty claims from these products are that they are cruelty-free, for vegans, it’s that philosophy that’s most important.

“It’s easy to be girly nowadays and vegan at the same time. You can still wear nail polish and cruelty-free makeup. There are products out there that don’t hurt the Earth or the animals and are better for your skin,” said Sunny Subramanian, 29, a Panorama City-based model and actress who runs the Vegan Beauty Review website (


“Our skin absorbs 60% of what we put on it, so it’s just as important as the food we eat.”