It should come as no surprise that of the thousands of ingredients in our cosmetic and skin care products there are more than just a few whose origin is animal by-product. We can’t be blamed for not knowing the source of each and every one, but it’s wise to know at least a few of the most common. Here are 10 animal-derived ingredients that are hiding in your beauty products.
You’re probably so used to hearing about keratin in hair care products; after all, tons of shampoos, styling aids and anti-frizz treatments contain it. It’s used to smooth, straighten and strengthen the cuticle of the hair. Keratin is the main protein found in the horns, feathers, claws and hooves of a variety of animals.
Alternatives: almond oil, soy protein, rosemary, nettle, amla oil.
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Obviously our makeup products have to contain certain dyes and colouring agents and among them is carmine. This red pigment is used to give lipsticks, blushes and eyeshadows their red hue. To get this ingredient, the female cochineal insect (Dactylopius coccus) is boiled, filtered and mixed with different substances to achieve varying shades of red.
Used as a colourant, this ingredient is found in shimmery makeup (eyeshadow, lipstick, nail polish), bath products and skincare. Crushed fish scales is what gives some makeup its opaque and pearly finish.
Alternatives: synthetic pearl, aluminum or bronze particles.
Tallow: Hydrolyzed Collagen
An innocuous name for a pretty gross ingredient, tallow is rendered animal fat--a by-product of slaughterhouses and euthanized shelter animals. It’s obtained by boiling suet (animal fat) and using the leftover fatty substance. Used as a cleansing agent, fragrance ingredient and emulsifier, it’s often found in soaps, lipsticks, deodorants, shaving creams, hairsprays and conditioners.
Alternatives: Vegetable tallow; Stearic acid from vegetable fats, such as palm and coconut; paraffin; ceresin.
Fragrances need staying power in order to last on the skin. While many perfumes use synthetic fixers ambergris is the original and most sought-after fragrance fixer in the industry. Ambergris is a waxy substance that is excreted from the intestines of the sperm whale and is sometimes referred to as whale vomit. It floats in the ocean for years, maturing its scent and is worth mega-bucks when found.
Alternatives: synthetic or vegetable fixers
This thick wax is secreted by wooly animals, mainly farmed sheep, and is used in creams, lip balms and soaps for its ultra-moisturizing properties. Excellent for dry skin but not popular with everyone, lanolin has been used for the skin for centuries.
Alternatives: cocoa butter, shea butter
Who doesn’t love a good mani-pedi? Shellac is a long-lasting polish that has taken the beauty world by storm, but vegans beware, shellac can be made from the secretions of the lac beetle. These little bugs secrete onto the branches of trees, a protective resin for their larvae, which is then scraped off and processed in such a way that gives us a durable, shiny coating for our nails.
Alternatives: Vegan nail polish.
Squalane or squalene
This is a type of oil that mimics the consistency of our natural sebum. While it can and is often derived from plants, the highest concentration of squalane and squalene is found in the oil of shark liver. This ingredient is used in personal care products to smooth and hydrate the skin and hair. Found in body moisturizers, bath oils, hair conditioners, foundations and skin care products.
Alternatives: vegetable emollients like olive oil, rice bran oil and wheat germ oil.
Glycerin is in so many of our cosmetic and skin care products; it’s used in soaps creams, toothpastes and fragrances to name just a few. Unless you see "vegetable glycerin," it’s possible this ingredient is a tallow by-product.
Alternatives: vegetable glycerin, seaweed derivatives.
You can find this skin-conditioning agent in creams, deodorants, sunscreen, lipstick and hair dye. It's often plant derived, but when animal derived, it is obtained from the oxidization of uric acid. Where does uric acid live? In animal urine…yep, cow pee.
Alternatives: synthetic allantoin or comfrey.