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But, Is It Vegan? Checking Ingredient Lists

Updated: Apr 7

When you are shopping it's easy to go around picking up what you want, assuming that certain things are vegan, only to find out when you get home, that they're not vegan at all. The dark chocolate bar that contains milk powder, the meat substitute made with egg, the maple syrup oat bar made with honey. It happens to all of us.

What Makes A Food Vegan?

Food is vegan if it contains no animal products, or by-products and it is not tested on animals in any way. It has to be free of animals cruelty or exploitation. Most unprocessed foods are considered vegan, foods like apples, dried beans, rice, potatoes, these foods don't need to be checked. Food that doesn't have an ingredient list on it, like a carrot, are vegan, but what about foods that do have an ingredient list, what happens when you go to the shop and there are things in the ingredients that might come from animals, but you're not sure?

ingredients list
Understanding an ingredients list can be tricky

Vegan Labelling

As veganism becomes more popular an increasing number of companies are investing in producing vegan suitable products, these include plant milks, meat replacements and dairy free yogurts. These products are labelled as being "meat free", "vegan friendly" or "vegan" and will often have the Vegan Society sunflower on them. A lot of food producers are also removing milk and eggs from items such as biscuits and popcorn, making them okay for vegans to eat.

How To Read The Ingredients List

Many products now have an ingredients list that has known allergens printed in bold, ingredients like wheat, milk and eggs will stand out when you scan through. This can make identifying the things that you can't buy quick and easy, however, sometimes things are named for what they are and not where they have come from. An example is milk, if an item contains milk it will say so, but if a product contains whey, casein or modified milk it may be harder to pick them out and all of these ingredients have come from milk. E numbers can be a particular problem as the coded number does not give any clue as to where the ingredient came from, but there are loads of websites that you can type the E number into to find out if it is vegan. There are also apps where you can search for an item or scan a barcode to see if something is vegan friendly.

What About Non-Food Items?

There are loads of products that aren't vegan that aren't food related at all. Many tattooists use inks that are not vegan, they are made with bone char. Clothing like trainers and jackets can be made from leather that can come from cows or goats, trims on clothes can be real fur. Coats and body warmers can be stuffed with feathers and jumpers are often made from wool that comes from sheep. Aside from clothes there are beauty products, too. Face creams, body lotions and skin treatments can include anything from honey to snail slime. Make up is another problem, although more make up brands are moving away from animal derived ingredients you may still have to check the ingredients list to be sure if the labelling does not make it clear. Eye shadow with red pigment in it is a particular problem as the pigment can be carmine which comes from beetles, which are often killed in the process.

When looking for vegan beauty products start by scanning the product’s label and packaging, front and back, look for products that have the “Certified Vegan” logo. If the product is states that it is “vegan” or “contains no animal ingredients” do not take that as a guarantee that it is okay, read the full ingredient list and find out for yourself. Make good use of vegan/cruelty-free product lists online or use a vegan checker app, it’s easier to do your research at home than trying to pick non vegan ingredients out of a long list in tiny print when you're in the shop.

Animal Testing

Another problem with beauty products is animal testing. The easiest way to start it to look up which brands do not test on animals, that way you know that anything that you buy from them should be cruelty free. Next, look for items labelled with the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC) leaping bunny logo or PETA’s cruelty free bunny logo. Some products may be labelled as “Cruelty Free” or “Not tested on animals” but these terms are not regulated and it does not mean that the ingredients that were used to make the product weren't tested before the product was made.

What Should You Look For?

There are some very comprehensive lists of animal derived ingredients and by-products along with their different names online, a google search can very quickly let you know if something is vegan or not and PETA has a very thorough list of animal derived ingredients. There are loads of apps that you can use as well, with some you will need to go through a list, others will search by name, then there are the apps that will scan a barcode and let you know if it's vegan or not.

For a quick scan here are some common ingredients that are not vegan


  • albumen

  • bone char

  • butter fat

  • butter milk

  • carmine

  • casein

  • gelatin

  • lactose

  • lard

  • l-cysteine

  • mono and di-glycerides

  • shellac

  • vitamin D3

  • whey powder


  • beeswax

  • lanolin

  • keratin

  • musk

  • pearls

  • tallow


  • leather

  • fur

  • silk

  • wool

  • cashmere

  • mohair

  • angora


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