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Vegan Makeup vs Regular Makeup

What is the difference between vegan makeup and conventional makeup, apart from the label?

Makeup has a long history, thousands of years of history. The Ancient Mesopotamians (c. 3500-539 BCE) and the Ancient Egyptians (c. 3000-30 BCE) are the first known societal groups to have used makeup. The hieroglyphics that the Egyptians left behind clearly show how they used kohl, made from galena, malachite, and other minerals, to line their eyes, creating the iconic "cat-eye" look. They also used red ochre and other pigments for lipstick and blush. Makeup in Ancient times, worn by both men and women, was used for beauty, to show status and for practical purposes as the makeup acted as a barrier between the sun and people's skin. The dark kohl around the eyes reduced glare protecting the eyes and making it easier to see in bright sunlight.

Makeup at this time was mainly made from natural materials, crushed gemstones, ground minerals, charcoal and oils. The tools that they used were completely natural, sticks and brushes were made from tree parts, simple fibre pads were used to apply powders and reeds, with red clay attached, was used to apply lipstick. However, the first use of animals in makeup also dates back to this time, fish scales were used to create shimmer, beeswax and honey were used as skincare.

an eye shadow palette
The things that make makeup not vegan can't be seen

Animals in Makeup

The difference between vegan and non-vegan cosmetics can rarely be seen with t he naked eye, with ingredients being incorporated and non-vegan practices happening out of sight. The use of animals on makeup can be split into two categories, animal based ingredients and animal testing. Animal based ingredients can come from many different animals, from beetles to sheep and they include:

Beeswax - Beeswax is used as an emulsifier to mix water and oils and to improve the texture of a product. Beeswax can be found in creams and other skin care products, hair products and is commonly found in lipstick and mascara. In ingredient lists beeswax can also be called Cera Alba or Cera Flava.

Carmine - This is a bright red pigment that is obtained from finely ground cochineal scale insects. The insects themselves are not needed, but are often killed in the process of getting the scales. This pigment can be found in pretty much any makeup product, lipsticks, blusher, concealer, eye shadow and particularly pressed pigments commonly contain carmine. Carmine is also referred to as: carminic acid, cochineal, natural red 4 and E120, of C.I. 75470.

Collagen - Collagen is a protein, it is present in our skin and connective tissues, as tendons. In cosmetics it is extracted from animal skin, although vegan collagen is available. Collagen is often an ingredient in anti-aging products, but it is also added to foundation, concealer and primer even though there is little evidence that it penetrates the skin.

Glycerine - Glycerine is a slippery, greasy feeling liquid substance that comes from fats and oils. These can be animal or vegetable fats. If a product that contains glycerine does no state that it is vegan, assume that it isn't. Glycerine and glycerine derivatives are also referred to as Glycerides, Glyceryl, Glycreth-26, Polyglycerol, Glycerol, or Glycerin.

Guanine - The pearlescent shimmer that you see in your makeup can come from guanine, ground fish scales, just like the Ancient Egyptians. Guanine is also referred to as Pearl Essence, Pearl Extract or Pearl Powder.

Hyaluronic Acid - This increasingly popular ingredient can be found in almost anything that is applied to the skin and can be of either vegetable or animal origin. The animal variety is obtained from the combs on the head of roosters.

Lanolin - Made from sheep's wool, lanolin is a fatty substance that is widely used in creams and lip products as a moisturiser. Most people who is allergic to wool will also be allergic to lanolin.

Oleic Acid - This is an ingredient that often comes from animal fats although plant based oleic acid can be found. It is widely used in creams, nail polish and lipstick. Oleic acid and its derivatives are also referred to as oleyl stearate, oleyl oleate or tallow.

Shellac - This resin like substance is the resinous secretion of the shellac bug. It is used to add shine to products like nail lacquer or lipsticks and lipglosses, although it can also be found in mascara. Around 300,000 insects are killed for the production of 1kg of shellac and raw, unfiltered shellac may contain up to 25% of insect debris.

Makeup brushes and applicators may also incorporate animal-derived fibers and materials. These brushes can be crafted from materials like badger hairs and boar bristles, but other animals, such as goats, ponies, and squirrels, are also utilized. Animal fats may also serve as components in the adhesives that secure the hairs and bristles, binding them together and connecting various parts of the brush, such as the handle. However, vegan makeup brushes and applicators are very easy to find, with prices ranging from budget to high end.

Animal Testing

Another use of animals in cosmetics is animal testing. This is conducting experiments on animals to assess the safety and efficacy of cosmetic products and their components. This practice is mandatory in some countries, where both individual ingredients and the final product are subjected to testing. Various types of tests are performed on animals, including evaluations for skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions, and toxicity. Notable tests include the Draize test for eye irritation and the skin sensitization test. These tests often entail applying a product, originally not intended to be used in or near the eye, to an animal's eye to observe any reactions. Rabbits are commonly chosen for this purpose due to their lack of a typical blink reflex, allowing the product to remain on their eye for an extended period.

Commonly used animals in cosmetic testing include rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, and mice, with larger animals like dogs and monkeys used in some cases. Products can be applied to their skin or eyes, and in some instances, the animals may be force-fed these products.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to animal testing, especially as it becomes increasingly evident that the results of such tests don't always directly apply to humans. Alternatives include in vitro testing and computer modeling, both of which eliminate the need for experimentation on living beings. In some regions and individual countries, there is a shift away from animal testing, with bans on the practice. Moreover, consumer pressure is driving the cosmetic industry to explore alternative methods instead of using animals. The rise in popularity of cruelty-free and vegan products has encouraged cosmetic companies to invest in new and alternative technologies, as being kind to animals and the environment becomes a selling point.

In recent years, there has been a significant shift towards more humane and ethical practices in the cosmetics industry. The objective is to reduce or eliminate animal testing by employing alternative methods that ensure product safety and meet consumer demand for cruelty-free and vegan products. If you're concerned about using makeup products that align with a vegan lifestyle and are cruelty-free, you can look for labels and certifications from organizations like PETA or Leaping Bunny, indicating that a product is both vegan and not tested on animals. Many brands now clearly label their products as vegan, making it easier for consumers to make ethical choices when it comes to cosmetics.


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