Vegan Beauty 101: Your Complete Guide

Vegan beauty products

This post is kindly sponsored by Boots UK. For more information on sponsored posts, check out my disclaimer.


When people decide to give their beauty habits a vegan makeover, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Where do you start? What do you buy? What if your favourite beauty product isn’t vegan??

These are all fairly common questions, and it’s completely natural to feel this way. But shopping vegan is an incredibly rewarding way to beautify yourself, knowing that your beauty routine hasn’t hurt innocent animals, and is likely much more natural and sustainable too.

If you’ve just embarked on a vegan lifestyle, don’t think that you need to throw out your beauty collection just yet. You probably already have a few vegan-friendly products in your arsenal, and can simply replace any non-vegan items with vegan alternatives, as they steadily run out.

This guide will show you how to effortlessly shop for cruelty-free and vegan beauty products, so you can achieve full beauty confidence without sacrificing your values.


Most certified vegan or cruelty-free brands will display the vegan-friendly trademark or the Leaping Bunny CF logo. But, even if a product doesn’t have these certifications displayed, they could still be cruelty-free or vegan.

You can see if a brand or product meets your ethical criteria by a quick Google search, checking the company’s website, or contacting the company directly asking them about their ingredients and animal-testing policies. They should respond in a timely manner and be clear and transparent about their products. (If they seem vague or confusing, that’s usually a red flag.)

Vegan-friendly logo

You can do a little digging by checking the ingredients on a particular product. Remember – some brands may not be 100% vegan, but sell some products that are. Personally, I’m happy to use vegan-friendly products even if they haven’t come from a fully vegan brand, as I’m voting with my wallet and letting them know that there is a demand for their vegan offering. Once you know which common ingredients aren’t vegan-friendly, it’s much easier to spot new products you can use.

Here are some of the most common non-vegan beauty ingredients.

Cruelty free logo

Dairy (milk, whey, casein)

Dairy in the form of milk, whey or casein is often added to softening and conditioning products like creams, lotions and hair conditioners.

Vegan alternatives can be found in the form of plant milks and will usually be labelled as ‘vegetable protein’.

Bee products (beeswax, honey, propolis or royal jelly)

Bee products like beeswax, honey, propolis and royal jelly are often used in beauty products for a variety of purposes. Farming bees to obtain these products only serves to harm bee populations in the long-term, and they are also completely unnecessary.

Many plant-based alternatives can be found in the form of plant and soya waxes (for beeswax), or aloe vera (for honey).

Lanolin (sheep’s wool)

Lanolin is an emollient sourced from sheep’s wool used to soften and moisturise. It is found in many lip products such as balms and glosses, as well as hair products.

Plant-based alternatives to lanolin include coconut oil, shea butter and cocoa butter. You might sometimes see lanolin listed as ‘cruelty free’, but this is still obtained from sheep’s wool.

Collagen (bovine or marine)

Collagen is a trendy ingredient found in beauty products for its believed ability to slow down aging and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. It will either be listed as ‘bovine collagen’ (from cows) or ‘marine collagen’ (from fish).

There is no direct plant-based alternative to collagen. However, the idea that topical collagen (collagen applied directly to your skin) can have an effect on aging has not yet been proven in scientific experiments. A better way to reduce signs of aging would be to use scientifically proven ingredients such as vitamin C and hyaluronic acid, and eat foods that encourage your body to stimulate its own collagen.

Squalane (shark’s liver)

Squalane is an oily substance obtained from the sebum of sharks’ livers and used in lip balms, deodorants, serums and moisturisers. Its harvesting involves the hunting of endangered sharks with extremely barbaric methods, which is not only horrifically unethical, but incredibly unsustainable.

Many brands however, obtain their squalane from plant sources, like olives. This will usually be specified on the packaging..


Shellac is a resinous substance obtained from the lac beetle and found in nail polishes and hair lacquers. Hundreds of thousands of these innocent beetles are crushed alive just to get a tiny amount of this product. Instead, opt for vegan-certified nail polishes and gel manicures.


Though often derived from a plant-source like soya, coconut or palm oil (which will be listed as ‘vegetable glycerine’), glycerine can sometimes also be obtained from animal fats. You’ll find it most often  in soaps, moisturisers and hair products.


Made from the scales of dead fish, guanine is typically found in sparkly nail polishes, eyeshadows, lip glosses and blushers. This same sparkly effect can be easily achieved using synthetic pearl or aluminium or bronze particles.

Oleic acid (oleyl stearate, oleyl oleate or tallow)

Oleic acid is an animal fat often used as a softening or conditioning emollient and can show up as ‘oleyl stearate’, ‘oleyl oleate’ or ‘tallow’. However oleic acid can also be derived from plants, including coconut, olives or nuts. These sources will usually be specified on the packaging.

Animal hair

There are quite a lot of makeup brands still using real animal hair for their brushes (usually badger, fox, horse, mink or squirrel). False eyelashes are also often made from mink. This hair is obtained from farms designed for this very purpose, where conditions are squalid, dirty and miserable and the caged animals are not able to live out their natural lives.

Opt for brushes and eyelashes made from synthetic hairs, and beware of brands labelling their animal hair as ‘cruelty free’ – there are no official legal welfare standards to protect animals used in this way.

Stearic acid

Stearic acid is obtained from pigs’ stomachs and is commonly found in soaps, deodorants, hair products and moisturisers. However, stearic acid can also be sourced from plant fats, but may not be specified on the label. If you see stearic acid listed, be sure to check where it has come from.


Carmine is a red colourant obtained from the crushed shell of cochineals, an insect native to tropical South and North America. It takes 70,000 of these insects to be crushed to produce a mere pound of carmine. It is commonly found in lipsticks, blushers and nail polishes.

Avoid any products that list carmine as an ingredient and go with ones that use synthetic or natural plant-derived colourings instead. 


Similar to collagen, elastin is a protein often praised for its ability to strengthen and plump skin, and reduce the visible signs of aging. It is traditionally obtained from the muscles, ligaments and aortas of animals but thankfully now there are many more plant versions on the market, such as hyaluronic acid.


Keratin is a protein found in a number of hair products for its ability to smooth and strengthen. It is typically taken from the hair and horns of animals, but plant-based alternatives include soya protein and almond oil.


I know that sounds like quite a long list…but don’t panic yet! It’s quite rare to need to check ingredients these days, as more and more beauty brands are becoming vegan-certified. Once you find a few vegan-friendly brands and products you like, you won’t need to check ingredients every time you shop.

What different beauty terms mean

As well as products labelling themselves as ‘vegan’, you may also see ones labelled as ‘cruelty free’, ‘natural’ or ‘organic’. While some of these terms can definitely apply to vegan products, they don’t necessarily mean a product is vegan.

Here’s a quick breakdown of common beauty terms and their meanings.


This means a product contains absolutely no animal products or animal-derived ingredients, and also hasn’t been tested on animals.

When shopping for products certified as vegan, look out for the Vegan Society logo on the packaging, or check the ingredients for yourself.


This means that a product has not been tested on animals (and neither have its ingredients). However, it doesn’t mean that a product is necessarily vegan, as it may still contain animal-derived ingredients.

You may sometimes see phrases like ‘This product has not been tested on animals’, but that doesn’t mean its raw ingredients haven’t. Always familiarise yourself with the company’s animal testing policy first, or look out for the Leaping Bunny logo.


‘Natural’ or ‘clean’ beauty products typically contain ingredients as close to their natural form as possible, and don’t contain any parabens, controversial chemicals, or synthetic colours, dyes or fragrances.

For a product to be marketed as ‘natural’, it only needs to contain 1% of ingredients that are from natural origin. That’s why it’s so important to check the label – you’ll want to see botanicals up at the top and any synthetic ingredients at the bottom (check a cosmetic dictionary if you’re unsure). Some brands also have their percentage of natural ingredients clearly printed on the packaging. Look out for the Soil Association’s Cosmos Natural logo, which certifies that a product meets the proper natural criteria.

Remember, just because a product is natural, doesn’t mean it’s vegan. Animal products like honey, beeswax and squalane are all natural too!


A product only needs to contain a minimal amount of organic ingredients to market itself as organic. The term ‘organic’ also doesn’t mean that the product is vegan, as even animal products could be from an organic origin.

The best way to shop for organic products is to look out for the Soil Association’s Cosmos Organic logo, as this ensures all of the right criteria have been met, and at least 95% of the product’s ingredients are organic.

Fair Trade

Fair trade in the beauty industry means that certain ingredients (such as coconut, argan oil, or cocoa/shea butter) have been bought at a fair price. This ensures a decent wage for the small-scale farmers that grow these ingredients, as well as supporting community projects for clean drinking water, healthcare and education.

You can check fair trade beauty products by looking out for the FAIRTRADE mark.


Like many other beauty terms, the word ‘sustainable’ is largely unregulated in the beauty industry. If a product claims to be a sustainable option, look for tangible reasons why, such as:

  • It uses mostly natural, organic and Fair Trade ingredients of plant-based origin (plant-based ingredients are always better for the planet than animal-based ones)
  • It comes in recycled or other sustainable packaging that can be recycled or composted after use
  • The brand takes active steps to reduce its production waste, or operates within a carbon neutral factory.

Though there are lots of ways a beauty company can be sustainable, you have to ask, “More sustainable than what?” Not making new products at all would be the most sustainable option!

Be open to shopping with more sustainable brands, but beware of those engaging in greenwashing. For example, a company might sell their products in recyclable packaging, but use ingredients that are terribly detrimental to the environment. It’s up to you to do your research and decide how sustainable a product really is.

It can be tricky to balance all of these different criteria when shopping for beauty products. The best thing to do is to decide what’s most important to you.

My personal order when buying beauty is:

  • Vegan: My ultimate goal is ensuring an animal hasn’t been part of the process in any way.
  • Cruelty-free: If I’m buying a vegan-friendly product from a non-vegan brand, this is the next thing I’ll check.
  • Natural: I like my products to contain as many natural ingredients as possible.
  • Organic: This isn’t essential, but I like using organic products on my face.
  • Sustainable: Finding products that meet proper sustainable credentials is quite a task in the beauty market. But if I’ve already met the previous criteria, I can rest in the knowledge that it’s already pretty sustainable.
  • Fair trade: As many of the brands I buy from are already certified vegan, natural and organic, they are usually very strict about sourcing ingredients fairly as well.

Vegan natural bodycrae products

Where can I buy vegan beauty products in the UK?

Vegan beauty products can be bought online – either directly from brands or from a beauty marketplace. But tons of vegan brands can actually be found at everyone’s favourite UK health and beauty store: Boots!


Boots Vegan Beauty Products

Boots are a handy, convenient way to get all your vegan beauty and personal care essentials. Their vegan range has grown tremendously over the years and they are forever adding more.

As a starter, here’s a brief list of just some of the brilliant vegan skincare and vegan makeup brands Boots has available – both online and in-store*:

  • The Ordinary
  • KVD Beauty
  • Sukin
  • Botanics
  • Florence By Mills
  • Glow Hub
  • My Mood
  • Barry M
  • Lime Crime
  • Bybi
  • Elf
  • Skin Iceland
  • Boots Ingredients

*Certain brands may be available at larger stores only. Be sure to check online.

My Boots Vegan Beauty Capsule

I was asked by Boots to choose a few of my own vegan beauty ‘capsule’ items from their range. I ended up choosing products that I feel are key to feeling good from the inside, or that satisfy a particularly hard-to-fill gap in the vegan beauty market.

If you’re looking to veganise your own beauty collection or buy a gift for someone else, these just might give you a few ideas.

Botanics Dry Body Brush

Dry brushing is one of the simplest ways to boost circulation, stimulate the lymphatic system and improve texture of the skin. Botanics’ dry body brush is completely vegan and made from FSC-certifed wood.

Botanics Organic Facial Oil

My skin routine always revolves around a great serum or oil. For me, the Botanics organic facial serum ticks all the boxes, made with enriching rosehip oil and 100% organic. It’s also wonderfully affordable, unlike many serums on the market.

Botanics Ylang Ylang Massage Oil

If there’s one thing my body can’t do without, it’s a good dry oil. Dry oils are incredibly nourishing for the skin and contain only a handful of natural, plant-based ingredients.

Botanics’ ylang ylang massage oil is a blend of incredible essential oils in a sweet almond oil base. It glides across the skin leaving it soft and supple.

Botanics Pillow Spray

As mentioned in my sleep post, a pillow mist is key to have on hand for a restful night’s sleep. This Peaceful Night pillow spray from Botanics is made with a blend of lavender and sweet marjoram oils to promote relaxation and sleepiness before bed.

Kat Von D Lip Liner

Lip pencils can be one of the trickier things to find in vegan beauty. Most are made with beeswax, and the ones that aren’t tend to be a little too rigid, making them difficult to apply.

I’m happy to say that I’ve found my answer to this in KVD Beauty. Available in a variety of colours, the KVD lip pencil is wonderfully smooth and creamy, allowing it to go on like a charm.

Florence By Mills Under-Eye Gel Pads

I’ve long been intrigued by the thought of a refreshing eye mask – particularly at 6:30am! These cute Swimming Under The Eyes gel pads from Florence By Mills don’t just add a touch of fun to my skincare routine, but also refresh and rejuvenate that delicate under-eye area.

Join the Conversation

What do you think of Boots’ vegan beauty range? Are you a seasoned cruelty-free shopper or just breaking out into the world of vegan beauty? Let me know your thoughts with a comment below – I’d love to hear your story!

Your Complete Guide to Shopping for Vegan Beauty
Article Name
Your Complete Guide to Shopping for Vegan Beauty
From detecting non-vegan ingredients to decyphering confusing beauty is everything you need to know about shopping for vegan beauty.
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Everything's Peachy
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