Before going vegan, I never gave much thought to the ingredients in my personal care products. I rarely considered whether the chemicals were harmful to my body or the planet, or tested on animals. I kept just two things in mind: how well they worked and whether or not they made me look good.
But just a year after my conversion to a vegan lifestyle, the shiny rows of makeup, hair, and body products at mainstream retailers were no longer appealing. I was spending more time at the local health food store because sometimes that was the only place I could get specialty food items, and the personal care items sold there were more aligned with the kind of person I was becoming.
Adopting a vegan diet for ethical reasons has opened my eyes to all the various ways in which animals are being exploited in our society, including animal testing in beauty products. But it also inspired a greater interest in both my health and the environment. I no longer want to put products on my skin that are chock-full of sketchy ingredients or contribute to the pollution of our environment. Here’s how I cleaned up my act.
Beeswax and Lanolin
Many natural makeup products contain beeswax, which technically isn’t vegan. Having talked to my vegan friends about the subject of using products derived from bees—including honey, bee pollen, and beeswax—it seems that some are willing to let it slide while others aren’t. In general, I try to avoid products made with beeswax, but I will cop to sometimes buying products that contain it, such as the RMS cult favorites “Un” Cover-Up and Living Luminizer.
Another non-vegan ingredient found in natural makeup products is lanolin, a byproduct of the wool industry taken from the sebaceous glands of sheep. I’m always extra-careful to read the list of ingredients in lip balm, since that’s where it often lurks. Anything that comes from animals (with the exception of insects) is a deal-breaker for me.
Because natural products don’t contain potentially hazardous chemicals, animal testing usually doesn’t enter the picture, but it’s always worth checking the product packaging for the Leaping Bunny logo or visiting the company’s website to double-check. A helpful resource worth perusing is Cruelty Free International’s database of companies that don’t test on animals.
The first thing I switched out was soap. I had noticed the big bottles of Alaffia African Black Soap at my health food store and was intrigued, so I tried it and and was happy to discover that it can double as shampoo. African black soap is a centuries-old West African formula consisting of shea butter and oil, saponified with ashes. Black soap usually contains palm oil, which has been under scrutiny in recent years for causing rainforest destruction, but Alaffia makes an effort to ensure that theirs is sustainably sourced.
I soon became hip to the idea of using straight-up oils instead of lotions, since they’re generally more potent and give you more bang for your buck. There are lots of natural oils out there, including argan, moringa, tamanu, baobab, rosehip, and sea buckthorn. All of them have interesting but subtle differences in texture and smell. Pure shea butter is another great moisturizer, and is especially effective as a hand salve.
Oils were a total game-changer for my hair regimen since they add moisture and shine without any buildup. In addition to using argan oil as a hair gloss, I now try to look for shampoos and conditioners with oils, such as Giovanni’s Avocado and Olive Oil Hair Mask.
Hyaluronic acid serum helps skin to retain its moisture and elasticity. I now wear vegan hyaluronic acid followed by argan oil and MyChelle Dermaceutical’s Sun Shield Liquid Tint Spf 50 , which doubles as my foundation.
When my skin needs a good cleaning, I’ll use a clay mask like Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay. When combined with apple cider vinegar, it synergistically works to extract impurities and shrink pores.
Whole Foods’ Whole Body section has an extensive inventory of natural makeup brands to experiment with, such as Dr. Hauschka and Gabriel. Online, I discovered the vegan companies Ecco Bella, Modern Minerals, Ilia, and Inika.
Conventional makeup brushes are derived from the hair of minks, sables, or ponies. The environmentally-friendly brand EcoTools sells a variety of inexpensive brushes made with recycled synthetic material and bamboo.
At first I was not particularly discerning about which natural toothpaste brand I used, until I learned about the potential hazards of carrageenan—an additive that’s sometimes included in food, personal products, and most natural toothpaste brands. These days, I rotate between Himalaya Botanique’s ayurvedic toothpaste and Weleda’s salt toothpaste, both of which are carrageenan-free.
When it comes to natural products, deodorant is a notoriously shaky area. After a few hit and misses, I settled on the brand Herban Cowboy, which is mostly targeted towards men, but has a few feminine scents.
As I weaned myself off of products containing synthetic fragrances, I became more appreciative of natural essential oils and the amazing scents they can provide. They are great when combined with a carrier oil such as jojoba, sesame, or coconut oil, or when added to a diffuser.
One of my favorite places to get scented products is Aveda. They have a great collection of body sprays intended to correlate with different chakras, as well as essential oils, perfumes and candles that evoke the rainforest.
Once I made the switch to natural, cruelty-free products I knew I’d never go back. Not only is it a relief to know that what I’m buying doesn’t contain any suspicious ingredient; it also feels good to support ethically-minded businesses that care about the environment, animals, and their workers.