Beauty Makeup Skincare

Vegan Alert! 13 Horrible Animal Ingredients in Cosmetics

By Lottie Newman

We often worry about whether cosmetics were tested on animals, but what about cosmetics made of animals?

While the ‘leaping bunny’ symbol ensures us that a skin cream or mascara hasn’t been dripped into the eyes of some poor beagle in order for it to be considered safe, there can often be strange sounding ingredients in cosmetics that you’d never guess were actually the body parts of animals who were killed to provide that cosmetic component. This is especially true for perfumes, but animal products are also found in makeup and skin care products. This has serious implications for not only vegetarians and vegans, but also those with religious convictions, such as Kosher Jews or Halal Muslims.

Here, we’ve found 13 Horrible Animal Ingredients in Cosmetics that will probably motivate just about any reader to use vegan products only!

1. Civet

Love your musk perfumes? If you love animals more, then you’ll have to give them up. Civet is a rich smelling secretion taken from the anal glands of the African civet cat. These beautiful animals can be held in cages for up to 15 years in order for their glands to be ‘milked’ by scraping the gland while the animal is still alive. Otherwise, the cat will be killed and the glands removed to take the secretion. There are synthetic musks now too, but these chemicals are often highly toxic. Best move to a floral scent!

2. Castoreum

This is another means of procuring a musky scent for perfume, but instead of killing and torturing a Civet cat, a beaver is used instead. Several perfumes that kill beavers for their manufacture include Emeraude, Chanel Antaeus, Cuir de Russie, Magie Noire by Lancome, Shalimar, Opium by Yves Saint Laurent and Givenchy III. (Note that Castoreum isn’t the same as castor oil, which is actually vegetable derived).

Animal Ingredients in Cosmetics

3. Ambergris

Remember all those ‘save the whale’ campaigns? Most of them were being killed for ambergris. This is a waste product harvested from the sperm whale’s digestive system where it’s passed as poop or vomit, but more than often, it’s taken right from the intestines of slaughtered whales. Despite the fact that it is illegal to trade it in some countries, it’s used as a fixative in several perfumes, including Amouage, Atelier Alchemy and Ava Luxe Mousse de Chine.

4. Musk

The original musk is taken from the glands of the male musk deer, which is killed for this. Mitsouko, Chanel 5, Miss Dior, and Bandit perfumes all just some of the many commercial perfumes that contain real musk, and should therefore be off limits to all vegans and animal lovers!

5. Tallow

This is a by-product of animal fat, made by boiling animal carcasses in a pot and scraping off the fat the floats to the top. These carcasses come from myriad sick sources: lab animals, pigs, cows and sheep that die before reaching the slaughterhouse, euthanized zoo and shelter animals, expired meat from supermarkets, etc. The tallow is then used as an emollient in cosmetics like lipsticks skin creams, cream blusher and soap, for example.

Look for oleic, palmitic, stearic, palmitoleic, linoleic and myristic acid on the label of your cosmetics: if you see these, your skincare or makeup brand is likely using animal tallow; contact the brand directly to be sure they’re not.

6. Guanine

Got a shimmery eye shadow or nail polish? It may be thanks to a pearlescent element in fish scales called guanine. It’s also used in skin lightening creams.


What makes that eye shadow shine? Image: Beauty Press

7. Carmine

It sounds nice, but this natural red dye actually comes from cochineal beetles, wingless insects that eat cactus plants in in South and Central American countries. When crushed they excrete a red chemical called carminic acid which, when mixed with calcium salt, makes a natural red dye called carmine. Because the dye is all natural and safe for human consumption, it’s often used in lipsticks, as well as foods, but the fact that hundreds of beetles are crushed for consumer products should put vegans off any product containing carmine.

8. Squalene

Almost all plants and animals make this naturally-occurring oil in their bodies, including we humans. But one common form used in cosmetics comes from the livers of sharks. The fact that shark squalene is easily absorbed into the skin makes it a favourite with cosmetic giants, who put it in lip balm, sunscreen, and moisturizers. Some vegan companies do use plant squalene, though–which is fine by us. Just make sure the label says ‘squalene (vegetable derived)’.

9. Snail Slime

The sticky secretions from these critters are packed with glycolic acid, also known as alpha hydroxy acid, as well as elastin, a protein that forces tissue to return to its original shape after stretching. Both of these chemicals are like magical ingredients for those who want to turn back time on their wrinkles, making snail goo a trendy ingredient in face cream. While it may sound like snails are tortured to get this ingredient, a spokesperson for the Dr Organics brand (which is meant to actually be very effective at combating wrinkles) says they’re not harmed at all.


10. Fish Collagen

Before Mad Cow disease, collagen creams usually contained bovine collagen derived from cow cells. Today, collagen that comes from fish is more common, as it can be easily absorbed into our cells, has little or no smell, easily dissolves in water, and has an overall low allergy potential, It also leads to a more efficient collagen synthesis.  Fish collagen peptide is becoming the collagen of choice for skin care supplements to improve skin smoothness, elasticity, moisture, and to also slow down the formation of wrinkles and fine lines, but it’s far from vegan friendly.

11. Keratin

It’s a common ingredient in shampoos and conditioners, as well as the famous ‘Brazilian Keratin’ salon hair straightening treatment. But did you know this is protein that comes from the ground-up horns, hooves, feathers, quills, and hair of various animals? If you’re vegan, Kosher or Halal, you will want to avoid this ingredient! One common keratin shampoo brand used to be branded ‘Organix’ but after it was pointed out by the brand Dr Bronner‘s that few of their ingredients were actually organic, they changed their name to OGX. See how careful you have to be?


12. Lanolin

Sheep secrete this oily substance from their skin to keep it hydrated, and it is collected from their wool to make things like skin creams and soaps.

13. Shellac

This is commonly used in nail polish, and it comes from the secretion of the female lac beetle. Whilst you can find her secretions naturally on bark and just scrape them off, big companies don’t have time for that, so just boil the beetles alive, which gives them the shellac they need, too. Be aware that shellac is also found on ‘waxed’ apples, and in some candies.

Freaked out? Click here for a list of some of the best vegan beauty products around!

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