The Cruelty-Free Beauty Revolution: Which Brands Can We Trust?

Read Time:   |  9th December 2019

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So Vegan’s Roxy Pope looks into the fast-growing but often confusing world of vegan and cruelty-free make-up.


Checking the ingredients label on my lip balm wasn’t exactly top of my list when I first turned vegan a few years ago. To be honest, I was more focused on curbing my intense cravings for cheese and finding a nut milk that wouldn’t curdle in my tea. But it didn’t take long for things to change.

Inevitably, the more I started paying attention to what was in my food, the more I found myself questioning what I was putting on my skin.

Fast-forward to today and veganism has well and truly made its mark on the mainstream. An increasing number of us are looking for ways to eat and shop as ethically as possible, and the latest hot topic is make-up. You only have to look at the high street to see how vegan make-up is starting to break through. Just last year, Superdrug opened a pop-up store dedicated to vegan products and reported a 60% increase in sales
of their vegan range.

But with so much talk about ‘vegan’ and ‘cruelty-free’ products, the truth is it can sometimes be hard to navigate this constantly-changing industry. For example, did you know make-up labelled ‘cruelty-free’ isn’t always ‘vegan’? And vice-versa? Products labelled as vegan contain no animal products, while a cruelty-free label simply implies the product hasn’t been tested on animals.

To make matters even more confusing, lots of mainstream brands don’t always make it obvious which of their products are vegan and cruelty-free, meaning consumers like myself have to spend hours researching which products we can use.

The good news is that animal testing on cosmetics is in fact illegal under EU law. However, the bad news is some brands still test on animals to sell products in other markets such as China, where animal testing on cosmetics is worryingly compulsory.

Shopping for vegan make-up can feel very confusing and the labelling can appear contradictory. So what exactly should we be looking out for when we buy our make-up? And which brands should we be spending our hard-earned money on?

Well one ingredient to always look out for and avoid is lanolin, which is made from sheep’s wool and commonly found in lip products. Meanwhile, carmine — also known as ‘cochineal’ — is a deep red pigment used in lipsticks, eyeshadows and nail varnish, and is made from cochineal beetles. Honey and beeswax are also regularly used in make-up, along with guanine which is made from fish scales and found in bronzers, blushes, highlighters and eyeshadows.

But opting for vegan and cruelty-free make-up doesn’t need to be complicated. There are numerous mainstream brands offering affordable and accessible options. Barry M is entirely cruelty-free and the range is currently 97% vegan, and they aim to be 100% vegan by early 2020. Likewise, Bare Minerals offer a huge vegan range and all their products are cruelty free.

Some of my favourite brands include PHB Ethical Beauty, which is trickier to find on the high street and is therefore more expensive, but their products are 100% vegan and cruelty-free. And if you’re worried about your plastic consumption, brands like Zao Make-up and Kjaer Weiss offer refillable vegan options in bamboo and stainless steel packaging.

As a vegan, I feel it’s important to research the products I’m putting on my skin and question the brands I’m choosing to spend my money on.

However when it comes to make-up, it can often feel like I’m navigating a confusing industry dominated by mainstream brands which use contradictory labels and sometimes provide misleading information. But with more people than ever before switching to veganism, hopefully we’ll see more brands offer affordable and genuinely vegan alternatives. 


Roxy Pope is one half of So Vegan, one of the world’s largest vegan recipe platforms with over 1 million followers. Roxy Pope and Ben Pook’s debut cookbook So Vegan in 5 was released in December 2018 and quickly became a best-seller on Amazon.

Find out more about cruelty-free fashion here.

Written by

Vegan Food & Living

Vegan Food & Living is a magazine dedicated to celebrating the vegan lifestyle. Every issue is packed with 75 tasty recipes, plus informative features.

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