What Is Vegan Skincare? The Truth About Definition And Meaning

By Liis Hainla. Updated: August 2023.
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Vegan skincare is skincare that does not contain any animal-derived ingredients, such as beeswax, collagen, carmine, gelatin, glycerin, and lanolin.

Beyond that, the definition of vegan skincare gets surprisingly complicated and multifaceted. The term vegan in skincare is not regulated. This means there is not a singular accepted definition that all stakeholders agree to.

There are two competing definitions:

Vegan skincare doesn’t have any animal-derived ingredients. Also, the finished products or their ingredients have not been tested on animals (cruelty-free).

The second definition is that vegan skincare only refers to ingredients, not animal testing.

Different stakeholders define vegan skincare differently. Vegans, official certifications, and brands (mostly) use the first definition. General skincare consumers and skincare retailers the second definition.

Most retailers claim that vegan refers to ingredients – cruelty-free refers to testing. But this is not always the case. Often vegan refers to both: ingredients and testing.

Organizations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), The Vegan Society, and Vegan Action certify companies as vegan. They only give a vegan certification when the finished products and ingredients are all made with non-animal ingredients and have not been tested on animals. To get a certification the vegan skincare brand must be cruelty-free and use only vegan ingredients.

In scientific research, there is no regulated definition of vegan skincare. It is only mentioned once referring mainly to ingredients. And as such, brands are unfortunately free to label products without supporting evidence. That is why consumers are advised to seek certified vegan skincare brands.

Popular vegan skincare brands include Youth To The People, Biossance, The Ordinary, Derma E, and, Pacifica Beauty.

What Makes Skincare Vegan?

Vegan skincare is free from animal-derived ingredients, such as glycerin, animal squalene, beeswax, lanolin, collagen, and others.

Almost all animal-derived ingredients used in skincare can be replaced with vegan variations. For example, instead of beeswax, vegan brands use plant waxes such as soy wax. Instead of animal-based emollients, they use different plant oils.

Some ingredients in skincare can also be both vegan and non-vegan. These include glycerin, stearic acid, squalene, or hyaluronic acid.

Which Organizations Certify Vegan Skincare?

Official vegan beauty labels are PETA Beauty Without Bunnies certification, The Vegan Society certification, The V-label, and Vegan Action certification.

How Labels And Certifications Define Vegan Skincare?

To get certified vegan by any major organization such as PETA, The Vegan Society, or Vegan Aaction the brand cannot have products that use animal-derived ingredients or have products that have been tested on animals.

This is important. The official certifying organizations insist that products are not tested on animals to get certified vegan. The implication is, vegan skincare should not be tested on animals and is always cruelty-free.

Vegan Beauty Labels from PETA, Vegan Action, Vegan Society, And others

How Do Vegans Define Vegan Skincare?

Most vegans define vegan skincare as skincare that does not contain any animal-based ingredients and that has not been tested on animals.

This is because veganism rejects the commodity status of animals. Vegans abstain from using any products derived from animals and products that caused harm to animals in their production. Vegans aim to do no harm to any animals with their consumption and lifestyle.

In cosmetics, this means the products do not contain any ingredients derived from animals, such as beeswax or collagen. And the products have not been tested on animals at any stage of production including ingredients and finished products.

Most vegans reject animal testing since it causes harm to animals. And this is against the very core of vegan philosophy.

How Brands Define Vegan Skincare?

Large multinational corporations define vegan skincare as skincare that does not contain any animal-derived ingredients. To them the vegan term refers only to ingredients, leaving out animal testing.

Brands such as Nivea, L’Oréal, Estée Lauder, and Olay might mark their products as vegan, but they will only refer to animal-derived ingredients. And often these products might have been tested on animals at some stage of the production.

Independent skincare brands that claim they are vegan usually are also cruelty-free. Most smaller brands abstain from animal testing altogether as a value. These brands are fully vegan, and not referring only to individual products.

These brands include: Youth To The People, Biossance, The Ordinary, Derma E, and, Pacifica Beauty.

Youth To The People is a vegan skincare brand

How Do Stores Define Vegan Skincare?

Most stores define vegan skincare only to refer to ingredients, and not animal-testing. Meaning skincare marked vegan in most retailers is not cruelty-free as a default.

This is handy for stores since they can have large vegan sections. Most big brands have products that don’t contain any animal-derived ingredients but might have been tested on animals, which are then displayed in retailers’ vegan sections.

Retailers that use the term vegan to refer only to ingredients include, Sephora, Ulta, Target, Soko Glam, Dermstore, and Walmart.

So if you want skincare that has not been manufactured exploiting animals at any stage, keep an eye open to the products listed under the vegan section on these stores, since they might have been tested on animals.

How Does Scientific Research Define Vegan Skincare?

Vegan skincare is defined only in one research paper where vegan refers only to ingredients, not to animal testing. An article published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology in 2022 by Katelyn Urban, Rachel Giesey, and Gregory Delost defines vegan skincare as “A vegan product does not contain animal products or by-products.”

Does Vegan Also Mean Cruelty-Free?

Cruelty-free means that the product has not been tested on animals. Vegan means that the product does not contain any animal ingredients. And depending on the definition also has not been tested on animals.

Although it sounds illogical, cruelty-free products are not always vegan. Cruelty-free means the product might use ingredients that are from animals, such as collagen but have not been tested on animals. Collagen production is not by any means “cruelty-free”, since it does cause harm to animals.

Due to the fact that the term cruelty-free is confusing, PETA has changed its labels recently. Before, they had labels “cruelty-free” and “cruelty-free and vegan”. Now they have new labels: “Animal Test Free” and “Animal Test Free and Vegan”.

Is Vegan Skincare Tested On Animals?

As there is no fully agreed-upon term that is clear to all stakeholders, whether vegan skincare is tested on animals depends on who you ask.

If you ask vegan consumers, vegan skincare should never be tested on animals to be considered vegan. If you ask official organizations that certify and label brands as vegan, such as PETA or The Vegan Society, vegan skincare is never tested on animals. A brand cannot get certified vegan if they test their products or ingredients on animals.

If you ask skincare brands, in the majority of cases, vegan skincare is not tested on animals. However, here is where it gets a little bit murky. Some skincare brands label their products as vegan, even though they conduct animal testing. These products are only vegan in ingredients.

If you ask stores such as Sephora or Ulta, the term vegan only refers to ingredients, and thus might have been tested on animals.

Vegan Skincare vs Vegetarian Skincare

The difference between vegan skincare and vegetarian skincare is that vegan does not use any animal-derived ingredients, such as collagen or beeswax, whereas vegetarian skincare might use animal-based ingredients such as beeswax, honey, and milk.

Vegan skincare does not use any ingredients that have animal origin.

An easier way to explain this is to consider the differences between vegan and vegetarian diets. Vegans do not consume any products that are sourced from animals. Whereas vegetarians do not consume any products that come from dead animals.

So effectively vegetarians do not eat meat but might consume products such as milk where the animal has not died for the production.

A similar difference applies in skincare: bees have not died in the production of beeswax, so it is alright to consume it in skincare.

Bees make honey and beeswax which is not considered vegan

Vegan Skincare vs Plant-based Skincare

The difference between vegan skincare and plant-based skincare is that vegan skincare does not contain any animal-derived ingredients, and is usually not tested on animals. Whereas plant-based skincare refers only to ingredients. In addition, vegan skincare might use synthetic ingredients, such as parabens. But plant-based skincare only uses ingredients sourced from plants.

What Is Vegan Skincare Made Of?

Vegan skincare is made of ingredients that do not contain any animal-derived origin. Vegan skincare ingredients include emollients such as avocado oil, coconut oil, and shea butter, acids such as AHAs and BHAs, and vitamins A to E.

Common Vegan Skincare Ingredients

Common Vegan Skincare Ingredients include algae, AHA, BHA, HA, vitamins A to E, avocado oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, shea butter, olive oil, squalane, and others.

What Is Vegan Collagen In Skincare

Collagen in skincare can be both vegan and animal-derived.

Vegan collagen can be made from plants or genetically engineered from yeast and bacteria. Vegan collagen blends are often made from amino acids and antioxidants such as vitamin C or pycnogenol.

Vegan Collagen in Skincare

What Is Vegan Retinol In Skincare

In skincare, retinol is always vegan. Retinol is synthetically produced vitamin A. Common vegan retinol alternatives include bakuchiol, marine algae, and rosehip oil.

What Is Vegan Squalane In Skincare

Vegan squalane is typically produced from olive oil, rice bran, wheat germ, or sugar cane. Squalane in skincare can be both vegan and non-vegan. Non-vegan version is produced from shark liver.

Which Ingredients Are Not Vegan In Skincare?

Any ingredient that has its origin in animals, is not considered vegan in skincare. Common animal-derived ingredients in skincare include hyaluronic acid, glycerin, collagen, beeswax, gelatin, keratin, lanolin, silk, stearic acid, and cholesterol.

  • Hyaluronic Acid: Hyaluronic acid can be both vegan and non-vegan in skincare. The non-vegan version is made from animal tissue.
  • Glycerin: Glycerin can be both vegan and non-vegan in skincare. The non-vegan version is made from animal fats.
  • Collagen: Collagen can be both vegan and non-vegan in skincare. The non-vegan version is made from animal tissue.
  • Beeswax & Honey: Beeswax and honey are nectar made by honeybees. They are considered “almost vegan” but many vegans still prefer not to use them as they are derived from animals.
  • Gelatin: Gelatin can be both vegan and non-vegan in skincare. The non-vegan version is made from Animal bones, cartilage, and skin.
  • Lanolin: Lanolin is not vegan. It is made from wool.
  • Silk: Silk is not vegan, it comes from caterpillars.
  • Stearic Acid: Stearic acid can be both vegan and non-vegan in skincare. The non-vegan version is made from animal fats.
  • Cholesterol: Cholesterol can be both vegan and non-vegan in skincare. The non-vegan version is made from lanolin, which is made from wool.
  • Squalane: Squalane can be both vegan and non-vegan in skincare. Non-vegan is made from shark liver oil.

Benefits of Vegan Skincare

Benefits of vegan skincare include better treatment of animals, reduced environmental impact, natural ingredients, avoiding chemicals, additives, and allergens, and support for ethical companies.

The biggest benefit of vegan skincare is that no animals were done harm during the production of the finished product or its ingredients. Vegan skincare does not use any animal-derived ingredients and thus reduces the harm and suffering caused to animals. In addition, vegan skincare often is not tested on animals, again reducing suffering.

Secondly, the livestock industry is one of the main contributors to climate change. And as vegan skincare does not contain any ingredients from animals, it is better for the environment compared to skincare which uses ingredients manufactured by using livestock.

Animal-Derived Skincare Ingredients

Thirdly, vegan skincare often uses more natural ingredients, while avoiding chemicals, additives, and allergens. This of course isn’t always the case. But vegan skincare correlates with more natural ingredients, often utilizing only plant-based ingredients.

Fourthly, vegan skincare brands tend to have strong moral and ethical values. They often are independent, as in not a part of a large multinational company. It is beneficial to support brands that have a strong ethical stance against animal exploitation.

Moreover, these companies usually are open about their practices, their environmental impact, and the ingredients and manufacturing processes of their products. It is beneficial for the consumer to know more about the products they are purchasing.

Are Vegan Skincare Products Better?

There is no scientific research done to state that vegan skincare is better than non-vegan skincare. Also, vice versa, there is no research stating that non-vegan skincare would be better than vegan skincare. Vegan skincare products might be better for your skin since they often avoid chemicals, additives, and allergens.

Is Vegan Skincare Better For Your Skin?

Vegan skincare is more likely made with more natural, cleaner, and less-processed ingredients. These ingredients can be better for your skin. Moreover, lanolin and cholesterol are comedogenic. The absence of these animal-derived ingredients in vegan skincare can be good for oily and acne-prone skin.

Is Vegan Skincare Effective?

Vegan skincare is as effective as non-vegan skincare. Some consumers are under the assumption that vegan ingredients or ingredients that have not been tested on animals might lose some of their effectiveness. This is not the case, since vegan ingredients are often as potent or more potent as non-vegan ingredients.

Vegan ingredients are sourced from plants or made synthetically. These ingredients have the same effectiveness as ingredients that are derived from animals.

Does Vegan Skincare Work?

Yes, vegan skincare works. Even though some consumers think vegan ingredients compromise on quality, this is not the case.

Vitamin E in Skincare is Vegan

How To Find Vegan Skincare?

Finding vegan skincare might be trickier than thought. The easiest way is to look out for PETA beauty without bunnies vegan certification or The Vegan Society certification. This way, you are guaranteed to buy vegan skincare. You can also buy from 100% vegan skincare brands or look through an ingredient list and look out for cruelty-free certification.

Which Skincare Brands Are Vegan?

Some of the popular and well-known skincare brands that are vegan include Youth To The People, Biossance, The Ordinary, Derma E, and, Pacifica Beauty.

Which Skincare Brands Are Not Vegan?

The majority of the largest skincare brands are not vegan, including L’Oreal, Olay, Nivea, Shiseido, Estée Lauder, and CeraVe.

Which Skincare Products Are Vegan?

All skincare products can be manufactured vegan. All animal-derived ingredients are substituted with plant-based ingredients or synthetic ingredients. Products such as moisturizers, toners, night creams, eye creams, exfoliators, and face masks can be made vegan.

FAQ About Vegan Skincare

What is vegan skincare?

Vegan skincare is skincare made with non-animal ingredients. Vegan skincare should also never be tested on animals.

Why choose vegan skincare?

By choosing vegan skincare, you are contributing to animal welfare and environmental protection. Vegan skincare is also most likely more natural and better for your skin and body.

Is vegan skincare good?

Yes, vegan skincare is good. In addition to ethical aspects, vegan brands often have a health-conscious mindset. This leads to organic, pure, and natural yet effective products which are better for your skin.

Is vegan skincare cruelty-free?

Yes, vegan skincare should be cruelty-free.

What makes skincare vegan?

Skincare is vegan when it includes no animal-derived ingredients or ingredients tested on animals.


What vegan skincare is a surprisingly complicated topic. Different stakeholders have different definitions. There is not regulated term for vegan, and thus brands are free to use the term somewhat freely since there is no governing body to regulate.

The closest thing to a regulated term is organizations that certify vegan skincare, such as PETA, The Vegan Society, and Vegan Action. They define vegan skincare as skincare that has no animal-derived ingredients and has not been tested on animals either.

See also: Best Vegan Skincare Brands

My name is Liis. I have been a vegan for a long time and I advocate for the vegan lifestyle. Through Vegan Avenue, I aim to provide quality information about vegan products and bring attention to amazing vegan companies.