Some of the most popular skincare ingredients are derived from animals. But if you avoid eating animal products, chances are you don’t want to apply them to your skin either. Vegan alternatives are available, but do they work? In the following article, botanist Jennifer Hirsch shares her recommendations for plant-based skincare ingredients to replace popular animal-derived skincare ingredients.
By Jennifer Hirsch, The Beauty Botanist
We’re becoming more discerning and demanding beauty consumers. We expect to be able to buy products that reflect our values, whether that’s organic, cruelty-free, sustainable, natural, or vegan. And the good news is our voices are being heard. From the USDA Organic label and Europe’s Soil Association’s organic swirl to the vegan V-Label and the cruelty-free Leaping Bunny, these visual signposts help us with our value choices. But if you want vegan beauty products that are as effective as those containing animal ingredients you’d like to avoid, how do you know which ones work?
Animal Ingredients & Vegan Alternatives
Animal-derived ingredients can appear across the whole spectrum of personal care products. Avoiding them used to be challenging — or required compromising on performance to remain true to your values. No more. Our demand for cruelty-free, more natural, plant-derived options without compromise has powered a revolution in effective, vegan-friendly alternatives for some of the most popular animal-derived skincare ingredients.
To help you navigate the ingredients label, I’ve highlighted some of the high-performance swaps that are making vegan beauty hot.
These vegan alternatives are indistinguishable in chemistry from the animal-derived ingredient. They are impossible to tell apart by how they perform, so you’ll never know the difference in going vegan (in fact, you may already have used them without knowing).
Hyaluronic acid can hold 1,000 times its own weight in water, making it a super hydrator for your skin. Traditionally sourced from cockerel’s combs, vegan hyaluronic acid with identical chemistry and activity comes from the fermentation of plant material.
Look for: Q+A Hyaluronic Acid Gel Cleanser
Squalane is an effective, non-comedogenic moisturizing ingredient that helps trap hydration in the skin. Originally extracted from sharks’ livers, it’s now derived from sources like sugarcane, olive, rice bran, and amaranth oils.
Look for: Oleus Squalane
Helping to improve skin hydration, lactic acid is antibacterial and an exfoliant. Instead of creating lactic acid by fermenting milk or meat, identical vegan-friendly chemistry can be created by fermenting carbohydrates like sucrose or glucose found in beets, corn, and cane sugar.
Look for: REN Ready Steady Glow Tonic
These are plant-based alternatives for animal-derived ingredients for which identical plant-based chemistry can’t be found.
Retinol is a form of water-soluble vitamin A that’s only found in animals (it’s most commonly sourced from fish oil). Identical chemistry from plants just isn’t possible … but bakuchiol, extracted from Psoralea corylifolia, has similar effects, helping to soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve elasticity, firmness, and even skin tone. All without retinol’s propensity to irritate.
Look for: Trilogy Bakuchiol + Booster Treatment Retinol Alternative
Collagen is a protein that our bodies make. It functions as a structural scaffold for skin and tissues, but production slows down as we age. Supplementation is a solution, but unfortunately, collagen is always animal-derived. Without an identical vegan solution, there are a handful of ingredients that will support your own collagen production. Stabilized, made more available as ascorbyl glycoside, and paired with antioxidants, vitamin C stimulates collagen production. It’s about making your body work harder.
Look for: VitaSkin’s Vitamin C Collagen Boosting Serum
Why Vegan Beauty?
Whether you’re vegan, avoiding animal products, or are just conscious of your impact on the planet, plant-based alternatives should be a go-to option (and not just because as a botanist I think plants are the answer to everything). Sourced sustainably and consciously, plant ingredients can have a tremendous impact on communities and environments locally and globally. This is why veganism will continue to grow in popularity due to its many advantages. At its simplest, synthetic ingredients benefit labs, chemists, and the big businesses that make them.
Swapping to vegan beauty is pretty painless. When you run out of a product, look for an alternative that has is labeled vegan, vegan-friendly, suitable for vegans, or displays The Vegan Society sunflower on the label. Holland & Barrett have more than 900 products to choose from. Pretty soon your bathroom shelf and skin will reflect these choices.
About the Author
Jennifer Hirsch is driven by an enthusiasm for and excitement about the miracles of the plant kingdom, tempered by a background in research, communication, and horticulture. She’s fascinated not only by the miraculous properties of plants but by the centuries-old connection between people and plants. Learn more about Jennifer at The Beauty Botanist.