Vegan Makeup 101: What's It All About?

Vegan Makeup 101: What's It All About?

The term ‘sustainable beauty’ has become more of a topic of interest recently, and with it usually comes the discussion of vegan beauty. More and more makeup brands have been making the switch to veganism and it’s no wonder why when you consider the positive effects of using vegan ingredient alternatives on animals and our environment. 

Vegan beauty is defined as beauty products and cosmetics that don’t contain any animal ingredients, animal by-products, or any other animal-derived ingredients. Some popular examples of animal ingredients include beeswax, carmine (crushed insects), and lanolin (wool grease).

All these animal ingredients do serve a functional purpose, be it as an emollient, emulsifier, colorant, or soothing agent. An issue that arises from this is that although these ingredients are often labeled as being “naturally-derived” or “derived in ways that do not harm animals”, there are very little animal welfare policies protecting animals that are reared to eventually be used in the manufacture of cosmetic ingredients. 


Vegan Makeup Myths

1. Vegan vs Vegetarian Beauty

Differentiating the two may be a little confusing, but vegetarian cosmetics are not the same as vegan cosmetics. When a beauty product is labeled as vegetarian, it means that the product doesn’t contain ingredients that were part of an animal which involves animal slaughter, however it may contain ingredients that were made by an animal such as beeswax, egg whites, milk derivatives, etc.

Vegan beauty products on the other hand do not contain anything that came from or was produced by animals, whether they were slaughtered or kept alive. 


2. Vegan vs Cruelty-Free

Cruelty-free is a label which is used to indicate that the manufacture of their product did not involve any kind of animal testing. Animal testing is a procedure in which a live animal, like a rat or rabbit, is forced to endure a lab test that is likely to cause them pain and suffering. Tests include injecting animals with potentially harmful substances, exposure to radiation, and forcing them to inhale toxic gases. 

It’s important to note that the labels ‘vegan’ and ‘cruelty-free’ are not synonymous. Cruelty-free essentially means that the product, along with each raw ingredient used in its formula, has not been tested on animals. 

So, a vegan product may very well be tested on animals, which would not make it cruelty-free. Similarly, a non-vegan product that does not test on animals may be labeled ‘cruelty-free’, however an argument against that is that no product containing animal ingredients may ever technically be ‘cruelty-free’ even if they were not tested on animals, since some would consider using non-vegan ingredients a cruel act of exploiting animals.


Veganism for Sustainable Beauty

So why make the switch to vegan beauty? As mentioned, sustainability in beauty is something many of us have started paying more attention to, which is a great initiative! Sustainable beauty is not exactly something that’s clear-cut, rather it is a whole spectrum of different factors ranging from sustainable ingredients to ethical business practices. A few examples of a sustainable beauty factors are 

  • Vegan

  • Cruelty-free

  • Non-toxic

  • Ethically-sourced

  • Packaged in eco-friendly materials

Although it is difficult to find a beauty brand that checks all the above boxes, all sustainable beauty brands try in their own ways to work toward a common goal, which is to responsibly produce cosmetics that cause the least environmental harm possible.

In terms of veganism, the impact of rejecting animal products in your cosmetic and skincare products is a positive one for our environment and animal ecosystems. Beeswax, for example, is one of the most commonly-found animal by-products in cosmetics, and to obtain it the honeycomb must be removed from the hive, along with the honey that’s contained in it, consequently depriving bees of their food source and storage space. Besides that, according to a 2010 report by the United Nations Environment Programme, animal products are a key cause of environmental problems which include water depletion, climate change and soil erosion.

Another strong plus point that has come from the vegan beauty movement is the way that it has been pushing consumers to assess the ingredient lists on the back of their makeup boxes. Dominika Piasecka, the media and public relations officer of the Vegan Society, mentions in an interview, 

“People are starting to question and research what they’re buying, and I think that’s empowering.” 

Most importantly, your furry and winged friends will thank you. No animal or its by-products should be exploited for the sake of vanity, and it is currently very easy to find vegan alternatives for traditionally-used animal ingredients in our cosmetics. Dumping out our entire makeup cabinet containing animal ingredients might be a big leap for some of us to take, but we could start by being more mindful of the ingredients labeled at the back of new makeup before we make a purchase. 

Here’s a list of vegan alternatives to common animal ingredients found in our makeup:

Animal ingredients

Vegan alternatives

Vegan examples


Plant waxes

Candelilla wax, carnauba wax


Plant oils and butters

Coconut oil, jojoba oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, mango butter


Plant-based dyes and synthetic dyes

Beetroot dye, Red #40

Squalene (animal-derived)

Vegetable squalene

Squalene derived from olives, rice bran and wheat germ

Glycerine (animal-derived)

Vegetable glycerine

Glycerine derived from soy and coconut oil


Plant-based amino acids, proteins and oils

Soy protein, wheat protein, almond oil, amla oil


Plant-based proteins

Soy protein, rice protein, oat protein

Casein/sodium caseinate/caseinate

Plant-based milks and proteins

Almond milk, soy milk, soy protein

Snail Mucin

Acids and vegetable proteins

Glycolic acid


Hydrolyzed proteins and synthetic fibres 

Hydrolyzed oat protein, nylon, rayon


Vegetable humectants

Vegetable glycerine, aloe vera

Egg proteins

Vegetable proteins

Rice protein, oat protein, soy protein



Local Vegan Brands to Support!

Gleami is proudly vegan (and cruelty-free!), and some of our other local Malaysian brands have also pledged themselves to eliminating animal ingredients in their products, so show some love to the vegan brands listed below! 

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