Cruelty-free, organic, vegan—these are some of the consumer-conscious buzzwords you'll find on makeup packaging today. Some of these labels might be more self-explanatory than others. While we all know what a vegan diet consists of, what does vegan makeup really entail?
"Brands that don't use animal products or byproducts—even if animals aren't harmed in the process—are vegan," says Dianna Ruth, COO of Milk Makeup, a company that's entirely vegan. For makeup artist Sarah Biggers, founder of Clove & Hallow, the vegan seal can tell you a lot about the ethics of a company. "It represents conscientiousness," Biggers says. "It shows effort has been put into the formula because they're invested in finding alternative ways to make a product. Some manufacturers will push to use animal ingredients because they're cheaper and easier to source, so it speaks volumes about the ethos of a company that's willing to put the time and money behind their product."
Often times, conventional animal-based ingredients aren't needed to create high-performance products. "As a makeup artist, I've played with a lot of product, and when I became ingredient conscious, it was clear to me that animal-based ingredients weren't what made a product perform," Biggers says. "So for my brand, taking out animal ingredients was a no-brainer."
There are a variety of now-common ingredient swaps that brands like Milk Makeup and Clove & Hallow use. Instead of regular beeswax, for example, Ruth says they use synthetic beeswax along with hemp-derived cannabis seed oil as binding ingredients in their Kush High Volume Mascara. Instead of lanolin, a fatty sheep's wool-derived ingredient often found in lipsticks, Biggers says mango and shea butters can replicate that moisturizing, smooth texture. Carmine is also a common ingredient in red lipstick—it's a dye made from crushed beetle shell—and can be replaced with things like natural beet dyes.
A lot of clean beauty is vegan, Biggers says, but not all vegan beauty is clean. While a vegan product doesn't necessarily mean it's better for you, it is probably better for the environment. "We're in a conscious consumer movement," Biggers says, "and as a brand owner, it's about doing the extra footwork and thinking, 'what don't I need, and what will leave a negative footprint?'"