Cruel Beauty: How to Avoid Hidden Animal Ingredients in Health & Beauty Products | Ilena Banks

Cruel Beauty: How to Avoid Hidden Animal Ingredients in Health & Beauty Products

Is your favorite product doing more harm – to you, the environment, and animals – than good? Check the ingredients before you buy your next bottle of moisturizer, and vote with your dollars for better beauty standards.


Parabens, phthalates and acids, oh my! Cosmetics shelves are packed with a variety of creams, lotions and potions, each of which is composed of an often dizzying list of ingredients. When you turn over your favorite bottle, and the list is full of things impossible to pronounce, sticking to a green beauty regimen can seem pretty daunting. Knowing a few key terms will make it easy to exorcise the biggest eco offenders from your routine.


Why Reading Health/Beauty Labels Matters


When adopting a plant-based lifestyle, most people focus on food; few consider the ingredients in common beauty products and household staples. Who would ever think there was beef fat in shampoo?


In addition to animal sourced ingredients, many conventional cosmetics contain a slew of synthetic chemicals (separate post) that have been proven potentially unsafe to use. Every product that comes in contact with the skin ends up in the bloodstream. Given that the effects of prolonged use for most of these substances have yet to be studied, the safest course is avoidance.


Even if you’re not the type to join an animal liberation group & protest cosmetic testing, you can do your part to support more ethical standards. The most effective form of activism hits companies where it matters most – the bottom line. Every sale diverted from corporations using animal-derived or unsafe components in their formulations to a natural alternative makes a statement.


The Name Game


Most ingredients are listed on beauty labels by their scientific names, so beef fat will never appear on a bottle of your favorite moisturizer. Check for the following when you shop, and you’ll be well on your way to eliminating unethical ingredients.



Collagen is the protein from which gelatin is derived. Prized for its elastic properties, (it’s the same component that keeps our skin taut and aids joint movement via connective tendons) its frequently found in face creams and anti-aging moisturizers. Companies usually source it from animal hooves, tendons and other tissue.



Like collagen, elastin is a common element in facial and anti-aging applications. The protein is found in animal ligaments.



the hottest “new” thing on the market, the use of keratin in hair and nail products is gaining market share due to trendy treatments from far and wide. The ingredient is derived from the feathers, hair, hooves and horns of a variety of animals. It’s used primarily to add luster and sheen to hair, particularly when dry or damaged from processing.


Carminic Acid

Commonly known as cochineal or carmine, carminic acid is derived from the crushed exoskeletons of the female insect. The product is used as a coloring agent in a variety of applications, including shampoos and cosmetics. Sound familiar? The discovery of its use in Starbucks’ Strawberry Frappuccino syrup led to an uproar from the vegan community in 2012, so much so that the company changed their formulation.


Stearic Acid

Also called “tallow,” this saturated fatty acid is used in everything from lotions to shampoo. Cows, pigs, and sheep are all possible sources. It has even been suggested in several reports that euthanized shelter animals may be used by some companies.

 What You Can Do

There are several more elements that could come from questionable sources, and new ones are constantly in development. The safest way to be sure your favorite product is plant-based is to look for the word “vegan” on the label. If the product doesn’t advertise as vegan, here are a few other ways to ensure it lines up with your lifestyle.


  1. Contact the company. Every corporation has a dedicated customer service department. In theory, these representatives should be able to easily address your concerns about ingredients and animal testing. If they can’t, avoid.
  2. There’s an app for that. Add an app like Cruelty-Free  to your smartphone to check whether a company uses animal products or performs animal testing.
  3. Check out an eco-friendly alternative. More and more companies are creating great, plant-based health and beauty products for both men and women. Herban Cowboy and Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics are two of my favorites.

PeTA has created a list of companies that DO test on animals when formulating products. Give it a once over to see if any of your favorites are listed.

Do you know of any great ethical health & beauty products that readers HAVE to know about? Share them with us!


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