Vegan & Cruelty-Free Beauty Brands Everyone Should Know

In 2023, vegan makeup and cruelty-free skincare are more accessible than ever, thanks to conscious consumers changing beauty standards around the globe. With a booming demand for the beauty industry to deliver clean, ethical, and sustainable products, vegan and cruelty free cosmetics are front and center as buzzwords across brands and price ranges, and for good reason. 

In this vegan beauty guide, we’ll teach you why it’s cool to care, our top brands for vegan beauty and cruelty free products, and how to stay educated about what you’re putting on your biggest organ – your skin. Remember, transitioning your makeup, skincare, and haircare to fully vegan and cruelty free products takes time, so be kind to yourself – you’re doing your best and making a difference along the way!

Please note: We try our hardest to fully vet the products we recommend to ensure they are vegan and cruelty free. If a brand or product we have recommended is no longer cruelty free or the formulation has changed and is no longer be vegan, please let us know immediately and we will remove the item from our website.

Our Top Picks | Vegan & Cruelty Free Beauty Brands

Below is a list of vegan and cruelty free skincare, makeup and haircare brands we love. You can find many of these brands online, and in-store at Sephora, Ulta, Target and drugstores (e.g. CVS, Walgreens and Duane Reade). These brands are committed to creating high quality beauty products that are made without animal based ingredients, and have also taken steps to ensure their ingredients are not tested on animals.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that just because something is vegan and cruelty free at one time doesn’t mean that it will stay that way forever, unfortunately. So always check the brands label and/or website to confirm.

Below are are some beauty brands that are cruelty free but not all of their products are vegan. So feel free to explore these brands but make sure to check the ingredient list to ensure the product your interested in is vegan before purchasing:

*the individual brands is cruelty free but is owned by a parent company that is not cruelty free.

Vegan Vs. Cruelty Free

So, what is the difference between vegan and cruelty free… and why does it matter?

What Makes A Product Vegan

Vegan makeup, skincare and haircare are products derived from ingredients that are not sourced from animals in any way, shape, or form. You may be thinking, “Wait – there are no animal by-products in my makeup… I think I would know.” But the truth is, animal products make their way into a lot of our everyday beauty brands, hair care products, cosmetics, and more under sneaky umbrella terms or with weird names that just sound like chemicals. 

Think beeswax or lanolin (from sheep’s wool) in your chapstick, crimson lake in your lipsticks (crushed up cochineal beetles,) or keratin-based shampoos and hair oils (animal hooves and cartilage) – just to name a few.

Many people choose to abstain from using beauty products that use animal ingredients because it causes unnecessary suffering to innocent creatures, it’s often better for the environment, and plantbased derivatives can typically be cleaner and more sustainable. 

Plantbased alternatives are readily available and deliver the same results as their animal derived counterparts. It’s a no-brainer to choose the vegan and cruelty free option that will cause the least suffering and still leave us feeling rejuvenated.

Now, when a beauty product is vegan, it may also be cruelty free, but unfortunately, the two are not mutually exclusive. Allow us to explain.

What Makes A Product Cruelty Free

When a cosmetic product or makeup brand is labeled cruelty free, it means that the ingredients used to make it were not tested on animals at any time during production or afterward, nor was testing implemented by third parties or suppliers. Many people think that vegan and cruelty free are used interchangeably, which is a common mistake to make. When companies test ingredient combinations and products on animals, it’s cruel, gruesome, and often results in death for innocent creatures. 

In some countries like China, post-market animal testing is still legally mandated. So even if a company claims they don’t personally test on animals, the truth is that if they sell in Mainland China (think brands like MAC, Clinique, Benefit, and more), then the brand does support cosmetic animal testing via third-party testing.

Sadly, the most common animals used for cosmetic and makeup testing are rabbits, monkeys, and dogs (beagles). 

But – we are lucky enough to live in the age of innovation, where being a conscious and ethical consumer is easier than ever. When you choose products that are vegan and cruelty free, you don’t have to pay more, sacrifice quality, or go out of your way to find a mom-and-pop shop that shares your values and delivers on its promises.

There are hundreds of mainstream brands delivering clean, cruelty free, and vegan skincare, vegan hair products, vegan makeup brushes, and more. You can even find affordable cruelty free products at the drugstore.

RECAP: What is vegan beauty?

Is vegan beauty always cruelty free? It can be, but it isn’t always. Vegan makeup uses no animals to formulate the product, but it can be made with plant materials and still test on animals. When a product is vegan and cruelty free, it means the product has no animal ingredients and never tests these plant-derived ingredients on animals (here at The Garden Party we focus on vegan AND cruelty free beauty products!). Clean beauty and vegan beauty are not the same thing. A product may use natural ingredients that come from animals.

In the next section, we’ll teach you how to shop confidently knowing you’re buying both vegan and cruelty free high quality brands you can trust.

How to Determine if a Product is Vegan

The easiest way to find vegan products is to check the packaging – it will often say “vegan” since that’s a selling point for folks who want to avoid animal products. Ideally, a vegan product will have one of a variation of “certified vegan” logos. Furthermore, many companies will slap on a generic “vegan” or even “plantbased” logo, without the product being absent of animal products or animal testing, so being a smart shopper is important at the beginning of your vegan beauty journey while you’re still getting acquainted with new brands.

When in doubt, check website policies and always read the ingredients. And remember, organic, natural and clean don’t necessarily mean vegan. A perfect example of this is Burt’s Bees. It’s a “natural” brand presented as clean, but it uses bee products which are not vegan. Other brands will harp on the phrase “plant-based,” and still have animal ingredients in the formulas. So keep your eyes peeled to see through misleading marketing.

How to Determine if a Product is Cruelty Free

A product that is certified cruelty free will have the official Leaping Bunny or PETA approved logos on the back of the packaging. These are accredited, international logos that are widely recognized as having certified the brand and products as being cruelty free. In order to legally qualify to use one of these logos on a product, a company must meet specific criteria as well as submit documentation as proof of regulations compliance. When you see one of these logos, it means the brand, its suppliers, and third parties do not test finished products or ingredients on animals.

Keep in mind that not all brands that are cruelty free have this logo. This licensing is optional, and brands must pay a fee.

On the other hand, since the term cruelty free is unregulated by the FDA, many beauty products will slap “cruelty free” on their label when they actually do test on animals (e.g. when required by law in mainland China). When in doubt, always look for the certification and use reputable databases such as:

Sneaky Ingredients to Avoid in Your Skincare, Haircare, and Makeup

Beauty product manufacturers have made it their duty to hide all sorts of ingredients (including animal products) in our skincare, makeup, hair products, and more. They use words we can’t pronounce and capitalize on generic blanket terms that don’t truly give insight into what ingredients are being used. Getting educated takes time, and it isn’t a perfect process. 

Below are some of the animal-derived ingredients to look out for in your beauty products.

Beeswax | A wax made by honeybees that is often used in cosmetics such as lip balms. The vegan alternative includes plant waxes such as candelilla and carnauba wax.

Collagen | Derived from the skin, bones, and connective tissue of animals including cattle, fish, horses, pigs, and rabbits often found in regenerative creams and serums. Collagen supporting products – made from from plantbased sources – are available to keep your skin looking plump and supple.

Carmine/Red 4/Cochineal/E120 | Carmine is made from insects like crushed cochineal (beetles) to create the dye that colors lipsticks, blush, and nail polish. Nowadays, many brands use plantbased derivatives for coloring like beets and anthocyanins to deliver vibrant, highly pigmented coloring.

Casein/Sodium Caseinate/Caseinate | Casein products come from cow’s milk, often found in conditioning haircare products. The vegan alternative to casein is called legumin, which comes from legumes.

Glycerine | Derived from animal fat and most commonly used in soaps, hair care, makeup, and moisturizers. Luckily, there are plant-based sources available that deliver the same results, derived from plant sources such as soy or coconut oil.

Guanine | Often formulated by scraping the scales off fish, you can find this sneaky ingredient as a shining agent in eyeshadow pallets, bronzers, highlighters, and more.

Honey | A sugar syrup made by bees. Look for vegan alternatives with similar soothing properties such as shea butter and vegetable glycerin.

Lanolin | A waxy substance derived from sheep’s wool that is used as an emollient on the skin, but with lots of petrolatum-based vegan alternatives on the market, you don’t have to give up being moisturized.

Shellac | Mostly used in nail products, shellac comes from lac bugs. The vegan alternative is zein (corn protein) and plant waxes.

Squalene | Made from shark liver oil and used in products like lip balm, deodorants, and moisturizers, among other products. Alternatively, vegan squalane is derived from olives, sugarcane, rice bran, and more.

Stearic acid | Often derived from the animal tallow or belly fat of pigs, cows, and sheep, stearic acid is used as a fat in deodorants, lotions, hair products, and soaps. Luckily, there is a palm-derived plant-derived version of stearic acid.

Animals make their way into our personal care items in ways we would never expect, like false eyelashes made from real mink fur or makeup brushes made from boar bristles. 

Unfortunately, the list of animal-derived ingredients found in skincare, haircare, and cosmetic products goes on. For a comprehensive list of ingredients to watch out for and learn about their vegan alternatives, visit this PETA directory.

Nowadays, vegan beauty products are flooding the shelves, and it can feel overwhelming to choose a brand that feels right. We’re here to list our favorite vegan skincare, makeup, and haircare brands we love, and hope you will too.

Your Makeup Won’t be Vegan and Cruelty Free Over Night, and That’s Okay

Through the journey of transitioning your products to vegan and cruelty-free, it can feel overwhelming, and at times.

When you realize your makeup isn’t vegan or cruelty free, but you’d like it to be, you can either finish it, give it away, or discard it. The choice is yours and no one has a right to judge you for it. You’re doing something pretty special here, which takes time and research. 

If you’re brand new to vegan beauty, you can learn about vegan and cruelty free brands using our list above. Alternatively, you could try the Kinder Beauty subscription box that sends you carefully curated vegan and cruelty free makeup, skincare, and haircare products on a monthly basis.

BTW, You Don’t Have to Be Vegan to Enjoy Vegan & Cruelty Free Beauty

Veganism is a way of life that focuses on harm reduction. There is no perfection in it, and the truth is – every little bit truly makes a difference in the grand scheme of things. Even if you aren’t vegan, you can still opt for vegan and cruelty free beauty products because they are often healthier for you and greener for the planet. 

Vegan beauty brands fall across the price and quality spectrum, as do all brands. It’s cool to care about the animals we share this planet with, and it feels good to know we are voting for positive change in the most impactful way – with our wallets.

Vegan Beauty Made Easy

The rise of vegan and cruelty free skincare has delivered an innovative shift in the beauty industry that will continue to serve animals and the earth, with companies forced to find and create vegan alternatives without sacrificing the quality or utility of products we use on a daily basis.

Consumers are becoming more mindful of how their personal care products are formulated before they hit the shelves. More people are reaching for vegan and cruelty free skincare, haircare, makeup brands, and more, as a sustainable and ethical choice that people can feel good about.

Rachel Steenland

Rachel Steenland


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