Updated on June 8, 2023

These Common Animal-Derived Ingredients Used in Cosmetics are Not Vegan

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Do you know what’s in your makeup and skincare products? I’m sure crushed-up bugs, shark liver oil, and fish scales isn’t what you had in mind as you read the list of ingredients in your classic red lipstick, anti-aging eye creams, or shimmery nail polish.

Animal-derived ingredients and by-products have found their way into our cosmetics, skincare and hair products to serve some form or functional purpose. Although animal ingredients are oftentimes classified as being “naturally-derived” and “derived in a manner that doesn’t harm animals” but there are minimal to non-existent animal welfare policies protecting animals that are reared and used to manufacture ingredients for human use.

These animal ingredients are used and added into our cosmetics as an emollient, emulsifier, soothing agent, colorant, skin and hair conditioner, and many other purposes.

Luckily, there are some great vegetable and synthetic alternatives available now so cosmetic manufacturers can do without the animal cruelty ingredients without compromising on quality or product performance.

Animal Ingredients in Cosmetics

Here are some of the most common (and sometimes hidden) animal-derived ingredients and by-products that are lurking in our cosmetics today. I’ve been a vegan beauty advocate for the past 7 years and my go-to resources are the book, Veganissimo A to Z: A Comprehensive Guide to Identifying and Avoiding Ingredients of Animal Origin in Everyday Product and the online searchable database, Double Check Vegan.


Beeswax (cera alba) – A wax secreted by bees to build their honeycombs, in which larvae are reared and honey and pollen are stored. Obtained by humans by being cut out of the beehives. Beeswax is used in cosmetics as an emollient, emulsifier and film forming agent.

Honey (mel) – Food made by bees from nectar from flowers of honeydew and stored in honeycombs as food for the hive. Beekeepers obtain the honey by removing the honeycomb from the hive. The honey is then usually extracted from the honeycomb. Honey is used in cosmetics as a soothing agent, moisturizer and humectant.

Propolis (bee glue) – Mixture of tree resins and digestive juices of bees. Used by bees as a building material for sealing small cracks and reinforcing the hive. Propolis is used in cosmetics as an antiseborrheic, moisturizer, smoothing agent, or as an antimicrobial agent in toothpaste, shampoos, deodorants, etc.

Bee Pollen – Powder produced by the flowers of seed-bearing plants for reproductive purposes (transmission from plant to plant either air-borne or carried by animals). Gathered by bees and used for feeding their larvae. Obtained by humans using pollen traps (meshed wire devices in the beehive entrance that strip the pollen off the legs of the bees returning home; legs and wings can be torn off in the process). Bee Pollen is used in cosmetics as a skin conditioner.

Royal Jelly – Secretion from the glands of worker bees. Used for feeding the larvae – especially the queen larvae – of a bee colony. Obtained by specialized beekeepers, who repeatedly remove the queens from the hives and replace them with new queen larvae, for whom royal jelly is produced. The continuous replacement of the larvae and removal of the jelly stimulates an unnaturally constant production. Royal Jelly is used as a skin conditioner in cosmetics.


Lanolin (wool wax) – Secretion of the sebaceous glands of sheep. Is washed out of the wool of shorn or slaughtered sheep and purified. Lanolin is used in cosmetics as an antistatic, emollient, hair and skin conditioner, surfactant and carrier.

C10-30 Cholesterol/Lanosterol Esters – Fatty acid compound of cholesterol and lanolsterol. Used as an emulsifier in cosmetics.


Carmine (CI 75470) – Red dye from crushed female cochineal scale insects. More than 150,000 insects may be required for 1kg of the dye. Used as a colorant in cosmetics and foods. (Also labeled as carminic acid, cochineal, crimson lake, E 120)

Shellac (E 904, Gum Lac) – Dark brown resin from the excretions of lac scale insects, collected from the branches the insects live on. Emollient, film forming agent, viscosity controlling agent, and hair fixatives in cosmetics. Used in nail polish.

Animal Proteins & Vitamins

Keratin – Protein derived from ground horns, hooves, claws, nails, hair, scales and feathers of diverse vertebrates. Keratin is used in cosmetics as a hair and skin conditioner.

Hydrolyzed Keratin – Chemically altered keratin. Used as an antistatic, film-forming agent, humectant, skin and hair conditioner in cosmetics.

Collagen – A fibrous protein in the connective tissue of vertebrates. Various forms are present in bone, teeth, cartilage, ligaments, sinews and skin. Is obtained from “slaughterhouse waste,” such as cartilage, sinews and skins of cattle and fish. Collagen is used as an active agent against wrinkles and a humectant in cosmetics.

Processed collagen is also used as a cosmetic ingredient, especially collagen amino acids, and hydrolyzed collagen and its derivatives. Collagen is also used in cosmetic surgery in antiwrinkle injections.

Elastin – An elastic fibrous protein, naturally present in the connective tissue of animals. Obtained from elastic “slaughterhouse waste” rich in connective tissue, such as the neck ligaments and the aortae (largest arteries) of cattle. Smoothing agent and skin conditioner in cosmetics.

Biotin – Water-soluble vitamin that play an important part in cell growth and metabolism. Occurs naturally in differing amounts in many foods, notably in yeast, liver, kidney, egg yolk, soybeans, nuts, and cereals. Is typically manufactured by synthesis from petroleum products, but can also be derived from cysteine. Hair and skin conditioner in shampoos and cosmetic creams. (Also labeled as Vitamin H, Vitamin B7)


Silk Amino Acids – Water-soluble glycoprotein extracted from raw silk. It is used as an additive in skin and hair care products due to its high levels of serine which has excellent moisture preservation characteristics. Humectant, hair, and skin conditioner in cosmetics.

Sericin (silk glue) – The sticky outer layer of silk. Antistatic, skin and hair conditioner and smoothing agent in cosmetics.

Hydrolyzed Silk – Chemically altered proteins from silk. Antistatic, humectant, hair and skin conditioner in cosmetics.

Sodium Lauroyl Hydrolyzed Silk – Chemically altered silk. Antistatic and hair conditioner in cosmetics.

Silk Powder – Finely ground silk. Humectant, skin and hair conditioner, and smoothing agent in cosmetics. (Also labeled as Serica Powder)


Pearl – Hard, often round deposits of mother of pearl, formed in the tissue of bivalves, e.g. as a response to foreign bodies, parasites or injuries. Pearls are either formed naturally or “cultured pearls” created by transplanting pearl-producing tissue from a “donor” animal. Imitation pearls are made by compacting mother of pearl powder, shaping fragments of mother of pearl or coating wax pellets with fish silver or guanine.

Hydrolyzed Pearl – Chemically altered pearls. Used as a skin conditioner in cosmetics.

Pearl Powder – Finely crushed pearl used in cosmetics to help improve skin appearance.

Hydrolyzed Conchiolin Protein – Chemically altered proteins from pearl oysters. Skin and hair conditioner in cosmetics.


Snail Mucin – Extract from the slime of snails of the species Helix aspersa Müller. The snail slime is collected from living animals on snail farms and processed for use as a cosmetics ingredient. Snail mucin claims to improve skin elasticity and scar healing.


Lactoferrin – Iron-binding protein from milk. Commonly used in cosmetics as a skin and hair conditioner.

LactoseA sugar in milk. Obtained from the whey of cow’s milk. Lactose is used in cosmetics as a humectant and skin conditioner.

Hydrolyzed Milk Protein – Chemically altered milk protein. Used in cosmetics as an antistatic, skin and hair conditioner.

Fish & Other Marine Animals

Squalene – can be from killed animals or vegetable. Occurs naturally (along with squalane) in fish liver oil and many vegetable oils. Obtained from shark liver oil or olive oil. Antistatic, emollient, hair conditioner and refatting substance in cosmetics.

Guanine (CI 75170) – can be from killed animals or synthetic. The pearlescent part of fish scales. Industrially manufactured from the scales and skin of fish. Can also be produced from uric acid. Opacifier and colourant (pearlescent pigment) in cosmetics, e.g. shampoos, nail polish, eye shadow. Pearlescent in paints, lacquers, and plastics.

Glucosamine – from killed animals. Occurs naturally in the exoskeletons of insects and crustaceans. Obtained industrially from the shells of crabs and shrimps. Hair and skin conditioner in cosmetics.

Chondroitin – Obtained from the connective tissue of killed animals. Important constituent of animal cartilage. Used in cosmetics as a hair and skin conditioner.

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What do you think

1 thought on “These Common Animal-Derived Ingredients Used in Cosmetics are Not Vegan”

  1. I can’t believe what l read. How horrible that any human can obtain such cruelty to animals l spends researching what l buy,and sometimes wonder if l did the right choice. I purchased hask shampoo and conditioner containing kerotene now l have to them away. I guess my research was not as good as l thought.

    It was a very informative article you wrote l learned a lot.

    Thank you

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