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Vegetarian vs. vegan: What do these terms mean for beauty products?

Last Updated: June 21, 2021

Let's get down and dirty (garden dirty) in vegetarianism vs. veganism, specifically when it comes to beauty products, so you can make informed choices that feel good.

Calling all animal lovers! Do you love food and beauty products. Are you also dedicated to the well-being of animals? Great, so are you a vegetarian, vegan, or neither?

Maybe you're in the “vegan” camp, maybe you're “team vegetarian,” or maybe you like to enjoy some responsibly raised meat every once in a while. Either way, learning about vegetarian vs. vegan diets and beauty products will help you make better choices to do your part for a better world. After all, no beauty product is worth harming animals.

So, how do vegetarian and vegan lifestyles and products stack up against each other?

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Vegetarian vs. vegan: The basics

Both "vegetarians and vegans don’t eat or use products or by-products of slaughter," per the Vegetarian Society's definition.

Now let's dive into these terms.

What is vegetarianism?

Vegetarianism is typically a diet that excludes animal meats, fish, gelatine or animal rennet, and stock or fat from animals. However, foods and products that include animal-sourced ingredients, like dairy, eggs, and beeswax, are generally okay.

So if you're the kind of person who has sworn off meat but would happily eat an entire wheel of brie in one sitting (or two sittings — we don't need to get crazy), then vegetarianism is for you.

In terms of beauty products, a person who follows vegetarianism would not purchase items that contain gelatine or products made from animals, like collagen.

What is veganism?

Per The Vegan Society, veganism is "a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat (including fish, shellfish and insects), dairy, eggs and honey - as well as avoiding animal-derived materials, products tested on animals, and places that use animals for entertainment.

If you're trying to follow veganism, you’ll want to consider these guidelines when you’re buying food products, beauty products, and even things like your shoes, medicines, and reusable food wrap.

Why are beauty products labeled vegan?

Vegan label with two blue leaves and vegan on inside of circle

The Certified Vegan label on beauty and other products helps people make informed choices in all areas of their lives and reduce their environmental footprint. Even if you don’t eat vegan, you can still make a positive impact by buying vegan products.

If a cosmetic product is vegan, it cannot contain any animal ingredients. That means no gelatin or animal fats and no derivative of an animal, like honey, beeswax, yogurt, or lactic acid.

Brands have to submit their products for vegan certification, which costs time and money, so if a product is certified vegan you will know a brand made an effort to get that label to help their consumers buy smarter.

What makes a beauty product vegan?

Yellow essential oil dropper illustration

So — we've established that a product that is vegan does not contain any animal ingredients or animal-derived ingredients. No honey, beeswax, lanolin, collagen, albumen, carmine, cholesterol, gelatin — you get the idea. If it came from or was made by an animal, it's not truly vegan. Essential oils and shea butter are examples of a vegan beauty go-to.

Get ready for a shocker though — and a good lesson on reading the fine print. A product that meets the criteria to be labeled vegan can still be tested on animals without delegitimizing the vegan label, which is based on the product's ingredients.

If that makes you cringe, then you'll want to look for more than just a vegan label.

What's the difference between vegan and cruelty-free?

Vegan logo

Know your labels! If you want products that are vegan and cruelty-free, you’re going to have to look for more than one label or certification.

How do you spot a vegan product?

  • Look for the “Certified Vegan” label
  • Read the allergens for animal/fish ingredients
  • Read the ingredients for animal/fish derivatives

How do you ensure a product is cruelty-free?

Quick facts about vegan beauty products

Yellow beeswax illustration

Can beauty products be labeled vegetarian?

Not sure why your beauty product is telling you about its eating habits? A vegetarian label on beauty products is much like a vegan label, except it alerts you to the fact that the product has ingredients that were animal-created, like your favourite lip color or face cream with beeswax.

Vegetarian beauty products cannot be made with ingredients that are part of an animal, like fats.

What would make a beauty product not vegan?

Beauty products are not vegan if they use ingredients that come from an animal or are made by an animal. Basically, products with ingredients like gelatin, lanolin, collagen, and anything else derived or sourced from animals.

It’s amazing how many products we slather on without thinking about where they came from first!

Are vegan products better?

Vegan beauty products are considered better by many for some solid reasons.

These plant-based products are:

  • gentler on your skin
  • don't include harsh chemical ingredients
  • have a much smaller environmental footprint

  • Plus, they don’t exploit animals for our own vanity. Those are all reasons we can get behind.

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