Animal Derived Ingredients In Skincare Usually Hiding In Plain Sight

Animal Derived Ingredients In Skincare Usually Hiding In Plain Sight
Wp Animal Derived Ingredients (2)

Are you new to the sustainable movement, trying to reduce your carbon footprint or simply against animal testing? Here is a simple guide on learning and identifying animal-derived ingredients in your hair, face, and skincare products. 

What Are Animal-Derived Ingredients?

Much like food, animal-derived ingredients in skincare, haircare, and cosmetics are simply any material derived from any part of the animal, from it’s skin to its bones and even fat. It is no surprise some find this to be cruel and unethical. But what is more surprising is that most brands in the market today declare their products such as deodorants, soap, moisturizers, and different cosmetics to be “natural” or “organic”, when in fact, there are animal-derived ingredients in their packaging and ingredients list which most of the time, are hidden in plain sight. Technically, there are no laws being broken here, as it only takes a small percentage of natural or organic ingredients to declare your product as such. To learn more about what these all mean, check out our article The Difference between Organic, Natural, and Vegan Skincare.

It could be quite devastating, especially those of us making a conscious effort to live a sustainable, cruelty-free life. Remember to be patient with your process.  Achieving a 100% sustainable lifestyle doesn’t come without its challenges. Educate yourself. Read about the ingredients before you purchase a product. Remember, they usually are in the labels, hidden in plain sight. The trick is to know how to spot them, and hopefully, this article can help. Read on for more. 

Common Animal-Derived Ingredients You Should Know About

Estradiol or Estriol

Widely known as estrogen, these ingredients are found not only in beauty products but in female supplements and medications such as Premarin. But you probably didn’t know that most of the estrogen used in commercial products come from pregnant horses. 

According to PETA, most horses spend most of their 11-month pregnancies cramped into stalls so small wearing rubber urine collectors with limited drinking water in order for their urine to yield more concentrated estrogen. As soon as the foals are born, they impregnate the horses as soon as possible, and this cycle lasts for 12 years. 


Retinol is a type of retinoid that is derived from animal liver, fish, and fat-rich poultry such as heavy cream and butter. It is known for its exfoliating and anti-aging properties. The good news is, there are plant-based alternatives to this brightening ingredient rich in vitamin A such as carrots and sweet potatoes. 

Cochineal Dye

Otherwise known as Carmine, natural red 4, E120, and C.I. 75470,  this ingredient is derived from bugs such as cochineal beetles who are killed to produce a red-colored dye that they get from feeding on cactus berries. This rich red tint is used for lip and cheek cosmetics to achieve a rosy glow. 


Tallow is the remains of commonly slaughtered land animals, boiled until it thickens and produces an oily, fat-filled substance. Commonly used in making candles, soaps, and cosmetics, there is nothing ethical about this ingredient. 

In the same way, gelatine, kosher gelatin, and halal gelatin are just as bad, the only difference is it comes from boiled animal skin, bones, and ligaments and not made from fat.


In layman’s terms, squalene literally means shark liver oil, meaning it is extracted from non-other than our freshwater and even deep water sharks, who are considered the misunderstood creatures of the sea. Media has painted these majestic water dwellers dangerous and horrific, but in reality, they are usually harmless to humans as long as we keep a safe distance- leaving their territory unthreatened.  Squalene is commonly found in anti-aging creams, deodorants, moisturizers,  hair conditioners, cosmetics, and sunscreen.


A more popular term in this list, keratin is usually used in hair and nail treatment. This is pretty ironic considering keratin is derived from the fur, hair, husks, and horns of animals. There are plant-based sources that work just the same soya protein and almond oil are used as vegan alternatives.

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Honey and Beeswax: Are They Ethical?

Beeswax, otherwise called Cera Alba is a by-product of honey and is animal-derived even though technically, they did not murder any bees in the process. Although, they are natural by-products of bees produced through bee labor. Which brings us to one of the most asked questions in vegan skincare: Are honey, beeswax, and other animal-made ingredients vegan?

To answer this debatable question, think ethics. Vegetarianism and veganism are two very different concepts. 

It is against both the vegetarian (and vegan) code of ethics to consume or use any kind of products made of animals. Meaning, animals are purposely killed and stripped for parts. The most common example of this is food. In hair and skincare products, it is using certain parts of animals that require them to be slaughtered such as skin, bones, hair, and fat. 

However, veganism takes it a step further by refusing to use anything made by animals. The most common examples of these are eggs and milk. Given that no animals are murdered in the process. But over the years, issues with the farming processes of animal-made products have been subject to questioning and investigation. 

The habitat and living situation of these animals are very limited. Their resources are diminished and a big number of animals are usually kept crammed together in tight spaces, unable to breathe or move freely. This is done to speed up production. In fact, animals born into unethical farming practices will have to live this way their entire lives. This kind of handling makes them more vulnerable to contracting diseases. The same goes for bees. A rich and thriving colony could suffer if the farming and harvesting process is done unethically, which could lead to death and in the long term future, extinction. 

Some vegan-friendly products still contain honey, beeswax, propolis, and royal jelly to this day. There are even brands such as Burts Bees and Manuka Doctor that use honey and beeswax as their main selling point. In the end, it is all a matter of ethics. As long as the bee colonies are kept healthy, happy, and thriving with honey harvested sustainably, these products can do wonders for our health, as well as our skin. 

Tips On Spotting Unethical Ingredients 

Screening skincare products can be a very tedious and confusing task. Also, it takes only a small amount of natural, vegan, or organic ingredients to label your products as such. This should not discourage us. Rather, we should take all this information with a grain of salt and educate ourselves accordingly. Here are some tips:


Look Beyond The Labels

In screening products, the answers are usually hidden in plain sight. Scientific names are written in languages foreign to our eyes and ears, which make them misleading. Usually, they put all the plant-based ingredients before synthetic chemicals and animal-derived ingredients. Oftentimes, the font would be small and hard to read. Don’t give up, they are required to have this information on the brand’s website so you may check there.  Look for green seals of approval and certification such as the following:

Vegan Seal Of Approval 

Cruelty-Free Bunny Seal 


Fair Trade Product Seal


Stick To Tried And Tested Brands

Do your research! Know what ingredients work for your skin and combine it with the values and ethics you firmly believe in. If you haven’t already, find brands who speak for you. If one product works for you, there’s a big chance most of that brand’s other products will too. If not, be patient and respect the process. 


Read Up On Reviews and Ratings

Unbiased product reviews and ratings by customers usually reveal information about a product that you will not find in the label, website, or packaging. It could come from your social media sites and e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and Sephora. Try to avoid posts from social media influencers or famous independent blogs. More often than not, they are paid per post by the brands themselves. Here is a list of product reviews.