Marketing ploy or real progress?

Although it’s easy to imagine a dish of vegan food, the notion seems vaguer when it comes to cosmetics. And yet, the “vegan” indication on beauty products has continued to grow in recent years, up to the point that it’s stealing the spotlight from “organic” and “clean.” According to the 1951 definition from the Vegan Society, a British NGO, veganism is the doctrine that rejects all human exploitation of animals.

In concrete terms, the only formulas that can be called vegan are those without any ingredients of animal origin and which ban animal testing. But there’s a blurred area between self-proclaimed vegan brands without the specific label, those which display the sunflower logo of the Vegan Society or the “cruelty-free and vegan” rabbit of the international animal defense NGO PETA, and those which don’t say anything but wouldn’t harm a fly or any other animal.

So, are vegan cosmetics a new marketing pitch or a real breakthrough? The answer is a bit of both. Regarding product composition, with plant-based and synthetic ingredients largely having taken the lead, the vast majority of cosmetics are actually vegan. “Very few cosmetic products still contain ingredients of animal origin,” said independent cosmetologist Lionel de Benettis. “We’re far from what I experienced when I started in the business, more than 40 years ago. Then, I was formulating with human placenta, horse serum and ovine embryonic extracts, among other things. What can still be found are beehive-derived products, marine collagen from fish and cochineal carmine, but increasingly rarely.”

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Controversial carmine

Cochineal red is a pigment obtained from crushed insects, and labs sometimes still struggle to create reds that stand out so well on lips. The American brand Hourglass reports that a tube of rouge requires 1,000 insects and that it has managed, after years of research, to develop a vegan substitute for the intense red shade Red 0 in its Unlocked Satin cream and Confession lipsticks. A patent is pending, and the brand plan to open it up to the entire cosmetics industry in order to spread this virtuous practice. French brands All Tigers, Pomponne and Le Rouge Français are also managing to free themselves from controversial carmine thanks to plants.

Beehive-derived products are another animal-sourced area that’s still widely used. Vegan organizations are targeting the methods used – especially industrial farming, which harms bees by confiscating all the honey (their food) and by brutalizing the community at each collection. For royal jelly, the queen’s food, the situation is not much better. Some brands would therefore rather abandon these ingredients in order to avoid any criticism and satisfy an ever-increasing demand.

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