Have you ever wondered where the red tint in your lipstick or blushers comes from? Or whether animals were harmed in order for you to own a natural hair makeup brush?

With the steady increase of vegan and cruelty-free beauty products from makeup and skincare to beauty tools, you now have more options than ever to look great with a clear conscience.

The word vegan refers to anything that’s free of animal products, according to vegan.com. That means no meat, milk, eggs, wool, leather, and so forth.

Your sandwich, your shampoo, and your car seats are examples of items that could be vegan.

Veganism carries at least three potential advantages – avoidance of animal mistreatment and slaughter, elimination of certain health risks, and reduction of environmental footprint.

When we look at beauty brands that are labelled cruelty-free and vegan, it means its products are not tested on animals and there is no animal byproduct or animal ingredients used.

A PETA protest against animal testing locally. Photo: The Star/Low Lay Phon

Why do companies test their products on animals? According to animal rights group Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) on its website, they do it to provide data that they can use to defend themselves when they are sued by injured consumers, even though some courts have ruled that the US Food and Drug Administration has failed to show that the results of animal tests can be extrapolated to humans.

The unreliability of animal tests allows companies to put virtually any product on the market.

If cosmetics or household products blind or poison animals during tests, they are often marketed anyway, says Peta on its website. Companies use the fact that the products have been tested – rather than the actual test results – to support the claim that they are conscientious.

On its website, Peta Britain points out that a handful of companies admit that they test on animals, but most of the others either dodge the issue with fancy wording or just won’t say.

They caution consumers to be aware of claims such as “this product is not tested on animals”, which can hide the fact that its ingredients are tested on animals, and “this company does not test on animals”, which may simply mean the company contracts out its testing to other companies.

Former director of the US National Institutes of Health Elias Zerhouni was quoted on Peta’s website, “We have moved away from studying human disease in humans. With the ability to knock in or knock out any gene in a mouse ­– which ‘can’t sue us’ – researchers have over-relied on animal data.”

“The problem is that it hasn’t worked, and it’s time we stopped dancing around the problem. We need to refocus and adapt new methodologies for use in humans to understand disease biology in humans,” Zerhouni says.

Why do brands use animal ingredients? According to Peta Asia on its website, cosmetics companies use animal ingredients because they’re cheap, not because they’re better than plant-based or synthetic ingredients.

Vegan and cruelty-free shopping can be confusing and frustrating. While brands can claim that their products are vegan or cruelty-free, how would one really know?

Consumers’ beauty product choices influences how beauty brands will manufacture or create their products. Photo: 123rf.com

There are two resources for conscientious shoppers to learn about companies and products that are cruelty-free, that is from Peta and Leaping Bunnies.

Under Peta’s Beauty Without Bunnies programme, companies either signed Peta’s statement of assurance or provided a statement verifying that they do not conduct or commission any animal tests on ingredients, formulations or finished products, and they pledge not to do so in the future.

The Leaping Bunny Logo is an internationally recognised logo created by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, made up of eight national animal protection groups.

The standard used by Leaping Bunny is short for the Corporate Standard of Compassion for Animals, a voluntary pledge that cosmetic, personal care, and/or household product companies make to clear animal testing from all stages of product development.

The company’s ingredient suppliers make the same pledge and the result is a product guaranteed to be 100% free of new animal testing. All Leaping Bunny companies must be open to independent audits, and commitments are renewed on an annual basis.

So, even if you’re not a vegan but feel strongly about not harming animals for the sake of beauty, these resources are a good place to start to learn more about buying products that are cruelty-free or vegan, that use alternative ingredients.

Check out these beauty brands that are both cruelty-free and vegan

Some of the brands that have pledged to be vegan and cruelty-free with PETA include Ahimsa Apothecary, Arbonne, Brown Bag Botanicals, Colure Hair Care, Eco Minerals, Esse Skincare, Henna Color Lab, No Bull Beauty, Per-fekt Beauty, and Thirteen Organics.

These brands use both the cruelty-free logo and vegan logo on their products, promising that they are vegan companies which do not test on animals.

Some beauty brands that have been in the market for awhile and are not cruelty-free are realising the benefits of changing their entire range of beauty products into a cruelty-free and vegan brand, such as Kat Von D, that is working towards revamping its entire beauty product range to be vegan.

For vegans, the Kat Von D website provides disclosure on its products with a “Vegan Alert” logo on products that are fully vegan.

Beauty brands such as Barry M Cosmetics, Models Own, Gosh Cosmetics and Sleek Makeup provide “vegan options” of their products.

Common animal derived ingredients found in beauty products.

Shopping for vegan and cruelty-free beauty products? Here are some of the common animal derived ingredients you see on beauty product labels that you may not be aware of.

Allantoin

Uric acid from cows, most mammals. Also in plants (especially comfrey). Used in cosmetics, creams and lotions.

Alpha-hydroxy acids

Any one of several acids used as an exfoliant and in anti-wrinkle products. Lactic acid may be animal-derived.

Carmine, Cochineal, Carminic Acid

Red pigment from the crushed female cochineal insect. About 70,000 beetles are killed to produce one pound of this red dye. In cosmetics and shampoos.

Fatty acids

Can be one or any mixture of liquid and solid acids such as caprylic, lauric, myristic, oleic, palmitic, and stearic. Used in bubble baths, cosmetics, etc.

Keratin

Protein from the ground-up horns, hooves, feathers, quills and hair of various animals. In hair rinses, shampoos, permanent wave solutions.

Source: Peta