Like most things in my life, it started with food. I’ve followed a vegetarian diet since I was 6 years old, and ditched animal products from my wardrobe in my teens (how to shop vegan fashion? It's easy). Now? I’m going completely vegan and cruelty-free (let’s call this VCF from now on) with my beauty routine… for a week at least.
I’m side-stepping ALL products, from toothpaste to mascara, that aren’t completely cruelty-free (that means no finished products or ingredients tested on animals, and individual brands not sold in China, where animal testing is a legal requirement), and avoiding all animal-derived ingredients, too.
Half of me thinks it’s easy, but half of me is terrified, so I turned to cruelty-free make-up artist Justine Jenkins for some advice. Having worked with the likes of Erin O’Connor, Alexa Chung and Rose Leslie, and currently penning a book on all things VCF, Justine is all over ethical beauty; ‘at first it was tricky, I had to replace products I’d relied on for 15 years. I had to do a lot of research, but isn't it better for our moral code to choose a cruelty free product over one that's tested on animals?’.
Well, yeah it is Justine! So, any tips for getting started? Justine advised me to check sites like logicalharmony.net, PETA’s list of cruelty-free brands and leapingbunny.org, who also have apps for on-the-go checking. She also told me to double-check sometimes unclear statements, as there’s currently no law to stop brands saying they’re cruelty-free, even if they’re not.
So I’ve downloaded, researched and I’m good to go – here’s how my week of VCF beauty went...
It’s not easy going VCF – it takes a lot of prep and some pretty in-depth Googling to decipher the scientific names of animal-derived ingredients. On Sunday, I clear out my dressing table and re-stock with the vegan brands I’ve researched over the past couple of weeks. I also give myself a VCF manicure using Barry M’s All in One Nail Paint (yes, their polishes are mainly vegan! Check for the green V on their website) and Benecos Deep Plum Nail Polish. For such an affordable brand, I only needed one coat for a super pigmented mani.
VCF showers? Actually pretty easy. Original Source shower gels are all vegan, and they smell great. I scrub up with Frank Original Coffee Scrub, where the coffee content had an immediate effect at reducing my cellulite, or Clean Beauty Co’s Scrub Life. It gives good scrub, which I like – I need to feel my beauty products working.
To moisturise, I normally use a gradual tanner, but since I didn’t find one in time (more research needed) I used Evolve’s Tropical Blossom Body Butter. It’s a little bit thick and takes some working in, so I’m missing that slather-on-and-go effect, but I don’t think it’s down to the butter being VCF – I just need to shop around.
As for my face, I use Green People’s Gentle Cleanse & Make-Up Remover and Fruit Scrub. I’m surprised at how much I like the cleanser, considering I’m normally a foam girl. So far so good - but then we come to the toothpaste… I squeeze Green People’s Minty Cool Toothpaste onto my brush, but it squirts out like the liquid in ketchup when you forget to shake the bottle. It’s also beige, and has a slightly strange taste. I’m going to have to get back to you on that one…
It’s my second day being totally VCF and I’m actually looking forward to doing my make-up. The Murad Anti-Aging Moisturiser (which is mattifying and anti-blemish for my combination skin), Pacifica Ultra CC Cream (best applied with fingers, I find) and Urban Decay Ultra Definition Pressed Finishing Powder give me a smooth, matte base that’s WAY better than my non-VCF products.
I’m also fully converted to Urban Decay’s Naked Skin Weightless Complete Coverage Concealer – it’s by far the best I’ve ever used, and blends invisibly when applied with a (vegan) Beautyblender or Spectrum make-up brushes (synthetic, of course). My one problem? Inika’s Truly Organic Pure Primer – it smells a bit weird. But if it’s the reason for my #flawless face, I’m willing to let it slide.
By Wednesday I was getting pretty frustrated at my VCF options when it came to my eyes. Both the Pacifica Enlighten Eye Brightening Shadow Palette and Benecos Quattro Eyeshadow didn’t suit my skin tone and wore off quickly. I’m going to need to do some more research before I find the right shades for me. This heavy Googling is getting to be a recurring theme - it takes a lot more time and effort than I thought to go fully VCF.
I’m loving Tarte’s Lights, Camera, Lashes 4-in-1 Mascara, but as for eyeliner? It’s not going well. I’m missing my inky black pencil and liquid liners, but a lot of brands don’t have vegan options. I’m using Barry M’s Eye Define Liquid Eyeliner, but I’m still searching for the one.
I have a confession to make. I gave in – and it’s all down to lip balm. A lot of lip products contain beeswax and carmine, and for someone with at least 9 lip products in my bag at ALL times, this was easily the hardest part of the experiment. I was using a combination of Inika’s Organic Lip Balm and Dr PawPaw Peachy Pink Balm (which also doubles up as a cream blush), my lips craved that tingle from the hard stuff and I gave in to a cruelty-free product containing beeswax (as opposed to vegan waxes, oils and fats like cocoa butter). I’m sorry!
As for lip shades, I struggled without colours that didn’t include carmine (made from crushed beetles - ew). Inika’s Lipsticks came in nice colours, but I found the bullet quite stiff to use their lip liners went on much more smoothly. I was hoping OCC’s Lip Tar would be my lifesaver, but on first try I used WAY too much product and smeared liquid lipstick EVERYWHERE – we’re talking teeth, gums, even ears. Not chic. They worked better on second try, though, and are so pigmented.
I was about to give up all hope when came across Beauty Without Cruelty’s Natural Infusion Moisturising Lipstick – creamy, pigmented and so easy to apply. Jackpot. Sara Hill also have a great range of shades in buildable colours.
I’m getting used to that Green People toothpaste, by the way. The lack of foam and no intense minty flavour threw me off, but I’m actually finding myself choosing to use it over Superdrug’s Procare Whitening Toothpaste with its traditional minty taste.
It’s another hair washing day, so I squeeze out Paul Mitchell’s Spring Loaded Frizz-Fighting shampoo and conditioner. It took some digging to find a product that wasn’t super gentle – that’s another thing about vegan beauty; just because I don’t use animal products, doesn’t necessarily mean I’m into going 100% natural. I still need targeted products to de-frizz, mattify and generally offer what mainstream brands do – just without the animal bits.
Luckily, Paul Mitchell are 100% CF and V across a lot of products. I then run Maria Nila’s True Soft: Argan Oil through wet hair, which smells delicious, finishing with Salon Science’s Reglosse Smoothing Serum. My curls look great and I already know I’ll be sticking to VCF haircare from now on. As for dry shampoo? Batiste are proudly VCF.
So, I’m REALLY into vegan skincare. This is one area where I’m happy to go really natural in terms of ingredients, as Justine tells me up to 60% of what you put onto your skin absorbs into your system. B’s Micellar Oil is great to take off make-up and break down mascara before I double cleanse with Evolve’s Gentle Cleansing Melt. Urban Veda’s Purifying Hydrating Toner and Purifying Protecting Night Cream are cooling and soothing on the skin, and I feel better knowing I’m not piling chemicals onto my skin. I’m even sleeping better – although I can’t credit that entirely to the VCF routine. When you get really lazy, B’s Sensitive Micellar Cleansing Wipes do the trick.
I also need to shout out to Evolve’s Radiant Glow Mask – remember what I said about not liking gentle products? Well, this cocoa mask goes on softly, but it packs a surprising punch when it comes to exfoliating your skin as you wash it off. It takes a stronger woman than me not to want to eat it, too…
So, after a week of VCF beauty, what have I learned? First things first, Google is your best friend. You’re going to need to do a lot of deciphering of scientific names for ingredients, and also back up the claims on being cruelty-free with reputable sites and bloggers.
Secondly, there’s actually way more choice than you think. On top of all the brands I tried, Justine Jenkins also recommends EcoTools, Bakel Collagen Serum, Hurraw Lip Balms and Pai Rosehip Bioregenerate Oil. M&S have a great range of VCF products, too. If you’re worried about finding a good range of shades, you’re definitely going to do a little digging for certain colours usually made with animal ingredients. For darker skin tones, vegan make-up has some catching up to do – OCC have a wide range available, as do vegan Pur Minerals items, but other brands have no excuse, according to Justine.
Yes, beauty shopping is less spontaneous and you can’t buy as much IRL, but if you know your reasons for going VCF, you’ll deal with it - even if it is hard.
So will I stick with it? In short…kind of. I’m committed to not buying products tested on animals now, and sticking to a natural, vegan skincare routine. I have way more make-up than any single person needs, so I'm also planning to donate some of the non-VCF products to Refuge, where woman desperately need cosmetics and toiletries.
As for lipstick and eyeliner? I’m admittedly too vain to be without them, even if they’re not fully vegan. Justine’s philosophy is 80% pure, 20% colourful and 100% cruelty free, which is totally doable and a step in the right direction – will you join me?
Shop InStyle's edit of the best vegan beauty buys here