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Guide to cruelty-free & vegan makeup – Superdrug
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Guide to cruelty-free & vegan makeup

If you thought cruelty-free and vegan makeup was just another here-today-gone-tomorrow trend, think again. After years of slowly gaining a loyal and outspoken following, ethical beauty is big news and shows no signs of disappearing any time soon – for good reason. Whether you’ve recently embraced a vegan lifestyle or want added peace of mind when putting together your go-to kit, get to grips with everything you need to know with our handy guide.

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What’s the difference between cruelty-free makeup and vegan makeup?

First up, a product can be vegan without being cruelty-free and vice-versa. Confusing, we know. So let’s break down the jargon so you know what you’re looking at when you spot these buzzwords on a product label.

What is vegan?

The definition of vegan makeup is that it’s a product that doesn’t contain any animal by-products. A by-product can be an animal ingredient or animal-derived ingredient. So, for example, a vegan lipstick wouldn’t contain the ingredient beeswax as this is derived directly from bees.

To most people the term ‘vegan’ should also imply that the product isn’t tested on animals however this isn’t regulated so go easy on the assumptions. A product can be tested on animals and still legally claim to be ‘vegan’.

What is cruelty-free?

A product that is labelled cruelty-free would have been produced without any form of animal testing throughout the creation and production process. And yes, there is a difference between the ‘creation’ part and the ‘production’ part as this stops brands from say not testing the final product on animals but throughout the production process doing the opposite. It even extends to any third parties too.

Sometimes a product will state it is ‘required by law’ to test on animals to comply with various legislation around the world. But, even so always remember that these products are 100% not cruelty-free.

Animal by-products you need to look out for

Wouldn’t it be easy if an ingredient was labelled ‘I’m an animal by-product’? Unfortunately, it might not be as easy as that to spot whether your product is vegan or not. So, to make your life easier we’ve picked out common ingredients, that you will want to avoid if you’re looking for vegan beauty products.  


Often used in anti-ageing products due to its plumping and firming effect, collagen is naturally produced in animals. In order to get the protein for beauty purposes, it is normally taken from dead animal’s bones, connective tissue and skin – definitely not vegan-friendly!

Beeswax (aka cera alba, cera lava)

This is taken directly from a bee hive and can be used in eye shadow, foundation or lipstick. It is taken from worker bees and can take six or more pounds of honey to create just one pound of wax.


Known by many different names such as cochineal, cochineal extract, crimson lake, natural red 4, C.I. 75470, E120 and carminic acid – phew! This deep red colour is taken from crushed insect body and legs.


Used to give you luscious hair this is a protein that is naturally found in mammals, it’s generally taken from hair, nails and horns.

Guanine (aka CI 75170)

This gives extra shine and sparkle to your blusher, eyeshadow and nail polish. It is created by scraping fish scales off dead fish and soaking them in alcohol to create an iridescent solution.


Sometimes used in lip balms and lotions, this is a fat that’s created from the grease in sheep’s hair.


Commonly used in various moisturisers and cosmetics this ingredient is made from the oils found in the liver of sharks.

Not to be confused with squalane, which is a cruelty-free alternative usually made from either olive or sugar cane. 

Rabbit next to cruelty-free brand, Orly, nail polish

What to do if you're unsure

If you’re iffing and oooing about whether a product is or isn’t vegan/cruelty-free, then look out for certified logos on the packaging. Most established brands and organisations, will show if their product has passed strict criteria to give you added peace of mind.

The Vegan Action non-profit organisation has the ‘Certified Vegan’ logo and the leaping bunny program formed of several animal protection groups with the ‘leaping bunny’ logo both are clearly visible indicators on packaging that will let you know if a product is vegan or cruelty fee or in an ideal world, both.

If you’re still unsure the best thing to do is to contact the company directly, if a company gives you a prompt response clearly stating that the product isn’t tested on animals at any stage or is vegan then you’re good to go. If you receive a response that is unclear or don’t get a response at all then it’s probably best to proceed with caution.

Vegan and cruelty-free makeup brands

Here at Superdrug, we’ve been campaigning for a more transparent approach to buying beauty products for years (we launched B Makeup back in 2013!). And with the recent launch of our vegan pop-up shop, we’ve been busy finding new ways to make stocking up on vegan products easier and easier.

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